A Study of John 20:24-29
“But Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them…” (John 20:24-29)
Marvelous resurrection of the LORD!
Historically real, yet far transcending the things than eye can see and ear can hear, and that can arise in the heart of man!
Leaving its traces, its evidences on “this side,” in the world of our experience, in order that we may surely believe that He is risen indeed, and believing may have life in His name; yet, itself belonging wholly to the “other side,” beyond the scope of our senses and understanding both.
Visible in its evidences, yet invisible in its reality. Object of the experience of those that heard, and saw with their eyes, and looked upon, and handled with their hands what could be seen and heard and handled of the Word of life; yet, always so that this very experience carried with it the assurance and consciousness, that the “thing itself” lay beyond their present experience, could be appropriated only by faith, could be rejoiced in only through hope. Blessed is he that believeth!
Marvelous, too, are for this very reason the resurrection narratives in the Scriptures.
No human artist, be he of the most consummate skill, could ever have designed them. For his boldest imagination would still plainly bear the mark of the earthy, of the things that are below. Were he a sculptor, he would have made of the risen LORD a touchable reality; were he a painter, the resurrected Jesus would always have remained an object of sight; were he a word-artist, he would have brought Jesus that died back to us, into our world, into a position in which He could nevermore draw us to Himself and save us. One and all they would have presented the resurrection as real, very real, historically real, but never as resurrection.
For, indeed, the resurrection of the LORD is real: the LORD is risen indeed! Such is the quintessence of the gospel. If it were not so, there would be no resurrection of the dead we would be of all men most miserable. But He is raised on the third day, as He had told His disciples. We are no longer in our sins, and we rejoice in hope!
But just as true it is that He is raised. A real resurrection, yes, but a resurrection nevertheless. A resurrection of the body, to be sure, but a resurrection of the body. And resurrection is not merely to live again, it is more: it is victory! Victory it is over death and the grave, over corruptibleness and mortality, over flesh and blood and over the image of the earthy. Resurrection is no return, if is such a passing through death that its jaws must forevermore remain open, paralyzed; it is an emergence on the other side, the heavenly, the side of the Kingdom of heaven.
That the resurrection of the LORD is real must be revealed, witnessed, proclaimed to all the Church!
That this reality is resurrection must be made evident!
That both these conditions are perfectly satisfied by the gospel narratives of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is their marvel.
Yes, indeed, these resurrection narratives are the rock of the gospel narrative, upon which all the attempts of unbelieving mockers to disprove them and to deny the resurrection of the Lord, must needs be and always are completely wrecked!
No doubt, the apostles, those faithful witnesses, recorded what they saw and heard.
There was the silent testimony of the empty grave, and the place where He had lain, and the linen clothes, the marvel of those linen clothes and of the napkin rolled up in a place by itself. The disciple whom Jesus loved saw and believed!
There was the message of the angels, pointing them to the place where He had lain, preaching to them the gospel of the risen LORD, reminding them of the word He had spoken to them, which they had forgotten in their overwhelming grief at His death had forgotten, that He would go before them to Galilee.
And then they saw Him!
The Magdalene and the women returning from the grave, and Peter and the sojourners to Emmaus, and all the disciples. . . .
They saw Him, five hundred brethren at once!
They saw Him, yet they were conscious that He was more than what they saw of Him.
They believed, they doubted, they marveled. . . .
Wonderful resurrection of the LORD!
Indeed, He is risen!
He is risen!
But Thomas. . . . and Thomas!
Eight days had elapsed between these but. . . .and!
On the evening of the resurrection day the Lord Jesus had appeared to His disciples, when the doors were shut (for fear of the Jews, and He had spoken His familiar “Peace be unto you” to them. And they had been glad when they saw the LORD.
But Thomas had not been with them.
Very little, beyond what is told us in this narrative, do we know of this disciple. His name suggests nothing about his character, nor does his surname Didymus afford any information. Apart from his being called as an apostle there seems to be very little noteworthy about him. Besides, even this particular narrative of the appearance of the Lord Jesus to the disciples when Thomas was with them, is not chiefly interested in Thomas, but in the risen Christ that here appears especially to him. Only in as far as knowledge of the disciples serves to shed light upon the appearance of the resurrected Lord Jesus is it of importance to know anything about Him.
Not Thomas the man, but Thomas as the recipient of this particular revelation is significant.
Who was he? What was his spiritual makeup? What is the meaning of this manifestation of the Lord to him? What is its message? Why does the Lord add so significantly at the close of this manifestation: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed”?
A few bits of information we receive about him in the gospel according to John.
Thomas it was, who proposed to accompany Jesus to Bethany where Lazarus had died and to die with Him, when the Lord had declared His intention to go thither in order “to awake him out of his sleep,” in spite of the fact that the Jews sought to kill Him (John 12:16). Thomas it was again, who spoke when the Lord revealed to the disciples that He would depart from them, and added: “Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” Emphatically Thomas had contradicted this last statement: “Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way?” And once more it is Thomas that assumes a unique attitude after the death and resurrection of the Lord, distinguishing himself from all the rest of the apostles. He is not with them, when the Lord appears. And when the other disciples report to him that they have seen the Lord, he replies: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Do these three touches in the picture of Thomas harmonize? Do they point to a common trait?
