Most people know exactly what is meant by the phrase “doubting Thomas”. “Why are you such a doubting Thomas? “Don’t be such a doubting Thomas!” For over 2000 years this is how Thomas, one of Jesus’ core disciples has been known. And why? Because he wanted proof? Because, like most of us, he trusted what he could see and feel?
I feel for Thomas. His whole world collapsed in a matter of days. Jesus was taken by the Jewish religious leaders and crucified by the Romans. Imagine what Thomas would have felt about all of this.
I wonder what the atmosphere would have been like for the disciples huddled together after Jesus was crucified. We know they never expected Jesus to come back. They didn’t even expect him to die. Their leader was dead. The movement was over.
And then he appears. Right in the middle of the room. Jesus shows everyone the wounds from the nails and the spear. They believe.
But Thomas isn’t there. He shouldn’t be called doubting Thomas; he should be called unlucky Thomas! The only one not there. His friends say “Thomas we saw him. Jesus is alive.” Would you believe? Or would you react just like Thomas did: “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.” (John 20:25) These words are sacred. They are so important.
Eight. Days. Later. Jesus appears once more. Thomas waited eight days. But there stood Jesus right in front of him. Jesus says to his friend, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)
Thomas comes face to face with the risen Jesus. But what did all this mean to Thomas? And what did all of this mean to the early Christians? Who was this risen Jesus?
Jesus: The “Son of God”
For the early Christians, the resurrection demonstrated that Jesus was the “son of god”.
In The Resurrection of the Son of God, historian N. T. Wright explains that, “When the early Christians declared that the resurrection had marked out Jesus as ‘son of god’, they were building on the Jewish critique of Paganism to make a statement not just about Jesus but also about Israel’s god, a statement designed to confront the Pagan world with the news of its rightful Lord.” (725)
The early Christians meant 3 things when they referred to Jesus as the son of god:
- Jesus is Israel’s Messiah.
In Jesus, God’s covenant plan, to deal with the sin and death that so radically infected his world, has reached it’s long awaited and decisive fulfillment. Jesus was everything that Israel was waiting for and promised. Their hope had been fulfilled.
- Jesus is the true king.
If you said the word “messiah” to a first century Jewish person, they would not be picturing Jesus; they would be picturing Caesar. This is because this title was often applied to pagan monarchs.
However, to the early Christians, the resurrection constituted Jesus as the world’s true king. He is the sovereign (not Caesar or any other ruler on earth) and claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation.
- Jesus is God revealed.
When the early Christians said, “Jesus is the son of God,” they meant it in the sense that Jesus was the personal embodiment and revelation of the one true God. As Wright explains, Jesus “is the one in whom the living God, Israel’s God, has become personally present in the world, has become one of the human creatures that were made from the beginning in the image of this same God.” (733)
Wright summarises all of this so well: “the whole point…was that this ‘son of God’ had not only come in the flesh but had died in the flesh; had not only died and been buried but had been raised three days later; and that this resurrection…was the public announcement by the one true God, that this Jesus really was, and had always been his son in this full, self-revealing, self-embodying sense.” (734)
Jesus stood in front of Thomas in that room. He invited Thomas to reach out and touch him. And at that moment Thomas knew exactly who was standing before him. This is why the only words Thomas could gasp in that moment were, “my Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)
As C. S. Lewis put it, Jesus Christ was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.
So, how do you respond to the risen Jesus?