Quite a number of you guys (including me) were quite stumped on the meaning on this verse regarding Thomas’ unusual statement, when we were reading through John 11 in Jess and Sherilyn’s study last Friday:
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
After I went home and inquired the wisdom of God through the word and reading upon other scholarly sources, here are some of the conclusions I have come up with for the meaning of this text.
What on earth is Thomas saying here?
In John 10, we see that Jesus managed to escape safely from arrest and finds refuge to Batanea, where His cousin John the Baptist used to baptise people in the early days of his ministry (verse 40).
He remains there and receives news from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus was dying of a certain illness (John 11:3) and urges that Jesus come quickly to deliver him from his sickness. But Jesus stays two days longer at Batanea (verse 6) before deciding to go back to Judea again (verse 7) in order to wait for Lazarus to pass away, so that the resurrection miracle He was to perform on Lazarus at His arrival would testify to His claim that He is ‘the resurrection and the life’ (verse 25) and that whoever so believes in Him will also have eternal life.
This is where the disciples become anxious about Jesus’ seemingly-rash decision to return to Judea, “But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” (verse 8).
Thomas, seeing that Jesus was not going to budge on His decision to go to Judea, goes and says to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (verse 16). Now like the rest of the disciples, he didn’t exactly know what was going to happen to Jesus and to the rest of them if they returned to Judea, knowing the bounties that were placed over their heads. He also didn’t exactly know what Jesus intended to do with Lazarus once they even got there.
However, what we witness here in the text is a sort of raw devotion and courage that he will follow Jesus wherever He decides to go – a vivid expression of living as a disciple of Christ who understands what it means to take up his cross daily and follow Him (Mark 8:34).
If it ever came to the dire possibility that Jesus would be stoned as soon as He set foot in Judea, he was willing to die alongside Him. He even encouraged the disciples, his brothers of the faith, to do the same. Although Thomas is historically renowned by the church to be the doubter who didn’t believe Jesus’ resurrection when He came back to life from the dead (John 20:27), the courage and devotion to Jesus he displays here in this passage is absolutely remarkable.
May we imitate Thomas in this regard – to devote our lives to living for Christ even in the midst of uncertainty in our lives where we aren’t able to fully comprehend the situations we are in.
Let us also extend further to exhort our brothers and sisters to do the same – to remind them of the cost of the cross, and to spur them on to lean towards the sufficiency of God’s strength every day of their lives with the assurance that Christ will carry them through in all the adversities they will stumble upon in their lives.