According to the apostle John, Thomas was not present on Easter Sunday evening when Jesus appeared to the other disciples and devoted followers (John 20:24). And regardless of what they said, Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen till he saw Jesus with his own eyes (John 20:25) — a declaration that earned him for posterity the unflattering title “Doubting Thomas.”
The Holy Spirit did not inspire John to include this account in order to embarrass Thomas. Rather, it’s recorded because God has important things to teach us about our own doubts and what kind of “seeing” really brings us joy.
“I Will Never Believe”
Early Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene first reported that Jesus’s body was missing (John 20:1–2), Thomas felt like he was in good company. None of the apostles, except perhaps John (John 20:8), really believed that Jesus was alive.
But then the women claimed to have seen him (Matthew 28:9), and then Peter (Luke 24:34), and then a follower named Cleopas (Luke 24:13–32). Lastly, by that evening, all of Thomas’s closest friends claimed that Jesus had suddenly appeared in the middle of a locked-door meeting where he spoke and even ate with them (John 20:19; Luke 24:42–43) — a meeting Thomas missed for some reason.
“God has important things to teach us about our doubts — and what kind of ‘seeing’ really brings us joy.”
So, Thomas soon found himself in bad company. The only other member of the Twelve who had not seen the risen Christ was Judas Iscariot.
As Thomas listened to his friends excitedly describe their encounter with Jesus, it did not excite him. He was skeptical and frustrated. And he even blurted out, “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” (John 20:25).
Why Didn’t He Believe?
Why did Thomas respond this way to friends he knew so well and trusted? The words he spoke tell us of the horror he actually saw.
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s death are sparse on details, so it’s hard for us to feel what Thomas felt as he actually watched Jesus die. In fact, Thomas’s declaration of unbelief (“unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails”) is the only time nails are mentioned in the Gospels as part of Jesus’s crucifixion. Most of what we know about Roman crucifixion we learn from other sources.
The slaughter of Jesus outside Jerusalem had been so gruesome that it was all but humanly impossible for Thomas to imagine a resurrection of Jesus’s body. True, Thomas had seen Lazarus’s resurrection. But Lazarus had died of an illness, and Jesus had been there to raise him. Jesus had been torn to shreds and died.
How does a mutilated man raise himself? Let’s not assume too quickly that we would have responded differently had we seen what Thomas had seen.
Sight for Sore Eyes
Thomas’s doubts may have been humanly understandable, but they were not commendable. They were sinful, as is all unbelief (Romans 14:23).
And Jesus was not in a hurry to relieve Thomas’s doubts. He let Thomas stew in his own unbelieving words uncomfortably alone in the midst of a joyful fellowship of believers for eight awkward days (John 20:26).
Finally, a full week after Easter, Jesus appeared when Thomas was present and said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27).
Thomas’s repentance was beautiful: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen
Then Jesus said something that was meant not only for Thomas, but also for all of us: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Thomas had been chosen by Jesus to be a unique authoritative witness of his resurrection (Acts 1:22) — that’s why Thomas was granted the gift of seeing Jesus with his physical eyes.
“Faith-seeing, in this age, results in more joy than eye-seeing.”
But Jesus’s rebuke is clear enough. There were others who had not yet seen Jesus, but still believed in his resurrection. And their believing was more blessed than Thomas’s seeing. Why? Because those saints relied on their eyes of faith more than the eyes in their heads — and faith-seeing, in this age, results in more joy than eye-seeing.
This is why Peter, Thomas’s fellow eyewitness, later wrote, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9).
Believing Is True Seeing
Faith, as the Bible describes it, is not blind. Unbelief is blind. Faith sees a reality beyond what eyes can see, a reality that God reveals to us which is more important, in fact more real, than what we can see with our physical eyes (Hebrews 11:1).
