The Easter narratives in the four gospels differ in a number of significant details. But among all the details provided in these narratives, the one that is perhaps the most enigmatic is this passage from Matthew’s gospel. After the women report the tomb to be empty, they and the disciples return to Galilee where they have been told they will see Jesus. We read:

Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος οὗ ἐτάξατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν προσεκύνησαν, οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν.

Then the eleven disciples went to the Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them, and when they saw him, they fell down in worship—but some of them doubted. (Matt. 28:16-17)

Let’s recap: the disciples hear a fantastic story from the women. They go back to Galilee to the mountain they were told to go to. There they encounter the Resurrected Christ and fall down before him, but some… doubted?

Icon of Jesus and the Eleven disciples

Jesus gives the Great Commission to the disciples, some of whom are doubting (we won’t say which)

People doubt all kinds of things. That’s not strange or unusual. But here the disciples encounter Jesus raised from the dead and they still aren’t sure? This is even more striking than the story of Thomas from John’s gospel, because while Thomas doubts what he has not seen, the disciples here doubt what they have. It seems that even with those who were present with Jesus, there was doubt. Perhaps doubt and uncertainty are inescapable after all.

This idea stands in contrast to a tract I have in my office entitled How to Know for Sure You’re Going to Heaven. In it, the author states,

However, one of the characteristics of the first followers of Jesus was their certainty. They didn’t guess . . . or hope . . . or wish. They knew for certain. They were even willing to die for that certainty! [1]

This is a curious statement given the clear meaning of the text from Matthew. But more to the point, the tract is emphasizing the wrong aspect of the disciples’ subsequent action.  For it was not certainty that the disciples displayed—they displayed faith. The biblical record makes it clear that even after Jesus’ resurrection some doubted. It was not their absolute certainty that propelled them from one end of the Mediterranean world to the other, it was their faith—their trust in God—in spite of their doubts.

What makes the disciples’ witness extraordinary is not that they were mindless zealots, locked into a fixed orthodoxy of certainty but that they were faithful, they trusted that God was at work in the world and that this called them to go out into all the world to proclaim this message of hope and transformation.

If indeed the disciples were certain about all things then we have a hard time explaining why they would get into subsequent disagreements about questions like observance of the Jewish law, the admission of Gentiles into the fledgling Christian communities, or whether it was proper to eat food sacrificed to idols. They were not all in lock-step certainty: they had doubts, they wrestled with important questions, they professed that some things were their opinions not divine decree. In short: they took a bold leap forward in light of their experience of Easter, despite their doubts. That they were willing to risk their lives for their faith is a much more powerful statement than risking their lives out of their certainty.

And herein lies our hope: we need not have it all worked out to be faithful. You needn’t banish all doubt in order to be a faithful Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Bahá’í, or Zoroastrian. In fact, in order to truly have faith, a little doubt may be necessary.

And so, this Easter, we are reminded of the victory of hope over despair, of love over hate, of life over death. And we are called to go out into the world to share this hopeful message—doubts and all.

Happy Easter!



[1]  Dr. James D. Kennedy, “How to Know for Sure You Are Going to Heaven.” edited by Crossway/ATS. Garland, TX, 2001.