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Bailey Sadler Class

SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Spring 2019

 

Study Theme:  He Said What? Hard Sayings of Jesus

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus for our study this week is on our need to ask God to use this day, when we focus on the resurrection of Jesus, to cause us to consider eternal implications.

 

Apr. 14

God Won’t Forgive This Sin (Matt. 12:22-32)

X

Apr. 21

You’ll Never Die (John 11:25-27; 20:24-29)

 

Apr. 28

Sell Everything You Own (Matt. 19:21-30)

 

May 05

Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-36)

 

May 12

Let The Dead Bury Their Dead (Luke 9:57-62)

 

May 19

Hate Your Family (Luke 14:25-35)

 

May 26

Exploit Your Friends (Luke 16:1-12)

 

LIFE IMPACT:

The resurrection of Jesus makes our own resurrection possible.

FOCAL PASSAGE:

John 11:25-27; 20:24-29

LESSON OUTLINE:

I.    

II.

III.

Jesus Promised That Those Who Believe In Him Will Never Die (John 11:25-27)

Resurrection Can Be Difficult To Accept As Reality (John 20:24-25)

Jesus Backed Up His Promise Of Eternal Life By Rising From The Dead (John 20:26-29)

THE SETTING:  

Our study of Christ’s resurrection in today’s session focuses on two passages in John’s Gospel, one from chapter 11 and the other from chapter 20. John 11 is a pivotal section in John’s Gospel. As the chapter begins, Jesus received news that his friend Lazarus was ill (11:3). Jesus deliberately stayed away from him, however, until after Lazarus died (v. 6). When He arrived in Bethany where Lazarus was buried and where his two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (vv. 17-19,38-44). With this miracle, Christ gave us a miniature picture of what He will do one day for all who believe in Him. This incredible miracle caused such a stir that news of it spread to the Jewish leaders, who, instead of believing in Christ, determined to have Him put to death—and Lazarus too since he was living proof of Christ’s power over death (12:9-11). It was at this point that the Jewish leaders started making definite plans to have Jesus killed. On previous occasions, the Jewish leaders had sought a way to seize Jesus and have Him killed (Luke 19:47-48; 20:19), but now Jesus’ demonstration of His power over death was more than they could tolerate—they had to find a way to kill Jesus and remove Him as a threat to their own authority over the people (John 11:47-53).

John 20 records several of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to some of His followers. This session considers Jesus’ appearance to Thomas, who had not been present at a previous appearance to the other ten apostles and did not believe them when they said He had risen from the dead. These two passages, like numerous others in the Bible, explain that Jesus’ resurrection was an absolute necessity for our salvation. His triumph over sin and death provided salvation for those who believe in Him and at the same time guarantees our own resurrection when He returns in glory.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

INTRODUCTION:

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014 shows that a large percentage of people in America still believe in an afterlife. Taking all religious affiliations into account, 72 percent of those polled believe in heaven while a surprisingly high 58 percent believe in hell. The numbers are even higher among those professing the Christian faith (as defined in the poll): 85 percent for heaven and 70 percent for hell. Even for those in non-Christian faiths, the numbers are high: 47 percent for heaven and 31 percent for hell. Strange as it may seem, the numbers for the religiously unaffiliated are high also: 37 percent for heaven and 27 percent for hell. Most bizarre of all was that agnostics weighed in at 14 percent and 9 percent, while atheists did so at 5 percent and 3 percent.

What this poll doesn’t show, of course, is what these people believe about how one gets to heaven and how one avoids going to hell. The Christian group included Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, all three of which have their own system of good works to earn favor with God and get to heaven. People have a tendency to accept the idea that a person can live a moral life, keep the commandments, obey church dogma, avoid big sins, and/or other things like these to avoid hell and earn heaven. But the Scriptures are very clear that no one can be saved through good works. All people are sinners and all sins are condemning sins that deserve God’s wrath, which means we all deserve death and can do nothing on our own to pay for our sins. The Scriptures are also clear that only what Christ did for us, His death for our sins and His victory over death, can provide salvation. And it is only when a person comes to a point of faith in Christ that he or she receives salvation—that is, salvation from sin and hell and salvation to a home in heaven.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

I.

Jesus Promised That Those Who Believe In Him Will Never Die (John 11:25-27)

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? ” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1.   How would you explain the context for this week’s study? (See The Setting on page 1.)

  2.   What have you heard are the keys to living a long life?

  3.   What’s so bad about dying?

  4.   How would you explain the folly of humankind trying to extend our lives? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 4, “Today, however, . . . “ & “But as we look at . . . “ )

  5.   According to verse 25, what did Jesus declare Himself to be?

  6.   What does it mean to believe in Jesus as the resurrection and the life? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 4, “Jesus’ words in . . . “ )

  7.   What does His declaration mean to you? How important is His declaration in your life?

  8.   What is the promised benefit that comes to the one who believes in Jesus’ declaration of Himself?

  9.   How can one who is dead still have life?

10.   What question does Jesus pose to Martha (v. 26b)?

11.   What was her response and what did her response mean to her?

12.   What does it mean to call Jesus the Christ and the Son of God?

13.   How would you explain Jesus’ promise in verse 26b?

14.   How did Martha respons to Jesus’ arrival at their house? (See John 11:17-24.)

15.   What does Martha’s statement in John 11:22 tell us about her faith in Jesus?

16.   How would you explain the meaning of Jesus’ promise of eternallife and immortality? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 4, “Further, Jesus stated . . . “ )

 

Lasting Lessons in John 11:25-27:

1. Human beings never have been and never will be able to attain immortality on their own.

2. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead showed His power over sin and death.

3. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the basis for our own resurrection at His return.

4. A person cannot be saved without knowing and accepting the truth of who Jesus is—the Messiah and the Son of God.

 

II.

Resurrection Can Be Difficult To Accept As Reality (John 20:24-25)

24 But Thomas (called “Twin”), one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were telling him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

  1.   What experience did the disciples have that Thomas was denied because he was not present with them? (See John 20:19-20.)

  2.   How did Thomas respond to their claim to have seen the risen Lord (v. 25)?

  3.   How would you explain how Thomas had gotten the nickname of “doubting Thomas”? (See Adv. Comm., pg 5, “Doubting Thomas” . . . “ )

  4.   What do we know about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances? (See chart in article: “Jesus Post Resurrection Appearances”  in Additional Background Reading, on bottom of  pg. 10.)

  5.   Do you consider Thomas a skeptic or an honest searcher? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5,  “The story of Jesus’ . . . “ & “Thomas responded . . . “ )

  6.   What do you think would have been your response to the disciples’ report about Jesus?

  7.   How do you usually respond to any reports of something that requires you to believe without seeing? What are some things you might consider before you would be an all-out believer?

  8.   What obstacles do you think often hinder people from believing in the resurrection of Jesus?

  9.   What do you think is the most common obstacle most people use to keep them from believing in Jesus?

10.   Why do you think the resurrection can be difficult to accept as reality?

11.   What does verse 25 tell us about the crucifixion that doesn’t appear in any other account? (See BSFL, pg. 7, Verse 25, “After seeing Jesus . . . “ )

12.   What do you consider the most compelling evidence of Jesus’ resurrection?

 

Lasting Lessons in John 20:24:25:

1. Jesus provided clear evidence of His resurrection by making numerous appearances to His disciples prior to His ascension.

2. Thomas wasn’t the only disciple who doubted Jesus was alive before seeing Him in person.

3. The disciples continued to be good witnesses about Jesus’ resurrection even though Thomas refused to believe them.

 

III.

