Then he spoke to Thomas, put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe. Thomas replied, “my Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him: “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. There were many other signs that Jesus worked, and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.
(John 20:27-31, JB)
The placement of the composition known as John’s Gospel gives us a unique and interesting form of insight into the composite thinking of the early church. John undoubtably had the current thoughts and concerns in mind as he took pen to paper, or parchment to be more accurate. John’s Gospel was the final apostolic account that was written about the life and times of Jesus, the Messiah. John would have composed his thoughts and recollections during the last portion of the first century. John’s specific purpose was to write primarily to those who had not encountered Jesus during their lifetime. Their experience of Jesus’ time on earth was from a secondary position of witness and acceptance, as they heard the message of salvation from the apostles and their successors without a firsthand encounter.
John’s record of the incident of Thomas’s doubt concerning the advancement of the idea that Jesus was truly risen, and alive, would have had special meaning for those who first read John’s Gospel. The resurrection is the crux of the Gospel. Jesus either rose from the dead, or Christianity is fictious. You cannot have it both ways. The bulk of John’s readers would not have seen or heard Jesus firsthand during the years that Messiah had walked the pathways in Galilee. Nor would they have heard Him as He taught in the Synagogues or on the rare occasions when Jesus taught in the Temple.
The audience that John was addressing formed as the direct result of the bold and unashamed preaching of the church. These people believed that Jesus was truly alive and reigning as Lord because of the many witnesses they heard expound on the reality of Jesus, and the signs and wonders that they observed. John was commending these believers for their belief in his Gospel. He loved their faith. They had not physically seen Jesus following the resurrection but still believed in Jesus.
And here is truth as it applies to us, John’s gospel was written equally for the church today and down through the years following the composition of John’s Gospel. There is no difference between the generation of the first century, or one hundred generations beyond the glorious day where Jesus rose from the dead. All of us are basically in the same category as those John delivered his letter two millennia ago. John wrote so that we could also believe. Jesus reigns as our Lord, and because of this, we can receive resurrection life from Jesus. This is the substance of our faith.
The reason why Thomas’ attitude and disposition is important to us today is, the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Jesus’ rule, reign, and presence is not always obvious in the world we live in generationally. Whether in the reading of our daily paper, digital or print, watching news on TV or online, reading about current or world events on the internet, what our culture deems as news is most often tragedy, suffering and human misery. Mainstream Media has all but liquidated God from the news, relegating belief in Jesus and the importance of the church as problematic at best, and a danger of seditious activities directed toward culture at worse.
Christian faith is systematically left unmentioned, as if we do not exist, or that belief in Jesus is a minority theory held by outsiders, who have the potential of being anarchists and supplanters of cultural norms. Our culture is taking on explicitly antireligious overtones, as our cultural leaders continue to act as if Jesus never lived, and if Jesus did exist, what the church believes about Jesus is untrue. The world wants to believe that Jesus no longer lives today, considering Christianity to be toxic to society.
Even among and within the portals of the church, those who profess to be believers have gradually inured themselves away from the faith, choosing a hardened stand against the relevancy of faith in the practicality of life. We spend most of our waking hours filled with activities that are irrelevant from a faith perspective. It is easy to go for elongated stretches of time with barely a fleeting thought directed toward God. It isn’t that we ignore God in our lives deliberately. We just don’t act like children clamoring for food based on our hunger. We see our customers that need to be served, or emails that are waiting to be answered, as critical to ‘real life.’
Real life and faith only seem to collide at specifically allocated times of gatherings where we allow faith to intersect life. Because of the faith quotient, our personal awareness of Jesus presence can become dim as we live life. Our waking hours are consumed by the tasks at hand, tending children, working, gardening, surviving. We go for long stretches with nary a thought about God. No wonder we are in a constant search for authentic faith. When we feed on occasional morsels, nominal encounter takes on a much larger place of importance. At times, we can physically become aware of the presence of Jesus. But most of the time, we act as if Jesus performed a vanishing act, and that He is far from our daily life.
I assume that life was equally distracting in the Roman Empire, perhaps more so when we contemplate the massive risk to life and limb that the early believers faced for converting to Christianity. Serving as incognito believers could have been a preferential way to live life. History shows us this reality. It is important to note that John was not writing to people who were living in a culture that was more Christian than our generation.
Life was far harsher toward the early adherents of Christianity. The church was small and culturally insignificant at the time John wrote to the churches where he had influence. At the writing of John’s Epistle, Christianity was still a minor blip on the screen of history. Neither has the nature of becoming a follower of Jesus changed in the last 2000 years. Jesus’ presence is no different today. Being a Christian at the end of the first century is like being a Christian today.
The presence of Jesus is a matter of faith. We accept the truth of the accounts, even as we accept the proof that He left behind, Holy Spirit. Both are unseen, Jesus, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, we take what we can call ‘The Thomas Incident” as a special message written for all those who believe today. Thomas’ story carry’s a powerful and profound word of encouragement for everyone who believes without handling the resurrected person of Jesus post tombstone.
Don’t get me wrong. Our faith is not defective by not seeing Jesus in the flesh. Oh contraire! Faith resides precisely among the unseen. The author of the Book of Hebrews terms it the conviction of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1, ESV). Paul states that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV). There is a powerful blessing that has been imparted to us from Jesus as we exist as the people of ‘The Way,’ who have not seen and still believe. There is a special love that Jesus has for those who persevere in their faith in Him. This regardless of the unbelief that permeates our society, which in turn creates distractions in our lives. When this is our reality, we become the ones who find life in the name of Jesus. We are those who have welcomed the Gospel’s message and confessed to Jesus that He is, “my Lord and my God.”