Believing what we cannot see is hard. All of us are skeptics to some degree, and some more than others. But there is often more going on inside a skeptic than meets the eye. And Jesus knows how to reach them. That’s one reason I love Thomas’ story.1
Jesus’ death had been difficult and confusing for everyone. Having been welcomed into Jerusalem like a king, he was dead before the week was over. And when the shepherd was struck, the sheep scattered. But they regathered in a secret hideout in Jerusalem.
On Sunday things took a weird twist. It began with Mary Magdalene insisting that she had seen Jesus alive in the morning. True, Jesus’ body disappearing was admittedly strange. But still, everyone knew Jesus had really died. No one could believe Mary’s claim, except maybe John.
Then later in the day Peter announced that he also had seen Jesus alive. This troubled Thomas. But he figured he could cut Peter some slack. After denying Jesus publicly, no one could blame Peter for wishing everything was okay. He just needed time.
But then Cleopas burst into the house Sunday night claiming that he had walked—walked!—with Jesus to Emmaus that afternoon. What Thomas found particularly hard to believe was that Cleopas and his friend hadn’t recognized Jesus the entire time until dinner when poof! he just disappeared.
Well, this excited everyone else, but Thomas only felt agitated. He desperately missed Jesus too, but he wasn’t going to let grief make him believe bizarre things. Jesus was dead.
Yet he didn’t feel like dousing everyone’s unreal hope with a wet blanket of reality. They weren’t ready to hear it anyway. Thomas decided he needed to clear his head with a walk. By himself.
So after whispering a discreet excuse to Nathaniel, he managed to slip outside without much notice. After being very careful not to betray the hideout, he started down an empty street.
The quiet was refreshing. But the walk wasn’t as helpful as he had hoped. The Jesus sightings were disturbing, especially because the witnesses were credible.
Then a rush of memories from the past three years flowed through Thomas’ mind. So many things he had seen would have been unbelievable if he hadn’t seen them. Most haunting now was Lazarus. And Jesus had seemed to know that he was going to die in Jerusalem.
Suddenly Thomas realized he was arguing with himself. His agitation really wasn’t over his friends’ failure to face the facts. The facts, in fact, were now ambiguous. He was agitated because part of him actually believed Jesus was alive. And this frustrated the skeptic in him who took pride in being a man of common sense. A resurrection just seemed too incredible to be true.
The more he thought, the less sure he became. No one knew where Jesus’ body was. Those who claimed to have seen him were people he trusted. It would make sense of certain prophesies. Could it be?
Show me the body! his skeptic side shouted. At least Lazarus could be seen and touched in Bethany by any doubter. So if Jesus really was alive, why this “hide and seek” game? Wouldn’t he just show himself to them all?
He’d believe Jesus was alive when he saw him alive.
When Thomas returned to the house, four of his friends pounced on him, “We have seen the Lord, Thomas! It’s all true! He was just with us! Where were you?”
Thomas instantly felt a surge of shock, unbelief, isolation, regret for having left, and self-pity over feeling left out.
Feeling angry he blurted out with more conviction than he felt, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Most of his friends were dismayed. But Peter just watched him, smiling slightly.
The following eight days were long and lonely for Thomas. His friends were gracious. No one debated him. It was, in fact, their calm confidence in Jesus’ resurrection that aggravated Thomas’ growing conviction that he was wrong. Outside he tried to maintain a façade of resolute intellectual skepticism, but inside he was wrestling and melting and wanting more than anything to see Jesus too.
And then it happened. Thomas was staring at the floor, pondering again the possibility that his unbelief had disqualified him. Had Jesus rejected him? If so, he knew he deserved it. Then someone gasped. He looked up and his heart leaped into his throat! Jesus was standing across the room looking back at him. “Peace be with you.”
Thomas could hardly breathe. Jesus spoke to him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
All objections and resistance in Thomas evaporated. And in tears of repentance, relief, and worship Thomas dropped on his knees before Jesus and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.”
Be patient and gracious with the skeptics in your life. We shouldn’t assume their outward confidence accurately reflects their inward condition. Keep praying for them and share what seems helpful. Keep confidently and humbly following Jesus. And trust his timing. He knows best how and when to reveal himself to them.
Trusting the God of Thomas with you,
P.S. A message you might consider forwarding to a skeptic is Christ and Those in Him Will Never Die Again. In it John Piper offers some sound reasons why skeptics should consider the claims of the resurrection. As always, it’s free online. Our free online outreach is supported by folks like you who contribute to our work. More information can be found on our Support DG page.
1 Thomas’ skepticism over Jesus’ resurrection is recorded in John 20:24-29, but the chronology of events are drawn from a combination of all the gospels’ accounts of the days following the crucifixion.