The disciples were ordinary, everyday people. The more we learn about them, the better we understand the New Testament-and how Jesus used people just like us to plant His church.
Who was the apostle Thomas?
Chances are that you know Thomas as “doubting Thomas.” The Gospels don’t tell us a lot about him, so he’s identified with the story in John’s Gospel about needing to touch Jesus’ wounds from the crucifixion before he’d believe. But this isn’t all there is to Thomas.
There’s a good chance that Thomas was a twin. John tells us that Thomas was known as “Didymus” the Greek word for twin (John 11:16, 20:24, 21:2). Interestingly, Thomas also means twin in Aramaic, the common language throughout first-century Palestine.
Although all of the Gospels mention Thomas, it’s only the Gospel of John that records any of Thomas’ words. Church tradition tells us that Thomas was a missionary who might have ended up in India, but it’s hard to say with any certainty how far east he traveled.
Despite the very few references to Thomas in the New Testament, there are some compelling lessons we can learn from this disciple. Here are five lessons from Thomas the apostle.
1. Humans are emotionally complex
It’s easy to think of bravery as a trait that we either have or we don’t. The truth is that sometimes we’re braver than others.
When Jesus told the disciples that He was heading back to Judea to see Lazarus, the disciples fearfully reminded Him that the Jews there had just tried to stone Him (John 11:8). It’s Thomas who pipes up, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16).
After a comment like that, you’d think that we’d remember him as “Thomas the Brave.” But the emotional impact of Jesus’ trial, flogging, and crucifixion had a toll, and Thomas finds it hard to bounce back. He’s the only one who isn’t present the first time Jesus appears to the disciples and this has an effect on his faith (John 20:24). When the disciples all come to tell him that they’ve seen the risen Lord, Thomas refuses to believe it (John 20:25).
Thomas’ moment of bravery didn’t entirely define him, and neither should his moment of doubt. We all have moments we’re proud of and other moments we wish we could forget. What we learn from Thomas is that being in Jesus’ presence brought out the best in him by increasing his faith. Conversely, being away from Jesus seemed to trigger doubt.
2. Jesus cares about our sincere questions
The way that Jesus spoke to the disciples was often vague. It wasn’t until much later that they understood what He was trying to tell them. But that doesn’t mean that He didn’t care about their questions.
At one point Jesus tells the disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4, New International Version)
Naturally, the disciples don’t necessarily understand what He’s talking about. And it’s Thomas that asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (John 14:5, NIV)?
Even though it’s obvious that Thomas is missing the greater point that Jesus is making, our Lord doesn’t get frustrated about it. In fact, because of Thomas’ question, Jesus says one of the most profound things written in John’s Gospel:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7, NIV).
The lesson here is that you shouldn’t be ashamed of your questions. Asking for clarification can lead to new insights and breakthroughs.
3. Community matters-a lot
When Jesus appears to the disciples, Thomas is absent (John 20:24). After seeing the Lord, they run to tell Thomas, but he doesn’t believe them. There’s little question that Thomas’ doubts would have been alleviated sooner if he had simply been with the rest of the apostles as they gathered.
It isn’t Jesus’ intention that we follow Him in isolation from one another. It’s incredibly important for us to be connected to and regularly gathering with other Christians. This connection allows us to be encouraged by each other’s stories and our shared experiences.
4. Jesus is God
A week after Thomas expresses his uncertainties, Jesus appears to the disciples again-and this time Thomas is among them:
“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (John 20:26-27, NIV).
It’s probably important to recognize the gentleness that Jesus expresses here. He doesn’t chastise Thomas for his lack of faith. Instead, He addresses Thomas in a way that allows him to believe.
In an instant, Thomas goes from not believing that Jesus has risen to recognizing that He is God (John 20:28).
5. Jesus has a message for us
Thomas walked beside Jesus for three years. He heard Christ’s teachings and saw Him perform many miracles, but he still struggled to believe Jesus had risen from the grave. After he touched Christ’s wounds and responded with the words “My Lord and my God,” Jesus makes an important comment:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, NIV).
Jesus is talking about you and me! We didn’t have the luxury of walking with Jesus or touching His scars. We live thousands of years removed from the events recorded in the Gospels, and Jesus recognizes the faith that it takes for us to believe. That’s why He pronounces a special blessing on us for trusting Him!
Paying attention to the details
The Bible is full of valuable details and facts, and the more we dig into those details, the more encouragement we’ll uncover. And like Thomas, our faith will be strengthened. Get the “Who is this Jesus” booklet to learn more about Jesus.