Thomas Confesses Jesus as Lord: John 20:24-31

Here are my notes for John 20:24-31. These form the conclusion of my notes on the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel.

20:24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. [25] So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

There is now no doubt that the person who stood amongst them was, in fact, Jesus. They wanted to tell others – and rightfully so. One of the people they tell is Thomas whose reaction is to deliver a withering statement of unbelief.

John goes out of his way to give us the details of this interaction for a reason.

The implacability of Thomas draws a vivid contrast to what the reader has just learned. Thomas seems to be so stubborn as to demand that unless God met his own conditions, he wouldn’t believe. This is hubris only humans are capable of, and unfortunately it offers us an uncomfortable and unvarnished window into our own souls.

During the most difficult of times our minds often become warped and bitter. Frustrated at our circumstances we make demands of God, which He sometimes yields to for the sole purpose of entailing on us a stiff lesson. At times God is so desirous to show us our own depravity that He actually grants our infant-like demands. Such was the case with Thomas. He would soon get more than He bargained for, and be so deeply knifed by the Spirit that His submission to Christ’s Lordship was immediate and forthcoming.

Not that I speak of any harsh injustice on God’s behalf, rather He sometimes cuts us most deeply by pouring over us His unrivaled affection, thereby revealing to us our own sinfulness and His own comparative faithfulness and charity.

20:26-29 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” [27] Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [28] Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” [29] Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Lord’s Timing

It wasn’t until 8 days later that Thomas actually saw the Lord. In the Bible we have many times where numbers play a significant role. What I mean is that they “signify” something. The number 7 usually signifies “completeness” or “fullness”, and I’ve heard R.C. Sproul say that if 7 is the fullness, then 8 must represent the overflow of that – almost a one-upping of that idea (to paraphrase his thoughts).

Not to read too much into this, but Thomas didn’t get to see the Lord right away. Instead he had to wait not simply a week – 7 days – but 8 days. He had to wait until it was well past time for him to see the Lord. While everyone else probably discussed every detail of the Lord’s first appearance, Thomas was left out. His attitude of unbelief festered as the Lord waited until the right time to appear again.

I don’t think its wrong for us to remember that this is how the Lord works. His timing is not always in alignment with our timing!

In fact, the very timing of His coming into the world was perfectly selected by the Lord. Paul notes this in Galatians:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

And of course we see this in our own lives as well. How often do we look at the lives of others and say, “Well if I had there money, or their experience, or their children, or their husband, then things would be different! When will God give me those things?” And until then we hold out in unbelief. We don’t believe His promises because He hasn’t acted in our timing!

Getting What We Want

We don’t know how this scene played out emotionally, or have the benefit of watching the reactions of Thomas and the others, but I wonder if Thomas believed right away at this point or not. My guess is that at this point he didn’t have to touch Jesus to believe. Yet he still was commanded to put his hands into the wounds. Jesus was going to make him go through the motions of his own request. Therefore, by the time Thomas exclaims “My Lord and my God!” it seems possible that the declaration came through tears of shame.

Jesus’ words are not of comfort, but rather of rebuke for Thomas and a lesson for us all. He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”

This is the very definition of faith.

The author of Hebrews would later write, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:1-3).

In other words, faith is trust in God that He is who He says He is, and will do all that He has said He will do. And in the fullest sense of Jesus’ words, those who believe are indeed “blessed” because they will receive eternal life. This is what He said before His death:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

What Stands in Our Way?

Knowing that we have been called to believe in Christ – in His saving work, and also in the promises articulated for us in the Bible, I think it very worthwhile for us to ask the question: What is standing in the way?

The reason its worthwhile to ask this question stems from the fact that, like Thomas, we all battle unbelief from time to time. In fact, John Piper would say that unbelief is really at the root of many of our sins. It is unbelief in “future grace”, as he says in his book ‘Battling Unbelief’:

The “unbelief” I have in mind is the failure to trust in the promises of God that sustain our radical obedience in the future. These promises refer to what God plans to do for us in the future, and that is what I mean by future grace. It is grace, because it is good for us and totally undeserved. And it is future in that it hasn’t happened to us yet but may in the next five seconds or the next five thousand years.

For the Christian the promises of God are spectacular. They relate to our immediate future, before this minute is over, and our eternal future.

Therefore, its important to remember to fight the fight of faith every day, equipping ourselves with the truth of God’s word, and trusting to what is unseen.

Paul reiterates this truth in 2 Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. [17] For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

20:30-31 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The Gospel is Not Neutral

And now we come to the thesis statement of our author. For many pages and lessons now I have pointed out that these verses are the foundation and the reason for why John wrote his gospel. He is not an indifferent historian; he has an agenda. And that agenda is spelled out in such certain terms that commentary seems almost superfluous.

