December 6, 2013
With the exception of Peter and Paul, we have more information on the subsequent life of Thomas than on any of the other apostles. Most of the material comes from tradition. For a disciple with a doubtful reputation, he certainly left behind a variety of regions that name him among the founders of their ancient traditions of faith.
The account in John’s Gospel gives us the most glimpses of Thomas, but they come within the last few weeks of Jesus’ ministry. Apparently his character traits became more obvious under the growing pressure of opposition. Keenly aware of the danger waiting for Jesus in Jerusalem, Thomas voiced the outlook that must have been on all their minds when he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). Perhaps more clearly than the other disciples, Thomas thought that if their hopes of a kingdom with Jesus as the leader fell through, death would result. Jesus’ frequent references to His death may have confused some of the disciples, but it seems to have unsettled Thomas.
Our next glimpse of Thomas comes during the Last Supper when he reacts to Jesus’ comforting words about His Father’s house. Thomas reveals that his heart is indeed troubled when he blurts out, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). We can be grateful for Thomas’s boldness, for it allowed Jesus to make one of His clearest claims about His role as Lord and Savior: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
Thomas’s third outburst came the evening of Resurrection Sunday (or very early on Monday). Jesus had appeared to ten of the disciples on Sunday evening, with Thomas as the only absentee. Perhaps he was reacting differently than the rest of the disciples to the news that Jesus had arisen. They gathered, but Thomas stayed away. When informed of Jesus’ visit, Thomas responded with daring doubts:
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” (John 20:25).
A week later, that dare was met. Jesus appeared before all of them, and Thomas’s doubts vaporized as he declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus used the occasion to make another crucial point about the nature of faith: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
The passion Jesus awakened in His disciples drove them out to bless thousands who would not have the privilege of seeing, but would believe the testimony of those gladly willing to lay down their lives for their convictions. Once Thomas left Jerusalem, there’s no evidence that he ever returned. He left his doubts behind. He headed for the ends of the earth. He undoubtedly found that Jesus was true to His promise of companionship to the end.
Thomas traveled north and east from Israel, passing through Babylon and Persia and making an impact for the gospel as far as the southern regions of India. Long-standing traditions about his journeys far beyond the boundaries of Roman control remain even today. Many of the places and kings associated with Thomas that were thought to be merely legendary have been confirmed by independent historical and archeological studies. Undeniably, developed civilizations lay beyond the horizon to the east, and Jesus’ words, “to the ends of the earth,” must have constantly echoed in the apostles’ minds. The trade routes he would have used have existed for thousands of years. Portuguese mariners and explorers in the sixteenth century reported evidence of Thomas’s ministry, including a sizeable band of believers known as the St. Thomas Christians. The fact that Thomas has been so uniquely connected with India among the apostles makes a strong case for his ministry there.
Various versions of Thomas’s martyrdom agree that he ran afoul of the Hindu priests who envied his successes and rejected his message. Thomas was speared to death. The location of his tomb can still be visited in Mylapore (Meliapore), India.
This is just one of the stories told in VOM’s new book FOXE: Voices of the Martyrs (Second Edition). CLICK HERE to order your copy.