The only question, in Scripture, that Thomas ever asked
by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Denomination: Southern Baptist
Text: John 14:1-6
Many of us think of Thomas as a disciple and a doubter, but we can forget that he asked one of the greatest questions in Scripture. My personal hunch or opinion is that he was a very analytical type of individual, one who wanted to be sure before he made a decision. Too many people build walls between faith and facts, when ideally there would be a balance and open communications between these concepts.
This second look at Thomas doesn’t reveal a doubter, but rather a person who was listening to Jesus, and asking Him to explain or clarify something He had said. Too many times people hear, but don’t listen. For many people, the truth God wants people to receive doesn’t get past their eardrums. Thomas heard, but didn’t understand, and he wanted to have Jesus explain a statement He had made.
The text is John, chapter 14, verses 1-6, from the New American Standard Version of the Bible:
John 14:1-6 NASB 1 "Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 "And you know the way where I am going." 5 Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. 7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”
The message Jesus gave to the disciples
We’ll need to review John’s gospel, chapter 13, to get the setting and context for Thomas’ question. John recorded these events (and what events!), beginning with a very humbling experience, namely Jesus Christ washing the disciples’ feet. He even washed those of Judas Iscariot. Then, just before the beginning of chapter 14, he explained to Simon Peter that he would actually deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.
Even though we see a chapter break, that doesn’t mean there was a break in the message Jesus was giving. It was, perhaps, a time for Him to catch His breath, humanly speaking, and make a transition to a new topic. Actually, maybe He’s expanding, giving a bit of new information, on a theme He had mentioned before.
My gut feeling is that Jesus is reminding the disciples, first of all, that He was going to prepare a place, a permanent dwelling, for them. They had followed Jesus for three years or so, and seldom do we read that they had a permanent dwelling. Did they sleep in the open? What did they do when the weather turned bad? Certainly Jesus Himself stated at least once before that, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20).”
Matthew had owned a home (Luke 5:29) and perhaps others as well, but nothing was permanent. All it would need is an earthquake, or natural disaster, and the house wouldn’t be fit to live in anymore. Besides, when the owner died, he or she or they couldn’t retain ownership of that house in Heaven or Hell!
There was a second thing Jesus said that the disciples may not have been able to grasp at the time. He said, “If I go . . I will return” and this seems to be another puzzle for these men. Even as late as the day Jesus ascended to Heaven, they were still thinking in terms of the Kingdom (Acts 1:6-8). They stood staring, gazing, into Heaven on that day, watching Jesus leave this earth They may have stood there, still gazing, for a long time, if the two angels hadn’t told them, “He’s coming back just like He left”.
Then the third thing Jesus said was in verse 4, "And you know the way where I am going." Did they? They had heard Jesus speak of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, and events to come in the future (I believe Jesus preached the message of Matthew 24-25 before this discussion took place) and they must have been confused. They had also heard Jesus speak about His journey to Calvary. Several times He had said, “They’re going to kill Me”, but they—the disciples—just didn’t understand all that He told them. Thomas, at least, didn’t understand this last sentence at all.
The question Thomas asked Jesus
Verse 5 has the question Thomas asked. This is the only question from Thomas we find in Scripture. “Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’"
Take a look at this. Thomas isn’t denying that Jesus is giving them truth, additional insight and revelation. Old Testament saints knew, more or less, that there was life beyond this life and that there was a time when the Lord God would return to this earth. Daniel chapters 2 and 7, plus other passages in the prophetic books, spoke of this. But for the Son of God to tell these men “you know where I am going” must have left them amazed. Thomas probably wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand completely the impact of what Jesus said.
But he didn’t stop there. Thomas was bold enough to speak up, when apparently none of the rest would, and say, “We don’t get it. What do You mean?” He really made two distinctions in his statement: first, “Lord, we don’t know where You are going”, meaning just what he said. Jesus had said, “you (all) know where I’m going” but Thomas, speaking for the group (it seems) said, “No, we don’t”. Don’t you admire his honesty?
Then Thomas asked one of the most important questions in Scripture, “How do we know the way?” Let’s remember that there are different “ways” mentioned in the Old Testament, especially. Proverbs had, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” twice (Prov.14:12 and 16:25);.several times in Psalms there is mention of a way; and many times we and they could read of someone who “went his way” or was told “Go thy way”. Small wonder, then, that Thomas was perplexed with these words from Jesus.
And yet, I see a desire to know, deeply, perhaps, what Jesus was speaking about. Thomas was among those who had followed Jesus for some time and knew, personally, that Jesus was genuine. He wouldn’t tell a falsehood, not Jesus, nor would He say or promise something that wasn’t true. Thomas wanted to know: he suddenly realized, “I don’t know the way You’re speaking of” and went on to ask “how can I know this way?”
How many of us, myself included, miss out on so much because we don’t ask!
The answer Jesus gave
Jesus must have been pleased when Thomas asked that question. No doubt He was waiting to give them another chance to learn—Thomas may not have known he was giving Jesus a teachable moment where they could hear something they never forgot. Jesus said, “I am the way! I am the truth and the life! (But) no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6, paraphrased)” Can we get that? What did Jesus say? “NOBODY comes to the Father except by Me (paraphrased)”. I won’t take this moment to speak how deeds, works, donations, prayers, anything we do, will never score enough points or qualify us for Heaven. Salvation is a gift, from God to us, and all anyone has to do to be saved is receive that magnificent gift!
Too often, we stop at verse 6 but Jesus added more. He said in verse 7, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” This was a transition point: in the past, they hadn’t known Jesus, nor the Father, but “from now on” they (and we) would know both of Them!
You may be wondering, like Thomas, how do I know the way where Jesus is going. Other questions, even those not recorded in Scripture, come to mind and do little except make us want to doubt. No need to doubt or remain unaware. Jesus is the one and only Way, Truth, and Life and anyone—you, me, anyone at all!—may have everlasting life if we accept the gift of salvation. If you haven’t done this, why not do it now?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. http://www.lockman.org