Jesus Backed Up His Promise Of Eternal Life By Rising From The Dead (John 20:26-29)

26 A week later his disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even 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 and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in to my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” 28 Thomas responded to him, “My Lord and my God!29 Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

  1.   Is it possible for a person to have doubt and faith at the same time?

  2.   What do you think is the most significant aspect of verse 26? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, The turning point . . . “ )

  3.   How do you think this appearance of Jesus was similar to the one the previous Sunday? How was it different?

  4.   How would you explain Jesus’ challenge to Thomas and what Jesus meant whe He said, “Don’t be faithless, but believe “?(See Adv. Comm., pg. 6. “But then Jesus . . . “ )

  5.   How did Thomas respond to Jesus’ challenge? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 6, “But apparently Thomas . . . “ )

  6.   What was the significance of Thomas’s confession of faith? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 6, “Thomas exclaimed: . . . “ )

  7.   What truth did Jesus declare about our ability to believe even though we have not seen Him physically (v. 29)?

  8.   Who were som other doubters mentioned in the Scriptures?

  9.   Why do you think most people find it hard to believe in Jesus’ resurrection?

10.   What do Matthew 16:16., John 1:49, John 6: 69 and John 11:27 add to this discussion?

11.   How would you explain to a non-believer how Jesus backed up His promise of eternal life?

12.   What do you think is the most significant aspect of Jesus’ resurrection?

 

Lasting Lessons in John 20:26-29:

1. Jesus is Yahweh God, as His resurrection confirms.

2. Jesus’ resurrection provides eternal life to those who believe in Him.

3. Jesus pronounced a blessing on those of us who believe in Him even though we have never seen Him.

 

CONCLUSION:

  byBy His own resurrection, Jesus gave validity to His claim that He is “the resurrection and the life.” And because He lives, we live. His resurrection assures us that we too shall be resurrected. Thus, we claim the hope, we receive the new life; and we invite friends, neighbors, family members, and yes, all the inhabitants of the world to believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Hope of eternity! We do not worship a martyr on Easter or any other Sunday. We worship the risen Lord!

1.  Recall a time when the claim of Jesus to be the “resurrection and the life” brought comfort and hope to you in a time of sorrow and grief.

2.  In what way were you encouraged to reenter life because of your belief that a loved one who died was alive in Christ?

3.  Whom do yhou know that will be celebrating the first Resurrection Sunday this year since the death of a loved one?

4.  How can you reach out to give the ministry of encouragement and hope to that person during these days?

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.

 

Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 

FOCAL PASSAGE: 

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word: John 11:25-27; 20:24-29

King James Version

John 11:25-27 (KJV)

25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.  


 John 20:24-29 (KJV)

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

 

New King James Version   

John 11:25-27 (NKJV)

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world." 


John 20:24-29 (NKJV)

24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." 26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!" 27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing." 28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."  

 

New International Version

John 11:25-27 (NIV)

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."  


John 20:24-29 (NIV)

24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), 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 it." 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!" 29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 

 

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: “Advanced Bible Study Commentary,” Bible Study For Life Commentary,and “The Pulpit Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

 

Lesson Outline — You’ll Never Die” — John 11:25-27; 20:24-29

I.

II.

III.

Jesus Promised that those who believe in Him will Never Die (John 11:25-27)

Resurrection can be difficult to accept as reality (John 20:24-25)

Jesus backed up His promise of eternal life by rising from the dead (John 20:26-29)

COMMENTARY:

Advanced Bible Study Commentary:  John 11:25-27; 20:24-29

I. Jesus Promised that those who believe in Him will Never Die (John 11:25-27)

Man’s search for immortality is the stuff that myths, legends, folklore, and science fiction are made of. Possibly the oldest, called The Epic of Gilgamesh, dates back at least to the eighteenth century BC. According to this ancient Babylonian story, Gilgamesh, king of Uruk in Mesopotamia, went on a long and exciting quest to discover how he could live forever, but his quest failed.1 People today can appreciate that this is a compelling and interesting story, but no one takes it seriously because it’s rooted in ancient Babylonian mythology and superstition.

Today, however, some scientists believe they may be able to continue to expand our lifetimes, perhaps until they have defeated death itself and provided mankind with the realization of a quest that has lasted for centuries—human immortality. All causes of death—old age, disease, famine, war, murder, and so on—will be eradicated by scientific discovery and advances in cultural unity and acceptance.

But as we look at the teachings of Scripture, we have to admit this is folly. The sinful condition of all humanity renders such optimism a fantasy. Immortality comes only through the power of Christ’s resurrection applied to those who have believed in Him to save them from their sins, and even then it does not occur in this life—only in the next life when Jesus returns. Immortality means a person is not susceptible to death, but this is a condition God imparts to us in the afterlife—not this one. As Paul stated, “For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:53-55, emphasis added). This lesson shows that Jesus and Jesus alone provides victory over death for us.

After Jesus arrived in Bethany where His friend Lazarus had died, Lazarus’s sister Martha went to meet Him and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died” (John 11:21). This was a statement of faith in Jesus since she had no doubt that He could have healed her brother if only He had arrived in time. Although Jesus had raised someone from the dead on at least two other occasions (Mark 5:35-43; Luke  7:11-15), Martha may not have known about those miracles, and the people in Israel had not heard of such a thing since the days of Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 13:14-21). Some view Martha’s words to Jesus as a rebuke for not arriving soon enough to save her brother’s life, though this seems too harsh. Her next words show that she was confident in His power because of His close relationship to the Father: “Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). Martha was confident that Jesus could raise her brother to life again.

Jesus’ words in verse 23 are almost certainly a double entendre, a statement that has two different but related meanings: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha revealed her confidence in the truth of Jesus’ prediction since she too believed that he would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (v. 24). This was indeed Jesus’ primary meaning, as His words in verse 25 indicate: “I am the resurrection and the life.” This is the fifth of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements in John’s Gospel; this one focuses on Jesus’ power over death. That He made this statement to a woman who was still mourning the loss of her brother makes it even more powerful. These two claims to be the resurrection and the life addressed two different aspects of salvation: Jesus likely placed resurrection first since Lazarus’s death dominated the conversation. The term life refers to “eternal life” as in John 3:16. We have this eternal life at the point of believing in Jesus, and death does not change this. We will still exist after death in paradise (heaven) enjoying the presence of God in Christ and awaiting the resurrection (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Cor. 5:6-8). Jesus not only provides life, eternal life, to those who believe in Him now, but also resurrection life at His return.

Further, Jesus stated, “The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Just as resurrection and life in the previous verse are not exactly synonymous, neither are these two statements. The first statement promises resurrection life to those who believe in Him even if they die, and the second promises that believers who experience resurrection will never die again. This is eternal life and immortality! Jesus provided a miniature picture of these truths when He raised Lazarus from the dead just a few minutes later (John 11:41-44).

Martha responded to His question, “Do you believe this?” by affirming her faith: “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.” Martha’s confession ranks up there with Peter’s at Caesarea Philippi when he said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Her belief in who Jesus was provided the foundation for her belief that Jesus was able to raise the dead—not just her brother, but all who believe in Him. And thus it must be for all who come to Him in faith. Before a person can be saved, he or she first has to know and accept the truth of who Jesus is.

1. Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary, gen. ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 356.

II. Resurrection can be difficult to accept as reality (John 20:24-25)

During Jesus’ forty days on earth from the time of His resurrection to His ascension (Acts 1:3), He made numerous appearances to His disciples—using the term “disciples” broadly since He appeared to many more than just the Eleven. Several of these appearances occurred on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection, while many others occurred over the next several weeks. The last one is recorded in Acts 1, when several of the disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven (vv. 9-11). John’s Gospel records an appearance on the evening of Jesus’ resurrection to ten of the apostles—minus Judas, of course, and minus Thomas also (John 20:19-23). The apostle John did not inform us why Thomas was absent on that first occasion when Jesus appeared to the others, but the Lord in His grace made another appearance to them with Thomas present, one designed especially for him.

“Doubting Thomas” we call him. What a horrible nickname! And I’m afraid we’re not being fair to him either. Thomas wasn’t the only doubter in this situation. In fact, the only disciples named in Scripture who believed Jesus had risen from the dead in those early weeks following His resurrection were John (John 20:8) and possibly Peter (Luke 24:12). Mary Magdalene was greatly distressed that the tomb was empty since she thought Jesus’ body had been stolen, and she subsequently had a brief conversation with Him, thinking He was the gardener, before He revealed Himself to her (John 20:11-16). After hearing reports from several women who had seen Jesus alive, the Eleven and others thought their “words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women” (Luke 24:11). Shortly before Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission, Matthew recorded that some were still doubting (Matt. 28:17), though the nature of this doubt in their minds is unclear. So let’s not be too hard on Thomas, and let’s also remember that, had we been there, we might have reacted in a very similar way.

The story of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas begins in verse 24: But Thomas (called “Twin”), one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. Both the Aramaic Thomas and the Greek “Didymus” (KJV) mean “twin” and were used as nicknames for him, so Thomas must have had a twin brother or sister who is not mentioned in the New Testament. His absence from the previous meeting is not explained, but on this occasion, with all eleven in attendance this time, the other disciples were telling him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” No doubt they said these words with great excitement and much conviction, but Thomas was not convinced.

