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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Jesus Appears to Thomas (20:24-29)
Jesus Appears to Thomas (20:24-29)

John now tells us that Thomas had not been present on that first day of the resurrection (v. 24). The disciples tell him they have seen the Lord, but he does not believe them. Perhaps they have only seen a ghost (cf. Mt 14:26 par. Mk 6:49). In fact, Luke tells of a meeting between Jesus and the disciples at which the disciples think they are seeing a ghost (Lk 24:37). So to convince them he is not a ghost, Jesus invites them to touch him and he eats a piece of broiled fish (Lk 24:39-43). Perhaps Thomas is simply saying he needs to see the same evidence that they have seen (Westcott 1908:2:353).

John's description of Thomas touching the wounds is quite dramatic (v. 25). Thomas wants to shove his hand into Jesus' side! On the assumption that the disciples have told Thomas about Jesus' wounds, some have taken Thomas's statement as evidence that Jesus' wound was large enough for one to put one's hand in and that it was not closed over. But more likely Thomas is simply being dramatic, as he was earlier in the Gospel (11:16). Similarly, the language he uses when he says he will not believe is very emphatic (ou me pisteuso).

A week later, the next Sunday after the resurrection, the disciples (including Thomas) were again in a locked room (v. 26). Jesus' appearances on Sundays, along with the timing of the resurrection itself, contributed to the church's making that the primary day of worship (cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:385). The expression John uses is literally "after eight days," since Jews counted the beginning and the ending of a period of time. This term itself was taking on special meaning at the time John is writing. In Barnabas (from about A.D. 96-100) the eighth day represents "the beginning of another world" (15:8). The author links it with Jesus' resurrection: "That is why we spend the eighth day in celebration, the day on which Jesus both arose from the dead and, after appearing again, ascended into heaven" (Barnabas 15:9).

Faith throughout the Gospel is depicted as progressive, renewed in the face of each new revelation of Jesus. The other disciples have moved on to the next stage, but Thomas has not been able to. To not move on when Jesus calls us to do so is to shift into reverse and move away. Both believing and unbelieving are dynamic—we are growing in one direction or the other. Thus, when Jesus appears in their midst he challenges Thomas to move on ahead in the life of faith, to stop doubting and believe (v. 27). The actual expression used may capture the dynamic quality, since ginomai often has the sense of "becoming" and the present tense "marks the process as continually going on" (Westcott 1908:2:355). Translated woodenly this reads, "Stop becoming unbelieving and get on with becoming believing" (me ginou apistos alla pistos). To get Thomas moving in the right direction again Jesus offers him the chance to feel his wounds. His offer echoes Thomas' own graphic language from verse 25, suggesting that Jesus was actually present when Thomas was making his protest or that he could at least perceive what was going on, an ability Jesus had even before he was raised from the dead (cf. 1:48).

John does not say whether Thomas actually did touch Jesus' wounds. The impression is that he did not, for John says, "Thomas answered and said to him . . ." That is, Thomas' confession is an immediate response to seeing Jesus and hearing his offer. Furthermore, in Jesus' response to Thomas he mentions seeing but not touching (v. 29).

Thomas' confession of Jesus as my Lord and my God is yet another climax in this Gospel. Jesus has invited him to catch up with the others in their new stage of faith, and he shoots past them and heads to the top of the class. His confession is climactic not only as part of the Gospel's story line, but also as an expression of the core of John's witness to Jesus in this Gospel. Thomas confesses Jesus as God when he sees that the crucified one is alive. It is in the crucifixion that God himself is made known, for he is love, and love is the laying down of one's life (1 Jn 4:8; 3:16). But God is also life. In John, this God is revealed perfectly in the death of the Son, but this death would be nothing without the life. When Thomas finds death and life juxtaposed in Jesus he realizes who the one standing before him really is.

Thomas has accepted the revelation, but he gets no commendation from Jesus. Rather, Jesus looks ahead to those who will believe through the witness of these disciples who have seen (cf. 15:27; 17:20): blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (v. 29). This beatitude, like others Jesus had spoken, is a shocking reversal of common expectations (cf. Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-26). It suggests that if seeing is believing, as it was for Thomas, believing is also seeing. What matters is the relationship established by faith. But this faith is not a vague or general feeling, nor is it merely an intellectual assent to a position. It is openness and acceptance and trust directed toward God in Jesus. In John, as in the rest of the New Testament, the concern is not simply with various conceptions of God or various ideas, but with events in history that demand an interpretation and a response. If John is the "spiritual Gospel," as Clement of Alexandria said (Eusebius Church History 4.14.7), it is so not in the sense of being nonmaterial or ahistorical, for in John there is no sharp dichotomy between spirit and matter, though the two are not confused with one another. Rather, this Gospel is spiritual in the sense that it interprets historical events in the light of divine reality. As E. C. Hoskyns and Noel Davey have said, "The Fourth Gospel persuades and entices the reader to venture a judgment upon history" (Hoskyns and Davey 1947:263). Thomas' confession was such a judgment, and now Jesus challenges all who come after to venture a judgment upon this history, that is, upon his person, his presence through the Spirit in this particular community and through the life he offers. Peter later describes such believers: "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet 1:8-9).

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