This passage deals with the response of the Apostles and later Thomas after Jesus’ Resurrection. After reading “What Jesus saw from the Cross” last year during Lent, I am of the opinion that the Apostles, at least some of them, were able to watch what happened to Jesus though they would have seen the Crucifixion from inside the city walls.
“When it was evening on that day” refers back to the episode previous to this one of Mary Magdalen, who had told them that morning that Jesus body had been removed from the tomb. Later she tells the Apostles that she has seen Jesus and relates what He spoke to her. After reporting that His body was gone, Peter and John run to the site of the tomb and confirm what Mary Magdalen said (see another Gospel account).
Time has passed since finding out that the body was gone. I imagine that the Apostles and any disciples who remained have discussed what has happened and what Mary told them. Perhaps some think it is possible that Jesus rose. Perhaps some remember what Jesus said about “when He was raised”. That evening they are having a meal together and are locked in the upper room (presumably) because they are fearful of the Jews. (Saducees and other authorities) Jesus comes in quietly and greets them with the standard greeting of the time – Peace be with you.
Another Gospel relates how Jesus was given a piece of fish and ate it with them. I imagine that everyone present drew around the Lord, perhaps some touched Him and were filled with wonder and even disbelief at what their senses were telling them.
Thomas, however, wasn’t present at this time. When he is later told of what happened on that Easter evening, he is unbelieving. He is told “we have seen the Lord.” I expect Thomas was told more than that as those relating the story would have wanted to convince Thomas of what they had seen and heard and experienced. Perhaps the Apostles said how Jesus walked through a locked door, how he ate with them, maybe the story from Emmaus and perhaps even that they had touched His wounds. Thomas utters his famous remark that he will not believe until he touches the Lord.
A week later they were all together in the same room. The door is shut but not locked for the Apostles are no longer fearful. What has changed? Perhaps the answer is that Jesus had returned and given them “peace”.
Now Thomas believes and does something no one else has done – he puts together his own experience of the Risen Lord with everything he has heard and learned previous to the Crucifixion and afterwards and recognizes who Jesus is – God.
Jesus is sending his Apostles into the world to finish what God had given Jesus to do and yet one of their own, Thomas, who lived with Jesus for three years, saw what He did, heard His words and doesn’t believe what the Apostles told him about the Resurrection. No wonder Jesus calls those of us “blessed” who have not seen yet believed.
Just as I had written about my family history that words cannot fully express the depth and breath and height of our experiences and emotions, the Gospel writers cannot fully express all that happened to them. The words have so much more to tell us than can be packed into simple phrases. For a fuller understanding we need the Holy Spirit.