Thomas responded with great skepticism: “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Thomas demanded verification from two of his senses—sight and touch. He had to see Jesus risen from the dead for himself; furthermore, he had to touch the places where the nails pierced His hands and the gash the spear made in His side. Short of this, he would never believe, meaning he would never accept the word of other eyewitnesses, even the other disciples who had followed Jesus with him for about three years. Jesus addressed this issue in John 20:29, which we discuss below.

The tense of were telling in verse 24 indicates continuous action. This hints that the other disciples probably contacted Thomas as soon as they could and had tried to convince him time and again over the next seven days that Jesus was alive. They would have wanted Thomas to hear the good news as soon as possible. They remained persistent witnesses of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection despite Thomas’s unbelief. Sadly, Thomas’s standard response for a whole week whenever any of them testified to Jesus’ resurrection was the same: “I have to see Him and touch Him for myself.”

Verse 25 is the only place in the New Testament that tells us nails were used in crucifying Jesus. The Romans would either nail or tie a victim to a cross, and both were quite common. Nails seemed to have been used when the soldiers wanted to be especially cruel to the victim, for whatever reasons their wicked hearts may have found. One may wonder how Thomas knew about the nails. The apostle John, the only one of the Twelve who witnessed the crucifixion, may have been one source (19:25-27). And it’s likely that the other nine disciples told Thomas about these wounds also. Jesus had showed them His hands and side during that first appearance, causing them to rejoice when they had seen Him and had such clear evidence that the crucified One had risen from the dead (v. 20). And then, while trying to convince Thomas that Jesus was alive, they used this same evidence that Jesus had used when He appeared to them. But Thomas had to see it for himself like the other ten had.

III. Jesus Backed Up His Promise Of Eternal Life By Rising From The Dead (John 20:26-29)

The turning point in Thomas’s life occurred a week after Jesus’ resurrection: A week later his disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Again, we are not told why Thomas was present this time or why the Eleven were having a meeting. For John’s purposes, those peripheral issues didn’t matter. What did matter was Jesus’ action on that day: Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. Locked doors didn’t keep the risen Lord from entering the room on this day any more than they had the week before (v. 19). Jesus also greeted them the same way: “Peace be with you.” Jesus had spoken words to comfort their hearts the night before the crucifixion and promised them peace, and now they saw that the basis of that peace was His triumph over sin and death (14:1,27).

But then Jesus turned His attention to Thomas: “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” Jesus began by inviting Thomas to do just what the apostle said would be necessary before he would believe Jesus was alive. But apparently Thomas didn’t have to lay a finger on Jesus after all. Seeing Jesus in person, seeing His wounds, and realizing (with some embarrassment no doubt!) that Jesus was even aware of his doubts—all this surely must have been overwhelming to Thomas. This would be especially true of Jesus’ words regarding Thomas’s unbelief: “Don’t be faithless, but believe.” Jesus did not mean that Thomas was lost, but that he had refused to believe Jesus was alive—until this moment.

Thomas exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’s response ranks up there with other great Christological confessions in the New Testament (Peter’s in Matt. 16:16 and John 6:69; Nathanael’s in John 1:49; Martha’s in John 11:27). Thomas’s specifically calls Jesus God, a powerful statement that affirms the Deity of Christ. Thomas immediately went from stubborn unbelief in Jesus’ resurrection to total commitment to Jesus’ identity as God. The truth of the resurrection made the difference for him, as it will for all who believe in Him to save them from their sins.

In verse 29 Jesus gave us His last beatitude: “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Only a relative handful of people actually saw the resurrected Christ during His forty days on earth before His ascension: Mary Magdalene, some other women, the apostles, five hundred believers at once, and Jesus’ half-brother James (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20–21; Acts 1:1-11; 1 Cor. 15:3-7); then He made a special appearance to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-9; 1 Cor. 15:8). Other than these, all other believers in Christ over the past twenty centuries have believed in Him without seeing Him in person raised from the dead, beginning with the three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and continuing on until today—including you and me. We believe that He died for our sins and rose from the dead because of the testimony of Scripture, because of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, and because of the testimony of other believers who shared the gospel with us. Jesus pronounced us all to be blessed. And truly we are!

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Bible Study For Life Commentary: John 11:25-27; 20:24-29

I. Jesus Promised that those who believe in Him will Never Die (John 11:25-27)

Verses 25-26. In His conversation with Martha after the death of her brother, Lazarus, Jesus promised that those who believe in Him will never die. Jesus had left the region of Judea after the Jews sought to stone Him in Jerusalem for claiming to be God. Crossing the Jordan River into the region where John had been baptizing, many came to that place and believed in Him (John 10:22-42).

When Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was sick, their message clearly implied that they expected Jesus to come immediately to Bethany (about two miles southeast of Jerusalem) and heal him. The wording of their message stressed Jesus’ close relationship to their brother, further encouraging Jesus to hurry to Bethany. Although Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, He did not leave immediately. Instead, He remained where He was for two more days. After that, Jesus called for His disciples to return with Him to Judea. After some discussion and confusion among His followers, Jesus told them bluntly that Lazarus had already died. He added that what they were about to experience would encourage their faith. While Jesus’ disciples believed that going back to the area near Jerusalem would result in Jesus’ death, Thomas spoke up and boldly challenged the group to go with Jesus so that they could demonstrate their loyalty by dying with Him (11:1-16).

By the time Jesus neared Bethany, Lazarus had been buried in a tomb for four days. When Lazarus’s sister Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him (vv. 17-20). When she came to Jesus, Martha told Him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (vv. 21-22). Martha’s statement to Jesus reflects an emotion common at times of intense grief, with the sense of “If only….” If only Jesus had been present when Lazarus had fallen ill, He would have healed her brother and Lazarus would not have died. Martha believed that Jesus was God’s Messiah, the Christ; she knew He had the power to heal the sick. That belief is reflected in her further statement that God would give Jesus whatever He would ask.

Jesus offered Martha comfort by assuring her that her brother would rise again (v. 23). Martha took His words to mean that Lazarus would rise in the resurrection of the righteous at the end of the age (Dan. 7:9-18; Luke 14:14). Jesus challenged Martha to use her faith to go further in her spiritual understanding. Instead of allowing her to think merely in terms of a general resurrection of the righteous at the end of the age, Jesus urged her to see the one speaking to her as the resurrection and the life. Jesus is the only source of eternal life (John 1:4; 5:25-29; 1 John 5:11-12). Paul’s letters often reflect this reality (Rom. 6:1-11; 1 Cor. 15:20-26). Those who put their faith in Jesus as God’s Son and His atoning sacrifice for sin (1 John 4:9-10) will live.

Jesus then told Martha, “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” However, Jesus was not saying that those who believed in Him would never face physical death. “Resurrection and life were two related dimensions of Jesus’ proclamation. Jesus clearly possesses the power of resurrection so that the one who believes in Jesus, even though he were to die, will experience that power of resurrection (‘will live,’ 11:25) in their dead bodies. But beyond resurrection, Jesus is also life. Accordingly, whoever experiences resurrection (‘lives and believes,’ 11:26) also will experience the great Johannine goal of life (20:31) or eternal life (3:16) and will never die (11:26, or perish, 3:16).”1

Those who place their faith in Jesus experience new life in both this age and the age to come. They will be able to experience a new quality of life here and now that is free of the guilt of and slavery to sin (Rom. 6:6-7; 8:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:17). God empowers believers with the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 3:16) so that they can do all the “good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Although believers are still subject to pain, sickness, and even physical death, which are the realities of living in this fallen world, when believers die we go to live in the presence of the Lord in heaven. Furthermore, at the end of this age when Jesus returns, “we will all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51) so that we can “inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 50). This world will pass away, giving way to a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1-2). The Book of Revelation provides details of this future event: “Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (vv. 3-4). For those who refuse to believe in Jesus, they face what Scripture terms “the second death,” eternal separation from God in the place known as hell, “the lake of fire” (20:11-15).

At that future time, believers in Christ will experience the full reality of what Jesus told Martha. To ensure that Martha’s belief was more than merely intellectual agreement, Jesus  challenged her to confirm her absolute trust: “Do you believe this?”

Verse 27. Martha did not hesitate. She could not have used any clearer words. First, she called Jesus Lord, His title of authority (Luke 6:46.) and stated, “I believe.” She confessed that Jesus is “the Messiah,” the Christ, the Anointed One sent by God to reveal the Father (John 1:18). And, finally, she called Jesus “the Son of God, who comes into the world,” affirming His oneness with God the Father and His role as the Savior of the world (John 1:1-18; 3:31; 6:14; 1 John 4:14-15).

