“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast
believed. Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.”
— John 20:29
“Seeing is believing” is an age-old expression, indicating that people will not believe anything to be true unless they can see it for themselves. You may also have heard it said that Missouri calls itself the “show me” state, which apparently means that the people there, even more than others, have to be shown that something is true before they will believe it.
Why is this the case with so many people? Why are they reluctant to believe something to be true? Connected with belief is trust. We are more likely to trust and believe someone whom we have known for a long time and has proven himself to be reliable. This is very often the situation with people who have been married for a number of years, provided that trust has been built up between them; and they will believe one another without visual evidence. The same situation will often exist (and should exist) between parents and children. And in the church, when a pastor has served faithfully at the same place for a number of years, trust will have been established; and the members will be likely to believe their pastor, and the pastor his members. Nevertheless, as the Apostle John warns us, we should not believe our pastors because of who they are or because of the longevity of their service among us (I John 4:1), but because they consistently preach, teach, and apply the perfectly reliable Word of God in its truth and purity (Luke 10:16); for then they are “of God.”
And this brings us to the state of Thomas, the Savior’s disciple, mentioned in the passage above. The situation was as follows: The risen Christ on Easter day had appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to Peter, and to the Emmaus disciples. Reports of the empty tomb, of the message of the angels and of the Lord’s bodily appearances were being spread among the disciples (Luke 24:9-10) and were being evaluated as to their reliability; but even “the apostles” did not believe the reports of the women, regarding them to be nothing more than “idle tales” (v. 11). The text doesn’t say that it was anything “personal” against the reporters; it was just news that was, as we commonly say today, “too good to be true;” and they simply dismissed it.
“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst and saith unto them, ‘Peace be unto you.’” (John 20:19) —a very common and ordinary greeting among God’s people then (and even among the Jews today, yea, even among the Muslims in Arabic — “Shalom!” “Salaam!”). Nevertheless, the Evangelist Luke reports that “they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit” — a ghost!! (Luke 24:37). “And He said unto them, ‘Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?’” (v. 38). The doors were securely locked out of fear that the Jews might well have targeted them as their next objects of persecution. And the fact that they had, up to that very moment, felt secure and safe from any intrusion made the appearance of Christ all the more shocking to them. His appearance was nothing short of miraculous. Walls and locked doors offered no obstacle to the Lord according to His “illocal presence,” and the disciples knew this well. Even in His state of humiliation, when He did not always and fully use His divine attribute of omnipresence (Catechism Q/A 134), Jesus had occasionally manifested it (e.g., Matthew 14:25-26; John 8:59). But even then, as in His appearance to them walking on the sea, their reaction was exactly the same: “They were troubled, saying, ‘It is a spirit!’ And they cried out for fear” (Matthew 14:26). Even though the apostles themselves now saw Him with their own eyes, they still did not believe.
Therefore, Jesus’ greeting, “Peace be unto you,” was MORE than a social form. It was MUCH MORE than the casual “Hello” that it signifies among unbelievers still today including Jews and Muslims, among antinomians and Gospel reductionists who profess themselves to be Christians, and among social pacifists who accompany it with a quickly-flashed “peace sign.” For His disciples it was the same simple Gospel assurance as the “Fear not” proclaimed by the angel to Zacharias (Luke 1:13), to Mary in Nazareth (v. 30), to the shepherds on Bethlehem’s fields (2:10), and to the women at the tomb (Matthew 28:5). It was Jesus’ assurance to the disciples after Peter’s catch of fishes (Luke 5:10) and on many other occasions when He manifested forth His glory (John 1:14; 2:11; Matthew 17:1-9 etc.) in the eyes of sinful, mortal men. It was His exhortation that they stop fearing what should not at all be troubling them and instead have His peace in their hearts because of His work of redemption (cf. I Peter 1:18-19) and reconciliation (Romans 5:10). He assured them of that peace in John 14:27 in words which should be dear to every Christian’s heart: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you. Not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid!”
