Most associate the Apostle Thomas with being the “doubting Thomas” because of his statement to the other disciples. He had said that he would not believe unless he saw the nail scars in the hands of Jesus (John 20:25). We shouldn’t be too hard on Thomas for doubting the resurrection, because all of the other disciples also doubted until Jesus appeared to them. In fact, they said that the testimony of Mary Magdalene was “nonsense” and would not believe (Luke 24:11). When we look at the life of Thomas in the Gospel of John we get a different story than one who was a doubter. We actually see that Thomas had a deep love and devotion to Jesus, possibly the closest to Jesus next the Apostle John.
Three Great Traits
Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Thomas. The synoptic Gospels are silent except for simply listing his name among the other Apostles. Only John’s Gospel records details that give us an indication of His character. While we know that Thomas was a twin (Jn 11:16), we also see three great traits that we should learn from Thomas.
A Devout Courage: We are first introduced to Thomas in John 11:16. Jesus had been ministering to the people across the Jordan where John the Baptist had been baptizing. The disciples were seeing a great number of people being converted (Jn 10:40-42). But when Jesus heard that His beloved friend Lazarus had died, He told the disciples that they were going back to Bethany to raise him from the dead. This was troubling to the disciples since the Jewish leaders had been seeking to kill Jesus (11:8). It seemed unwise and foolish to walk back into a trap that would possibly lead to the death of Jesus as well as the disciples. But Jesus assured the disciples that they had work to do and must do it during the daytime (v. 8-10) and that they would not stumble because they had the light. So, Jesus told them that they were going to raise Lazarus from the dead. It was then that Thomas spoke for the first time. His words are profound and reveal a devout courage. Thomas said in that moment, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas was convinced that Jesus was heading straight for a stoning. But if that is what the Lord determined to do, then Thomas was also determined to go with him and die. He was convinced of the Lordship of Christ and was willing to follow Jesus even into the worst of situations. While it may seem pessimistic, it is also evidence of courage rooted in a deep faith. Our faith in Christ must be courageous in a world that opposes us at every turn.
A Devout Love: The second occurrence of Thomas is found at the end of Jesus’ ministry when Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples. Jesus told the disciples that He was going away to be with His heavenly Father in order that He might prepare a place for them. He told the disciples, “And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas replied to Jesus, “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). Behind the statement of Thomas is a heart of love for Christ. Thomas doesn’t want to be separated from Christ. He has a deep relationship with Him that he never wants to be severed. His heart is broken that Jesus is leaving them. The thought of losing Christ paralyzed him because he had been so attached to Jesus over the last three years. He could not think of living without him. You have to admire his deep devotion to Christ.
A Devout Faith: The last occurrence of Thomas is found after the resurrection when Jesus graciously appears to him to strengthen His faith and allow Him to be a true witness of the resurrection. While he doubted before he saw Jesus, once He saw the resurrected Christ, Thomas made one of the most profound statements ever made. After he touched Jesus and saw the nail scars in His hands, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). Thomas acknowledged the deity of Christ. Thomas’ life was changed forever by seeing the resurrected Jesus. Thomas would be filled with the Holy Spirit after Pentecost and become a great witness for Christ (Acts 1:13).
A Great Evangelist
History records that Thomas carried the Gospel to India. Thomas is said to be buried in India near the airport in Chennai. Tradition teaches that many of the churches in India currently have roots in the ministry of Thomas. One of the strongest traditions in Church history is that Thomas was martyred for his faith by being run through with a spear. Ironically this death was a “fitting form of martyrdom for one whose faith came of age when he saw the spear mark in his Master’s side and for one who longed to be reunited with his Lord” (John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men, p. 164)
Thomas is a great example for us. While we have not seen and touched the resurrected Jesus, we have believed and are blessed (Jn 20:29). Like Thomas we must have a devoted courage, devoted love and a devoted faith. If these things are true of us, inevitably we will be like Thomas maybe not in our death, but in our life.