“Doubting Thomas” - was a more unfair moniker ever pinned on a person? For by taking into account the full account of his first encounter with the risen Christ, Thomas may just as rightly be styled as “Believing Thomas.” For reasons we cannot presume to know, the resurrected Jesus first appeared to his disciples at a time Thomas was absent. Hearing their claim to have seen Jesus alive, Thomas did not believe it.
Thomas is labeled as the doubter because evidence was necessary to enable and energize his belief that Jesus had indeed conquered death and vacated the tomb—evidence the other disciples had already seen. If a need for evidence is an unnecessary and improper criterion for belief in the resurrection, we might similarly label all the apostles as doubters, for Mark reports that when Mary Magdalene reported to them that she had seen Jesus alive, “they refused to believe it.” Jesus reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe Mary. In Mark’s account, immediately afterward Jesus instructed them “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Hearing this command, the apostles realized they were being sent, not as a group, but they were to split up and not only tell, but act upon the story of salvation by Jesus throughout the world, a staggering assignment for a group who had so recently doubted his resurrection.
Thomas had his distinct part in that world-changing mission. The scriptures do not specify the details of Thomas’ role; however, Hippolytus, a second- and third-century theologian and historian, in a credible account of the areas where each apostle worked, wrote “Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes, Persians, Hyrcanians, Bactrians, and Margians, and was thrust through in the four members of his body with pine spears at Calamene, the city of India, and was buried there.” Assuming Hippolytus’ account to be factual, Thomas led souls to saving faith in Jesus Christ in an area stretching from today’s northeastern Iran through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India – an area approximately the size of the easternmost 25 states in the U.S.
Yet today, “Doubting Thomas” is a popular idiom of speech, often used by people who have little idea who the apostle was, how mighty his faith, or what was accomplished by his life.
Is there a lesson in this for us? Certainly, we have no room to scold Thomas for doubting unless our faith has never wavered and we too are ready to be martyred for Christ. But the lesson goes beyond our not denigrating this giant servant of God. It is this: let us not allow some unguarded, unbecoming words or actions from one’s worst hour define any person. If requiring evidence is a sin, Thomas overcame it in a grand manner and along with the rest of the apostles who--initially doubting--were then commissioned to a stunning duties and became spectacularly successful ambassadors for Christ. Thomas deserves our respect and admiration, and his life is worthy of emulation.
Will we act as Jesus does, looking to the potentially great life lying beyond any moment of weakness and, as Paul urges, “accept one another as Christ has accepted us?” Let us not stand before the Judge someday having mocked and derided one the Lord may approve.
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