Author: Ron Graham

Challenge and Change

Thomas the Enigma
—The disciple who took a great leap

You have heard of Thomas, one of the twelve apostles. He is named in all four lists of the apostles (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13).

It's not much use your looking up those verses, because they tell you nothing at all about Thomas except that he was one of the twelve whom Jesus chose.

Thomas in John’s Gospel

Thomas does comes to life in the gospel of John, whose information is all we know about Thomas. Yes, Thomas is supposed to have written a gospel; to have held gnostic beliefs; and to be the same person as Jude; there's also “tradition” about him and where he went to preach. However, in this lesson I hope you'll be content to stick with the Bible alone, albeit the few verses in John’s gospel. At least we know these are true. It is better to spend twenty minutes thinking about a true story than to spend twenty years on speculation (1Timothy 6:20)

John gives us a window through which we can see the true if enigmatic Thomas; and in this window we may see a reflection of ourselves.

1 Thomas the Unknowing

John 11:14-16, 14:5

When Thomas heard Jesus say, "Lazarus is dead" (John 11:14) his reaction was, "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16). His remark is somewhat enigmatic, but it seems to express genuine shock and grief at hearing of Lazarus’s death. But he did not seem to understand that Jesus could raise the dead, otherwise he would have suggested they go and bring Lazarus back to life, not go and die with him.

When Jesus was talking of his return to heaven, Thomas says, "Lord we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?" (John 14:5). Thomas did not know what, by that time, he probably should have known and understood. Why he didn't, and why so many disciples of Jesus are like Thomas —that's an enigma.

2 Thomas the Absent

John 20:24

"But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymas, was not with them when Jesus came" (John 20:24). It was the first day of the week. That morning, Mary Magdalene had reported to the disciples that she had seen the Lord risen. "The same day at evening... the disciples were assembled" (John 20:18-19), but Thomas although "one of the twelve", was "not with them". That seems strange.

Why was Thomas absent? Well that's easy to ask and impossible to answer. You would have thought Thomas would be together with the disciples, but why he wasn't and what had become of him remains an enigma.

You know what I am going to say now, don't you? Are you there when the disciples are assembled, or are you "not with them" like Thomas, absent and reason unknown? We are told, "Don't forsake the assembling of yourselves together as is the custom of some" (Hebrews 10:25). That verse also tells us to "encourage one another". It can be disheartening to those who do attend, when someone is missing like Clancy, “and we don't know where he are.”

3 Thomas the Skeptic

John 20:25

"But Thomas said to the other disciples, ‘Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’" (John 20:25). Thomas was one of the twelve, but he didn't trust the others even though they were eye witnesses. He would accept nothing as truth ubless he could verify it himself. This has got him the name “doubting Thomas”

Why was Thomas so skeptical? Why was he, as Jesus said, "unbelieving" (John 20:27)? Again, that's easy to ask and impossible to answer. Thomas knew Jesus well, and had seen his miracles, even the resurrection of Lazarus. Why he refused to believe that Jesus had risen remains an enigma.

We don't want people to be credulous. However, people are an enigma when they won't believe what they are told on good authority. We do know that such people are missing out on enormous blessings. Jesus said to Thomas, "You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed" (John 20:29).

4 Thomas the Thinker

John 20:28

"Thomas answered and said to Jesus, ‘My Lord and My God!’" (John 20:28). When provided with the evidence he'd demanded,Thomas made a response greater than one might expect from a skeptic. That's an enigma. Thomas could have said, “Okay, I'm convinced. You have risen from the dead. It's wonderful to have you back with us.” But Thomas takes a huge leap and declares a conviction that Jesus is God!

Perhaps Thomas had not rejected the disciple's claim out of hand. Perhaps he'd heard reports that Christ had risen. Perhaps Thomas had considered the implications so that next time the disciples assembled "Thomas was with them" (John 20:26) ready and waiting to confess the ultimate truth if shown the ultimate evidence.

Now what about you? Do you think about Jesus on a shallow level? Are you a believer, but haven't thought through all the ramifications of your belief? Or are you a deep thinker in the things of Christ. Can you take the leap, like Thomas seems to have done, and accept all the truth about Jesus —even that "in him dwells all the fulness of the deity bodily" (Colossians 2:9)? Can you, like Thomas, come to acknowledge Jesus Christ as your Lord and your God?