In John chapter 11 we read that Lazarus is dead. Jesus tells his disciples that he needs to go to Bethany in Judea, and that he wants them to go with him. The purpose for going is for God’s glory but also so that the Son can be glorified through it. Jesus intended to raise Lazarus from the dead, but the disciples did not know that. All they knew was that the last time Jesus was in Judea there were those who tried to kill him. So Thomas, assuming that Jesus would go back to Judea and risk being killed, rallies his colleagues to go with Jesus and die with him.
It is hard to know what motivated Thomas to say those words. Was it submissive resignation—“It looks like the Messiah will be killed and, since we are all in with Him, we may as well die too”—or was it an enthusiastic realization that if this is the program that the Messiah wishes to follow, let’s follow it wholeheartedly?
Most likely he was speaking out of genuine love and loyalty, and the best proof of his love and loyalty would be to go and suffer and die with him. He was urging his fellow disciples to join him. “Let us not in this hour forsake him but stand beside him and die with him if necessary.” For Thomas, his faith may have been weak, seen in subsequent events, but his love was strong.
How strong is our love? For us it is not so much going with Jesus to die with him but going for Jesus and suffering for him. The April 2015 VOM newsletter had an article about those who print and distribute Bibles. The average ministry lasted only 6-18 months before they were found out and punished, some with imprisonment and beatings. I am still impacted with the thought of the Nigerian VOM volunteer who was killed while handing out VOM newsletters awhile back. Would we be willing to invest so much energy into something that with all likelihood would lead to our suffering or even death?
It is well known among brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith that the target of the rage and hatred is really Jesus Christ and not them. Consequently, when persecutors lash out at God they focus their rage on his followers. Those that are persecuted are aware that they suffer on his behalf and that is a source of encouragement for them, both because they don’t see persecution as a personal attack on them but also because they have the privilege and honor of bearing the pain for the One whom they love and are passionately loyal to. But the pain is still pain, and they do not take the prospect of suffering for Christ lightly.
Nor should we take it lightly. When there is violent rejection of and resistance to Christ, we realize that it is not a personal attack on us but on Christ. We are rejected and attacked because of our love and loyalty to him. That should be a great source of encouragement and affirmation for us, as well as a great privilege and honor. But it may include intense suffering and we need to be spiritually prepared for it. The first step, of course, is the willingness to follow Jesus, no matter what. Like Thomas, we must be willing to go and die with him.
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.