II. Resurrection can be difficult to accept as reality (John 20:24-25)

Verse 24. The reality of Jesus’ resurrection can be difficult for some to accept. Early on the morning of His resurrection, Jesus had appeared first to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) as well as to His other women followers (Matt. 28:1,9-10; Luke 24:1-10). Later that day, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (vv. 13-33). Sometime during that day, Jesus had appeared to Peter as well (v. 34). Later that evening, the disciples were gathered in a room with the doors locked because they feared the Jews (John 20:19). Despite the locked doors, Jesus was able to come into the room. He greeted His disciples with the words, “Peace be with you” (v. 19). After this, Jesus showed His disciples His hands and side. The disciples rejoiced that their Lord was risen (v. 20). However, for some reason which is not explained, Thomas (called “Twin”), one of the Twelve, was not present when the Lord appeared to His disciples. (“Thomas” is Aramaic for “twin.”)

Verse 25. After seeing Jesus for themselves, the other disciples later told Thomas about their experience. The Greek term for telling him that they had seen the Lord may suggest that they kept telling him what they had experienced. Thomas was clearly reluctant to believe what the other disciples were reporting to him. He told the disciples, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Through the years some Christians have referred to Thomas as “doubting Thomas.” They do this because at first Thomas refused to believe that Jesus was really alive since he had not seen Jesus for himself. He adamantly said that he would not believe that Jesus had been resurrected until he, like the other ten (20:20), had the opportunity to see (and in his case touch) the indentations where the nails had held Jesus’ hands to the cross and the spot where the spear had pierced His side (19:31-34).

Thomas was one of the twelve disciples (also called apostles) chosen by Jesus to be His constant followers (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16). As was noted above, when Jesus called on His disciples to return to Judea with Him after receiving the message about Lazarus’s illness (John 11:1-16), the disciples had tried to persuade Him not to go because the Jews wanted to kill Him (v. 8). However, Thomas was the one who boldly spoke up and challenged the others to return with Jesus, even if they would have to die with Him (v. 16). When Jesus called Lazarus to come out of the tomb, Thomas was there as a witness. In fact, before they went back to Bethany, Jesus had told His disciples that what they were about to see would strengthen their faith in Him (vv. 14-15).

In the hours before Jesus was arrested, He encouraged His apostles to keep trusting in Him and His Father (14:1). When Jesus told them that He was going away and that they knew “the way” (v. 4), Thomas spoke up, telling Jesus they didn’t know where Jesus was going or the way to get there (v. 5). Clearly, Thomas wanted to know the way to follow Jesus wherever He was going. Thomas’s question led to Jesus’ declaration that He is in fact the only way to the Father and that when one sees Jesus, one has seen the Father: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (vv. 6-7).

After he had seen the resurrected Jesus for himself, Thomas would continue to follow Jesus. When Jesus ascended back to heaven, Thomas was there (Acts 1:2,9-13). When the disciples obeyed Jesus by waiting and praying for the Holy Spirit to come, Thomas was there (vv. 12-14). When the Spirit came in power, Thomas was there with the other disciples (2:1). According to the Gospel accounts, Thomas was always ready to follow Jesus. He just wanted to be certain about the way. He and all the disciples knew that Jesus had died on the cross. How could anyone follow a man who had claimed to be the Son of God but who had been crucified? Thomas was not afraid to follow Jesus. He simply wanted to be certain that it was truly Jesus who was leading the way (Luke 24:11; John 20:20).

III. Jesus backed up His promise of eternal life by rising from the dead (John 20:26-29)

Verse 26. Jesus’ resurrection backs up His promise that those who believe in Him will have eternal life. A week after His appearance to His followers on the day of His resurrection, Jesus joined them again, probably in the same house. Although the doors were locked as they had been before, through His divine power Jesus was able to come into the room where his disciples had gathered. This time Thomas was present with the other ten apostles. John used wording similar to that of Jesus’ first appearance in verse 19 to describe Jesus’ arrival: Jesus came and stood among them. As before, He spoke the familiar Jewish greeting, “Peace be with you,” to reassure them after His sudden appearance despite the locked doors.

Verse 27. Jesus knew how Thomas had responded to the exciting news the other apostles had shared after they had seen their risen Lord. Thomas would not believe unless he saw the risen Jesus for himself. When Jesus had come to the ten disciples on the past Sunday evening, Jesus “showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20). John did not record that any of the other apostles had reached out and touched Jesus’ wounds on that occasion. Now, however, Jesus addressed Thomas directly. He invited Thomas not only to view His wounds, but to touch them: “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” Jesus urged Thomas to put away all his doubts and believe in the risen Savior. Literally, Jesus told Thomas to stop being without faith and start exercising his faith.

Verse 28. Scripture records several clear affirmations of Jesus’ deity (Matt. 16:16; John 11:27; Acts 2:36; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:1-3). None is clearer or more forceful in its passion than these words from Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” Though so simple and brief, these words demonstrate three aspects of true faith.

First, true faith must be personal faith. Thomas confessed Jesus to be My Lord and my God!” (emphasis added). Thomas’s confession was of his own, personal belief in the Savior. Thomas knew that Jesus had kept His promise to rise from the dead. All four Gospels record Jesus’ predictions of His death and resurrection: Matthew (12:3940; 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19), Mark (8:31-33; 9:3032; 10:32-34), Luke (9:21-22,43-45; 18:31-34), and John (2:1822; 10:17-18). With the resurrected Jesus now standing before him, Thomas no longer had any doubts. In the same way, our faith must come from our own solid convictions (John 18:34; Rom. 10:9-13).

Second, true faith affirms that Jesus is God. Jesus is the incarnate Son of God (John 1:1,14). During His earthly ministry, Jesus clearly stated that He was divine (John 10:22-33; 14:6-11). Those who are true followers of Jesus confess that He is God Incarnate (Matt. 16:13-20; 1 John 4:2-3).

Third, true faith affirms that Jesus is Lord. True believers acknowledge that Jesus is Lord over their lives. True faith always results in obedience to Jesus’ commands (Rom 1:5-6; Jas. 2:14-26). Jesus Himself warned of the danger of honoring Him with words but failing to recognize His authority (Luke 6:46-49). Only those whose faith yields the fruit of obedience to the Lord’s will are truly believers (Matt. 7:13-27).

Verse 29. Being able to see the risen Jesus for himself had erased all of Thomas’s doubts that Jesus was truly alive. Jesus pointed out that Thomas believed because he had seen Him and the scars from His crucifixion. Of course, this was true for all of the first disciples. All of them had been downcast after the death of Jesus, bewildered and fearful. But fear and doubt were transformed into faith. They all believed for the same reason (1 Cor. 15:3-8); they had seen the risen Lord (Luke 24:13-48). This transformation is actually proof of the reality both of Jesus’ death and His resurrection. Only the certainty of the disciples that Jesus was alive could have resulted in their giving up everything, even their lives, in order to obey His command to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20).

While Jesus affirmed Thomas for believing, He went on to pronounce a blessing on those who would later believe without having seen Him. Think about the day of Pentecost when Peter shared the good news (Acts 2:14-40) and about three thousand people believed his message (v. 41). Soon that number grew to about five thousand (4:4). How did people who had never seen Jesus after His resurrection come to put their faith in Him? They believed because those who had seen Jesus after His resurrection shared the same message as Peter. Later Peter wrote how many who had not seen Jesus came to faith in Him. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9). Thomas received a great blessing in that he was allowed to see Jesus for himself and because he responded with his confession of faith. Those of us who have believed without having seen Jesus are also blessed because we share the same faith and confession with Thomas and Martha. We know in our hearts that not only is Jesus risen from the dead but that He is also the resurrection and the life for all who believe in Him (John 11:25-26).

SOURCE: Bible Studies For Life: Life Ventures Leaders Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234

Believer's Bible Commentary; (John 11:25-27; John 20:24-29)

I. Jesus Backed Up His Promise Of Eternal Life By Rising From The Dead (John 11 :25-27)

11:25.  It is as if the Lord had said, "You do not understand Me, Martha. I do not mean that Lazarus will rise again at the last day. I am God, and I have the power of resurrection and of life in My hand. I can raise Lazarus from the dead right now, and will do it."

Then the Lord looked forward to the time when all true believers would be raised. This will take place when the Lord Jesus comes back again to take His people home to heaven.

At that time there will be two classes of believers. There will be those who have died in faith, and there will be those who are living at His Return. He comes to the first class as the Resurrection and to the second as the Life. The first class is described in the latter part of verse 25—"He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live." This means that those believers who have died before Christ's coming will be raised from the dead.

