A skeptic, by definition, is someone who is “inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions or facts.” A skeptic isn’t necessarily a non-Christian; it just means they might ask questions to validate big truths. Skeptics also can question the conclusions of others without revealing their own beliefs or conclusions.
Among the disciples, there was a skeptic, and his name was Thomas. You probably often think of Thomas being a doubter, but after examining a little more carefully about the references to Thomas in the Gospel of John, it seems better to label him a skeptic, or maybe even a pessimist, before being a doubter.
Where did Thomas come from?
3x in the Gospel of John, Thomas is called “the Twin” (John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2), but we are never told who his twin is, if his twin is fraternal or maternal, and if his sibling is male or female.
We don’t know where he grew up, but most speculate it had to be in Galilee somewhere, since every other disciple – except Judas Iscariot – was from Galilee. We also know nothing about his martial status, approximate age, any relatives and any vocation.
What is going on in John 11?
Jesus and his disciples were in Perea, which is an area between Galilee and Judea – just east of Samaria. It would have been about a 1-day journey to Bethany from Perea. His friend Lazarus was gravely ill. Jesus tarried for days before going to see Lazarus.
And, before they left, Thomas shared with pessimism that their journey to Bethany might be dangerous and might require their death. So, Thomas said (and I believe with a sigh), “We might as well go with Jesus to die.” An optimist (maybe someone like Andrew) might say, “Everything is going to work out; Jesus is in control. We will be fine. Let’s go.”
Not Thomas! He thinks the “worst” will happen. He expects nothing to go. Thomas is skeptical anything will turn out fine.
What is going on in John 14?
Jesus and His disciples are in the Upper Room, where Jesus was seeking to comfort his downcast disciples and give them some final instructions before His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus told them He was about to leave them, and Thomas, raises a question that quite possibly what all the disciples were wondering: “Jesus, where exactly are you going and how will we be able to find you? We don’t have a map on how to get to the Father.” This was ignorant skepticism. J.C. Ryle describes Thomas as the disciple who has lost his keys in his own pockets. The information is right in front of him!
Thomas’ heart was broken when he heard these words of Jesus’ departure. His worst fears would come to past. He couldn’t imagine his life without Christ.
I don’t believe there is any willful, rebellious, hostile skepticism. Thomas hasn’t connected the dots and he needs help. His skepticism is never rebuked by Jesus. In fact, Jesus answers his question with a tone of clarity (e.g., “I am the way…”).
What is going on in John 20?
This is the most familiar narrative including Thomas. It is the narrative of one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Jesus came to the disciples who were hiding out. The disciples were confused, amazed, lacking faith, and struggling with believing in the reality of the resurrection, and, in the midst of all those emotions, etc.
The only disciple missing when Jesus showed up? Thomas. He was probably off sulking. He was probably wallowing in misery. He probably had regret for not dying with Him as He said He would on their way to Bethany, and now Thomas didn’t know how to find Him now.
So, the disciples go to find Thomas to tell him the news that Jesus had visited them in His resurrected form.
Thomas wasn’t convinced. He hadn’t seen Jesus for himself. He wanted to inspect the scars from the cross. He wanted to see the nail prints. In short, Thomas was skeptical – ignorantly skeptic. He wasn’t ready to believe.
Instead of criticizing Thomas for his doubt, Jesus informs the skepticism. This shows us that Thomas’ skepticism was ignorant skepticism. Jesus sympathizes with the weakness of Thomas (Hebrews 4:15).
And Thomas erupted with praise and adoration! This is the point where “doubting Thomas” is transformed into “without a doubt Thomas.” He goes from a gloomy person to a powerful evangelist.
Where did Thomas end up?
Church tradition holds that Thomas, like Nathanael, ended up in India.
