Shortly after being raised from the dead, Jesus appeared to the disciples, who were in hiding. This was a significant turning point for our Lord’s followers, for they received a mission to go into the world and proclaim the forgiveness of sins through belief in the gospel (John 20:19–23). Yet, not all of the disciples were present the first time Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection; Thomas was absent (v. 24).
The disciples told Thomas that Jesus had shown Himself alive to them. However, Thomas did not believe them and said that he would not believe until he saw the nail marks in our Lord’s hands and put his hand in Jesus’ pierced side (v. 25). Subsequent generations of the church have called him “doubting Thomas” because of his unbelief and his demand for physical evidence of the resurrection.
Christ soon gave Thomas such evidence. Eight days after appearing to the disciples, Jesus came again to them, and this time Thomas was there. We might be tempted to look down on Thomas for his lack of faith, but note that the disciples were again gathered in a locked room, so they still feared arrest (v. 26). The other disciples might have believed that Jesus was alive, but that faith had not yet led to the courage that is the fruit of authentic trust in the Lord (Josh. 1:9). They were not much more trusting than Thomas on that point.
Entering the room, Jesus told Thomas to see His nail marks and place his finger in His pierced side (John 20:27). Here we see evidence of Jesus’ supernatural knowledge, for we have no indication that the other disciples had told Jesus what it would take for Thomas to believe (see v. 25). In fact, Thomas’ confession of Jesus as his Lord and God (v. 28) confirms that Thomas understood exactly whom he was talking to. Thomas may not have known all the ramifications of the resurrection, but he knew that Jesus’ resurrection and the Lord’s knowledge of what he needed to believe demonstrated Christ’s deity.
Jesus responded to Thomas with a blessing on those who would believe in His resurrection without seeing Jesus’ physical, resurrected body (v. 29). This was probably not a rebuke of Thomas for needing evidence to believe. More likely, Jesus was signaling that those who believe in Him without seeing His physical, resurrected body are just as blessed as Thomas and the other disciples who did see it. We who believe in Jesus based on the Apostolic testimony are not lesser disciples than those who saw Him in the flesh.