Burkitt remarks:

O love, stronger than death! The grave cannot separate Christ and His friends. Other friends accompany us to the brink of the grave, and then they leave us. Neither life nor death can separate from the love of Christ.

Bengel comments, "It is beautifully consonant with divine propriety, that no one is ever read of as having died while the Prince of Life was present."

11:26.  The second class is described in verse 26. Those who are alive at the time of the Savior's coming and who believe on Him shall never die. They will be changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, and taken home to heaven with those who have been raised from the dead. What precious truths have come to us as a result of Lazarus' death! God brings sweetness out of bitterness and gives beauty for ashes. Then the Lord pointedly asked Martha, to test her faith, "Do you believe this?"

11:27.  Martha's faith blazed out in noontime splendor. She confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, whom the prophets had predicted was to come into the world. And we should notice that she made this confession before Jesus had raised her brother from the dead and not afterwards!

II. Resurrection Can Be Difficult To Accept As Reality (John 20:24-25)

Doubt Turned to Faith (20:24-25)

20:24.  We should not jump to the conclusion that Thomas should be blamed for not being present. Nothing is said to indicate the reason for his absence.

20:25.  Thomas is to be blamed for his unbelieving attitude. He must have visible, tangible proof of the Lord's resurrection; otherwise he will not believe. This is the attitude of many today, but it is not reasonable. Even scientists believe many things that they can neither see nor touch.

III. Jesus Backed Up His Promise Of Eternal Life By Rising From The Dead (20:26-29)

20:26.  One week later the Lord appeared to His disciples again. This time Thomas was with them. Again the Lord Jesus entered the room in a miraculous way and again greeted them with "Peace to you!"

20:27.  The Lord dealt gently and patiently with His faithless follower. He invited him to prove the reality of His resurrection by putting his hand into the spear wound in His side.

20:28.  Thomas was convinced. Whether he ever did put his hand into the Lord's side, we do not know. But he knew at last that Jesus was risen and that He was both Lord and God. John Boys puts it nicely: "He acknowledged the divinity he did not see by the wounds he did see."

20:29.  The important thing to notice is that Jesus accepted worship as God. If He were only a man, He should have refused it. But Thomas' faith was not the kind that was most pleasing to the Lord. It was belief based on sight. More blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

The surest evidence is the Word of God. If God says a thing, we honor Him by believing it; but we dishonor Him by demanding additional evidence. We should believe simply because He said it and because He cannot lie or be mistaken.

Believer's Bible Commentary: A Thorough, Yet Easy-to-Read Bible Commentary That Turns Complicated Theology Into Practical Understanding.

 

DIGGING DEEPER: Key Word(s)

 

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

Bible Background Commentary

John 11:25-27: The common belief of Judaism in this period was that the dead would be raised bodily at the end; indeed, Pharisees considered those who denied this doctrine (specifically Sadducees) to be damned for doing so.

Bible Background Commentary - The IVP Bible Background Commentary – New Testament.


20:24-25. Only the evidence of his senses could persuade Thomas that the other disciples had not seen merely a phantom or apparition; a ghost or spiritual vision as in pagan tradition, or an image produced by a magician, would not be corporeal. The resurrection body, by contrast, was clearly corporeal, although the exact nature of such corporeality may have been debated among early Christians. Thomas does not doubt that his friends think they saw something; he doubts only the nature of their experience.

20:26. See comment on John 20:19. Now that a week had passed, the feast would be over and the disciples would thus soon be ready to return to Galilee unless they received orders to the contrary.

20:27-28. Thomas’s response is a confession of Jesus’ deity; cf. Rev. 4:11. Pliny, a governor writing near the probable location of John’s readers two or three decades after John, reports that Christians sing hymns to Christ “as to a god.”

20:29-31. Jesus’ blessing (John 20:29) applies to the readers of John who believe through the apostolic testimony (John 20:31); John 20:30 is the culmination of John’s signs motif: signs sometimes lead to faith and sometimes lead to opposition.

Bible Background Commentary - The IVP Bible Background Commentary – New Testament.

 

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:

Jesus Post Resurrection Appearances

By Gregory T. Pouncey

Gregory T. Pouncey is pastor of First Baptist Church, Tillman’s Corner, Mobile, Alabama.

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HEN THE DISCIPLES first proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, they did not simply include the fact that “Jesus died for our sins and that He was raised.”1  Rather, they emphasized that He died, was raised, and appeared to eyewitnesses after His resurrection.  Nearing the conclusion of the first recorded Christian sermon, Simon Peter said, “God has resurrected this Jesus.  We are all witnesses of this” (Acts 2:32).2  At Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Colonnade, the apostle proclaimed, “You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this” (3:15).  When Peter responded to the high priest and Sanhedrin after his arrest, he defended his right to preach the message by stating, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (5:32).  To the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house, Peter declared, “God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen, not by all the people, but by us, witnesses appointed beforehand by God, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead” (10:40-41).  Lastly, Paul summarized the gospel thusly, “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.  Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:3-6).  But why were the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ central to the gospel? 

The importance of the post-resurrection appearances lies in the promise and fulfillment of Jesus’ foretelling of His death and resurrection.  One of the most striking traditions of the Gospels is Jesus’ threefold passion declaration (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 and parallels).  In these statements, Jesus explained He would suffer rejection, be killed, and rise from the dead.  Jesus’ death would be vindicated by His resurrection; but in order for that promise to reach its intended fulfillment, people would have to witness the resurrected Christ.3   Certainly the people closest to Jesus, though they had heard His statements of His death and resurrection, did not expect Him to rise from the dead on Sunday morning.  This was evidenced by the women wondering who would roll away the stone for them so they could finish anointing Jesus’ body (Mark 16:3).  Clearly they were not expecting to encounter the resurrected Christ.

Neither did the disciples dare believe that Jesus had fulfilled His passion statements.  They thought the women’s report of an empty tomb to be “nonsense” (Luke 24:11).  Thomas refused to believe that Jesus’ passion statements could be fulfilled—until he saw the resurrected Christ with his own eyes (John 20:25b).  The disciples and the others who were closest to Jesus certainly were not in a heightened sense of expectation that Jesus’ words would be fulfilled—but something changed their minds.

Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances changed the disciples from defeated skeptics to encouraged believers.  Though reconstructing an exact timetable and chronology of Jesus’ appearances is difficult, the fact that He appeared to those who knew Him best is certain.  Something changed the disciples from their skepticism to belief, and that something was seeing the resurrected Christ.4  Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (vv. 11-18).  Again, she was not expecting Jesus’ resurrection.  When she heard someone talking to her and asking her why she was crying, she thought it was the gardener.  But when Jesus called her name, she realized who this was; and this discourage woman returned to the disciples with encouraging news, “I have seen the Lord!” (v. 18).  Apparently on the way to tell the disciples, Jesus made an appearance to the other women who had accompanied Mary to the tomb (Matt. 28:8-10).  These same women who had pondered how the stone would be rolled away now worshiped Jesus by falling at His feet.

After appearing to the women near the tomb, Jesus made an appearance to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32).  These travelers had heard stories of strange occurrences at the tomb, but they did not dare believe that the prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection had been fulfilled.  The resurrected Christ appeared to them along the way and even chided them for being unwise and slow to believe (v. 25).  However, when He broke bread with them, they realized that they had indeed seen the resurrected Christ.

Jesus appeared several times specifically to His disciples.  John 20:19-23 records Jesus appearing to 10 of His disciples; Thomas, though, was absent.  Jesus made an appearance eight days later to all of His disciples, including Thomas (John 20:26-29).  This changed Thomas from skeptic to believer; he responded to Jesus in faith, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).  Jesus also appeared to the Eleven (Luke 24:33-49) and later to seven apostles (John 21:1-14).  In this last appearance, He reassured Peter of his calling to ministry and encouraged the disciples to shepherd His sheep (v. 16).  Prior to this encounter, Peter had returned to his fishing nets; he had been a fisherman before Jesus called him to fish for men (Matt. 4:19).  Jesus also appeared on a mountain to teach the disciples, giving them the Great Commission (28:19-20).  Interestingly, some worshiped; others doubted.  They still struggled with the fulfillment of Jesus’ earlier statements.  However, Jesus continued to appear to them in order to help them believe and to instruct them in what they would do after His ascension.