History says Thomas was martyred by a long spear, which is interesting considering the spear mark in Jesus’ side and considering Thomas wanted to die with Christ. There happens to be a burial site in Chennai, India in south India near the Bay of Bengal
Many churches can trace their roots to Thomas as a founder. In fact, near Madras, India, one church calls itself “The Christians of St. Thomas.” That church was discovered by Vasco da Gama – a Portuguese explorer who linked a sailing route from Europe to Asia around 1500.
- For praying for God’s mercy on sinners (Genesis 18:22-23; Exodus 32:7-14, 30-34; Numbers 14:1-45; Ezekiel 9:1-11; Luke 23:34)
- For guidance (Genesis 24:12-14; Judges 6:11-40; Psalm 25)
- For forgiveness (Leviticus 16:1-34; Psalm 130; Isaiah 33:2-24)
- For blessing others (Deuteronomy 33:1-29)
- For miracles (Joshua 10:12-14; I Kings 18:41-46)
- For God to raise up leaders (Judges 19:1-21:25)
- For personal confession and repentance (II Samuel 24:10-25; Job 42:2-6; Psalm 32; 51)
- For wisdom (I Kings 3:4-15)
- For dedicating new works of ministry (I Kings 8:22-61; Luke 6:12-13)
- For health (II Kings 19:1-37; Isaiah 38:1-21)
- For your children (I Chronicles 29:10-20; Matthew 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-16)
- For national confession and repentance (Ezra 9:1-15; Nehemiah 9:1-37; Daniel 9:3-19)
- For deliverance (Psalm 40; 116; Isaiah 37:14-20; Jeremiah 32:17-44)
- For help when in trouble (Psalm 66; 69; 86; 88; 102; 140; 143)
- For protection (Psalm 46; 91; 125)
- For relief from depression (Jeremiah 20:7-18)
- For loneliness (Matthew 14:23; 27:46; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 15:34; Luke 5:16; 23:46)
- For an unstable mind (John 12:27-28)
“Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” (Proverbs 16:24)
My parents are in town.
And last night, we were hosting our small group at our house.
These two realities don’t often coincide; so, I thought it might be a good opportunity to utilize the time with my parents for the benefit of our small group.
You see, my Dad has been in pastoral ministry for almost 50 years and my Mom just completed memorizing the N.T. earlier this year. Now, she is working on the O.T. – Ecclesiastes to be exact.
So, I thought there might be some wisdom we can gain from them. We had an informal Q/A here we asked them questions about spiritual disciplines, spiritual growth, memorizing the Word, parenting challenges, God’s providence, etc.
One generic takeaway I had from our time with them last night is this: there is still much I can learn from them.
Every adult child wrestles with the temptation to think “I have everything figured out that my parents taught me” and thinks it is time to shift into a “I’ll show you” mode. We adult kids start wondering if she should abandon the role of student as it relates to our parents being our teachers.
Let me tell you, our roles as learners should never come to an end.
Because no one has reached a stage of perfection, there is much to gain from the wisdom of those who have walked the same paths that we are attempting to walk.
Maybe your parents aren’t redeemed, but they still have earthly wisdom and experience that is of value for you.
Resist the temptation to be teacher only and never learner.
I was reminded of that last night – again – as I heard my parents answer questions from our small group in better ways than I would. They are still worthy and valuable teachers.
“While there have been countless books written for preachers on how to preach, only a handful of books and articles have been written to listeners on how to listen. Preachers have many resources to train and equip them to become better preachers, but listeners have hardly any resources to train and equip them to become better listeners. This is astounding when you consider that the number of listeners far exceeds the number of preachers and even more so when you realize that the Bible says more about the listener’s responsibility to hear and obey the Word of God than it does about the preacher’s responsibility to explain and apply the Word of God. From cover to cover, the Bible is jam-packed with verses and passages that talk about the vital necessity of hearing and obeying God’s Word. God is very concerned about how preachers preach. But based on the sheer amount of biblical references to hearing and listening, it is unmistakable that God is just as, if not more, concerned about how listeners listen.” (Expository Listening, pg. 3)