The twelve: Matthew and Thomas

It took me some time to post this one, had a busy week. But now that I got a time to spare, let’s continue on the next two guys: the tax collector and the skeptic believer. Well, he’s not that skeptic actually, but his one mistake overshadows his trait. We will see it in a more detailed manner soon. Ladies and gentlemen please welcome the last two of the second group of four: Matthew a.k.a. Levi and Thomas a.k.a. Didymus.

Matthew, the tax collector

None of the twelve was more notorious sinner than Matthew. He was also known by Levi, son of Alpheus. As we know, he is the author of the first Gospel. We might expect to be able to know a lot of who he is from his writing; however as things turns out, it wasn’t the case. He was humble, low-profile guy who only mentioned about himself twice in his writing.

As mention earlier, Matthew was a notorious sinner. He was a tax collector – a publican – when he received his call. That is the last credential that we might expect to see from a man who would become an apostle of Christ. At that time, tax collectors were the most despicable being in Israel. They were hated, isolated and deemed lower than anyone else. Publicans bought the tax-collecting franchise from the Roman oppressors, extorted money from their own kin to fed the Romans and fill their own pocket, most of the time with violence. Most were despicable, vile and unprincipled scoundrels.

It was said that those who worked as a publicans are so despised by their own kin to the extent of exile from the access into synagogue. Their only friends would be another tax collector, the lowly people of the nation, thugs and thief, prostitute and bandits. Matthew is one of them. Imagine being isolated, despised by your closest friend, without any opportunity or hope to set things right. Well, that is what Matthew felt.

The time when he was called, he was sitting at the tax office. Jesus said to him, “Follow me”. So he rose and followed Him. The interval between the call and the answer was not long. It was more like done in an instant. He abandoned his work that he obtained with hardships and scorned the profits he could make to follow a carpenter son from a lowly town such as Nazareth. How could this be?

Imagine yourself as Matthew. When you are the outcast of the community, lowest of all, scorned by others and denied from God’s word, an endless pit of emptiness will be form inside your heart. The outcome from this will be on two extremes: if one doesn’t care about it any longer, than he will go on with his way of life and do the worst they can do, or, if their thirst of God and forgiveness are very high, they will scorn themselves and hope for that salvation. Matthew seems to be the latter, and that salvation came from the miracle worker, the teacher, the Son of Man himself, who called him personally to come follow him. That’s why he answered without hesitation. His soul was tortured.

And it doesn’t end there. So great was his joy that he took an irreversible action, he didn’t keep that blessing to himself. He invited his other friends to a party, introduced them to Christ. That was the extent of Matthew’s joy of receiving a new life. Are we living our renewed life with a joy like his?

Thomas, the faithful pessimist

When we talk about Thomas we will always remember his doubt against the resurrection of Christ. His mistake overshadowed his good traits and sadly it was the only thing we remember out of him. It is a little bit unfair to the lad to be remembered as “Doubting Thomas” while the other apostles are exactly like him. He was not there when Jesus appeared to the ten, and that is why he can’t believe. I mean, we are talking about a resurrected person here; how can someone believe such outrageous claims easily? The other apostle was exactly like him when they haven’t seen Jesus with their own eyes! The title “Doubting Thomas” was inappropriate for him.

Thomas was also known as “Didymus” which means “The Twin”. It appears that he has a twin brother or sister, but his twin brother/sister is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. Like Nathanael, he is only mentioned three times in the first three gospels, which is when they listed the twelve names. The Gospel of John however, provided additional information about him. He was portrayed as a pessimist, seeing the negative side out of everything. However, great character is spotted in the midst of this pessimistic view of the world.

The first account of Thomas in John’s Gospel was in the time when Jesus is going to resurrect Lazarus. Jesus was in the middle of rising tensions with the Pharisees and the Scribes. They wanted to kill him. So he went to the place where John the Baptist do his ministry few years before and preached there. It happened that Lazarus was sick; Mary and Martha sent people to Jesus to ask him to cure Lazarus. Now, Lazarus stayed in Bethany and it was very close to Jerusalem, where the Pharisees and the Scribes are very powerful. The odds that Jesus will be captured and killed are very high. It would be virtually a suicide if he went to Bethany. Imagine Osama bin Laden sight going to the Washington D.C. to take a tour at the White House. It was that serious.

The disciple would be relieved when he waited until Lazarus died (so that God will be exalted higher). But when Lazarus died and he decided to go there, the disciple was in disarray. They ask him to stop and refrain from going there. They are afraid of the consequences they would have to bear if Jesus was captured because of going to Bethany. Jesus stood firm and teach them their lessons: The Son of Man must go there and perform God’s work. It was at this time that Thomas went forward and said: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him”.

It was such a pessimistic remark. It was so Thomas. But it wasn’t just a normal pessimistic remark. It was a heroic pessimism. He could see nothing but disaster ahead. He was convinced that Jesus is going straight into stoning. But if that is what the Lord is determined to do, he is willing to go with Him and die with Him. You have to admire that courage. He was loyal and devoted to Christ. And this remark was followed by his fellow disciple, they decided to follow Thomas’ lead, they went with Jesus to Bethany.

Another account of Thomas happened in the upper room at the last Supper. It was right before Philip question that we discussed previously. Jesus are telling them about His imminent departure, “I go to prepare a place for you” and “Where I go you know, and the way you know”. Thomas spoke afterwards, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, and how can we know the way?” It was like saying, I want to go with you, but we don’t really know where to. It would be much better if we die together with you so that we can go together. Again, it shows how big his love to Jesus and how loyal Thomas is to the Lord.

The final account was about his doubt. I don’t need to tell you this story. You know it very well. But remember that he was not there, and he was a pessimist. He loved Jesus so much and it would be normal if he is shattered by Jesus’ death. A person in that kind of condition will be hard to believe such an outrageous claim. That was the time when he said that unless he saw the hole in Jesus’ hands and put his fingers there he will not believe.

Now, Jesus did appear to him again later on. He didn’t need to ask Thomas what he wanted to do. He told Thomas directly to do what he wanted to do. And that was the time when the greatest statement made by the twelve came out: “My Lord and my God!”

Let those who doubted the deity of Christ meet Thomas.

Two transformed men

It was interesting to see how God use a publican and a pessimist to tell the world about His good news. Both of them were transformed by their knowledge of Christ. He can use anyone. Be it personality, background, and status, all are immaterial. The eleven (except Judas) had something in common: willingness to confess their sins and look to Christ for grace. He met them with grace and forgiveness, transforming them into a new person and enables them to do His work.

There are few credible accounts of Matthew outside the bible. But it was believed that he ministered both Jews and abroad until he was martyred. Thomas brought the Gospel as far as India, and tradition said that he was martyred there, thrust by spears – a fitting form of martyrdom for someone whose faith came when he saw Jesus’ spear mark.

Two ordinary men, with an extra-ordinary God transforming their life.



There was a time when I lost my desire to write and to share. There was a time when I didn't see the point of doing a blog to express my thought. I am who I am though, inconsistent as I am in doing this blog, but I do want to share and I do long to write. Today I'm giving it another go. Fingers crossed. But I still wish that "Let there be light" is the message that I convey.
  • January 1st 2012, Kristo