Compared with other Apostles, the gospels provide a fair number of references to Thomas. Many of these references come in key moments within the life of Jesus. Thomas plays an important role in eliciting from Jesus what is revealed about God. The gospel of John gives us the best look at Thomas.
Three specific incidents stand out. First, Thomas appears in the account of Jesus’ delay outside of Bethany, during which time Lazarus died. As Jesus tells his disciples that they are going to go to witness his power, Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16).
Second, in the upper room discourse, Thomas asks the pivotal question, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answer remains revolutionary, life altering, and transformational two millennia later: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:5-7).
Third, after Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas is not with the other disciples when Jesus first appears to them. Upon his return, he cannot believe the words the others are speaking. “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.” A week later, he does just that; prompting the exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-29)
Several other places in the gospels mention Thomas, but those are the major ones. Outside of the biblical literature, there is quite a bit of legend and other works attributed to Thomas. The apocryphal book “The Gospel According to Thomas” is considered to be a later Gnostic interpolation of some of the legends concerning Thomas. Several other legends persist.
First, legend has it that the Apostles drew lots to determine where each would proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Thomas drew India. He protested. He said he was not physically able to do the trip to India. According to legend, Jesus appeared to Abban, an envoy of an Indian king, and sold Thomas as a slave to him.
Many strange incidents occurred during their travels. When they arrived in Andrapolis, they landed and attended the wedding reception for the king’s daughter. Thomas exhorted the bride to remain an virgin. He was hired to build a palace for the king, but he spent the money entrusted to him on the poor. The king was not pleased and imprisoned Thomas. Thomas escaped and as a result the king converted.
Other legends involve Thomas in adventures like an Indiana Jones movie. He had adventures with dragons and other wild animals. His last missionary journey took him to a city where the wife and son of the ruler were converted through his preaching. The king took exception, condemned Thomas to death, led him out of the city, and pierced him through with the spears of four soldiers.
Thomas struggles with his faith. He does not understand it quickly. He does not figure things out until they are spelled out. He wants very much to believe; he just finds it difficult to comprehend what is happening. None of it matches the things he knew more than understood he knew were true.
The awe and wonder of faith are well illustrated by Thomas. Jesus does not condemn those who seek faith via senses. Instead, he offers a blessing for those who are able to believe without putting their hands on the scars from the nails or in the area where the spear penetrated his side.
Perseverance is something that we can admire in Thomas. He believed despite his unbelief. He confessed despite his uncertainty. He followed without knowing the end destination. He trusted hoping that Jesus would prove trustworthy.
As we walk the walk of faith, may we have the boldness to ask the questions Thomas asked and the courage to live the answer.
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