I really think Thomas gets a bad rap. In Scripture, he’s referred to as Thomas the Twin, but most often in Christian circles, he’s known as Doubting Thomas. Basically, he didn’t believe a spoken testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. The Gospel doesn’t tell us whether the rest of the disciples believed Mary’s testimony or not in the gap between 20:18 and 20:19. I don’t believe they did.
Seeing Is Believing
Seeing is a theme many have noted in the Gospel of John (I haven’t personally done the research, but I know at least that it’s significant in chapters 1 and 9). Here in chapter 20, Mary saw that the stone had been rolled away. Peter saw the linen wrappings lying in the tomb. Mary saw the two angels.
In addition to these, there are four instances where seeing leads to believing. The other disciple saw the empty tomb and believed (though it’s not stated what he believed). Mary saw Jesus clearly after he spoke to her, and she exclaimed, “Teacher!” The ten disciples saw Jesus, his hands and his side, and they rejoiced. Finally, Thomas saw the same and believed, giving the most profound response, “My Lord and my God!”
Not Seeing Is Not Believing
So, those who believed and rejoiced in the resurrected Christ all saw him. But, those who only heard about Jesus’ resurrection did not believe (assuming that, as in Luke’s account, the disciples didn’t believe Mary’s testimony). So, why does Thomas get chastised by Jesus and burdened with his initial reaction for all time, when everyone else who believed had also seen?
Believing without Seeing
The explanation comes in verses 30-31. The statement “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” is the transition from the “sign” of Jesus appearing to the disciples to John’s commentary. Jesus commends those who believe without seeing because that is what everyone after this must do. The members of John’s community don’t have the opportunity to see Jesus firsthand. We don’t have that opportunity either. All of us must believe the testimony of others, what we hear about Jesus.
And, that is our challenge. The roughly two-millennia-old testimony that a Jewish man rose from the dead, and whose life, death, and resurrection transformed and continues to transform the world, is hard to believe. We cannot see or experience what Jesus’ disciples saw. How are we to trust that not only is this testimony true, but that we should commit our lives to Jesus and his mission?
There are many possible answers here. The one that stands out to me right now is that, while Jesus might not be currently visible, the Body of Christ is. As members of that Body, what is our testimony to our communities, not just what we say, but what others can see? Do they see something worth believing in?
It can be difficult for lifelong Christians to understand how unbelievable the gospel is. It’s what many of us have been taught as fact from when we were young. But, you can start this discussion with a small group conversation on “Believe It or Not,” this week’s free resource. This activity comes from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education product and is designed to engage all ages, whether in a classroom or in worship.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
2018-2019 (NL Year 1) faith formation materials are now available for purchase! Fall lessons can be downloaded right away!
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!
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