Paul mentioned three appearances of Jesus that the Gospels do not.  In his list in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, he mentioned Jesus appearing to over 500 brothers at one time.  We know no further details about this, except that some of the witnesses were still alive and available to validate the claims of Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul also mentioned Jesus appearing to James, His brother, and to Paul himself, though the apostle admitted this was after the ascension, explaining he was “abnormally born” (1 Cor. 15:8).  The increasing number of people who saw Jesus served to verify the truth that He had indeed fulfilled the predictions of His death and resurrection.

Jesus’ final appearance to His disciples was at His ascension (Acts 1:4-11).  Luke described what Jesus did: “After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them my many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and dpeking about the kingdom of God” (v. 3).  This summarized the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection appearances.  Jesus had foretold that He would die and rise in three days.  Then He validated His promise by appearing to various groups of people, convincing them that He had fulfilled His promise.  Then He ascended into heaven and left those eyewitnesses to bear witness to the truth of His claims.  Jesus emphasized this in His words in His special appearance to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Those who believe without seeing are blessed” (John 20:29).                                                                                                                                         Bi

 

Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus:

·   To Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)

·   To the other women (Matthew 28:8-10)

·   To Cleopas and another disciple on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-32)

·   To ten disciples excluding Thomas (John 20:19-23)

·   To eleven disciples with Thomas (John 20:26-30)

·   To eleven disciples again (Luke 24:33-39)

·   To seven disciples (John 21:1-14)

·   To the disciples in giving the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20)

·   To Simon Peter and the other disciples (1 Corinthians 15:5)

·   To the 500 (1 Corinthians 15:6)

·   To James (1 Corinthians 15:7)

·   To the disciples at His ascension (Acts 1:4-9)

·   To Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8)

 

1.  Stein, Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 270.

2.  All Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

3.  Osborne, “Resurrection” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Green and McKnight (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 675.

4.  For a list of resurrection appearances, see Strobel, The Case of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 234.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2015.

Lazarus Has Died

By Bobby Kelly

Bobby Kelly is the Ruth Dickinson professor of Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

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OHN’S GOSPEL divides easily into two major sections: the book of signs (chapters 1—11) and the book of glory (12—21).  The book of signs is characterized by seven miracles or “signs” that serve to (1) indicate that Jesus in the Messiah, the Son of God, and (2) arouse faith in those who witness them.1  The signs begin with Jesus’ turning the water to wine and move toward the seventh and climactic sign, His raising Lazarus from the dead.  Thus, the raising of Lazarus marks the pivotal and climactic scene in the first half of John’s Gospel and looks forward to the climactic scene of the entire Gospel, Jesus’ resurrection.  Despite the prominent role John gave the event and the familiarity of those involved, many questions persist.  How much do we really know about Lazarus, Mary, and Martha?  How would Lazarus’s death affect Mary and Martha?  What do we know about Jewish burial practices in the first century that might give us insight into the miracle?  And, perhaps most significantly, why did Jesus wait so long before going to Bethany to raise Lazarus?

Lazarus, Mary, and Martha

To begin, what do we know about Lazarus and his sisters?  John’s Gospel details a close relationship between Jesus and the three siblings: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.  Lazarus does not appear in any of the Gospels except John, and even in John he appears in only two chapters (John 11—12).2  We do know that the name Lazarus was a Greek form of the Aramaic Eleazar,  which means “God helps,” a fitting name in light of what was about to transpire.3  Although Lazarus never spoke in John’s narrative, John did designate him as someone Jesus loved (11:3,5,36) and as Jesus’ friend (v. 11).  Lazarus’s sisters Martha and Mary appear only twice outside of the story of Lazarus’s resuscitation.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and received affirmation that she “made the right choice” (Luke 10:38-42).4  Mary also anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume (John 12:1-8).  In both accounts, Martha fulfilled the more traditional female role of preparing the meal.  Clearly these siblings loved each other and loved Jesus deeply, and Jesus returned that love.  Lazarus, Mary, and Martha lived in Bethany.  Ancient Bethany was situated on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives less than two miles east of Jerusalem.  Local tradition touts a tomb as the actual site of Lazarus’s burial.5

The Impact of the Death of Lazarus

While the Old Testament shows both men and women expressing grief in response of death and dying, clearly mourning the dead was primarily the work of women in the ancient world.6  Women sang songs of mourning and made repeated visits to the burial site to mourn the dead.  This is certainly the case in John 11.  The love, concern, and grief that Mary and Martha expressed for their brother’s illness and eventual death provided the catalyst for the whole narrative.  It drove the sisters to send for Jesus despite the danger Bethany posed for Him due to both its close proximity to Jerusalem and His increasingly antagonistic enemies (11:3,7-8).  The sisters wanted Him to take the risk, however, because they knew Jesus was Lazarus’s only hope.  Surprisingly, Jesus delayed  two days; Lazarus was already dead when He arrived (vv. 4-14).  When Jesus arrived, the Jews were already on the scene to comfort Mary and Martha.  The sight of the sisters mourning “deeply moved” Jesus (v. 33).

Although many contemporary Christians can sympathize with the grief related to the death of a beloved sibling, the cultural differences blind us to the devastating impact Lazarus’s death would have had on Mary and Martha.  In the honor/shame culture of first-century Judaism, a woman’s honor hinged on the prominent male in her life.  Prior to marriage, a female’s honor was based on her father’s good name.  After marriage, the woman’s honor was contingent on her husband being honorable.  In the absence of a living father, husband, or a male child, the woman’s access to honor, property, security, and justice was imbedded the closest, oldest living male relative.7  As John described the scene, the focus remained solely on the sisters with no reference to any other family members.  The Jews came to console Mary and Martha, not Lazarus’s wife or children.  John made no mention of a husband or children related to Mary or Martha.  The anointing scene in John 12:1-8 was in the hometown of Lazarus, and once again the only women present were the sisters.  Every clue in the text indicates Mary and Martha were unmarried or widowed and lived together with their unmarried or widowed brother.  In such a scenario, any access that Mary and Martha had to property, security, livelihood, and hence, status was embedded in Lazarus.  With the death of their beloved brother, their situation would radically change.  They would have lost not only their closest relative, but also all the things that mattered in the male-dominated world of the first century. 

First Century Burial Practices

Scripture records the death of a multitude of individuals, yet it reveals only glimpses of Jewish burial practices.  At the time of death, the deceased person’s eyes were shut, the mouth bound, and the body washed and anointed with spices.  The spices worked to counteract the order that would result from the rapid decomposition of a body in the subtropical Mediterranean climate.  The body was then wrapped in prepared cloths and placed in a tomb.  Finally, a large rock sealed the tomb.  Intense mourning would follow for a week.  After a longer period of decomposition, perhaps as much as a year, the bones were collected and placed in a bone box called an ossuary.8

The practice of wrapping the body in grave clothes highlights a striking contrast between the resuscitation of Lazarus and the resurrection of Jesus.  When Jesus raised Lazarus he came out of the tomb “bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.”  Jesus then commanded the witnesses, “Loose him and let him go” (v. 44).  John’s portrayal of the resurrection of Jesus, however, indicated that on one had to untie Jesus.  The grave clothes were left behind; their positioning provided proof positive to Peter and the beloved disciple that Jesus was neither unwrapped nor was the body carried off.  In fact the only explanation was that Jesus’ body had passed right through the wrapping (20:5-7).9  While the empty tomb could be explained as theft, the only explanation of the presence and placement of the grave clothes was resurrection.

Dead Four Days

Jesus’ two-day delay when informed of his close friend Lazarus’s illness demands explanation.  Twice John stated that Lazarus had been dead for four days by the time Jesus arrived (11:17,39).  Perhaps Jesus’ initial response when informed of Lazarus’s serious illness provides a clue.  Jesus stated, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v. 4).  John also asserted that “Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.  So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, ‘Let’s go to Judea again’” (vv. 5-7).  Jesus intentionally delayed in order that four days might pass before His arrival in Bethany.  He did this so that He and the Father might be glorified.  But why not go immediately and either heal Lazarus’s illness or raise him after one, two, or even three days?  Wouldn’t God be glorified in that as well?  Why four days?

