Doubt: A Surprising Constant in the Easter Story

Hi friends,

Reading the resurrection accounts this Easter, I noticed a pervasive theme of doubt.

One well-known example is John 20:24-29, where Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus is risen unless he can personally touch Jesus’ hands and side.

But there are many other passages like this.

In Luke 24, for example, women discover the empty tomb, and an angel proclaims Jesus’ resurrection. They quickly inform the Eleven.

However, “these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women” (verse 11).

Despite hearing the women’s testimony and a report from some of the men who found the empty tomb, two disciples leave Jerusalem and walk to Emmaus, their doubt so deep that they see no point in staying to confirm Jesus’ resurrection. Then, Jesus himself walks with them down the road, but they are prevented from recognizing him.

After they return to Jerusalem and share their story with the Eleven, Jesus appears in their midst (verse 36). Jesus asks, “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

In a similar way, the disciples initially failed to identify Jesus in John 21. It’s odd because they’ve already spent time with Jesus, yet they still struggle to recognize him.

Interestingly, after encountering the Risen Lord, these seven disciples return to the ordinary task of fishing. In this encounter, they gain clarity about their new purpose: to love the Lord and care for others.

In Matthew 28, the priests, finding the guards’ story implausible, pay the soldiers to claim that the disciples stole Jesus’ body. Matthew notes that this alternative explanation spread widely, stating, “This story has been spread among Jewish people to this day.”

After this, Jesus appears to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee. We’re told that “they worshiped, but some doubted.” Again, even in the presence of Jesus, the disciples are doubting what they see.

In Acts 1, Luke tells us, “After Jesus had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”

Interestingly, Jesus needed to offer so many convincing proofs to overcome their hesitation to believe that he was really alive again.

Further, though Jesus had repeatedly told them about the kingdom of God, both in his ministry and after his resurrection, the disciples were still confused. They ask him, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” Once again, Jesus explains that they need to experience the Holy Spirit, and they are to be witnesses of the resurrection - not just for Israel, but for Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

What do we learn from this?

First, it reassures me that doubt is normal. If doubt was common and repeated among the original disciples of Jesus, then it is far less surprising that I sometimes have doubts.

Second, it encourages me that doubt is not the end. Though it took time for the disciples to fully accept the resurrection, once they were convinced, they started to live in a radical and transformative way. Their testimony to the resurrection of Jesus changed the world.

Third, it reminds me that we all need the Holy Spirit.

Even at Pentecost, though, the disciples initially struggled to understand what had happened: "They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

Those seeing them also had doubts: “But some sneered and said, ‘They’re drunk on new wine.’”

However, filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter proclaims the resurrection of Jesus, “and that day about three thousand people were added to them.”

Fourth, it shows me how Jesus responds to doubt. No matter how unreasonable their doubt might seem, Jesus keeps showing up and patiently teaching them who he is and what they are called to do.

Fifth, it shows that the authors of the gospels were empathetic to people who doubted their message. They had experienced it themselves or had heard that it was common in the days after the resurrection. So, they openly shared their stories of coming to believe in the resurrection in an unguarded way. Instead of presenting themselves as heroes, they volunteered embarrassing information.

What do you make of this pattern in the gospels? Do you see it differently? What implications do you take from this theme?


I think this is such a helpful issue that should be discussed more in church circles. So often Christians feel like they are weak in their faith because they have doubts. It is possible to have faith and areas of doubt at the same time. God has grace for that. I think Jesus showed Grace to those in doubt after his resurrection.

I’m curious about the trend for faith deconstructions that seem to be over social media from previous Christian leaders. Perhaps the pressure to have the answers as public figures made them crumble when being honest with themselves about their doubts. Perhaps they felt that if doubts existed, then it’s because the Gospel wasn’t compelling enough or true at all.

God has given us the entire Old and New Testament to take our strength from when in places of doubt. The New Testament could have stopped after the 4 gospels, but God knew we needed guidance, reassurance, and examples of those who have gone before us in their faith. Every letter by the apostles seems to exhort people to faith in God, reminding their audiences of God’s character, Christ’s resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit that every believer carries. God knew that those people strong in the faith will still have their days of doubt.

Even John the Baptist, when in prison had a moment of doubt. He who had known Jesus his whole life (even leaping in the womb at the news of Jesus’ conception), who was the voice crying in the wilderness making way for the Messiah, who baptised Jesus to fulfill what was written, had his moment of doubt when he sent his disciples to ask if Jesus really was the one that they had been waiting for.

I find this reassuring and constructive for me in my faith, and I hope it is for others too.