Nevertheless a few words are appropriate.

First, one of the things that has always struck me about verse 30 is that John, and the other gospel writers, actually didn’t record all of the things Jesus did. They didn’t even get all the miracles down on paper.

Later John will say, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

This man Jesus was doing so many miracles that they couldn’t all be written down! We know, however, that those God intended for us to know were recorded. Everything written was written for our benefit by His gracious foresight.

Remember, these acts were not simply one-on-one clandestine doctors meetings. These were public healings. Let your mind be awed over His majesty as mediated through His miraculous healings. Surely this was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54).

Someone once asked me, “Why do you think Christianity spread so quickly and to so many people?” My answer was two-fold. 1) Anyone who rises from death and spends 40 days teaching people all over the country in mass audiences is going to cause a major stir and 2) anyone who heals this many people for three years is going to cause a major shift in the cultural landscape of the day (not to mention the physiological landscape!).

Secondly, just as John was not a neutral observer, so we also cannot be neutral observers. It is impossible to hear this message of the gospel and remain “neutral” because the gospel divides. It divides people because it convicts us of our sin, and exposes our darkness with the light of truth. Jesus said:

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! [50] I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! [51] Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. [52] For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. [53] They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53)

So the gospel is truth that cannot be responded to in a neutral way – you either reject its claims or embrace them, but there can be no in-between.

This is clearly articulated in chapter three:

Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. [34] For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. [35] The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:33-36)

For those of us who have accepted the truth of the gospel, let us read John’s thesis statement with joy, knowing that these things were written with us in mind! For those who might be reading this and do know claim a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, then I urge you to bear these things mind – look at what this man did and what He said. Can there really be any doubt that this was the Son of God?

Study Notes 1-13-13

10:30 I and the Father are one.

The Shema in Deuteronomy six is echoed here.  The ESV Study Notes explain this, and also why it is that this would have caused such an angry reaction:

Jesus’ claim that I and the Father are one (i.e., one entity—the Gk. is neuter; cf. 5:17–18; 10:33–38) echoes the Shema, the basic confession of Judaism, whose first word in Deut. 6:4 is shema‘ (Hb. “hear”). Jesus’ words thus amount to a claim to deity. Hence, the Jews pick up stones to put him to death. Jesus’ unity with the Father is later said to constitute the basis on which Jesus’ followers are to be unified (John 17:22). As in 1:1, here again the basic building blocks of the doctrine of the Trinity emerge: “I and the Father” implies more than one person in the Godhead, but “are one” implies that God is one being.

One thing I especially note here is how the people expect a non-divine messiah.  They ask Him the question about His messianic role in verse 24, but they didn’t do it in order to bait Him into claiming deity so that they could then stone Him. Instead, they had a misconception about the nature of the messiah. They felt it would be a man – a great man yes, but not the Son of YHWY!  This is not at all what they expected, so the idea of deity and the divine nature of Christ had not entered their thinking, and, apparently from this text, it was very difficult for them to wrap their head this truth.

There are some who would say that what Jesus articulates here is nothing more than the fact that He and the Father are “have the same mind” on things. In fact, this is the very argument that two Jehovah’s Witnesses made before me today at my door. When I presented them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, they recoiled at the idea that Jesus was preexistent and that He and the Father shared the same deity.

But this is why it is so important to read our Bible’s “for all their worth” as John MacArthur would say. For in the very next verses we see the reaction of those who were listening to Christ at the time, and its’ is a violent hatred. They do not seek to stone Him simply because He claimed to have the same mind as God, they understood the fullness of what Christ was claiming. He was claiming nothing short of equality with the God of the universe. James Boice says, “Is Jesus God?  That is the great question of John’s Gospel. Is He fully divine?  In this verse, Jesus declares that He is, doing so in just six words.”

10:31-35 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. [32] Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” [33] The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” [34] Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? [35] If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—

First we see the reaction here of the people, and it is one of anger and violence.  We talk about why that is in the paragraphs above. But notice that Jesus’ defense appeals to two things: His words and His actions.

His Actions

There has been no greater healer and lover of mankind than Jesus Christ. During His time here on earth He practically banished sickness and diseases with all the miracles He was performing (see MacArthur). John himself states at the end of his gospel “…there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25).”

Boice comments, “Christ’s works should lead men to faith in him. It is as simple as that.”

