The Apostle to India (Part 1)

“Then the Lord Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” - John 20: 27 – 28

Apostle Judas Thomas, also known as Didymus (frequently known as Apostle Thomas), was one of the twelve apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ who followed the Lord throughout His earthly ministry of preaching. Perhaps the above Bible verses contain the most famous words that the apostle has ever uttered, earning him the name of the Doubting Thomas.

According to the Bible, after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead, the Lord appeared to all His disciples to prove to them that He indeed had resurrected after His crucifixion (nailing hands and legs to the cross) and death. Apostle Thomas, however, having been absent when the Lord appeared to His disciples, refused to believe the words of his fellow disciples that the Lord had resurrected. He demanded proof and said that unless he himself touched the Lord’s nail marks (from His crucifixion) on His hands, he refused to believe that the Lord had resurrected, although the Lord had repeatedly mentioned in His teachings beforehand that He would be nailed to the cross and would die, and after three days He would rise again from the dead. Only when the Lord personally appeared to Thomas did he believe that the Lord indeed had risen from the dead, thus earning him the name of Doubting Thomas. Being the doubtful one at first, he later became the apostle who travelled the furthest, as far as the land of India.

The resurrected Lord Jesus

Various legends and church traditions of Indian churches assert that Apostle Thomas had not only preached in India, but he also went to preach in as far as China in 64 A.D. and even reached as far as Japan in 70 A.D. Nevertheless, there are no concrete historical evidences to prove that the apostle had ever set foot in the lands of China and Japan before. However, abundant evidences are available, both from Indian churches as well as the Roman Catholic Church, to prove that Apostle Thomas had done extensive missionary work in the realm of South Asia.

"My Lord and my God!"

According to a particular text known as 'The Acts of Judas Thomas the Apostle', also known as 'The Acts of Saint Thomas', after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to heaven, all the Lord’s apostles held a meeting in Jerusalem to cast lots so as to divide the countries among the apostles, whereby each apostle is required to preach in the country in which the lot fell to him.

“And India fell by lot and division to Judas Thomas the Apostle. And he was not willing to go, saying, ‘I have not strength enough for this, because I am weak. And I am a Hebrew; how can I teach the Indians?’ And whilst Judas was reasoning thus, our Lord appeared to him in a vision of the night, and said to him, ‘Fear not, Thomas, because my grace is with you.’ But he would not be persuaded at all, saying, ‘Whithersoever you will, our Lord, send me; only to India I will not go.’” - The Acts of Judas Thomas the Apostle

Nevertheless, Apostle Thomas still went to India under the direction and guidance of the Lord. At that time, there was a king by the name of 'King Gondophares' (also known as 'King Gudnaphar' or 'King Guduvhara') whose kingdom of Gandhara (Sanskrit: गन्धार) covered what are presently parts of the Punjab region in Pakistan and north India, as well as Southern Afghanistan. Modern scholars have identified King Sases, also known as Gondophares IV Sases, as being the most probable king to have been identified as 'King Gondophares' in The Acts of Saint Thomas (the term 'Gondophares' being a title used by the kings of Gandhara).

Circled in red is roughly the kingdom of Gandhara during the time of Gondophares IV Sases

King Gondophares had sent a merchant named Habban to Jerusalem in order to look for a skilled carpenter to serve the king. Hence, in around the year 45 A.D., under the direction and guidance of the Lord, Apostle Thomas followed Habban to the kingdom of Gandhara. When Apostle Thomas went before the king, the king was pleased with him and his carpentry skills. Hence, King Gondophares requested Apostle Thomas to construct a magnificent palace for him. The king entrusted a great amount of money, gold and silver in the hands of the apostle in order to get the work done.

Gondophares IV Sases (Reigned circa 21 A.D. - 47 A.D.)

Seeing that Gandhara had so many people who were poor and needy, Apostle Thomas went around the towns and villages to preach the gospel of the Lord and to help the needy. He used the money, gold and silver that the king had entrusted him with to ease the lives of those who were suffering throughout the kingdom. King Gondophares frequently sent his men to meet the apostle and to enquire about the progress of the palace construction. Upon the request of the apostle, the king sent more money from time to time to help in the completion of the palace. However, each time money was sent, the apostle spent it to help the poor and needy as he went around the entire kingdom preaching the gospel. In the process, the gospel of Christianity was widely accepted in Gandhara and Christianity spread very rapidly throughout the North Indian region.

After some time, King Gondophares came to Apostle Thomas to find out about the palace that the apostle was supposed to build. Upon finding out from friends and the people that there was no palace being built at all, but rather the apostle had spent all of the king’s money to help the poor, the king confronted Apostle Thomas with fury. The apostle replied the king by saying that the palace that the apostle had built cannot be seen in this world, but that the king can see it after he has departed from the world. This made the king even more furious and he immediately imprisoned Apostle Thomas and Habban before deciding on how to kill the both of them.

The Acts of Judas Thomas the Apostle

However, that night, the king’s brother, Gad, fell very ill and was at the verge of dying. After his death, King Gondophares was very grieved and wanted to bury him in a grand sepulchre. But after Gad’s death, he was taken up to heaven by angels and he was shown a very magnificent palace that, according to the angels, had been built by Apostle Thomas for King Gondophares. The palace was indeed beautiful, but the angels told Gad that it was reserved for King Gondophares. Then, upon Gad’s request, the angels allowed Gad to return to earth to inform his brother about the magnificent palace.

Gad came back to life and, to the surprise of the king’s servants, he asked to speak to his brother. King Gondophares was utterly surprised and went to meet his brother. Gad told his brother about everything that he had seen in heaven and about the magnificent palace in heaven that Apostle Thomas had built for the king. The king was even more surprised after what he was told by his brother.

Coins from the reign of Gondophares IV Sases

Immediately after that, King Gondophares released Apostle Thomas and the merchant and asked the apostle to pray for the king and his brother. Apostle Thomas prayed for King Gondophares and Gad, thereafter baptizing them. Both King Gondophares and Gad thus accepted Christianity into their lives and Apostle Thomas was given full freedom to preach Christianity throughout the entire kingdom of Gandhara. From then on, Christianity spread extremely rapidly throughout Gandhara and the regions of north India under Apostle Thomas’ preaching.

Basically, this summarizes Apostle Thomas’ work of preaching Christianity in the kingdom of Gandhara, as written in the text of The Acts of Judas Thomas the Apostle. In part 2 of this article, I will then cover Apostle Thomas’ missionary work in preaching Christianity throughout the “Land of the Coconuts” of India.

**Contents of this article:
1. Part 1 - account of Apostle Thomas' missionary works in North India as found in "The Acts of Judas Thomas the Apostle"
2. Part 2 - Apostle Thomas' missionary works in present-day Kerala state
3. Part 3 - Apostle Thomas' missionary works and death in present-day Tamil Nadu state

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