Thomas was a worrywart. He tended to be anxious. He was like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. He anticipated the worst all the time. Thomas, according to John 11:6, was also called “Didymus,” which means “the twin”. Apparently, he had a twin brother or a twin sister, but his twin is never identified in the Scriptures.
We learn everything about Thomas’ character from John’s Gospel. Thomas had a tendency to look only into the darkest corners of life. He seemed always to anticipate the worst of everything. Yet despite his pessimism, some wonderfully redeeming elements of his character come through in John’s account of him.
John’s first mention of Thomas is found in John 11:16. It is a single verse, but it speaks volumes about Thomas’s real character. Jesus had left Jerusalem because His life was in jeopardy there, and “He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed” (John 10:40). Great crowds of people came out to hear Jesus preach. John says, “And many believed in Him there” (v.42). This may have been the most fruitful time of ministry the disciples had witnessed in all the time since they had begun to follow Christ. People were responsive. Souls were being converted. And Jesus was able to minister freely without the opposition of the religious rulers of Jerusalem.
But something happened to interrupt their time in the wilderness. John writes, “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and his sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick” (John 11: 1-2). Bethany was on the outskirts of Jerusalem. And Jesus had formed a close and loving relationship with this little family who lived there. He loved them with special affection. He had stayed with them, and they had provided for His needs.
Now His dear friend Lazarus was sick, and Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick” (v.3). They knew if Jesus came to see Lazarus, He would be able to heal him.
John 10:30 says that Jewish leaders were seeking to seize Him. They were already determined to kill Him. He had already eluded their grasp, but if He returned to Bethany, they were certain to find out, and they would try again to seize Him.
“Let us go to Judea again” (v.7). The disciples thought this was crazy. They said, “Rabbie, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” (v.8). They frankly did not want to go back to Jerusalem. The ministry in the wilderness was phenomenal. In Jerusalem, they all risked being stoned. Now was not a good time for a visit to Bethany, which was virtually within sight of the temple, where Jesus’ bitterest enemies had their headquarters.
Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him” (Vv.13-15). Now they understood. Jesus had to go back. He was determined to do so. There would be no talking Him out of it. To them, it must have seemed like the worst possible disaster. They were convinced that if Jesus returned to Bethany, He would be killed. But He had made up His mind.
It was at this point that Thomas spoke up. Here, we meet him for the first time in all the Gospel records. “Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him’” (v.16). Now that is pessimistic, and that’s typical for Thomas. He could see nothing but disaster ahead. He was convinced Jesus was heading straight for a stoning. But if that is what the Lord was determined to do, Thomas was determined to go and die with Him. Thomas did not want to live without Jesus. If Jesus was going to die, Thomas was prepared to die with Him.
Thomas had no illusion that following Jesus would be easy. All he could see were the jaws of death opening to swallow him. But he followed Jesus with undaunted courage. If necessary, he was resolved to die with his Lord rather than forsake Him.
Thomas’ profound love for the Lord shows up again in John 14. Jesus was telling them of His imminent departure. “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). In verse 5, Thomas speaks: “Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’” In essence, he was saying, “If we died together, we would all be together. But if You just go, how will we ever find You? We don’t even know how to get there.”
Here is a man with deep love. His heart was broken as he heard Jesus speak of leaving them. He was shattered. The thought of losing Christ paralyzed him. He had become so attached to Jesus in those years that he would have been glad to die with Christ, but he could not think of living without Him.
We pick up the next picture of Thomas in John 20. After Jesus’ death, all the disciples were in deep sorrow. But they all got together to comfort one another. Except for Thomas. John 29:24 says, “Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them.” It is too bad he wasn’t there because Jesus came and appeared to them. Thomas missed the whole thing. Why wasn’t he there? He was probably off somewhere wallowing in his own misery. He was not in the mood to socialize. He wasn’t in the mood to be in a crowd, even with his friends.
John 20:26 says that eight days passed after Jesus appeared to the disciples again. Finally, Thomas’ grief had eased a bit. Because when the apostles were returned to the room where Jesus appeared to them, this time Thomas was with them. Once again, “Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’” (v.26). No one needed to tell Jesus what Thomas had said. The Lord was amazingly gentle with him. Then Thomas made the greatest statement ever to come from the lips of the apostles: “My Lord and my God!” (v.28). Suddenly, Thomas’ negative, moody tendencies were permanently banished by the appearance of Jesus Christ. And at that moment, he was transformed into a great evangelist.
Are you beginning to get the idea of what kind of people God uses? He can use anyone. Personality, status, and family background are all immaterial. The one thing all these men except Judas had in common was a willingness to acknowledge their own sinfulness and look to Christ for grace.