Sproul comments, “Why did Jesus bring up His works again? I believe it was an ironic question. Jesus’ miracles had already well attested that He was from God and should have mitigated against any charge of blasphemy. But the Jewish authorities gave no credence to the miracles or to Jesus’ claim to be God. They could admit no evidence except that which they beheld with their eyes – that Jesus was a man, and therefore could not be God…The eternal second person of the Trinity, who from all eternity was very God of very God, became man. He took upon Himself a human nature. God made Himself man. But the Jewish authorities accused Jesus of being a man who made Himself God (or represented Himself as God). They got it completely backward.

His Words

But the men listening to Him wanted to bypass this defense and go straight to what Jesus had said just moments earlier.  “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

Jesus, in His graciousness, defends Himself here as well.  In so doing, He quotes Psalm 82:6 which states:

You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;

The full context of this quote must first be understood in order to see what Christ is saying here. God has been addressing the Judges of Israel and the people of Israel and is rebuking them.  Here is the full Psalm:

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: [2] “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah [3] Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. [4] Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” [5] They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.[6] I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; [7] nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”[8] Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! (Psalm 82 ESV)

There are a few possibilities as to whom God is addressing as “gods” and “sons of the Most High” and DA Carson says these are: Judges of Israel, Angelic powers, or Israel as a nation at the time of the giving of the law.

Most people I have read think that the context assumes that God is talking to the Judges/leaders of Israel.  But Carson says, “the chief difficulty with the assumption that John 10 understands Psalm 82 in this way is that Jesus characterizes those who are addressed in Psalm 82 as those “who whom the word of God came.” Although this expression could refer to the word that came to the (alleged) angels in the Psalm, there is good evidence that Jewish leaders understood all of Israel to be the people to whom the word of the Lord came.”

Carson then argues, rather convincingly, that Christ has all of Israel in mind when He says that they are “sons of the Most High.” He says, “This interpretation is strengthened when it is remembered that Israel is also called God’s firstborn son (Ex. 4:21-22), generating a typology which Jesus has already claimed to have fulfilled.”

So what does all of this mean? What is Jesus saying here? Well, Christ isn’t trying to defend His deity here in full, but rather pointing out that He has said nothing wrong – His words are not blasphemous.  For if the terms “sons of the Most High” can be used to speak of mere mortals, how much more so ought Christ to speak of Himself as the Son of God.  For He is the very image of God, and is the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15).

Sproul explains:

By citing this verse, which gave evidence that some mere mortals were called gods, Jesus was not implying that He was a mere mortal too. That’s not the way the argument was going. This is a “lesser to greater” argument. Basically Jesus was saying to His adversaries, “If it was okay in the Old Testament time for people who were mere mortals to be called gods, how much more legitimate is is for the one who is God incarnate to be called God?”

Scripture Cannot be Broken

If we were to rephrase this in today’s terms, we might say, “scripture is fully inspired and accurate and because God is immutable, His word will not pass away.”

Later on, Christ was take this accepted principle and apply the same authority and divinity to His own words:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Luke 21:33; cf. Matt. 24:3 and Mark 13:31)

This is one of those small phrases that we take for granted today, and perhaps Christ’s hearers also took for granted. But it is wise perhaps to sit and ponder the everlasting nature of the words of God and of Christ. I believe that for all eternity we will rejoice at the words of the Bible and of Christ. We will never see a day when the things Christ has spoken will fall away because He is eternal, and everything He thinks and says and does is eternal and has eternal ramifications.

What we do and say and speak has eternal ramifications as well, and though we don’t have the authority of Christ’s words, we have His words in our hearts to share with others. These words have power – real power for salvation (Rom. 1:16).  That is why we must be cautious in how we use our tongue and our words, and realize that when we speak there will be fallout for generations to come either for good or for bad.

More to the point though here, Christ says these things to make a specific point and Carson paraphrases it well, “It is reprehensible to set aside the authority of Scripture, the Scripture whose authority you yourselves accept, just because the text I have cited seems inconvenient to you at the moment.”  As Ryle says, “every word of Scripture must be allowed full weight, and must neither be clipped, passed over, nor evaded.”

This would have shot like a bullet through their heart and pierced their pride!

10:36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

This verse really fits in as part of the larger text above, but I separated it off because in it there is another truth that we need to ponder, and that is the mission of the Son.

Notice how He says, “the Father consecrated and sent into the world.” First we see the divinity here of Christ, of course.  He is saying the He came from heaven – we can deduct this from His words “send into the world” because we know that Christ was not made, He was begotten. He pre-existed before time began.

