Life + Culture

Jesus Helps Our Unbelief

Jesus Helps Our Unbelief

According to the apostle John, Thomas was not present on Easter Sunday evening when Jesus appeared to the other disciples and devoted followers (John 20:24). And regardless of what they said, Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen till he saw Jesus with his own eyes (John 20:25) — a declaration that earned him for posterity the unflattering title “Doubting Thomas.”

The Holy Spirit did not inspire John to include this account in order to embarrass Thomas. Rather, it’s recorded because God has important things to teach us about our own doubts and what kind of “seeing” really brings us joy.

“I Will Never Believe”

Early Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene first reported that Jesus’s body was missing (John 20:1–2), Thomas felt like he was in good company. None of the apostles, except perhaps John (John 20:8), really believed that Jesus was alive.

But then the women claimed to have seen him (Matthew 28:9), and then Peter (Luke 24:34), and then a follower named Cleopas (Luke 24:13–32). Lastly, by that evening, all of Thomas’s closest friends claimed that Jesus had suddenly appeared in the middle of a locked-door meeting where he spoke and even ate with them (John 20:19; Luke 24:42–43) — a meeting Thomas missed for some reason.

So, Thomas soon found himself in bad company. The only other member of the Twelve who had not seen the risen Christ was Judas Iscariot.

As Thomas listened to his friends excitedly describe their encounter with Jesus, it did not excite him. He was skeptical and frustrated. And he even blurted out, “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).

Why Didn’t He Believe?

Why did Thomas respond this way to friends he knew so well and trusted? The words he spoke tell us of the horror he actually saw.

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s death are sparse on details, so it’s hard for us to feel what Thomas felt as he actually watched Jesus die. In fact, Thomas’s declaration of unbelief (“unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails”) is the only time nails are mentioned in the Gospels as part of Jesus’s crucifixion. Most of what we know about Roman crucifixion we learn from other sources.

The slaughter of Jesus outside Jerusalem had been so gruesome that it was all but humanly impossible for Thomas to imagine a resurrection of Jesus’s body. True, Thomas had seen Lazarus’s resurrection. But Lazarus had died of an illness, and Jesus had been there to raise him. Jesus had been torn to shreds and died.

How does a mutilated man raise himself? Let’s not assume too quickly that we would have responded differently had we seen what Thomas had seen.

Sight for Sore Eyes

Thomas’s doubts may have been humanly understandable, but they were not commendable. They were sinful, as is all unbelief (Romans 14:23).

And Jesus was not in a hurry to relieve Thomas’s doubts. He let Thomas stew in his own unbelieving words uncomfortably alone in the midst of a joyful fellowship of believers for eight awkward days (John 20:26).

Finally, a full week after Easter, Jesus appeared when Thomas was present and said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27).

Thomas’s repentance was beautiful: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen

Then Jesus said something that was meant not only for Thomas, but also for all of us: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Thomas had been chosen by Jesus to be a unique authoritative witness of his resurrection (Acts 1:22) — that’s why Thomas was granted the gift of seeing Jesus with his physical eyes.

But Jesus’s rebuke is clear enough. There were others who had not yet seen Jesus, but still believed in his resurrection. And their believing was more blessed than Thomas’s seeing. Why? Because those saints relied on their eyes of faith more than the eyes in their heads — and faith-seeing, in this age, results in more joy than eye-seeing.

This is why Peter, Thomas’s fellow eyewitness, later wrote, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9).

Believing Is True Seeing

Faith, as the Bible describes it, is not blind. Unbelief is blind. Faith sees a reality beyond what eyes can see, a reality that God reveals to us which is more important, in fact more real, than what we can see with our physical eyes (Hebrews 11:1).

God reveals this reality to us through his living and active word (Hebrews 4:12) that lights our path (Psalm 119:105). After his ascension, Jesus is seen only through the inerrant testimony of his prophets and apostles, recorded in the Scriptures, and the imperfect testimony of followers whose heart-eyes have opened. This is the blessed kind of seeing that enables us to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Glorious, inexpressible joy comes not by seeing Jesus now, but by believing in him now. Those who believe in Jesus in this age are more blessed than those who have seen him. Because believing is true seeing. And it is faith-sight, not eyesight, that results in eternal life (John 3:16).

Thomas had heard Jesus once say, “I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). Jesus had come to open the eyes of the heart. Eyesight was never a guarantee that people really “saw” Jesus. Judas was the greatest witness to this tragic truth.

Like he did for the other ten, Jesus forgave Thomas of his faith-failure and graciously restored him. But because of Thomas’s unbelief, Jesus made him a gracious example for us of the wrong kind of seeing to demand. If we find our seeing of Jesus is impaired, Thomas teaches us not to declare, “Unless I see I will never believe,” but rather, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).


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