Is it correct, perhaps, to say that Thomas was a sceptic, that the most striking characteristic in his spiritual disposition was doubt? Thus he is usually presented. To speak of a “doubting Thomas” has become customary. The “doubting Thomas” has become proverbial. Yet, this would hardly seem to explain the situation. It is true, Thomas not only doubts, but positively refuses to believe; but hardly can it be said that in this respect he distinguished himself from the rest of the apostles. For they too believed not when they had been told that Jesus was alive (Mark 16:11). And when the women reported their experiences at the grave to them, “their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” Must we explain that Thomas’ chief characteristic was that he was melancholy, always inclined to look at the dark things of life, a born pessimist? Thus others would explain this apostle. There appears to be truth in this evaluation of his character. He could discern the extreme calamity rather easily. “Let us go and die with Him,” he proposes. “We know neither whither thou goest nor the way thither,” he declares. And, no doubt, the fact that he is not with the disciples on the evening of that wonderful first day of the week, must be explained from the same consideration on his part: the Lord Jesus had died, all was lost! And yet, this really explains nothing as far as this narrative is concerned. Why does Thomas so emphatically insist on putting his hands into the print of the nails before he will believe? And why that peculiar application of the incident by the Lord Jesus: “blessed is he that hath not seen, and yet hath believed”?
Thomas would base his faith on the experience of his senses!
He would live by what he could see, hear, touch!
This, no doubt, explains all! What lay within the scope of his experience he would believe; what he could not see or touch he refused to accept! This explains, why there was in his conception of things, especially in his view of the kingdom of heaven which Christ came to establish, no room for the death of the Lord Jesus. That is the reason why he so emphatically denies that they could know the way whither Jesus was about to go. And this certainly makes this narrative of Jesus’ manifestation and its application intelligible.
Unless I touch Him I will not believe!
His condition during those days that he was not with the disciples, and even after they had told him that they had seen the Lord, was one of utter hopelessness!
He could not see things!
The things that had taken place were utterly inexplicable from the viewpoint of things that are seen and touched and experienced in our world. Jesus had been taken captive by the enemies, had been condemned to death, had been cruelly nailed to the cross, had been destroyed.
This Thomas had seen!
The enemy had triumphed. The cause of the Lord was a lost cause!
Why should the disciples still meet after He, Who was the very bond of their fellowship, had been taken away?
And so Thomas was not in their midst, when the Lord Jesus manifested Himself to His disciples on the evening of the resurrection day.
And, although he permitted himself to be persuaded to meet with them eight days later, his spiritual attitude was unchanged.
What could be ascertained by his senses he would believe!
Unless. . . .I will not believe!
My LORD and my God!
Such was the glorious confession wrung from Thomas’ heart and mouth by the wonderful manifestation of the risen Lord to him.
What is its significance?
Had Thomas seen and was this confession the result off what he had seen? Was the object of his faith still limited by the scope of the things he could see and touch? Yes, Thomas had seen, and he believed. But surely, what he believed and expressed in his confession far transcended the limits of his experience.
My Lord and my God!
Though the contents of this marvelous confession were somehow suggested by what he had seen, they could themselves not possibly be the object of his sense- perception. But he had been witness of the reality of the resurrection; and he had been impressed toy the power and glory of the risen Lord. That Jesus was raised indeed, and that He was raised had been established beyond a shadow of doubt. He saw, and what he saw brought him face to face with that which he could not see: the power and the glory of the resurrection, of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead. He believes and worships!
The reality of the resurrection he had witnessed.
For he had seen the Lord Jesus. And he had heard Him speak. When, after eight days, the disciples were assembled once more, and again met behind closed doors for fear of the Jews, and Thomas was also with them, Jesus came and stood in the midst of them! And Thomas saw that it was He! If there still lingered a shadow of doubt that it was the Lord, it was at once dispelled by the familiar voice that said; “Peace be unto you!” Nor had he felt need of further verification. The Lord, indeed, invited him to approach Him and to put the finger into the print of the nails, and to thrust his hand into His side, but Thomas felt as if it would have been sacrilege to act upon that invitation. Upon sight of Him all his heart cried out with joy: it is the Lord! He is risen indeed!
The “otherness” of the, risen Lord, too, had been suggested to, had been impressed upon him.
Not only had the Lord revealed that He knew every word he had spoken in his boast that he would not believe unless he would first put his finger into the print of the nails, and thrust his hand into the pierced side of the Lord; but the suddenness and marvel of this manifestation plainly testified that the Lord was risen. He came and stood in their midst, though the doors were shut! How had He come? Whither had He appeared. in their midst? To ask these questions is to show that still we do not understand that Jesus Christ is risen.
Yet, so it was: Jesus is raised from the dead!
His body had been sown in corruption, it was raised in incorruption; it was sown in dishonor, it was raised in glory; it was sown in weakness, it was raised in power; it had been sown a natural body, it was now raised a spiritual body. In glory and power and life He is exalted far above the first Adam. The latter was a living soul, of the earth earthy; the risen Lord is a quickening spirit, the Lord from heaven!
My Lord and my God!
Thomas believed even then far more than he could perceive by his senses. And still more of that risen Lord is hid from our perception, can be appropriated only by the faith that does not see.
For He is our justification, our life, our eternal hope!
Blessed, therefore, is he that hath not seen, yet believed!
For, that faith is salvation!
Fullness of joy!
Herman Hoeksema – 1941