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Jesus and His Doubting Disciples

In these weeks after Easter Sunday, read about the risen Jesus' visits with his troubled followers. Their conversations about sight and belief remain relevant to our faith today. This narrative version of the gospel account is taken from the popular book When Christ Walked Among Us: The Messiah’s Life and Ministry.

Jesus Appears to Ten Disciples

On Sunday evening, after hearing more news about the empty tomb from Cleopas and his friend, ten disciples huddled behind closed and locked doors. Fearful of what the Jews might do to them because of the commotion raised by the empty tomb, they thought it best to stay off the streets. As they met around a table to eat, suddenly Jesus himself appeared. “Peace be with you,” he said to a group of men who were panicky and terrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost.

Risen-Savior-JesusReading their emotions and their hearts, Jesus asked them why they were troubled and filled with doubts. He invited them to examine his hands and feet, to feel his flesh, because “ghosts” do not have skin and bones like him. Jesus then showed the disciples his hands and feet and side—all bearing the wounds from the crucifixion three days earlier. Now the disciples had no reason not to believe what others had told them: Jesus had risen from the dead! They were ecstatic. But, for the disciples, that news was almost too good to be true.

To convince those doubting men, Jesus put on an exhibition. He asked them for something to eat. A piece of broiled fish remained from the evening meal, and that was given to Jesus. All eyes were on Jesus as he took the fish, placed it in his mouth, chewed it, and swallowed it. He did what human beings do. Then Jesus reprimanded the disciples for their lack of faith and their obstinate rejection of the resurrection reports they had received from the women and Cleopas and his friend.

But more than rebuking the disciples for their lack of faith, Jesus wanted to strengthen the faith of the men who would soon carry on his work on his behalf. He encouraged them to think back to the times when he told them—again and again—that everything written about him in the Old Testament needed to be fulfilled. Then Jesus made it possible for them to understand the Scriptures clearly. He told them again how the Old Testament had prophesied that the Messiah would suffer, die, and then rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus had just done all those things, and now that news needed to be shared with others. Jesus informed the disciples that the message of repentance and forgiveness of sin was to be preached to all nations, beginning at the site where they were: Jerusalem. The disciples were well suited to be heralds of that message since they were now eyewitnesses of the crucified and risen Messiah.

“Peace be with you!” Jesus assured his disciples. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And those whom Jesus commissioned, he equipped. He breathed on the disciples and told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

The first Easter Sunday ended with Jesus’ disciples rejoicing in his victory over death. All, except for one disciple.

Doubting Thomas

When Jesus showed himself alive to the disciples behind locked doors, Thomas, called Didymus—the Twin—was not present. By his absence, he missed the opportunity to see Jesus as the other disciples had. So when the other men relayed the good news to Thomas that they had seen the risen Lord, Thomas refused to accept their word. He declared that he would not believe their testimony unless and until he could see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands, trace his fingers over those wounds, and then thrust his hand into the gash caused by the soldier’s spear.

The next Sunday the disciples were assembled in the same house as the week before. The doors were locked again, but this time Thomas was present. As happened the previous Sunday, Jesus suddenly appeared in the room with the disciples. Not wanting them to be frightened, Jesus spoke words of comfort to them: “Peace be with you!” Now it was time for Thomas to shed his doubt and unbelief and cling to Jesus in faith. Jesus spoke the same words of invitation that he had uttered the previous Sunday: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” Then he added, “Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas did not need to touch the body of Jesus to verify that the person standing in front of him was the same person whom he had followed for more than three years. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus received Thomas’ praise and then put it into perspective. He reminded him that he believed Jesus had risen from the dead because he had visible proof right in front of him. But how blessed people are, Jesus said, when they cannot see him, yet believe in him.

The week after the first Easter came to an end with another eyewitness who was equipped to testify about the risen Christ.

When-Christ-Walked-FeaturedFrom When Christ Walked Among Us: The Messiah's Life and Ministry, by James F. Pope. © 2012 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Jeff Jacobs (used under Creative Commons CC0)