“My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). That’s what “Doubting” Thomas says when he sees the risen Jesus; I imagine Thomas falling to his knees as he does so. He doesn’t stick his finger in a nail hole and say, “Hmmm. Okay, I guess I’ll give you this one.” He sees, he believes, and he worships.
By now, I hope you’re convinced that on the basis of what we see in John’s gospel, “Doubting” Thomas could just as easily be called “Brave Thomas” or “Loyal Thomas.” His refusal to believe the report that Jesus was risen doesn’t make him any less faithful than the other disciples, and Jesus responds to them all with patience and compassion, wanting them to believe.
After all, they have a job to do. When Jesus returns to the Father, others will have to believe on the basis of their testimony. These new believers are included in the ones Jesus describes as blessed: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29, NRSV). That’s not a criticism of Thomas — or if it is, it’s a gentle one that could just as easily apply to everyone else in the room. Rather, it’s a forward-looking declaration that in one sweep takes in all future believers, including you and I, and everyone who reads John’s gospel.
The episode with Thomas makes a fitting conclusion to the gospel of John (some scholars believe that the story originally ended with chapter 20, with chapter 21 being added later). Many have called Jesus “Lord,” but there is no precedent in John for Thomas addressing Jesus as “my God.”
But that, of course, has been the issue all along.
As I’ve said repeatedly, John’s gospel opens with the boldest of gambits. No one who had any knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures could read John’s first words, “In the beginning” (John 1:1), without thinking of the book of Genesis. The story I’m about to tell you, John is declaring, is a cosmic one, and it begins at the beginning of all things. This man you know as Jesus is the eternal Word in human flesh; the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1, 14). But will anyone believe that? Read the story; watch what happens. When Jesus tries to tell people who he is and where he came from, will people believe and worship? Or will they reject him, persecute him — even kill him?
The gospel of John is known for its “I Am” sayings, in which Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (6:35), or “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), and so on. Indeed, it is in response to a question by Thomas that Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). All of these are thought to echo the very name of God (Exod 3:14), which was too holy to say aloud. All of them involve the giving of life, which is God’s prerogative alone (cf. John 1:4). And lest there be any doubt, when Jesus dared to say to his opponents, “Before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:58), there was no question in their minds that he had just committed the ultimate blasphemy, claiming to be God.
For Thomas therefore to say “My Lord and my God” — and for Jesus to accept that declaration without correcting him — brings the story full circle, for that profession is precisely the point. John has told us right from the very beginning who Jesus was, and Thomas closes the narrative loop.
But one thing is left open-ended.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” Jesus tells Thomas (John 20:29). John uses the statement to set up what comes next:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
John isn’t just asking his readers to observe what happens in the story, to notice who believes and who doesn’t. He’s asking, And you, dear reader, where do you stand? I wrote this for you, that you might believe, that you might have life. Do you believe?
May all continue to read John’s tale and be prompted by the Holy Spirit to respond as Thomas did: My Lord and my God.