Doubting Thomas

Were you there—when He rose up from the grave?

8. ‘Doubting’ Thomas

7. ‘More than 500 brothers’ | Index | 9. Saul who becomes Paul

John 20:19–31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26 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!” 27 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.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these 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.

‘Doubting’ Thomas

A doubting disposition

We now focus on the Bible’s most famous doubter, who sees and meets the risen Lord Jesus Christ and gets converted. Who is that? Thomas! It seems that Thomas always had a doubting disposition. In John 11:7–16, after Jesus tells His disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea,’ they respond with, ‘a short while ago the Jews tried to stone You, and yet you are going back there?’ Jesus replies by pointing out that time is short and there He will raise dead Lazarus from the ‘sleep’ of his physical death. Thomas (whose name ‘Didymus’ means ‘Twin’) says, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him [Jesus].’ Those words demonstrate commendable loyalty to Jesus but  show no faith in Christ’s ability to keep them all alive or to raise Lazarus! Doubts already play a big part in his thinking.

Previous doubt—and spreading doubt

Do you recall the famous passage in John 14:1–14? Jesus talks about preparing us a home in Heaven and His coming again, and promises, ‘I will come back and take you to be with Me that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going,’ by which He means that the way to Heaven is by trusting His promise and putting their personal faith in Him. (Just the same for us today!) Thomas replies that they do not know where Jesus is going, ‘so how can we know the way?’ Jesus’ classic reply shows that the only way to have your sins forgiven, eternal life now, and a Heavenly home forever is by faith alone in Christ alone. He says, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ He then said that to know God the Son, Jesus Himself, means you also get to know God, the Father—showing His unity and equality with the Father in the oneness of the Trinity. (God the Holy Spirit is the third Person in our triune God.)

Thomas’ disposition to doubt then spreads to Philip. (It is amazing how someone, even faithful Philip, can take up the doubts of another.) Philip expresses his doubts by saying, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus tells him also to believe both His words and His miracles as evidence of His unity with the Father. But the question here is, ‘Who started the doubting?’ The answer is, of course, ‘Doubting Thomas.’ Later He will come to know and experience faith in the Lord Jesus as the only way to God. I found it was only when I actually received the living Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour, who paid the penalty for my sins, that my experience of Him seemed to illuminate the Bible truth that He alone is the ‘way, the truth and the life’.

Disciple and apostle

Thomas is named as a disciple and as an apostle in the three other Gospels and in Acts. But we only hear of him individually in John. The only other references to him are in John 20:19–31, about post-resurrection Jesus appearing twice to the disciples, first without Thomas and then with Thomas. John 20:19–31 is a real and blessed ‘must’ to read. Please do read it.

There are six separate episodes covered in these two appearances of risen Jesus:

  1. The disciples blessed: John 20:19–23
  2. Thomas missing: John 20:24
  3. The disciples share: John 20:25
  4. Thomas doubting: John 20:25
  5. The disciples have fellowship: John 20:26
  6. Thomas believing: John 20:27–29


  1. The disciples blessed: John 20:19–23

It is the first day of the week. In time this day of the week will become the Christian weekly Sabbath rest of one day in seven, but it will celebrate not only God’s rest from His six-day creation, but also the day of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb.

It is evening. The disciples feel very low and meet behind closed doors: they are cowering away because they fear Jewish opposition, probably stirred up by the same religious leaders—the Scribes, Pharisees and High Priests—as those who engineered the crucifixion of their Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews have weaved this web of terror into the hearts of these followers on Christ, who all once claimed they would follow Jesus through thick and thin.

Peter had said to Jesus in front of the disciples, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’ Jesus had replied, ‘I tell you the truth, today—yes, tonight—before the cock crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.’ We read that then ‘Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”’ But ‘all the others said the same.’ Peter did deny three times that he even knew Jesus. The cock did crow three times. They all fled.

Into this background of guilt and fear, and through locked doors, ‘Jesus came and stood in the midst.’ There is no explanation of how the risen Christ does this—just the fact that He comes. Today, He comes into the hearts of those who turn from sin and guilt and trust Him, even where fear, and especially where guilt, exist. Jesus gives no explanation: just turn from sin to Him, and He comes to you, through the Holy Spirit.

Twice Jesus brings His blessed greeting of ‘Peace’ to them. Jesus brings us peace with our offended God because He suffered God’s wrath in His body for us when He was punished in our place on the cross. He gives us the peace of God in our hearts when we receive Him, as the Holy Spirit comes to live within the true believer. And He gives us the message of peace from God to share with all sinners who will repent and trust in Him. (That too is still true today.)

