A New Name for Doubting Thomas (John 20:24–29)

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Until Pentecost Sunday on June 5, we are still in the Easter season, so it’s a fitting time to consider the characters of the Easter story. A favorite for preachers is Thomas, one of the Twelve, often called “Doubting Thomas.” John 20:24–29 records the story:

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas should have believed. There may even be a gentle rebuke in Jesus’s words, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” But before we brand Thomas as “Doubting Thomas,” let’s consider a few other facts.

Filling in the Details

In Mark’s Gospel, we get another perspective on the events of Easter Sunday. Mark also records that Mary Magdalene went to the disciples and told them that Jesus was alive, but “when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it” (Mark 16:11). Mark adds that “after these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them” (Mk. 16:12). All of the disciples refused to believe, not just Thomas.

Mark’s Gospel records that all of the disciples refused to believe, not just Thomas.

Luke’s Gospel tells us more. Luke records that “it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale,”—some translations say “nonsense,”—”and they did not believe them” (Lk. 24:10–11). Verse 12 suggests that Peter ran to the tomb because he had to see the situation for himself. When Jesus met the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke records his rebuke: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Lk. 24:25). All of the disciples refused to believe, not just Thomas.

Not Defined By a Moment

Here’s the point: Centuries later, much of the world, even much of the church, still defines Thomas by his one moment of failure. We seem to forget the sins of the other disciples. We seem to forget our own sins. And maybe you’re here this morning and you feel like Thomas. Maybe you’ve failed. Maybe you’ve blown it. Maybe you’ve embarrassed yourself or brought shame upon yourself. Maybe you’ve even gone through a period of backsliding. And now you feel like there will always be an adjective attached to your name: Doubting. Failing. Stupid. Foolish. Arrogant. Adulterous. Angry. Worthless.

Here’s the good news: What actually defines Thomas is not his moment of doubt, but his confident confession, “My Lord and my God!” Christ was patient with Thomas, and he will be patient with you. Christ spoke “Peace” to Thomas, and he is speaking peace to you this morning. And although Christ told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” this doesn’t change the fact that Thomas too was greatly blessed.

What actually defines Thomas is not his moment of doubt, but his confident confession, “My Lord and my God!”

We have a tendency to read Jesus’s words in the harshest possible way. I think it reflects our view of God. But listen to Adam Clarke’s summary of Christ’s words in John 20: “You have seen, [Thomas] and therefore you have believed, and now you are blessed; you are now happy – fully convinced of my resurrection; yet no less blessed shall all those be who believe in my resurrection, without the evidence you have had.” Christ did not define Thomas by a moment, and neither should we.

A New Name for Doubting Thomas

On this Third Sunday of Easter, I think that we need a new name for Doubting Thomas. All of the other disciples doubted the resurrection, yet we don’t remember them as Doubting James, Doubting Andrew, Doubting Philip. Peter outright denied the Lord three times and invoked a curse on himself, yet we don’t remember him as Denying Peter. Paul killed Christians, yet we don’t remember him as Persecuting Paul. David got Bathsheba pregnant and killed her husband, yet we don’t remember him as Adulterous David. Noah got drunk in his tent, yet we don’t remember him as Drunken Noah. Abraham lied about Sarah, yet we don’t remember him as Lying Abraham.

We don’t … and we shouldn’t. Because although these sins stand as a sober warning to us, no one needs to be defined by a moment of unbelief or failure, however serious. Christ restored Thomas, and he wants to restore you. Christ used Peter as a rock on which to build his church, and he wants to use you. You are still loved. You are still usable.

While men may brand us with an adjective, God casts adjectives into the sea of his forgetfulness.

Repent thoroughly of any sin or unbelief in your life. Look to Christ as your only hope in life and in death. Make your restitutions. Embrace the church’s gentle and restorative discipline. And then move on. Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. God still has a plan for you, to give you a future and a hope.

We need a new name for Doubting Thomas: Victorious Thomas. Believing Thomas. Confessing Thomas. Restored Thomas. Beloved Thomas. Because while men may brand us with an adjective, God casts adjectives into the sea of his forgetfulness (Mic. 7:19).

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is a husband, father, and aspiring pastor-theologian, as well as the founder and president of holyjoys.org. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.