The Bible has had a profound effect on the English language, as it has had on many other languages. Words, phrases, characters and incidents have found their way into common usage, even when their biblical origins have been forgotten. Hence we have Job’s comforters, the Good Samaritan, pride goes before a fall, and many others. Sadly, as biblical illiteracy increases, fewer and fewer people will realise how much biblical content there is in the language they speak.
One character who has come into general speech is ‘doubting Thomas’, the disciple who refused to believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead unless he had hard physical evidence, unless he could actually touch the nail prints in his hands and the spear wound in his side. John 20:26-29 records what happened.
For some reason Thomas had been absent when the Lord had appeared to the other disciples (v24), and when they relate joyfully that ‘We have seen the Lord’, Thomas does not respond with joy or thankfulness. Instead he demands personal, physical evidence before he accepts the truth of the resurrection. He is often presented nowadays as a kind of ‘saint for our times’, a no-nonsense, common sense man who refused to believe wild speculations without hard evidence. Shouldn’t we all be more like that, especially in our sceptical age? For some, that would weed out a lot of the silliness they associate with Christianity (indeed, with religion in general).
When we read John’s account, however, it is clear that Thomas is not held up as any kind of example for us to imitate. In fact he did have ample evidence for belief. He had Jesus’ repeated promises that he would rise from the dead (Mark 8:31 is only one example), yet Thomas would not accept the Lord’s word. Added to that he had the Old Testament Scriptures (mentioned in v9), clearly revealing the fact of the Messiah’s triumph over death, and he had the eyewitness testimony of his fellow disciples.
What more did he need? He needed nothing more, but he demanded proof on his own terms. That is the problem with Thomas. It’s not that he didn’t have evidence, if he were willing to accept it, but he wanted it on his own terms, to satisfy his own demands. And yet how gentle Jesus was with him! When he appears again a week later, the Lord does not rebuke Thomas, as he sometimes rebuked people who wanted evidence on their own terms (John 4:48). Instead he allows Thomas to feel the nail prints and the spear wound for himself. In love and grace the Lord is bringing this doubting sceptic to real saving faith, and what the Lord is doing is for the benefit of Thomas and for the benefit of readers two millennia later.
There could be no doubt that Jesus has undergone a physical resurrection. This is the same body that was laid in the tomb. The tomb is now empty – nobody can dispute that – and all other explanations are unconvincing. Jesus’ command is blunt: ‘Stop doubting and believe’ (v27). Here is one fact of history that demands a personal response, a life-changing response.
For Thomas there can be only one response: ‘My Lord and my God’ (v28). The whole of John’s Gospel has really been leading up to this point. Here is Thomas’ confession of faith in the crucified and risen Christ. In a moment, by God’s grace and the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, Thomas moves from unbelief to saving faith. His language is a profound testimony to the true identity of the Risen One. Thomas, good Jew that he is, uses the covenant name of God (‘My Lord’) and couples it with a confession of the Lord’s deity in the most unmistakable terms (‘my God’). The One who was crucified and buried is risen, he is Lord and God. Thomas acknowledges Jesus for who he truly is: anything less in fact dishonours him.
In response to Thomas’ confession the Lord gives us a profound promise: ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ The promise of blessing is to all who, by the grace of God, have come to faith in Christ without the physical evidence that Thomas was afforded. The Saviour has in view his church in all ages to come. The physical body of the Lord is no longer available for inspection, but we have the inspired testimony of the apostles: ‘these [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (v31). On the basis of the evidence there is only one fitting conclusion: ‘My Lord and my God.’