Tests of a true believer: Thomas declares Jesus “My Lord and my God”

Thomas believes. Credit: ids.org

John 20:19-31

Receive the Holy Spirit: the disciples are commissioned and sent. An encounter with Jesus which is a spiritual foretaste of the Pentecost experience to come

19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

“With the doors locked” – as known associates of one perceived to be a dangerous agitator, the risk of arrest by the temple police was a real one. They were probably discussing how they could leave Jerusalem unnoticed by the authorities until Jesus’ specific instruction to them to stay, Acts 1:4.

This was the third appearance of Jesus; He had appeared to Peter, mentioned only briefly, Luke 24:34, 1 Cor 15:5; and to Cleopas and another disciple (Mary, wife of Cleopas?).

“Peace be with you!” – the conventional Jewish greeting but also an affirmation of the disciples, who doubtless felt ashamed at not standing with their Lord at His time of need.

20  After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

He appeared in a physical body even though His spirit was in heaven.

21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

They were expecting reproach for their failure; instead, they find themselves being commissioned and sent by Him on mission, comparable with Jesus’ being sent from the Father.

22  And with that, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

As breathing life into the dry bones of Ezekiel 37:9. There are various interpretations of this, which needs to be understood alongside Acts 2:1-4. It does appear to have been an impartation, although their reticence didn’t change – they were still behind locked doors a week later, John 20:26. However, this “receiving” of the Holy Spirit made them more receptive to their being “filled” with the Holy Spirit that was to follow at Pentecost, and then filled again later, Acts 4:31.

23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

God alone forgives sin and we have no capacity in that regard apart from Him. However, our proclamation of the Gospel – particularly the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done for all who turn to Him – is a challenge to the hearer to respond and receive forgiveness, or not respond and remain unforgiven.

This seems like a separate strand but it is part of the same statement as “Receive the Holy Spirit…” of v.22. The Holy Spirit is no spiritual ornamentation but the solid and necessary enabling of a confident proclamation within a more general empowering for mission. He moves us from self-centred to ‘other-centred’. The Holy Spirit is our boldness and clarity in making Christ known; He is also the conviction of either righteousness or unrighteousness that comes on those who hear, John 16:7-8.

For further study, read Matthew 16:19; Acts 2:38

24  Now Thomas, also known as Didymus [or the twin], one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas is the reassurance for everyone who is, like him, a ‘late adopter’; taking time to come to his position of belief, and then showing himself unshakable. Earlier he has shown himself to have a dogged loyalty, John 11:16, while being outspoken and honest about his doubts, John 14:5.

26  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

At initial reading, it seems that Thomas was more unbelieving than the other disciples, but they also had difficulty believing Mary Magdalene when she said she had seen the Lord. Thomas’ “I will not believe…” of v.25 (the Greek is more emphatic, like our phrase ‘I will absolutely not…’) and Jesus’ grace shown to him also deals with the suggestion that the stories of the appearances of Jesus after the Resurrection were the wishful imagination of His disciples.

29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas’s response is presented as the high point in this gospel – Jesus is the risen Lord, victorious is over sin, sorrow, death – and doubt. Thomas’s confession of personal faith – my Lord, my God – is the final confession of faith in this gospel – underlining the truth of what Jesus said, but also the recognition of who Jesus is.

Thomas saw the risen Jesus in His resurrection body and it was a real and visible encounter. But Jesus reminds him that faith is about coming to ‘see’ in a different way. The writer to the Hebrews it this way: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1, emphasis added).

30  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John wrote the accounts of eight particular miraculous signs (and recalls others, not recorded) to point to who Jesus was.


The purpose of John in writing his gospel was not just to record what Jesus said and did, but to show who Jesus was, and is – Son of God, Messiah, Lord of life and death. That is summarised in Thomas’ recognition and acceptance of the person of Jesus as God, and as Lord of his life.

John’s gospel is showing us that knowing what Jesus said and did is not the same as knowing Him. Many of us spend years in church and even reading the Bible for ourselves and adding to our knowledge of God. That is not the point.

Peter, arraigned before the high priest and Sanhedrin after a night in prison following the healing of the man at the temple’s Beautiful Gate, stood up and spoke in the power of the  Holy Spirit (see note 2 to v.23) and declared: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12. The way of salvation is the way of knowing Jesus – the Bible is clear on that.

Like Thomas, we have to come through doubt to know who Jesus is in our lives by faith, and confess Him as “my Lord and my God”.

For reflection and discussion

The disciples were commissioned and promoted, from anxious followers to become confident proclaimers of a message that would enable others to receive God’s forgiveness. How ready are you for this call?

Also published on Medium.

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