Throughout this gospel Jesus has been pointing ahead to his crucifixion. Very often John refers to Jesus’ death as his glorification (7:39; 12:16,23; 13:21, 17:1). Whereas in Matthew and Mark Jesus dies crying of abandonment and in Luke Jesus dies commending his spirit to God, in John’s Gospel Jesus dies with a cry of triumph: “It is finished! It is accomplished! We win. From the beginning of the Gospel (maybe from the beginning, period) Jesus mission has been to come from the Father, declare the Father and return to the Father. When he is lifted up on the cross he begins the return home.
If Jesus mission is finished in chapter 19, we wonder why he returns in chapter 20. Of course this is in part because John knows and believes the traditions of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. But it is also the case that the appearances to Mary Magdalene, to the gathered disciples and then to Thomas provide the opportunity for Jesus to show the significance of his triumph for the ongoing life of the church. In different ways Mary Magdalene and Thomas provide the transition from the early disciples who could see to a new generation who will know Jesus because they hear and because they believe.
To Thomas is given the punch line of the gospel—the climactic affirmation toward which our whole story has been moving: “My Lord and my God!.” God’s own Word, made flesh and now glorified again.