Posted by: Billy Marsh | October 29, 2007

Theologians Who Are Ready To Die (Part II): A Comparison of John 11 and Acts 21

Thomas gets a bad wrap. He has been treated with such contempt in lectures, Bible studies, sermons, and books to the point that no matter how hard we may try, we just can’t let it go that he had to put his fingers and hands in the wounds of Jesus’s resurrected body. As if we would have been any different? I believe that’s part of the problem of why we have such a hard time interpreting John 11:16 when Thomas boldy says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Commentators wrestle with this text and end up on one of two sides. Either Thomas’ statement is sarcastic in reference to the death of Lazarus or he is genuinely speaking on behalf of the disciples, courageously calling himself and his brothers to go to their deaths along with Christ. With reference to Christ, Calvin regards Thomas’ statement as “inconsiderate zeal” and exposure of his despair. However, I think that this interpretation is incorrect.

Textually, there is little evidence that supports the former view. What I believe happens is that we read Thomas’ so-called “doubting” in Jn 20:24-29 onto Jn 11:16 without letting his words speak for themselves which were voiced prior to his actions in Jn 20.

As I was dwelling upon some of the things that I revealed in Part I of this post, I couldn’t help but draw immediate connections to this scene in John 11. I wanted to include this information in Part I, but I realized that what my wife and friends say about me is regrettably true, I am long-winded. Plus, I try to submit myself to the prose of the blogging world and allow some room for writing off the cuff. Therefore, what I sit down and intend to write doesn’t always make the cut and other things fill their slots.

So, how does the narrative in Acts 21 compare to John 11?

In Jn 11, Jesus is told of Lazarus’ death and he responds, “Let us got to Judea again (11:7).” The disciples were not in full support of his decision. They replied, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again (11:8)?” Their reservations are grounded in the events of Jn 10 where the Jews sought to stone Jesus after he declared, “I and the Father are one (10:30).” In 11:9-15, Jesus reassures the disciples that they have nothing to fear, for his sake or their own, at this moment, and he explained that his traveling back into the “lion’s den” was necessary for their belief and his glory. Thus, Thomas’ words in v 16, though still produced by misunderstanding, reveal his undivided loyalty to the Savior, that if death awaits Jesus in Judea, then death awaits he and the disciples as well. Therefore, despite about what we know of the future events in the rest of John’s Gospel, it appears that here, Thomas was ready and prepared to die with and for Jesus Christ.

In Acts 21, Luke portrays in detail Paul’s journey back to Jerusalem. In 20:22, Paul discloses to the Ephesian elders, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit . . .” Later in this text, Paul testifies to the fact that he was fully aware that “imprisonment and afflictions” could very well be waiting on him in that city. Yet, he tirelessly presses on. In 21:12, after the prophet Agabus prophesied Paul’s forthcoming chains, Luke tells, “When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.” Sound familiar (Jn 11:8)?  And then Paul responds, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (21:13).” The Apostle Paul, though counselled otherwise by his company, is resolutely ready and prepared not only to be imprisoned, but also in the same way as Thomas, to die for the Savior’s name.

Both narratives show a situation where Christ and Paul are headed back in the direction of Jersusalem, and are in known danger at the hands of the Jews. And, in both cases, their followers tried to deter them from marching onward, for sincere but misguided reasons. And finally, both accounts show the absolute resolve and faithfulness of the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, insofar as they were ready and prepared not only to go and die with him (in the case of Thomas) but also to die for him (in the case of Paul).

These texts show us in a unified manner that true disciples of Christ must be willing to lay down their lives when our journey with the Lord takes us down that path. We must follow him to whatever end. Missonaries, pastors, laymen, Christians in the secular work-force, and yes, even theologians, must be ready to lose their lives so that it may be saved. May we all say together as we follow Christ on this earth with Thomas’ exhortation, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Are you ready? If not, then pray that the Lord will prepare you.

“As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

~ Romans 8:36-37 ~


  1. Billy,

    I would rather you continue to be what you believe to be “long winded”. I too write the same way and sometimes thoughts change as I write straight from the heart and on to the paper. It is a gift; use it.

    In reference to Thomas. I am in agreement that Thomas has been given a bad rap over time. Few people know that Thomas probably preached throughout Iraq as almost all of the Christian churches there are named after him and worshippers believe he was there. The Book of Martyrs of which we understand is the legends of what happened to many of the disciples still has a basis in fact but has not been proven and may never be proven. In it, Thomas was killed somewhere in India. He would have gone through present day Iraq to get there.

    Just thought it might be of interest.

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