“And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). The hands and feet and side of Jesus still bore the marks of the nails and of the spear, retained as evidence of his saving work of redemption in His now glorified body. And they were “glad” when they saw this evidence. But, since they still “believed not for joy and wondered” (Luke 24:41), still filled with doubts and misgivings, He also “did eat before them” (Luke 24:43) as further evidence that He had risen with His own real human body. Jesus then said to them a second time, “Peace be unto you” and then repeated to them the authority He had given to them and to all true believers, and very specifically to the local congregation as God Himself sees it (Matthew 18:17), to forgive the sins of penitent sinners (The Office of the Keys, Catechism, Fifth Chief Part).
“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, 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’” (John 20:24-25). As “one of the twelve” Thomas should have believed his fellow disciples when they described their encounter with Jesus and the proofs He gave them of His resurrection. But, like the others who had dismissed the reports of the women (Luke 24:10-11), he did not believe them. Rather he insisted, or demanded, that he be able to have the same physical, tangible evidence granted to HIM personally, so that he could place his OWN finger into the nailprints and his hand into the Savior’s side. This was the same unbelief, the same doubt, the same lack of “general faith” or confidence in God’s Word and its promises, of which the rest had been guilty, the same unbelief they had manifested during that great tempest on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:24ff.), concerning which Jesus had asked them, saying: “How is it that ye have no faith??” (Mark 4:40). This was not damning unbelief — the rejection of the mercy of God to poor sinners in Christ, but the lack of confidence in ALL of God’s promises in His Word — lack of confidence of which ALL, even Christians, are guilty before God (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6). Jesus points that out in Matthew 6:24-34, for example, where He says that even children of their “heavenly Father” are overtaken by anxiety about their future in spite of His promised providence. It is that doubt, that skepticism, which often makes excessive demands and sets its own terms for proof above that which the Lord provides in His Word (cf. Luke 16:27-31; also John 4:48).
Out of condescending love for this weak sheep — as He had manifested the same for the others — yet not in any way to validate his skepticism, “after eight days again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace be unto you.’ Then said He to Thomas, [singling him out from the rest according to His omniscience], ‘Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side; and be not faithless, but believing’” (John 20:26-27). The words used here indicate that the scene described is the same as it was the week before. However, this time it was especially for the sake of Thomas that Jesus had come. What condescending love of the Lord Jesus to accommodate Himself to the conditions which Thomas had set, though he had no right to set them! (Cf. the twofold test that Gideon proposed to the Lord in Judges 6:37-40). Nevertheless, in order to banish all doubts from the mind of Thomas, Jesus invited him to place his hands into His wounds. “And Thomas answered and said unto Him, ‘My Lord and my God.’” (John 20:28). Now Thomas believed and confessed with true conviction. And his words comprise one of the clearest personal confessions recorded in the New Testament that Jesus Christ is true God (Cf. also Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16). Both Thomas’s faith and his confession were wrought by God Himself (Philippians 2:13) through the hearing of God’s Word (Romans 10:17) in the mouth of his Savior.
The following words of the Lord Jesus could well have been said to ALL the disciples because of their own unbelief of His Word: “Jesus saith unto him, ‘Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’” (John 20:29). True faith rests on the clear testimony of the Word of God (Romans 10:8). St. Paul writes by inspiration of the Holy Ghost: “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17); and he tells both the Ephesians and us: “[Ye] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets [the written Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments], Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). Faith does not depend upon our feelings and our senses. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9). Rather, the Apostle Peter writes concerning Jesus: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8). “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). “We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7). Is this “blind faith,” as the scoffers of this world call our Christian confidence? Absolutely not, for the Lord has given us His Word on which to base our faith concerning the things which are “not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit, …which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (I Corinthians 2:10a, 13). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:16). For that reason we should accept His words, the words of Holy Scripture, without hesitation and doubt; and that makes the “seeing” of empirical proof irrelevant and completely unnecessary.
But what do the unbelieving scoffers of this world say? To this very day they reply, “Had our eyes seen the miracles that are ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament, the healing of the sick, the crippled and the blind, the calming of the sea, the feeding of thousands with a few loaves of bread, the calling forth of the dead, the resurrection of Christ Himself from the dead, and all those miraculous deeds which, it is alleged, Christ performed; had we ourselves witnessed all those wonderful things presumably connected with His life, suffering, death, and resurrection, then we would not hesitate for a moment; but we would believe in Him immediately. But we did not see these things. They are unbelievable. They are inconsistent with the common order of things in this world. And therefore we do not believe.”
