How Does Jesus Respond When We Doubt? (John 20)

This article is part of the Tough Passages series.

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24Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

ESV Expository Commentary

Two New Testament scholars offer passage-by-passage commentary through the narratives of John and Acts, explaining difficult doctrines, shedding light on overlooked sections, and making applications to life and ministry today.

The Risen Christ Convinces Thomas

John has structured his narrative such that his evangelistic purpose is obvious. He has just presented the empty tomb, the risen Christ, the giving of the Spirit, and the power to forgive. Next he seeks to counter the objection that dead men do not rise by presenting one of the disciples of Jesus who was not there on the evening of his resurrection in verses 19–23.

Any member of John’s audience who doubts the resurrection is represented by Thomas in this episode, and John presents those doubts as being overcome by the reality of the risen Christ. Thomas was not present when Jesus spoke peace to the disciples on the day of the resurrection (v. 24), so he is understandably skeptical about their claims to have seen him (v. 25). In verse 25 Thomas insists on being convinced the same way the disciples were in verse 20: by experiencing the reality of the risen body of Jesus through contact with his wounds.

John relates the repeat performance of Jesus in verse 26. Once again the disciples are together—this time with Thomas—once again the doors are locked, once again Jesus enters the room somehow, and once again he announces the peace he has made possible for them. Behold the kindness of Christ (v. 27): he does not rebuke Thomas; he does not chide or chasten him; instead, he invites Thomas to feel his wounds, commanding him to believe.

John does not record that Thomas actually touched Jesus, leaving us instead with Thomas’s awed response (v. 28). John had opened with the declaration that the Word was God (1:1), and now, near the end of the Gospel, Thomas names Jesus as his Lord and his God (20:28).

Jesus neither corrects nor repudiates the way Thomas has addressed him. Instead he pronounces a blessing on those who do not share the experience granted to Thomas, of seeing so that they might believe (v. 29). Jesus here states that the willingness to take the report of him by faith is a blessed condition. This does not denigrate the way Thomas sought evidence, but it does commend a certain posture to the audience of this Gospel: John’s audience hears from the lips of Jesus that they are blessed if they hear and believe, though they have not seen (cf. 1 Pet. 1:8; Rev. 1:3).

Behold the kindness of Christ: he does not rebuke Thomas; he does not chide or chasten him; instead, he invites Thomas to feel his wounds, commanding him to believe.

What We Believe

Believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, means embracing an understanding of the world in which it makes sense for God to promise a Messiah who would come because a Messiah was needed. This requires looking at the world and recognizing that it is broken because of human sin and recognizing that, because God is good and loving, he means to heal what is broken. The way that God chose to bind up the world’s wounds was by promising to send the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the seed of Judah, the seed of David.

Jesus is the promised one, John contends, and because of his death and resurrection, those who believe this about Jesus have life in his name. John does not use the phrase “salvation by grace through faith,” but that is what he teaches. God graciously sent Jesus because he loved the world (John 3:16). Jesus has called people to believe in him as the one God sent (6:29), offering eternal life to those who do (5:24), stating that they would recognize who he is upon his being lifted up (8:28).

Do we realize how much God loves his people? God loves us so much that by his Spirit he inspired no less a person than the apostle John, beloved of Jesus himself, to serve us by writing this Gospel so that we would be persuaded to believe that Jesus is the Christ. This after the demonstration of the love of God in the sending of the Son! Do we believe? Make no mistake about it, if we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, we must also believe that God made the world good, that sin and death are in the world because of man’s sin, that God’s answer to the demands of his own justice was the sending of Jesus to die on the cross, and that the resurrection of Jesus entails the resurrection of everyone—the righteous by faith and the wicked in unbelief—and the renewal of creation in the new heaven and new earth.

Recall how Jesus responded to the doubts of Thomas. Do we think our doubts trouble Jesus? Do we think skepticism is a surprise to him? Our honest thinking will not offend him. He can handle any question we have. We can bring him any challenge that wells up from our analysis of his claims. He will answer every inquiry.

This article is written by James M. Hamilton Jr. and is adapted from the ESV Expository Commentary: John–Acts (Volume 9).

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