Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe

Thomas, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, was not present when Jesus appeared to the apostles on Sunday evening after his resurrection (John 20:24). When they informed him that they had seen the Lord, “doubting Thomas” replied, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (v. 25, NRSV). In spite of Jesus’ predictions concerning his death and resurrection and his fellow apostles’ testimony, Thomas did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples again in the same house, he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. Then Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have to come to believe” (vv. 26-29).

Jesus words to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” have unfortunately been misused by many an ignorant professing Christian to justify blind faith. What did Jesus actually mean?

Every passage of the Bible has some context and the context in this case is John 20:8-9: “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” The conjunction “for” (Greek gar) introduces an explanation. Peter and the rest of the disciples of Jesus disbelieved the report of the women to whom the two angels appeared and said that Jesus had risen (Luke 24:11). Nevertheless, Peter together with “the other disciple” ran to the tomb. They saw the linen clothes lying in one place, and the napkin folded up in order and lying by itself in another (vv. 7-8). Then the “other disciple” believed that Jesus had indeed risen. “For as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead” (v. 9). The scripture in view is probably Psalm 16:10: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Neither will you allow your holy one to undergo decay.” Psalm 16 was frequently used by the disciples of Jesus as a prediction of the resurrection of Jesus when preaching the gospel (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35). The “other disciple” believed because he saw physical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus in the form of his burial clothes minus the corpse and not because of his knowledge of the OT prophecies predicting the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas insisted on actually physically touching Jesus before he was willing to believe that Jesus had risen (John 20:25). In 20:29 Jesus commends the faith of one who is able to believe on the strength of the Old Testament scriptures alone without needing the evidence of his physical senses. He is commending not blind faith–that is, faith in which reason or evidence plays no part–but faith based on the unfailing prophecies of the Old Testament. Read Luke 24:13-32. Notice in particular vv. 25-27: “And he said to them, ‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.”

Therefore Jesus was talking about the blessedness of those who believed on the strength of their faith in the Old Testament prophetic scriptures, without needing the evidence of their physical senses before believing. Jesus himself believed in his death and resurrection because of the OT scriptures.

An analogy might help here. X says, “The sun will rise tomorrow from the east,” and there are two groups of people, one of which say, “We believe,” and the other say, “No, we will not believe that the sun will rise tomorrow from the east unless and until we see it with our own eyes,” whereupon X says, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” Is X commending blind faith here? Of course not. The first group believe without seeing because from their previous experience and perhaps their knowledge of the workings of the solar system they are certain that the sun will indeed rise tomorrow from the east (barring, of course, some cosmic cataclysm), and they don’t require the evidence of their eyes before believing. Faith in the certainty of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy is like that.

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