Summary: Thomas heard something he didn't understand. He asked Jesus to explain it.
Many of us think of Thomas as a disciple, or even a doubter, but we sometimes forget that he asked one of the greatest questions in Scripture. My personal opinion is that he was a very analytical type of individual, one who wanted to be sure before he made a decision. Too many people build walls between faith and facts, when ideally there would be a balance and open communications between these concepts.
This second look at Thomas doesn’t reveal a doubter, but rather a person who was listening to Jesus, and asking Him to explain or clarify something He had said. Too many times people hear, but don’t listen. For many people, the truth God wants them to receive doesn’t get past their eardrums. Thomas heard, but didn’t understand, and he wanted to have Jesus explain a statement He had made.
The text is John, chapter 14, verses 1-6, from the New American Standard Version of the Bible:
[John 14:1-6 NASB] 1 "Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 "And you know the way where I am going." 5 Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. 7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”
The message Jesus gave to the disciples
We’ll need to review John’s gospel, chapter 13, to get the setting and context for Thomas’ question. John recorded the events (and what events!) starting with a very humbling experience, namely Jesus Christ washing the disciples’ feet—even those of Judas Iscariot. Then, just before the beginning of chapter 14, he explained to Simon Peter that he would actually deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.
Even though we see a chapter break, that doesn’t mean there was a break in the message Jesus gave. It was, perhaps, a time for Him to catch His breath, humanly speaking, and make a transition to a new topic. Actually, maybe He’s giving a bit of new information on a theme He had mentioned before.
My gut feeling is that Jesus is, first, reminding the disciples that He was going to prepare a permanent dwelling for them. They had followed Jesus for three years or so, and seldom do we read that they had a permanent dwelling. Did they sleep in the open? What did they do when the weather turned bad? Certainly Jesus Himself stated at least once before, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20).” Matthew had owned a home (Luke 5:29) and perhaps others as well, but nothing was permanent. All it would need is an earthquake, or natural disaster, and the house wouldn’t be fit to live in anymore. Besides, when the owner died, he or she or they couldn’t retain ownership of that house in Heaven or Hell!
There was a second thing Jesus said that the disciples may not have been able to grasp. He said, “If I go . . I will return” and this, I think, was another puzzle for these men. Even as late as the day Jesus ascended to Heaven, they were still thinking in terms of the Kingdom (Acts 1:6-8). They stood staring, gazing, into Heaven on that day, watching Jesus leave this earth They may have stood there for a long time, if the two angels hadn’t told them, “He’s coming back just like He left”.
Then the third thing Jesus said was in verse 4, "And you know the way where I am going." Did they? They had heard Jesus speak of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, and events to come in the future (I believe Jesus preached the message of Matthew 24-25 before this discussion took place) and they must have been confused. They had also heard Jesus speak about His journey to Calvary. Several times He had said, “They’re going to kill Me”, but they—the disciples—just didn’t understand all that He told them. Thomas, at least, didn’t understand this last sentence at all.
The question Thomas asked Jesus
Verse 5 has the question Thomas asked. It’s the only question from Thomas we find in Scripture. “Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’"