Who is “Missing Thomas?”

Even those who are not very familiar with the Bible are aware of the story of the Apostle Thomas. He is known as “Doubting Thomas.” He was the disciple who was not there the first time  that Jesus appeared to His Apostles after He rose from the dead.

“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to then, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord…But Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:19-20, 24

I like to think of him not as “Doubting Thomas” but as “Missing Thomas.”

Think of what was happening for a moment. Jesus was gathering with His disciples; He was among them; it was a Sunday; sound familiar? In the book of Revelation, chapter one,  Jesus is pictured as dwelling among the seven golden candlesticks (menorah). We are told that the candlesticks are the seven churches. The message is obvious: Jesus dwells in the midst of His churches. (I define “church” as a congregation of people who are actually following Jesus’ commandments and loving one another–not just an organization or building that calls itself a church). Think of that gathering of Jesus’ with His disciples as the first church meeting held on a Sunday. At this church service, Thomas was missing!

It reminds me of people who profess to be followers of Jesus, but who are missing when Jesus gathers with His disciples on Sunday for church service. When I first looked at Thomas as “Missing Thomas” instead of “Doubting Thomas” I wondered if there were things the text has to teach us about missing church on Sundays; I believe there is.

“So the other disciples were saying to him (Thomas), ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.'”

“After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” John 20:26-28

As a result of not being with Jesus and His disciples on that Sunday morning, Thomas did not have an encounter with Jesus the way the other disciples did. As a pastor, I have a certain perspective when we meet on Sunday. Those who only attend church sporadically miss something–an encounter with Jesus. Every time we have an encounter with Jesus, we gain something by it. Every time we miss an encounter, we lose something.

As a result of not being with the disciples when they gathered with Jesus, Thomas struggled with faith. He didn’t believe that Jesus was alive, and he didn’t even believe the testimony of the other ten Apostles when they told him that they had seen Jesus alive!  Thomas was in a state of unbelief until the following Sunday when he did gather with Jesus and the disciples. Scripture teaches us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17. When we put ourselves in a place where we are among God’s people, worshiping God and hearing the Bible taught, our faith will be nourished, strengthened,  and grow! When we deprive ourselves of that, our faith suffers. And not only our faith, the faith of our children. If you are a parent, you are setting the example for your children. If attending church every Sunday is not a priority for you, do not be surprised when your children grow up and go out on their own, it’s not a priority for them. They will very likely stop attending church altogether. We parents will one day give an account of our parenting to God; it’s an awesome responsibility!

The good news is that there is hope for “Missing Thomas’s.” When Thomas gathered with the disciples the following week, his faith was restored! Thomas had a close encounter with Jesus, and went from being “Doubting Thomas” and “Missing Thomas” to being “Believing Thomas!”