Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thomas' Confession of Faith

The Gospel of John climaxes with the highest confession of faith made by anyone in the book: Jesus Christ is God (20:28). Following this climax, a blessing is pronounced by Christ to subsequent believers who believe without physically seeing Him (20:29). By culminating this way, John does three things: 1) He demonstrates that Jesus is God 2) He presents Thomas as the first person to explicitly confess that Jesus is God and 3) He elicits faith from the readers who are the ones who might believe that Jesus is God without physically seeing Jesus. By eliciting faith through Thomas’ story, John demonstrates the purpose of the whole Gospel which is to reveal Jesus as the uiou tou theo (Son of God) who by believing in we have zoey (life) in his name (20:31).

Throughout his whole Gospel, John demonstrates that Jesus is God. In the prologue of his Gospel, John reveals that Jesus is the logos (Word) who is God (1:1). He was “in the beginning,” echoing the words of Genesis 1:1. Further, John states that Jesus is the Creator and that all things were made through Him (1:3). Jesus is the logos become flesh and He possesses and reveals the glory of God (1:14). The logos becomes flesh and tabernacles among us and the disciples behold His glory (1:14). Additionally, Jesus is the only Son of the Father (1:14) who is at the Father’s side and makes the Father known (1:18). Jesus makes it clear that He has seen the Father (6:46), that He and the Father are one (10:30), and He states: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29, 36). He is the Son of Man (1:51; 3:13, 14; 5:27, 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:34, 13:31), identifying himself with the prophetic figure in Daniel 7:13. He is the Son of God (3:18; 5:25; 20:31) who calls God His own Father, making Himself equal with God (5:18; 10:33; 19:7). He is the light (1:4, 5, 7, 8, 9; 3:19-21, 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35, 46) who brings light into the world. He is the resurrection (11:25) and has the ability to raise the dead now (11:44) and on the Last Day (5:28-29). In the Thomas episode, the Lord shows his divinity by repeating Thomas’ words (20:27) even though he was not physically present when Thomas spoke them (20:25). He miraculously appears to Thomas even while the doors were locked. He calls Thomas to faith and Thomas identifies Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” identifying Jesus as divine (20:28). John’s demonstrating the divinity of Christ throughout his Gospel all leads up to this climax of Thomas’ confession of faith that Jesus is God.

Thomas’ confession of Jesus as God sums up the whole Gospel as it began in the prologue. Thomas first appears in the beginning of the second half of John’s Gospel at the resurrection of Lazarus. He appears in that passage as one who is loyal and has courage. In John 14, Thomas asks about “the way” Jesus was referring to, not knowing that Jesus was Himself the way, the truth, and the life (14:6). Although Thomas witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus he probably did not understand it as a reality. Further, he was slow to comprehend that Jesus was the way at the Last Supper. When the disciples come to Thomas after the death of Christ and say: “We have seen the Lord” (20:25) he rejects their testimony. Yet, Thomas was not the only disciple who was unbelieving after the resurrection (Matt. 28:17; Luke 24:11, 27-28, 41; Mark 16:14) and it is wrong to single out Thomas as “the doubting one.” The Lord appears to Thomas and says: “Bring your finger here, and see my hands; and bring your hand and thrust it into my side, and be not unbelieving, but believing” (20:27). Thomas responds with the greatest confession of faith in the whole Gospel of John when he says: “My Lord and my God” (20:28)!

Thomas’ confession is important in John’s Gospel because it is the first one to explicitly confess Jesus as God. It is true that Nathaneal and John the Baptist call Jesus the Son of God (1:51) and Peter says: “You are the Holy One of God” (6:68). Nicodemus identifies Jesus as one sent from God (3:2). Martha identifies Him as the Son of God and Messiah (11:27). But this does not mean that any of these people truly knew that Jesus is God. The Scriptures declare that the Messiah would be a “son” to God (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:2, 6-7). Therefore, these statements could be nothing more than Messianic titles given to Jesus. Conversely, Thomas’ confession of faith is the highest and most explicit as he directly addresses the resurrected Jesus as God (cf. Culpepper, 243).

Thomas not only confesses Jesus as his God, but also as his Lord (20:28). Jesus as Lord is what John has been demonstrating throughout the Gospel. In the beginning of the Gospel, John tells us that Jesus is the Lord who John the Baptist prepares the way for (1:23), the Lord who brings eternal life (6:68), the Lord who the blind man and Martha believe in (9:38; 11:27), and the Lord who the blind man and Mary worship (9:38; 11:2). Kurios is translated from YHWH in the Septuagint in Isaiah 40:3; 50:1 and Psalm 118:26, which are passages referenced in John 1:23; 12:13; and 12:38, respectively. Therefore, kurios in the Gospel of John can be translated according to the humanity of Christ, “sir” or “master,” but sometimes it refers to the divinity of Christ, “Lord.” In 20:28, Thomas is not confessing Jesus to be his “sir” or “master” but to be his Lord and God.

Thomas not only acknowledges who Jesus is, but receives the eschatological zoey (life), that only Christ can give (1:4; 3:16; 3:36; 4:14; 5:24, 26, 29, 40; 6:27, 33, 40, 47, 51, 53, 54, 68; 8:12; 10:10, 28; 12:25, 14:6; 17:2; 20:31). Indeed, this is the purpose of the Gospel, that the readers would receive zoey (life), just as Thomas received it (20:31). Thomas received this eschatological zoey (life), when he put his faith in the resurrected Lord (20:28). Not only does Jesus give Thomas zoey (life), but he also gives Thomas everything that He had been offering during his earthly ministry. Jesus gives Thomas living water (4:14), the bread of God (6:33), spiritual sight to believe in Him (9:39, 41; 11:9), and gives His Holy Spirit (1:33; 3:34; 6:63; 7:39; 15:26; 20:22). In the beginning of the Gospel, John states that those who receive Jesus become children of God (1:12-13). At the end of Gospel, Thomas receives Him and becomes a child of God. And what happened to him must also happen to the readers of the Gospel, which is the significance of Thomas’ name, “Twin.” Although we do not see Christ physically as Thomas did, as believers who receive Christ, we become children of God just as Thomas. Therefore, Thomas’ post-resurrection confession of faith serves the greater purpose of the whole Gospel, to elicit the same confession of faith as Thomas.

The Ten did not make a confession of faith when they saw the resurrected Lord (20:19-23). As Thomas’ twins they and we are called to make the same confession of faith that Jesus Christ is Lord and God. Jesus said to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Koester says: “The readers are invited to receive the Gospel’s testimony without making seeing a precondition for faith, and that genuine faith is evoked by words from and about Jesus” (Koester, 73). Jesus prayed during his High Priestly prayer that people would become believers through the word of the apostles (17:20). And His prayer has been realized throughout the church age.

Just as Thomas confessed Jesus as Lord, so the first creed in the Christian Church was “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3). Further, the hymn in Philippians 2:6-11, which contains this confession, is one that will be made by all people on the Last Day echoing Thomas’ confession. The Lord’s Day is when Jesus appeared and when Thomas made his confession of faith. Now, on the Lord’s Day, we too make our confession of Thomas’ faith in the words of the Nicene Creed: I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.


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