This is the last of five posts on John’s theme of “believe” in his gospel. We took up the topic because of John’s stated aim—“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” [20:30-31].
So then, is belief an informed decision? A moral restart? A new ambition? Or something else? Our answer from John is that it’s an awakening. A discovery that God has come to us in Jesus. A new life birthed in us by his Spirit gives us eyes to see. And along with this he uses “signs” as faith-eliciting proofs that Jesus is divine.
In our second post we saw the Spirit’s crucial role. He awakens a soul to God’s love. And this fits what Jesus said just before his crucifixion as he thanked the Father for what his mission meant to the disciples. It awakened their ability to hear and believe God’s words. “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me” [v.8]. His words were more than propositions; they set up a bond with the Father through the Son’s life and love.
There is more in the prayer. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” [17:24]. The disciples also recognized Jesus as God’s living Word—the basis for Truth in a world captured by “the Lie” in Eden. And others would follow—“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” [v.20].
The motive, “because you loved me,” points to God’s love as the underlying impulse for both the creation and redemption. Augustine of Hippo later captured this by citing God’s triune unity as Lover, Beloved, and Love. This portrays him as a creator who shares himself by forming people in his own relational image with a capacity to love. His love is poured out in hearts and as people receive his love they respond in kind.
Sin blocks that response. As in John 3:19, “…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” In Eden Adam fell when he ignored the words “don’t eat.” With that the human impulse to reject God’s words in favor of competing desires took over. This included a rejection of God’s ultimate Word revealed in Jesus. As in John 8:31-32 when Jesus spoke to professing believers, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Yet they instantly challenged what Jesus said. So, he added an affective test for authentic discipleship: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here” [v.42].
Yet even his disciples had doubts. Perhaps the most surprising skeptic among his followers was Thomas—surprising because his doubts persisted. As the gospel picture of what it meant to “believe” was expanding, his hesitations were more and more exposed. As when he saw Christ’s final trip to Jerusalem as a disastrous venture—”So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’” [11:16].
Let’s listen to Thomas, then, because his doubts help any among us who still need concrete evidence to support our faith. Thomas saw all the miracles Jesus did, including the resurrection of Lazarus, but it didn’t necessarily prove Jesus would break out of death himself. So when Jesus said he was going to prepare an eternal place for his followers it was Thomas who wanted a concrete address: “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’” [14:5]. Jesus then made it clear that “the way, the truth, and the life” were all found in him as a divine person, not as a set of location coordinates!
Thomas, then, still questioned the resurrection even after others had seen Jesus alive. “Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe’” [20:24-25].
We can thank Thomas for his doubts as he represented hard-headed hesitations. Dead people, after all, usually stay dead! Jesus, however, comes even to skeptics to speak heart-to-heart. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘’My Lord and my God!” [20:26-28].
At last, we have the culmination of belief in John. It’s a response to Jesus as Lord and God. And it gives access to the communion Jesus prayed for in John 17:26, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Amen! In Jesus we who believe are finally assured of his Father’s glory and his triune love that lasts forever!