Underlying the story is the Jewish belief that the soul lingered around the body for three days after death hoping to re-enter.  When the body began to decay and smell, the soul departed: “For three days (after death) the soul hovers over the body, intending to re-enter it, but as soon as it sees its appearance change, it departs.”10  Thus, Jesus waited until after the third day when Mary, Martha, and the others at Bethany would have given up all hope that somehow Lazarus might come back to life.  Not only was Lazarus’s body dead and beginning to decompose, but the spirit that animated the body and gave it life had reached the point of no possible return.11  Thus, Jesus’ miracle displayed the power and glory of God in the greatest possible manner.  Furthermore, the story validated Jesus’ power to raise the dead to life in this age and in the age to come.  What fitting climax to the first half of John’s Gospel (the book of signs), one that prepares the reader to begin the second half, the book of glory.  At the end of the book of signs, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  In time, though, Lazarus would die again.  What a contrast to the end of the book of glory, one in which the Messiah would walk out of the grave alive.  The difference, though, is that He would never face the greave again.  At His was resurrection, He was (and is) alive forevermore.                                                                                                     Bi

  1.  The seven signs in John 1—11 include Jesus: (1) changing water to wine (2:1-11); (2) healing the nobleman’s son (4:46-54); (3) healing the lame man (5:1-15); (4) feeding the multitude (6:1-15); (5) walking on the water (6:16-21); (6) healing the blind man (9:1-41); and (7) raising Lazarus. (ch. 11).

  2.  The theory that the poor man named Lazarus in Luke’s parable about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is the same Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead in John 11 seems unfounded.  The fact “that the name Lazarus (Eleazar) was the third most popular male name among Palestinian Jews” would explain why more than one man in the New Testament might bear the name (Richard Buauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007], 174).

  3.  Paschal, Jr;, “Lazarus” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels [DJG], ed. Green, McKnight, and Marshall (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 461.

  4.  All Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

  5.  Earle, “Bethany” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, gen. ed. Bromiley, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 463-64.

  6.  Corley, Maranatha: Women’s Funerary Rituals and Christian Origins (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010), 46.

  7.  Hanson and Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 29-30.

  8.  This description of Jewish burial practices is from Evans, Jesus and the Ossuaries (Waco: Baylor Univ. Press, 2003), 14-15 and Green, “Burial of Jesus” in DJG, 88-92.

  9.  Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 689.

 10.  Leviticus Rabbah Midrash on Leviticus 15:1-2 cited in Evans, Jesus and the Ossuaries, 14.

 11.  Evans, Jesus and the Ossuaries, 14.  See also Borchert, John 1—11, vol. 25a in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 354.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 2013.

RESURRECTION in First-Century Jewish Thought

By Warren McWilliams

Warren McWilliams is the Auguie Henry Professor of Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

S

PECULATION ABOUT THE MEANING OF A BIBLE PASSAGE can be dangerous, but I have often wished I could read the minds of some biblical characters.  For example, Jesus’ discussion with His disciples at Caesarea Philippi was a turning-point event in His ministry.  When Jesus asked them who they thought He was, Simon Peter correctly acknowledged Him as “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16).1  Then Jesus announced He would eventually “be killed, and be raised the third day” (v. 21).  I wonder what the twelve apostles believed about the possibility or probability of the resurrection of the dead.  Did the typical Jew believe in bodily resurrection?  If so, did the Jews believe the Messiah would die and that God would raise Him from the dead?

Jewish Beliefs in the First Century

The majority of Jews in the first century believed in a future resurrection of the dead.  Jesus’ disciples would not have been startled by His mention of this doctrine.  Some Jews, however, rejected such a belief.2  When the apostle Paul appeared before the Sanhedrin, he recalled that the Pharisees and the Sadducees, two of the major Jewish religious groups, disagreed on this issue and others.  Paul stressed he was on trial for his preaching about the resurrection, and a loud argument broke out. 
Describing this event, Luke commented, “For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and no angel or spirit, but the Pharisees affirm them all” (Acts 23:8).

The Sadducees’s rejection of the resurrection of the dead impacted their relationship with Jesus.  For instance, they told Jesus a story about a woman being married over time to seven brothers.  When the woman finally died and was raised from the dead, to whom would she be married?  Since the Sadducees did not accept bodily resurrection, they apparently thought this story highlighted the foolishness of the doctrine.  Jesus, however, replied that they did not understand their own Scriptures or God’s power (Matt. 22:23-32).

When the early Christians proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem, the Sadducees led the persecution (Acts 4:1-2).  One reason they opposed these Christians was their own rejection of anyone’s resurrection.

Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, confirmed the New Testament’s report of the disagreement between the Sadducees and Pharisees.  In his Jewish Antiquities,  Josephus described the major Jewish religious groups of his time.  He stated the Pharisees believed in resurrection of the dead, bur the Sadducees insisted that human souls and bodies both died.3 

Although the religious leaders debated belief in the resurrection of the dead, what would the typical first-century Jew have known about this doctrine?  We can find some clues in other New Testament stories.  For instance, Jesus’ conversation with Martha after the death of her brother, Lazarus, points to a common affirmation of this doctrine.  Martha had hoped Jesus would arrive in time to keep Lazarus from dying.  When Jesus announced that Lazarus would be raised from the dead, Martha replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24).  Martha was clearly familiar with the Jewish belief in a future resurrection from the dead.  Jesus explained to her, “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25).

When Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, He compared His own body to the temple and explained that His body would be raised from the dead.  We do not know how well His disciples understood this comparison at that time, but after His resurrection they saw Jesus’ point clearly (2:19-22).

Old Testament Background

Why did the Pharisees and Sadducees disagree on the resurrection of the dead?  Part of the answer is that the Sadducees did not accept all of what we call the Old Testament as inspired.  The Sadducees accepted only the first five books, the Pentateuch, as the Word of God.  When Jesus responded to their story about the woman married over time to seven brothers, He quoted from Exodus to prove that even the Scriptures they accepted affirmed God is the God of the living (Matt. 22:32; Ex. 3:6,15-16).

In contrast, the Pharisees accepted the full Old Testament that Christians use today.  This contains, though, only a few clear statements about a resurrection of the dead.  Probably the strongest is Daniel 12:2-3.  This passage points to the future destiny of both the righteous, who receive eternal life, and the wicked, who experience eternal contempt.  Psalm 49:9-15 also points to a future life beyond the greave.  Isaiah 26:19 states that the “dead will live; their bodies will rise.”

In early Hebrew thought the common belief was that all the dead went to Sheol, the realm of the dead.4  Job thought of this place as “a land of darkness and gloom . . . a land of blackness” (Job 10:21-22).  The dead existed in this shadowy underworld with no apparent hope for bodily resurrection.  Job, however, anticipated the later full-blown belief in bodily resurrection.  “Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh” (19:26).  Although Bible students debate the details of interpretation of this verse, some see an affirmation of bodily resurrection.5

Another of the strongest Old Testament statements on resurrection actually points to the restoration of the Hebrew nation rather than individual resurrection.  God revealed to Ezekiel how a valley of skeletons could become a living army.  God’s “breath” or Spirit empowered the dry bones to become living beings again (Ezek. 37:4-10).  God explained to Ezekiel that this army was the restored house of Israel.  “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel” (v. 12).

Some Bible students see Hosea 6:2 as an anticipation of belief in bodily resurrection.  Also, Jesus compared Jonah’s experience to His death, burial and resurrection (Matt. 12:40).

Jewish Thought Outside the Bible

Some clues to the development of Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead surface in Jewish writings not included in our Bibles.6  Although they are not the inspired Word of God, they reflect ideas that may have been familiar in New Testament times.  For instance, the Old Testament Apocrypha is a collection of Jewish writings generally written in the Intertestamental period.  Second Maccabees “includes the story of seven brothers and their mother who was put to death.  The book clearly teaches a resurrection of the body, at least for the righteous” (2 Maccabees 7:9,14).7

The Pseudepigrapha is a collection of Jewish writings that the Jews did not consider to be inspired but to be the first-century Christians, however, quickly affirmed that Jesus was the Anointed One promised by God and that He was their resurrected Lord and Savior.  When the risen Jesus encountered the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, Jesus was able to show them that He was the One for whom they had hoped.  Jesus used the teachings of the Law of Moses and the Hebrew prophets to reassure them He was the risen Savior (Luke 24:25-27).  Early Christian sermons often linked Old Testament texts and Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:30-31 and Ps. 16:10; Acts 13:34 and Isa. 55:3).

Although contemporary Christians might want to read the minds of first-century Jews and Christians about their belief in the possibility of the resurrection of the dead.  What ultimately matters is the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.  The two on the road to Emmaus moved from puzzlement to a recognition of the risen Savior (Luke 24:31-35).  They did not ask, “Is resurrection possible?”  They announced “The Lord has certainly been raised” (v. 34).  Later the apostle Paul affirmed the centrality of Jesus’ resurrection for our faith today (1 Cor. 15:12-19).                                                                                                                                                                                        Bi

1.   All Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

2.   Grant R. Osborne, “Resurrection” in Dictionary of New Testament Background,  ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 932-33.

