It was the longest Sabbath of their lives, and the eery silence of the day only added to their distress. The disciples had scattered to their homes to replay—over and over again —the gruesome scene of the crucifixion. They could still smell Jesus; his sweat, blood, and raw, half-baked human flesh lingered in their nostrils.
Every sound was startling. Any moment, they expected to hear the patter of feet and the blasting of their locked doors, as Roman soldiers flooded in to drag them away. After all, Jesus said that “the servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:20).
The First Day Without Jesus
John worried most for the women, especially Mary, whom Jesus had entrusted to him (John 19:26-27). In his mind’s eye, the frail woman still covered her ears to muffle the piercing cries of Jesus.
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
“It is finished!”
The sayings echoed in his ears. John shook his head violently, trying to wrestle the scene from his mind— trying to remember better days. For a moment, he could feel the warmth of Jesus’ breast as they reclined at their last supper together. In another moment, he was ice-cold in Gethsemane. Reality squeezed the hope from his bones.
Was this the plan all along? He struggled to believe.
John almost started weeping when Mary scurried from across the room and grasped his hand without a word. She held on until her knuckles were white, as if she could somehow transfer strength to her quiet-spirited keeper. John was thankful for her. By serving her, he would still be able to serve his Lord.
For hours, Mary and John stared at each other…then at the ground…then at each other. Sometimes they spoke, but mostly they just stared. And their eyes said, “I know you are scared, too.”
Long minute by long minute, the sun climbed the clouds, then drooped and bowed beneath the horizon.
The first full day without Jesus.
John had only closed his eyes for a few moments on the night after the death, but this night was different. Exhausted, he retired to his room and drifted into a numb, dreamless sleep.
Then came the morning.
Seeing and Believing
Peter was still in a lull when he heard violent pounding at his door. Andrew was with him, and his eyes exclaimed, “The Jews!” They erupted from the floor and moved away from the windows.
A silhouette of a woman appeared through a single glass pane in the wall. “Mary,” he whispered. Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother, had gone to the garden early, while it was yet dark, and saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. They returned at the behest of an angel.
“Risen?” Peter wasn’t sure what to feel. Her words seemed like an idle tale, but he could see the fear and the joy in her eyes. He wrestled his arms into his outer garment while running towards the sepulcher to see for himself.
He picked up John on the way.
The world was a blur of green, grey, white, blue, and brown as they raced to the place where Jesus had been laid. Peter was normally a better runner, but not this particular morning. A thrill of hope invigorated John’s muscles. He arrived first to the garden tomb and stooped to look in.
Just as Mary said, the linen cloths were lying there.
John was numb, frozen in place until Peter caught up and ducked in without a thought. The face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, was folded up in a place by itself.
“Impossible,” Peter mouthed. John dropped to his knees. Fear melted away.
John saw and believed (John 20:8).
He remembered the words of Jesus: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). “If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes” (Mark 9:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The Doubting Disciples
John’s eager faith was uncommon among the disciples.
When the women first returned with the report from the angels, their “words seemed to [the disciples] an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).
After Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, “She went and told those who had been with him…But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it” (Mark 16:10-11).
And after Jesus appeared to two Christ-followers on Emmaus road, a man named Cleopas and his companion, they too “went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them” (Mark 16:13; cf. Luke 24:13-35).
It was not until the evening, when Jesus appeared and stood among them, that, after seeing his hands and his side, they believed (John 20:19-20). At this point, Thomas was not in the room. Perhaps he was distancing himself from the other believers.
After all, it wasn’t a room full of unwavering faith warriors. The disciples in the room were just as disillusioned as he was. Their door was locked for fear of the Jews, and the door of their hearts was bolted by unbelief. When they believed, it was because they saw. Naturally, they wanted to go and tell Thomas. They said, “We have seen the Lord.”
The full account is beautifully recorded in John 20:24-29:
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. And 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 saith he to Thomas, 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. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
The disciples came with the report, “we have seen the Lord,” and Thomas doubted. But don’t forget that when Mary came with the report, “I have seen the Lord,” the disciples doubted. And when the two men from Emmaus road came with the report, “we have seen the Lord,” the disciples did not believe.
Thomas wasn’t throwing in the towel. Eight days later, he was still with the disciples. Once again, Jesus showed up, and he had Thomas on his mind. He said, “Thomas, here are my hands and my side.” But don’t forget that he had done the same for the other believers eight days earlier.
When Thomas “answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God,” he became Victorious Thomas. When Jesus said, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed,” Jesus was not saying “Thomas, you are less blessed.” No, he was just as blessed as John, who believed when he saw the empty tomb. Thomas was “blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). “Doubting” Thomas has the wrong legacy. He’s been branded with the wrong adjective.
Clarke summarizes Jesus’ words in this way: “You have seen, [Thomas] and therefore you have believed, and now you are blessed; you are now happy — fully convinced of my resurrection; yet no less blessed shall all those be who believe in my resurrection, without the evidence you have had.”
‘Doubting’ Thomas has the wrong legacy. When Thomas ‘answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God,’ he became Victorious Thomas.
We do not speak of Denying Peter and perhaps we should no longer speak of Doubting Thomas. When the disciples gathered at Pentecost to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, we read that “Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James,” were together in the upper room. Victorious Thomas was there!
Thomas is numbered among the elect—those who received Messiah. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
A Compassionate Savior
It is easier for me to relate to Thomas than it is for me to relate to John. This Easter, perhaps it is the same for you. Like Thomas, you may need Jesus to meet you somewhere that you are weak. Take heart! “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Ps. 103:8).
Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas for his unbelief. He didn’t make an example of him in front of the other disciples. Jesus compassionately met Thomas where he was. And while it is damning to persist in the doubt of unbelief, strong faith is a gift that we receive, not the product of a meritorious muscle-flexing of our own bulldog resolve.
Jesus will compassionately meet you where you are.
Christ died for you! Christ rose for you! The testimony of the apostles is reliable. Press through your doubts and lay hold of Jesus. Like the father with a demon-possessed son, “cry out, and say with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). You will soon say with Victorious Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” For “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Ro. 10:9).
“We trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Tim. 4:10), and this is our message: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).