But more than that we see that God consecrated Him.  What does that mean?  It means to have been set aside for a holy mission It means that Christ came into the world for a purpose.  I love what Paul has to say about this purpose in his letter to Timothy:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. [16] But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. [17] To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17 ESV)

Carson remarks that this passage “points to Jesus’ entire mission as the Father’s emissary, a mission culminating in the cross, resurrection and glorification.”

10:37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; [38] but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” [39] Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

Here it seems that Christ is calling them to ponder afresh the works He had done throughout His ministry. He is challenging them to meditate on all that He had done – it had been fully two and a half years now that He had walked among them.  There were plenty of things that they had seen or heard of Him doing.

But why should they do this? Carson explains:

The reason why the Jews should reflect on His deeds is that the might learn and understand that the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. This is offered in explanation of v.30, which provoked the running debate of vv.31-38. As a theme, it will not be developed thoroughly until 14:10-11; 17:21. There is between the Father and the Son what theologians call a ‘mutual co-inherence’: each is ‘in’ the other. This mutual co-inherence is the grounding of the teaching of 5:19. More important, it extends, in some derivative sense, to embrace believers, who are ‘in’ Christ while he is ‘in’ them.  However precious such teaching might be to later believers, it was further evidence of blasphemy to those who first heard it.

What Carson is getting at here is that we, like the Jews of Christ’s day, ought to ponder the beauty of what it means to be ‘in’ Christ and to abide in Christ. Of course we’ll learn more about that in the chapters to come, but for now it is wise for us to think on the fact that Christ’s claims are not for Himself alone. What He is saying affects us. He alone is God, but He has invited us into that family from which He came to save us. He has condescended not only for salvation but for adoption.  He has bestowed within us the down payment of that adoption (His Holy Spirit) that daily reminds us of who we are in Christ, and what He would have us do.

This mystery is too beautiful not to contemplate. I hope it causes you to worship as it does me.

Finally, the parallels between how this discourse ends and the way chapter eight ends are hard to miss:

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:58-59 ESV)

When I think of this passage I realize again how soverign God was in all things during His incarnate life on earth. Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man as He walked this earth. He knew our pains and our desires. He felt the anguish of physical torture. He knew the pains of hunger and of nights with no sleep. Here men are seeking to catch Him and arrest Him. His emotions must have been on high alert. I cannot pretend to know how Christ felt at this time, but I do know He felt.  If this would have happened to me I would have been scared. I would have run for my life, perhaps leaving behind my mission for good. But that’s not what Christ did. He may have alluded these men here, but we know that it didn’t stop Him from preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps it sounds trite, but this is such a courageous example. It sounds trite only because of the fact that we know who Christ was and what He was capable of.  But let that not persuade you that He didn’t not feel as a human feels. Indeed I imagine that the hurt and anguish running through His soul at this moment was great.

I do not compare His emotions to mine, for I would have been consumed with myself and my own safety.  I image He was consumed with hurt over the blindness and lostness of Israel. He cared so deeply for His people that He would return again in the face of constant death threats (this was the fourth time, according to MacArthur, in the gospel of John that people had picked up stones to kill Jesus) as we see here. What a love Christ had for His people and for the Father.  That love is what drove Him to finish the mission, to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and to ultimately die on a cross.

10:40-42 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. [41] And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” [42] And many believed in him there.

It is perhaps significant that as Christ’s ministry draws to a close, He returns to the place where it began, where John the Baptist said, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  Evidently the ministry of John had moved mightily in the hearts and minds of those whom God gave him to minister to.

Leon Morris speaks to the fruit of John’s ministry:

…his influence lived on. People still treasured his words, and acted on them. This final mention of John in this Gospel at the same time sounds a note of high praise and puts a definite stress on his subordinate position. It is high praise, for it affirms that his witness to Jesus was true, and true in its entirety. But there is subordination, for John did no miracle. His function was solely to bear witness to Jesus.”

James Boice takes another tact on these closing verses and suggests that we ought to consider the three things that were going on.  First, people were coming to Christ to listen to Him preach. Second, they were considering what He said carefully. Third, they were placing their faith in Christ – they were believing Him.

Boice points out that in this peaceful place, Christ ministered to “many” men and women before the dawning of the storm of His final trip to Jerusalem. We also, he points out, must learn to meditate in a quiet place upon the things of God, and he quotes Spurgeon, “Surely, heaven is worth a little thought if it is to be gained.”

As the 10th chapter of John comes to a close, John MacArthur captures the larger scope of where we are in Christ’s ministry: “So Jesus’ public ministry closed with one last rejection by the very leaders who should have hailed Him as the Messiah. Their rejection foreshadowed His final rejection a few months later, when the people, under their influence (Matt. 27:20) ‘cried out, “away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him”’ (Jn. 19:15)”