3.   Josephus, The Aniquities of the Jews   18.1.3-4.

4.   “Death, Resurrection, and Afterlife in the Old Testament” in Holman Bible Handbook,  gen. ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 364-65.

5.   Robert L. Alden, Job,  vol. 11 in The New American Commentary  (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993), 208.

6.   Grant R. Osborne, “Resurrection” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels,  ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 674-75.

7.   Clayton Harrop, “Apocrypha” in Holman Bible Dictionary,  gen. ed. Trent C. Butler (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 70.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 38, No. 3; Spring 2012.

THOMAS  A Follower of Jesus

By Gil Lain

Gil Lain is pastor of Paramount Baptist Church, Amarillo, Texas.

I

MAGINE YOURSELF STANDING before a group of Christians (your class or congregation) and asking them to name each of Jesus’ twelve apostles.  If by chance they could, they would probably not mention Thomas until just past the middle of their list.  He’s known, but not as well known as some of the others.  Should you ask for a one word description of the apostle Thomas, you would likely hear the adjective “doubting.”  People just seem to remember the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”

As a Doubter . . .

The nickname certainly comes from the events in John chapter 20.  Jesus had risen from the grave.  He had appeared to Mary Magdalene that morning (vv. 11-18).  That night the remaining apostles wee also able to see the risen Lord for themselves (vv. 19-23), except for Thomas, who simply was not there (v. 24). 

Later, when the disciples were with Thomas again, they told him they had seen Jesus.  His response to their statement shows where the “Doubting Thomas” nickname began.  “If I don’t see the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!” (v. 25b).1  Thomas’s words revealed the doubts he had about Jesus being alive.  He wanted proof.

Eight days later, he got proof when Jesus again appeared to His disciples, with Thomas present this time (v. 26).  Knowing the doubt Thomas had expressed, Jesus invited Thomas to touch His wounds (v. 27).  Thomas did not need to.  He knew it was Jesus, his Lord and God (v. 28).

While Thomas may have legitimately earned his nickname, believers should not remember him solely for that one event.  The New Testament mentions his name 12 times.  Four occasions name him as being one of Jesus’ apostles (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; and Acts 1:13).  The eight references to Thomas in John’s Gospel, however, bring Thomas to life.  One commentator suggests John probably had known Thomas from boyhood and that they were from the same area (Galilee) and had the same occupation (fisherman)2  The shared occupation possibility is perhaps bolstered by the fact Thomas was one of the seven apostles who were fishing on the Sea of Galilee when the resurrected Christ showed Himself (John 21:1-2).

When John first referred to Thomas (11:16), he called him “Didymus,” which is the Greek word for “twin.”  Although Thomas evidently had a twin brother or sister, the Scriptures never identify the twin.3  John’s reference to the “twin” precedes a statement from Thomas that speaks volumes about his true character.

. . . or as a Dedicated Follower?

Jesus and His disciples had left Jerusalem because His life was in jeopardy there.  He had gone across to the eastern side of the Jordan River (10:40) and was experiencing a fruitful ministry; “many believed in Him there” (v. 42).  About that time, Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick (11:1-3).  Even though Jesus did not go immediately to Bethany to minister to Lazarus, He did eventually go (v. 7).  The disciples, however, did not want Him to (v. 8).  They knew the danger since Bethany was less than two miles east of Jerusalem.4  As Jesus and the twelve talked about their options, Thomas challenged the other disciples, “Let’s go so that we may die with Him” (v. 16).

The person who remembers Thomas only as a doubter, needs to focus on this story for a while.  In this case, Thomas was the only disciple who had no doubts.  Or, if he did, he did not show it.  Maybe someone should commend Thomas for being willing to die for the cause of Christ—even when no one else was!

Some commentaries will suggest Thomas was pessimistic5 and fatalistic with his statement, “Let’s go so that we may die with Him” (v. 16).  The better interpretation seems to be that he was loyal and courageous.  Surely his attitude inspired the rest of the apostles to quit arguing and continue following Jesus.  The very next comment John makes has them all in Bethany (v. 17).  What may seem to be pessimism it some, we instead should see as a profound love for the Lord.6

The next time John mentioned Thomas, he again emphasized that Thomas loved the Lord and wanted to be with Him.  John 14 begins with Jesus comforting His apostles concerning His departure.  He was going away to prepare a place where they could all be together again.  Jesus then assured His disciples that they knew where He was going and the way to get there (vv. 1-4).

That was when Thomas said, “We don’t know where You’re going.  How can we know the way?” (v. 5).  In essence Thomas was saying, “Lord, I don’t want to be separated.  I want to know for sure what I need to do to be where you are.”

If John 20 was the only insight into Thomas, one probably would remember him for his doubting.  But John 11 and 14 help tell the real story behind the doubting episode.  Thomas was intensely loyal to Jesus.  He loved Jesus and wanted to be with Him always.  When Jesus died and was buried, thought, Thomas was left behind.

The other apostles gathered together.  They locked the doors for fear of the Jews (20:19).  Maybe that was why Thomas was not there.  Perhaps he was willing to die so he could go and be with Jesus.  Whatever the reasons for his absence, the fact is Thomas missed the first appearance of the resurrected Jesus.  Whether he missed it by minutes or days is unclear.  But at some point he found out.  Thomas heard from the disciples Jesus was alive (v. 25).

Thomas’s response to that news is what most people remember about Thomas.  His statement, “If I don’t see the mark of nails in His hands . . . I will never believe!” (v. 25) may not reveal doubt, however, as much as it does desire—a desire to see the risen Lord and be with Him.

As an Example for Believers

Call Thomas a doubter if you must, but remember that none of the other disciples believed in the resurrection until they say the risen Christ!  Was Thomas’s doubt greater?  Maybe.  Or maybe his sorrow was greater.7

Thomas wanted to be with Jesus again.  Eight days later, he was (v. 26).  When Jesus did appear before the group, He did not scold Thomas or label him a doubter.  Instead, He invited Thomas to come near, to touch, and to believe.

Nowhere does Scripture say Thomas actually stuck his finger into the nail prints or his hand into Jesus’ side.  He was satisfied.  He was with Jesus again.

Christians should remember that none of Jesus’ other apostles has ever said quite what Thomas did that night.  “My Lord and my God!” is certainly “the grandest expression of faith in the fourth gospel”8 if not “the greatest statement ever to come from the lips of the apostles.”9

Thomas saw Jesus face to face at least one more time, the morning after the disciples had fished in the Sea of Galilee and met Jesus on the shore (21:2).  Probably, Thomas witnessed Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:1-11).  Certainly, he was one of the faithful gathered for prayer (2:1) when the Holy Spirit empowered them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Where did Thomas go after Pentecost?  Although the New Testament does not mention his name after Pentecost, other historical documents concerning the spread of Christianity do.

According to the early Christian scholar and theologian, Origen (about 185-254), Thomas worked in Parthia (the region in modern northeastern Iran).10  Another tradition claims that Thomas traveled to India with the gospel where he successfully established churches, was eventually martyred, and was buried in Mylapore (now a suburb of Madras), India.11  The most reliable traditions say he was martyred for his faith by being run through with a spear.12

Studying the life of Thomas from Scripture and from subsequent historical accounts should provide convincing evidence that the label “Doubting Thomas” is not only unfair, but inaccurate.  Instead, we should remember Thomas for his selfless love for Jesus.               Bi 

1.   All Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).

2.   William Steuart McBirnie, The Search for the Twelve Apostles  (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1973), 143.

3.   John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men  (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 157.

4.   Thomas Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas  (Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998), 227.

5.   Arthur M. Ross, “Thomas” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, gen. ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 5:732.

6.   MacArthur, 161.

7.   Ibid., 163.

8.   Ross, 732.

9.   MacArthur, 164.

10. Ross, 432.

11. Charles Egbert Kennet, S. Thomas, The Apostle of India: An Inquiry into the Evidence for His Mission to this Country  (Madras: Addison and Company, 1882), 3-5.  See also McBirnie, 152-53, 170.

12. MacArthur, 164.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 37, No. 3; Spring 2011.

 

BIBLE CHARACTER TRIVIA

 

(01; 145) What is the Answer To & Where in The Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found: Who was the first apostle to be martyred? Answer Next Week:  Answer:

Last Week’s Question: What hard working companion of Paul was called an apostle?   Answer: Barnabas; Acts 13:1-3; 14:4