He’s the only Apostle officially titled “the doubting one.” To this day his name is used as a label for skeptics. Poor Thomas wasn’t the only doubtful disciple—but he sure is the one who made his skepticism known. Of course, if he hadn’t missed Jesus’ first appearance in the Upper Room that night… There wouldn’t be a Doubting Thomas. Nor would we have his profound utterance of faith. So what happened? Why did Jesus come while Thomas was out?
Setting the Scene: Who Was There and Why
The doors are locked, yet without warning, Jesus enters and stands in their midst. They behold the risen Lord: real, radiant, looking at them. Jesus knew that they were overwhelmed by His entry through locked doors. He knew they were wondering if He were a ghost, and He “would not rest until He had completely satisfied their senses” says Fulton Sheen. He asks for some food and eats it in their presence. He shows them the lance-mark in His side and the nail holes in His wrists and feet.
How mysterious a place is heaven, where God Himself in His resurrected body wears earthly wounds made glorious! The Apostles have received Jesus’ blessing. They have been strengthened in advance of the birth of the Church, which is coming very soon. But someone is missing out on this emotionally-charged scene: Thomas.
Missing Person: Was Thomas’s Absence a Sign of Courage?
Where on earth was Thomas? How could he step out at a time like this? This absence is more impressive than it first appears. Remember that the Apostles are hiding behind locked doors in fear. If Thomas isn’t there, then Thomas has left the “secure” hiding place. It was probably some simple and necessary errand: obtaining food for the group, communicating with their families, or some other “mundane” errand. Perhaps reluctant discussion had led to his being chosen as the errand-goer—perhaps he volunteered. Whatever the case may be, Thomas must have been forced to conquer his own fear to leave that secure Upper Room.
You may recall his boldness in saying “Let us go to die with him” (cf. John 11:16) when Jesus announced His decision to return to the city that had plans to kill Him. Clearly Thomas had some boldness of character, even if—as did most of the others—he abandoned Christ during His passion. Well, now he comes back to Upper Room, only to find the others in giddy hysteria—insisting they’ve seen Jesus. Even with ten witnesses, Thomas is skeptical. He refuses to budge. And he would.
Jesus Came On Purpose While Thomas Was Out
Thomas missed the first encounter with Christ, was gently rebuked by Him on the second, and invited to touch the sacred wounds—something he had insisted upon. God is kinder to us than we can expect or even deserve; He often stoops down to our blinded cynicism and broken hearts. Jesus did not have to do this—He chose to condescend to the demands of Thomas, whose “extraordinary skepticism is [now] an added proof of the reality of the Resurrection”.
Our own faith is made stronger by Jesus’ mercy toward unhappy Thomas.This mercy set him free from skepticism in order to prevent us from claiming similar skepticism. When Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and believed,” He was speaking about us.
We may feel skeptical, but Thomas beat us to it. His refusal to believe without personal experience of the evidence ended in some pretty impressive empirical proof—as well as a loving rebuke, and the admonition that those who will believe without the benefit of Jesus’ visible presence are the ones who are blessed.
Now we know why Jesus came while Thomas was out.