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When Jesus met with His disciples in the evening after His resurrection, Thomas was not present. We are not told the reason for his absence. Was he in hiding? Did he have other business to do? We only know that earlier, when Jesus had been arrested, the disciples either fled (Matt. 26:56) or followed at a distance (Mark 14:54).
John 20:10 tells us that after Peter and John saw the empty tomb, “the disciples went away again to their own homes.” This indicates that they were not staying at the same house in Jerusalem. No doubt Thomas was among those staying in a separate place. However, there was a common meeting place where they could meet.
So when the women were told by the two angels to convey a message to the disciples, they “returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9).
This included Luke and Cleopas, who then walked to Emmaus (Luke 24:13), which was situated about eight miles north of Jerusalem. When Jesus met them, talked with them, and then disappeared in front of them, they immediately returned to the meeting room in Jerusalem to report this to “the eleven” (Luke 24:33, 34).
Luke tells us that the eleven were gathered there, since Judas, having hanged himself earlier (Matt. 27:5), was dead. Nonetheless, for some unknown reason Thomas left the house before Jesus appeared in their midst (Luke 24:36) and was not present at this meeting. Perhaps after hearing the multiple reports of Jesus’ resurrection, he just wanted to get out of the house. We are told that he did not believe the reports.
John 20:24, 25 says,
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
Thomas apparently had not been an eyewitness of the crucifixion, except perhaps from afar, for the crucifixion itself was visible from the city at a distance. He had learned from John that Jesus’ side had been pierced by the soldier’s spear. The conversation in the verses above could have taken place any time in the next week after Jesus’ visit, for it seems that Jesus stayed away for eight days—that is, until the eighth day, or the following Sunday.
The disciples were in no hurry to return to their homes in Galilee, even though the women’s message had been that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. It appears that they had decided to remain in Jerusalem at least through the week of Unleavened Bread.
John 20:26 says,
26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
The significance of “the doors having been shut” is to say that they had bolted the door and were meeting in private. Jesus did not need a door, however, and so He appeared suddenly in their midst and gave them the common greeting, “Shalom!”
Unlike Jesus’ first appearance a week earlier, His second appearance does not seem to have frightened them. John does not indicate that Jesus made any effort to prove His resurrection, other than to Thomas, the skeptic. John 20:27-29 says,
27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God.” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see and yet believed.”
Jesus treats Thomas as a broader example for all unbelievers who would believe later, not having witnessed Jesus’ resurrection personally. We are also given a short confession of faith that is the proper response to such faith: “My Lord and my God.” Both “Lord” and “God” denote one’s subjection to authority, but his use of the word “God” takes us back to John 1:18,
18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
Jesus’ Father is the God that no one has seen at any time. When the Father wants to reveal Himself to mankind, He does so through his son, “the only begotten God.” So also, Jesus told Mary Magdalene in John 20:17, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.” Hence, the Father is the God of Jesus.
They are not the same God, but because the term “God” denotes a position of authority, it is clear that the Son is subject to the Father, as we see also in 1 Cor. 15:28, “the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that [Father] God may be all in all.”
Such statements are incompatible with the standard Trinitarian view of equal members of the Godhead. They are also incompatible with the standard Unitarian view that the Father and Son are the same Being. By viewing the Son as the “only begotten God” who is subordinate to “the only true God” (John 17:3), we preserve the great monotheistic confession in Deut. 6:4, “YHVH our God is one YHVH.”
Father and Son are in full agreement—hence, they are “one” in their purpose and viewpoint. The Son represents the Father and is His Agent, the point of contact through whom the Father is known and “explained.”
Thomas had followed Jesus for three years already. He had been taught daily, and he had been among the disciples sent out to work miracles. There is no doubt that he had faith in Jesus, at least to a point. But John’s gospel makes it clear that throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry. the disciples’ faith was imperfect. They had difficulty understanding His teachings, and it was not until His resurrection that they came to see Him in a whole new light.
When the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5), this was no idle request. Faith is faith, but faith may be weak and small. It must grow in size and strength through prayer and experience.
So Paul tells us too that we move “from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17), that is, from a lower to a higher level of faith. There are promises of God that are difficult to believe at first. Some parts of His nature we find difficult to believe. Yet the more our faith grows, the more sovereign He becomes (in our eyes). Getting to know Him is our life’s work.
John 20:30, 31 concludes,
30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
The overall purpose of John’s gospel is to testify of the miracle-signs proving that Jesus is indeed the Christ and the Son of God. So far, John has covered seven signs, the seventh being that of resurrection, beginning with the raising of Lazarus. There remains just one more sign, an eighth sign, in John’s final chapter. It is separated from the first seven by Jesus’ death and resurrection, just as the eight days of the feast of Tabernacles are divided into seven plus one.
Of course, Jesus performed many other signs, some of which were recorded in the other gospels. But John’s purpose was to choose precisely eight signs and arrange them as a chiasm that also ran parallel to the eight days of Tabernacles.
John wrote his gospel over a period of time. It is likely that the above verses were intended originally to be the end of the gospel, for we can compare it to the ending of John’s first epistle. The main difference is that his epistle was written to believers, whereas his gospel was written to unbelievers. 1 John 5:13 says,
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
No doubt John was inspired at a later time to add a final chapter to his gospel. The interim provided a separation within the book, suggesting that the eighth sign was about how the believers, as “sons of God,” were to testify of Christ and to minister to the world during the Pentecostal Age.
When we view this eighth sign as a prophetic type of the eighth day of Tabernacles, we see a greater fulfillment in the future. The eighth day of Tabernacles is the prophesied day when the sons of God will be presented to the Father and commissioned to be manifested to the world.
After their presentation, they will return to teach the world the ways of God, and this will begin the greatest Age of history in which the “stone” cut out of the mountain without hands—the fifth kingdom of the book of Daniel—will grow until it fills the whole earth (Daniel 2:35).