Jesus now shows them His nail-pierced hands and His gashed side: in other words, He reminds them that He has died on the cross for each one of them and that He now lives again! To say they are ‘glad when they [see] the Lord’ must be one of the Bible’s greatest under-statements! After His second ‘Peace’ greeting, He recommissions them to go to others with the gospel of forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ, and He promises them His Holy Spirit to do that.

  1. Thomas missing: John 20:24

We simply read, that Thomas ‘was not with them when Jesus came.’ When Jesus Christ came to save some people you know, did you feel as if you were ‘out?’ Did you miss out when Christ came to others, bringing His forgiveness for them and a new life of peace, God-enabled living, and purpose to live for Him? Thomas probably feels like that now: he is a stranger and an outsider to being saved from sin or being ‘born again.’ He is looking in, lost and sceptical, from the outside. He is an outsider at the moment from God’s forgiveness, new life, and guaranteed home in Heaven after death (Mark 14:29–31).

  1. The disciples share: John 20:25

The disciples do not use complicated arguments or deep theology at this point. They simply share with Thomas, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ Sometimes we need to go into detail to others about why we trust the Bible and receive Christ. Christians should be aiming increasingly at Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15). At other times sharing a simple statement of Bible truth, or a word of testimony, is all that is then needed. God used a lad with five loaves and two fishes to feed over 5,000 people! (Read Matthew 14:21 and Mark 16:9.) He can use the little that you know about the gospel to feed many sinners with the ‘Bread of life’ (John 6:35). Just keep trusting Him and sharing His message.

  1. Thomas doubting: John 20:25

Thomas states clearly and stubbornly that, unless he sees and fingers the nail-prints in Jesus’ hands and puts his hand into Jesus’ speared side, he will not believe. God does nothing immediately. He leaves Thomas to ‘stew’ for eight days. Often when someone hears the gospel and reacts against it, God will work on his conscience and heart by His Holy Spirit, even in his quieter moments, until he is ready to respond positively. Before I trusted in Christ, my sister gave me a book titled Believing Is Seeing. I never read the book, but I spent hours wondering about the title. When I came to believe in Christ, a little later, I suddenly began to ‘see’ it all! Those ‘dead’ moments were used by God to prepare me to respond to the gospel one Saturday night in Leeds. He made me ready to trust in Jesus personally. If you are a Christian, keep praying for your family members, friends and contacts. God may well be at work in their hearts, though you may not know it.

  1. The disciples have fellowship: John 20:26

After eight days, the disciples are in fellowship again, gathered behind closed doors. Jesus comes ‘and stood in their midst’ again. Unless we harden our hearts too often, Jesus keeps knocking at our hearts’ door lovingly. Jesus says in Revelation 3:20, ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.’ But the time may come when we have resisted His voice and offer of grace so much that our hearts become too hardened to even sense that He is there or ‘hear’ His knocking. Our hearts can become spiritually calloused. Beware! When God speaks to your heart, respond immediately and positively. Again, Jesus says, ‘Peace to you.’ But there is a big difference this time: Thomas is now there with the disciples!

  1. Thomas believing: John 20:2728

Jesus talks personally to Thomas. He also talks to us personally today in our hearts by His word, by His Spirit, by reading the Bible, by hearing the Bible explained in services and Bible studies, and by Christians sharing with us how they came to trust Jesus and what God has done for them since. When Jesus invites Thomas to look at, touch and handle the wounds in His hands and side, there is no record that Thomas does that. He simply replies, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Although Thomas is convinced because He sees the evidence that the risen Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for his sins, Jesus says, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ I am one of those many ‘blessed’ people who have never seen Jesus physically, but believe in Christ, by God’s grace. The same is true of all real Christian people living since Jesus ascended to Heaven.

Are you blessed by personal saving faith in Jesus? If not, why not repent of your sins and trust in the risen Jesus, right now? Do what Thomas did: first, realise Jesus really did die in your place and took the judgment for your sins on the cross; then rejoice that He did rise again and lives today; then be prepared to repent of your sins and put the Lord Jesus on the throne of your heart; and then declare Jesus to others as your Lord and your God. If you have not yet done so, do it now! By faith and telling others you have received Christ, you will receive the assurance that God has heard your prayer and saved you (Romans 10:9–10). If you have trusted Christ, thank God, and share this great message of good news with others.