“The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’” (John 20:25).
Any teacher or student will recognize the effectiveness of visual aids. We learn through our senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) and the more of our senses which are involved in any experience, the more likely it is that we will perceive that experience correctly and remember it.
The apostle Thomas is most often remembered by Christians today as “Doubting Thomas” because of his refusal to take the word of his fellow apostles as sufficient proof of the incredible, even impossible, resurrection of Jesus. But was his desire for more proof of this unbelievable development really a lack of faith? Was Jesus’ later response to him critical or judgmental?
One week after his initial appearance to the gathered disciples Jesus returned, this time to find Thomas among the group. He immediately invited Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving but believe” (John 20:27). Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Finally Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Jesus willingness to provide to Thomas the evidence he requested does not suggest that he was displeased with the request. His contrast between Thomas’ belief and that of those who would come to faith without similar visual proof was a commendation to the latter – not necessarily a rebuke to the former.
In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23) Jesus concluded with the description of good soil, that it would sometimes produce “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Not all good soil has the same potential fertility. But it is all good. Similarly, the blessing given the servants with five and two talents (Matthew 25:14-30) were essentially the same though the amount entrusted to them suggests different capabilities. Both were praised, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (verses 21, 23).
Thomas’ faith was commendable. The faith of later generations of believers who will never have the opportunity to see the incarnate and risen Jesus is even more commendable. Note that Thomas only asked for what the other apostles had already been granted – visual assurance of the resurrection.
Peter would later identify the witnessing of all key elements of Jesus’ ministry on earth, including the resurrection, as essential qualifications of apostolic office (Acts 1:21-22). If he were to continue to be one of the twelve, Thomas must also see Jesus in the flesh, after his death and burial.
Paul would later state concerning the Christian life, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). This is not by choice, but by necessity. Those things which we proclaim in the Gospel of Jesus Christ are no longer available to us physically or visually. We can only hear (and read) the record of their occurrence. Therefore, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Jesus’ statement to Thomas regarding those who would believe without seeing affirms two things. First it affirms that such faith is possible and reasonable. We cannot see Jesus as Thomas did, but we have the report of those who did. John affirmed, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — . . . these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:1, 4).
Second, Jesus affirms that those of later generations are in no way inferior to the contemporaries of Christ on earth. Our faith is equally pleasing to him. Our service is equally valued. Our future is equally glorious.
Today we should avail ourselves of whatever evidence of God and the Gospel is available. But in the absence of one or more types of evidence let us continue to believe, without doubting, on the basis of what God has given us. What we have is sufficient. Do not be disturbed by that which is no longer available.