[IMAGE: “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” Caravaggio, c. 1601]
After roughly 30 years of observing Roman rule here in Palestine, I can say there is one thing the Romans excel at—killing people. Yes, there are a lot of “benefits” Rome brings to the area, but these come at a cost. If you appear to be a threat to Roman rule, the Romans are happy to make sure you will never be a threat again.
Perhaps I am getting a bit ahead of myself. I am called Didymus or Thomas—both of which mean “the twin.” I was one of the 12 that Jesus chose to follow him. Since you have asked me about what happened in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, I will tell you some of the story in the little time I have.
Let me say we were crushed when Jesus was crucified. When we entered Jerusalem the Sunday before, it looked as if he was finally going to claim his rightful spot upon the throne of Israel, drive out the Romans, and establish Israel as a nation once again. Yes, he had explained to all of us that he was going to die and rise again on the third day, but that was so far from what we “knew” had to happen that all of us thought he was speaking in some sort of riddle. There he was, riding into the city. Everyone was shouting “Hosanna” and laying palm branches in front of him. It surely seemed this was the “time.” He drove the merchants out of the Temple and defeated the religious leaders in their endless attempts to trap him in their arguments. The people were gathering around him and supporting him. It surely seemed that now was when he would restore the kingdom.
Then things began to take a turn none of us could have predicted. Judas betrayed Jesus to the priests, and they had Jesus arrested. From the moment his trial started, some of us were hanging around the edges of the crowd to see what would happen. Would the crowd rise up and free him? Would he defeat the priests’ accusations and arguments like he always had before? As the night wore on, it rapidly became apparent that none of that would happen. As they took him to Pilate, some of us began to lose hope. But it was evident that all was lost when the priests demanded that Barabbas, an infamous thief and troublemaker, be released and Jesus put to death. Pilate himself stated several times that he found no fault in Jesus, but the crowd kept calling out for his death – even going so far as to state that they had “no king but Caesar.” And, giving in to the cries of the religious leaders and the crowd, Pilate had Jesus crucified.
Now back to my first statement. The Romans were very, very good at putting people to death. They did not crucify people in some hidden little area; no, they did it right by the roads leading into and out of town. It was a public spectacle as they wanted to make an example of the people they were crucifying. I have seen many crucifixions and nobody survives them. They even went so far as to ram a spear up through Jesus’ ribs to make sure he was dead. There can really be no doubt—Jesus was dead. He was taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb that had a Roman guard stationed outside of it. It looked like the Romans were likely to come for us next. So, we hid.
To be clear, we were crushed by Jesus’ death. The last few years of our lives had been dedicated to learning from him. We had seen him heal people, cast out demons, raise people from the dead, walk on water, still storms, and feed enormous amounts of people with a few fish and loaves of bread. All of our hopes and dreams of what Jesus could become vanished that day, and we were grieving.
They say that it is not unusual for people who are grieving the death of loved ones to sense that the loved ones are still near. However, I am a realist. Dead is dead. People coming back from death has only happened when great prophets (like Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus) prayed to God. The only great prophet I knew had been buried in that tomb guarded by Romans soldiers. Therefore, when some of the other disciples said that they had seen the Lord, I was extremely skeptical. I said that I would not believe unless I saw it for myself and could put my fingers in the nail holes and my hand in the wound on his side. Eight days later, the most amazing thing happened, and it changed everything!
We were all gathered together in a house, and Jesus appeared. I have no idea how he got there, but there he was – in the flesh. He looked at me with love and opened his arms toward me. He told me to stick my hands and fingers in the wounds and see that it was really him and that he had truly risen from the dead. I was overcome with joy, reverence and, to be totally honest, a little bit of fear. I fell to my knees and cried out, “My Lord and my God!”
If you have never experienced a great weight of sorrow disappearing from you, I am not sure I can describe it very well. It was as if I was suddenly alive again after having been on the edge of death. Things Jesus had taught us before began to make a little bit more sense. Fear of what the Romans might do to us began to evaporate. People have asked me if I am ashamed of stating I would not believe unless I saw the risen Jesus for myself. I really don’t know how to answer that except to say that it really doesn’t matter anymore. He is alive and death has lost its hold upon the world.
There is much more to say, but I really don’t have much time. I am on my way East to spread the Good News of the Kingdom, and my travelling group is leaving. There are lots of people here who know the whole story. If you want to know more, look for them and ask them to tell you. Shalom!