It is easy to look at the disciples and wonder how they could’ve been so slow to understand who Jesus was. How could they have doubted Him? He was right in front of them. But we have the advantage of being on this side of the resurrection, so we can see the whole story arc of Scripture. And some of us still have the propensity to doubt! Had we been with the disciples, we likely would’ve been just like them.
While Peter was the most bold and outspoken of the disciples, Thomas was the most consistent in his struggles to believe. In John 14, in the middle of the upper room discourse, Jesus is assuring His disciples that He will come again, and gives His final encouragement and charge to them just before being arrested. Immediately after Jesus says definitively, “If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also,” Thomas pipes up with a doubter’s question, asking how they could know where Jesus was going or how to get there (John 14:3–5). Jesus’s response leaves little room for doubt:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him” (vv.6–7).
Twice in four verses Jesus makes declarations of His lordship and of the way of salvation. Yet Thomas still hesitated to believe. Scripture defines faith as “the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This is what Thomas was missing, the thing he lacked: what he could not see, he could not believe. He was a disciple, one of Jesus’s closest friends for three years. He was with Jesus at His arrest and with the rest of His followers after His death. He was a true follower of Christ, but he struggled to believe.
After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to the rest of the disciples, but Thomas was absent. When the other disciples told him about their encounter with the risen Lord, Thomas said, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Maybe he said this with arrogant defiance, but it seems more likely that he yearned to believe and simply could not. He had followed Jesus to the very end, but he did not know how to follow Him further.
So Jesus did what He does with seeking doubters: He gave Thomas reason to believe. He appeared again and showed Thomas His wounds, but He did not stop there. He wouldn’t let Thomas stagnate as a doubter. With the same clarity as He spoke in the upper room, Jesus declared:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).
He was summoning Thomas, and everyone who reads these words, to faith, for His “righteous one shall live by faith,” which is how He calls us to live (Hebrews 10:38).
We have the whole of Scripture, yet we still doubt. Like Thomas, we struggle to follow Jesus, who we forget is always with us (Hebrews 13:5; Psalm 46:1). And so Jesus’s words are for us too. He is preparing a place for us to be with Him (John 14:3). He is the way, the truth, and the life (v.6). And we are blessed if we believe without seeing, by faith.
Written by Barnabas Piper