God reveals this reality to us through his living and active word (Hebrews 4:12) that lights our path (Psalm 119:105). After his ascension, Jesus is seen only through the inerrant testimony of his prophets and apostles, recorded in the Scriptures, and the imperfect testimony of followers whose heart-eyes have opened. This is the blessed kind of seeing that enables us to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Glorious, inexpressible joy comes not by seeing Jesus now, but by believing in him now. Those who believe in Jesus in this age are more blessed than those who have seen him. Because believing is true seeing. And it is faith-sight, not eyesight, that results in eternal life (John 3:16).
“Glorious, inexpressible joy comes not by seeing Jesus now, but by believing in him now.”
Thomas had heard Jesus once say, “I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). Jesus had come to open the eyes of the heart. Eyesight was never a guarantee that people really “saw” Jesus. Judas was the greatest witness to this tragic truth.
Like he did for the other ten, Jesus forgave Thomas of his faith-failure and graciously restored him. But because of Thomas’s unbelief, Jesus made him a gracious example for us of the wrong kind of seeing to demand. If we find our seeing of Jesus is impaired, Thomas teaches us not to declare, “Unless I see I will never believe,” but rather, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
The wicked man’s life, funeral, and epitaph
By: Charles Spurgeon
“And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this also is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 8:10
Suggested Further Reading: Luke 16:19-23
Go into Bunhill Fields, and stand by the memorial of John Bunyan, and you will say, “Ah! There lies the head that contained the brain which thought out that wondrous dream of the Pilgrim’s Progress from the City of Destruction to the Better Land. There lies the finger that wrote those wondrous lines which depict the story of him who came at last to the land Beulah, and waded through the flood, and entered into the celestial city. And there are the eyelids which he once spoke of, when he said, “If I lie in prison until the moss grows on my eyelids, I will never make a promise to withhold from preaching.” And there is that bold eye that penetrated the judge, when he said, “If you will let me out of prison today, I will preach again tomorrow, by the help of God.” And there lies that loving hand that was ever ready to receive into communion all them that loved the Lord Jesus Christ: I love the hand that wrote the book, “Water Baptism no bar to Christian Communion.” I love him for that sake alone, and if he had written nothing else but that, I would say, “John Bunyan, be honoured for ever.” And there lies the foot that carried him up Snow Hill to go and make peace between a father and a son, in that cold day, which cost him his life. Peace to his ashes! Wait, O John Bunyan, till thy Master sends his angel to blow the trumpet; and methinks, when the archangel sounds it, he will almost think of thee, and this shall be a part of his joy, that honest John Bunyan, the greatest of all Englishmen, shall rise from his tomb at the blowing of that great trump. You cannot say so of the wicked.
For meditation: In Heaven the saved are still known by name—Abraham, Lazarus; in hell the lost are at best known only by a description—Dives is just the Latin for “a rich man”. See the contrast in Proverbs 10:7. Are the names and burial-places of John Bunyan’s enemies well known even on earth?
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us … cast away their cords from us.’” – Psalm 2:1-3 ESV
We see these negative patterns in the story of Adam and Eve and in countless other men and women throughout history: a willingness to reinterpret the Word of God to fit their own desires, rejecting His sovereignty and developing their own rules.
Looking at the world, the psalmist recognized how kings took a stand against God, taking counsel against Him. They viewed His ways as being restraining; they wanted to “cast away their cords” and be free of His influence.
We see this spirit all around us today. We see politicians defining issues in their own terms. We see entertainers promoting content that violates God’s Word. We see intellectuals teaching ideas that reject His existence. We see people denying the validity of Biblical principles.
As the psalmist warned, God is not surprised by trends like these. He sees every pattern. For Him, these are just vain and hopeless plots. He reminds those who will listen that His plans are firm. They will not change. And His Word always is true.
The Bible reminds us that we should make God the foundation for our lives. We should serve Him, believe His Word, and realize that He did not given us His rules to punish us but to show us the best way to live. We need to
grasp “how blessed [fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God] are all those who take refuge in Him” (v. 12 AMP).