There is a distinct and profound difference between the doubt of Thomas and the blasphemous unbelief of such scoffers! First of all, Thomas was a believer in the Savior and one of His disciples and apostles. Unbelieving scoffers do not believe in God at all, that they have sinned and deserve nothing but damnation, that Jesus is the Son of God, that He redeemed the world by His vicarious atonement, that the Scriptures are His inerrant Word, that they are justified before God alone by faith in Jesus’ merits, etc., etc. Secondly, Thomas was guilty of sinful uncertainty about the Savior’s resurrection from the dead on Easter morning — the same uncertainly initially expressed by the others. It was the sinful uncertainty of the disciples in the boat tossed with waves (Luke 8:22-25), of the man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit (Mark 9:24), of the apostles on the Mount of Olives concerning Jesus’ mission as our gracious King (Acts 1:6), etc. It was sinful uncertainty of which they, by the grace of God, repented. But the doubt of scoffers is their deliberate (and persistent) effort, as unbelievers (Romans 8:7), to discredit the statements of the Bible, to mock its claims of verbal inspiration, inerrancy, authority and all-sufficiency, to reject Jesus as the only Savior of men, and to denounce God’s pronouncement of their guilt and of their ultimate damnation in hell because of their impenitence and unbelief. And though they claim willingness to be convinced by empirical evidence and even by miracles that they themselves might be able to witness, the Lord Jesus Himself says of them, as He said of the rich man’s five brothers: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead!” (Luke 16:31).
It is continued confidence in the authority of God’s Word that the Lord’s Jesus requires for true discipleship (John 8:31-32). Jesus expected His disciples to accept the testimony of the women not because the women were good and responsible and truthful Christians, but because His angel and HE Himself had directed them to tell His disciples the news of His resurrection (Matthew 28:7, 10). Jesus had fully expected Thomas to accept both the women’s report and the subsequent report of the disciples, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25), not because the disciples were men of character who were both able and willing to give a truthful statement, to present things exactly as they were, but because they were the authorized purveyors of His Word (John 20:21). Moreover, Jesus fully expects US to accept and to believe “the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20), not merely because they themselves had seen those things which they reported and had heard what Christ said, not because they were honest and upright men who would rather have died than deviate from the truth, but because the “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21; cf. also I Corinthians 2:13).
Unbelieving scoffers represent God’s penmen as men of doubtful character, looking to gain some temporal advantage for the preaching of the Gospel, imposters who made up the resurrection of Jesus to gratify their own ambition or to gain some material benefit. But what earthly benefit did the apostles reap from the preaching of the Gospel? Did they gain any earthly advantage thereby? Did they gain fame, honor, riches, or worldly possessions? No, they were hated, ridiculed, persecuted, banished, tortured, and put to death for their testimony. And who ever heard of a person with a rational mind making up a lie, and maintaining that lie, so that he might suffer and be put to death, while he could save his life if he told the truth? Indeed, the apostles sealed with their own blood the truthfulness of their own report.
Nevertheless we must ever remember that all such reasoning falls far short of validating what they wrote. It was not merely “their report” which they penned, as if they had been nothing more than “honest journalists on the scene;” for even the most honest journalist is fallible. No! Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father, “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17), because it is His Word, not merely that of the apostles and prophets, because they spoke “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (I Corinthians 2:13), because Jesus assured them, “He that heareth you heareth Me” (Luke 10:16), and because He chides as “fools” those who, like His own disciples, are “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). That same Jesus tells us, as He confirmed the same to Thomas, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed,” yea, “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
Do we, because of the perverseness of our flesh, have doubts at times? Are we too all too often “fools and slow of heart to believe” what God in His Word has revealed and promised to us? Certainly, for we, too, are sinful. But by the grace of God, who elected us to come to faith through the ministration of the Word, who predestinated us to eternal glory even before He created the world, who in time, by the means of His Gospel, called us to faith, justified us by faith, sanctified us and kept us in the faith, we humbly acknowledge our transgressions of doubting His Word, sincerely repent of them, and pray that, according to His promise, He will keep us steadfast in His Word and faith unto our end. For that is the blessedness of those who have not seen and yet have believed that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [we] might have life through His name” (John 20:31).
— D. G. R.