Thomas is usually nicknamed “Doubting Thomas,” but that may not be the most fitting label for him. He was a better man than the popular lore would indicate.
Thomas, according to John 11: 16, was also called “Didymas,” which means “the twin.” Apparently, he had a twin brother or a twin sister, but his twin is never identified in scriptures. Matthew, Luke and Mark named Thomas with the other 11 apostles in a list, but no details about him are given. We learn everything we know about his character from John’s gospel.
It becomes obvious from John’s record that Thomas tended to look only into the darkest corners of life. Yet despite his pessimism, some wonderfully redeeming elements of his character come through.
Jesus had left Jerusalem because his life was in jeopardy there, and “He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” (John 10: 40) Great crowds of people came out to hear Jesus preach. John says, “and many believed in him there” (v. 42). This may have been the most fruitful time of ministry the disciples had witnessed in all the time since they had begun to follow Christ. People were responsive. Souls were being converted. And Jesus was able to minister freely without the opposition of the religious leaders of Jerusalem.
But something happened to interrupt their time in the wilderness. John writes, “now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the same Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick” (John 11: 1-2). Jesus had previously stayed with them, and they had provided for His needs.
Now His dear friend Lazarus was sick, and Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus saying, “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick”. They knew if Jesus came to see Lazarus, He would be able to heal him.
This presented a quandary. Bethany was located on the outskirts of Jerusalem. If Jesus went that close to Jerusalem, He was walking into the very teeth of the worst kind of hostility. John writes, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was” (v .5-6). Of course, Jesus, with his supernatural knowledge, knew exactly when Lazarus died. That is why he waited. “Then after that he said to his disciples, ‘let us go to Judea again’” (v .7).
The disciples thought this was crazy. They said “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone you, and are you going there again?” (v .8). They frankly did not want to go back to Jerusalem and the ministry in the wilderness was phenomenal.
“Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sake that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him’” (v. 14-15).
It was at this point that Thomas spoke up. Here is where we meet him for the first time in all the Gospel records. “Then Thomas, who is called the twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’” (v .16).
Thomas was devoted to Christ. It is clear from the account that Thomas did not want to live without Jesus. Thomas was an example of strength to the rest of the apostles. It appears they collectively followed his lead at this point and said, “OK, let’s go and die” — because they did go with him to Bethany.
“Where I go”
Thomas’s profound love for the Lord shows up again in John 14 when Jesus tells them of His imminent departure. “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14: 2). And where I go you know, and the way you know” (v .4). In verse 5 Thomas speaks “Thomas said to him, ’Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’”
Here is a man with deep love. He is a man whose relationship with Christ was so strong that he never wanted to be severed from him.
Thomas was not the Only Doubter
We pick up the next picture of Thomas in John 20. After Jesus’ death, all the disciples were in deep sorrow and they all got together to comfort one another. Except for Thomas. John 20: 24 says, “Thomas, called the twin, one of the 12, was not with them.”
It is too bad he wasn’t there because Jesus came and appeared to them. They had locked themselves in a room somewhere. John writes, “The doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews” (v .19). Suddenly, although the doors and windows were sealed shut, “Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (v. 19-20).
When they next saw Thomas “the other disciples therefore said to him, ‘we have seen the Lord” (v. 25). They were exuberant. They were eager to share the good news with Thomas.
But someone in the kind of mood Thomas was in was not going to be cheered up so easily. He was still being a hopeless pessimist. All he could see was the bad side of things, and this was just too good to be true. “So, he said to them, ‘unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’” (v. 25).
It is because of this statement that he has been nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.” But don’t think too badly of Thomas. Remember, the other disciples did not believe in the resurrection until they saw Jesus, either. Mark 16: 10-11 says that Mary Magdalene saw Him, “she went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.” The two disciples on the road to Emmaus walked with Him a long distance before they even realized who He was. And then “they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either” (v. 13). When Jesus showed up in the room where the disciples are gathered, “He showed them His hands and side” (John 20: 20). Then they believed. So, they were all slow to believe.
John 20: 26 says that eight days passed after Jesus appeared to the disciples again. Because when the apostles were returning to the room where Jesus appeared to them, this time Thomas was with them. Once again “Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in their midst, and said ‘peace to you!’” (v. 26).
No one needed to tell Jesus what Thomas had said, of course. He looked right at Thomas and said, “Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; And reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving but believing” (v. 27).
Then Thomas made what was probably the greatest statement ever to come from the lips of the apostles: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).
Thomas – Evangelist to India and Martyr
There is a considerable amount of ancient testimony that suggests Thomas carried the gospel as far as India. There is to this day a small hill near the airport in Chennai (Madras), India, where Thomas is said to have been buried. There are churches in south India whose roots are traceable to the beginning of the church age, and tradition says they were founded under the ministry of Thomas. The strongest tradition says he was martyred for his faith by being run through with a spear.
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Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur
2 thoughts on “Apostle Thomas – Pessimist, Lover or Doubter? / Spiritual Meditations”
It is highly spiritual. I love it and will like to plead through you to God to heal me from my doubting behavior. I beg the Lord to be my strength. Lord strengthen me. Lord you said you will not leave me. Lord i am desperately in need of you. Take control of my life Lord. Lord help me in the Mighty Name Of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hello Martha. Thank you for your comment. Rest assured that even the most spiritual people occasionally have doubts. it is evidence that you are seeking God. Keep asking Him your questions with candor and an open heart. The following post will give you further insight into this common concern. “Your doubts about Faith aren’t Abnormal” Link below or available on Navigation Menu.