The center piece of this discussion is the statement from Jesus to Mary Magdalene, in verse number seventeen, that says: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go and tell my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” From this discussion there has, in general, been two schools of thought:
- That Jesus, after His resurrection, has not yet ascended to the Father in heaven to deliver His sacrificial blood to the Mercy Seat of heaven’s Tabernacle, for the eternal cleansing of all of those that believe on Him as Savior. Therefore, He is instructing Mary not to touch His body so that she will not taint His purity prior to that heavenly presentation.
- That Jesus, who was dearly loved by Mary and His disciples, and that upon seeing Him, physically alive, Mary rushes to Him and grabs hold of Him in an outward showing of emotional excitement, deep love, and ecstatic relief. Jesus, speaks to her to assure Her that He is alive, and has not ascended, that he will be with them for a while yet, and for her to go and tell the other disciples that He is alive, He is here, and He will ascend later, just like He said that He would.
The goal of this exegesis is to present the side of point number two. To speak to the issue of the original language, original text, and the application of Lexical Syntactical Analysis to find what was being said by the writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as he penned down this text and wrote these words and in doing so we will also, by virtue of the process of study, look at the side of point number one, and assess it validity as a proper Biblical interpretation.
(1) First, there are a plethora of Big Name Theologians who have given their input on this verse and the subjects at hand. Again, they break down into the two schools of thought that have already been discussed in our introduction. In those two schools or camps there are Big Names on each side. However, the majority fall down on the side of application number two. The following gives their views directly from their own pages:
1. Matthew Henry’s Commentary, volume #4, page 1214 item number [3.]: The further instruction that Christ gave her (v. 17): “Touch me not, but go and carry the news to my disciples.” First, He diverts her from the expectation of familiar society and conversation with Him at this time: touch me not for I am not yet ascended. Mary was so transported with the sight of her dear Master that she forgot herself, and that state of glory into which he was now entering, and was ready to express her joy by affectionate embraces of Him, which Christ forbids at this time. 1. Touch me not thus at all, for I am to ascend to heaven. He bade the disciples touch Him, for the confirmation of their faith; He allowed the women to take hold of His feet, and worship Him (Matt. xxviii. 9); but Mary, supposing that He was risen, as Lazarus was, to live among them constantly, and converse with them freely as He had done, upon that presumption was about to take hold of His hand with her usual freedom. This mistake Christ rectified; she must believe Him, and adore Him, as exalted, but must not expect to be familiar with Him as formerly. See 2 Cor. V. 16. He forbids her to dote upon His bodily presence, to set her heart on this, or expect its continuance, and leads her to the spiritual converse and communion which she should have with Him after He was ascended to His Father; for the greatest joy of His resurrection was that it was a step toward His ascension. Mary thought, now that her Master was risen, He would presently set up a temporal kingdom, such as they had long promised themselves, “No,” says Christ “Touch me not with any such thought; think not to lay hold on me, so as to detain me here; for, though I am not yet ascended, go to my brethren, and tell them, I am to ascend.” As before His death, so now after His resurrection, He still harps upon this, that He was going away, was no more in the world; and therefore they must look higher than His bodily presence, and look further than the present state of things. 2. “Touch me not, do not stay to touch me now to make any further enquiries or give further expressions of joy, for I am not yet ascended, I shall not depart immediately, it may as well be done another time; the best service thou canst do now is to carry the tidings to the disciples; lose no time therefore, but go away with all speed.” Note, Public service ought to be preferred before private satisfaction. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Jacob must let an angel go, when day breaks, and it is time for him to look after his family. Mary must not stay to talk with her Master, but must carry His message; for it is a day of good tidings, which she must not engross the comfort of, but hand it to others.
2. Matthew Henry’s Commentary, volume #4 page 1215 part (b.): Christ’s ascension into heaven, in further prosecution of His undertaking for us, is likewise unspeakable comfort: “tell them I must shortly ascend; that is the next step I am to take.” Now this was intended to be, [a.] A word of caution to these disciples, not to expect the continuance of His bodily presence on the earth, nor the setting up of His temporal kingdom among men, which they dreamed of. “No, tell them, I am risen, not to stay with them, but to go on their errand to heaven.” Thus those who are raised to spiritual life, in conformity to Christ’s resurrection, must reckon that they rise to ascend; they are quickened with Christ that they may set with Him in heavenly places, Eph. ii. 5,6. Let them not think that this earth is their home and rest; no, being born from heaven, they are bound for heaven; their eye and aim must be upon another world, and this must ever be upon their hearts, I ascend, therefore must I seek things above.
3. Henry & Scott Commentary on the Bible volume #3 pages 422 and 423, give the very same reference nearly word for word.
4. The Matthew Poole Commentary on the Holy Bible, by far one of the oldest and most endearing references, from a conservative Biblical perspective, published in 1685 by The Banner of Truth Trust 78b Chiltern Street, London, England. In Volume #3 page 380, again reads nearly word for word as the other two named commentaries.
5. In The Gospel According to John volume #3, by Oliver B. Greene pages 339 and 340, Dr. Green gives the following commentarial insight: Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not record the admonition of Jesus, “Touch me not.” But John presents Jesus as very God in the flesh, and since He was to leave this earth and return to the Father as our Great High Priest, Mary was not to become attached to His body, the visible Man walking on earth. Believers are to know Him as the head and foundation of the New Testament Church, head of the new relationship between God and man, “for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” (Eph. 5: 30).
“Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God. Mary was honored to be the first to witness His resurrection, carrying the news to others. Others had seen the empty tomb – but Mary had seen Jesus! A woman had anointed Him for his burial (John 12: 1-7), and a woman was the first person to whom He revealed Himself in His resurrection glory. God highly honored holy, dedicated women in bringing salvation down to man, and He honors and uses dedicated women today in the ministry of soul-winning service in this Dispensation of Grace.
(3) Second, there are also very notable theological writers and authors, from the same time frame of history, that record the verses in the commentary, but do not discuss the subject at hand. They pass right by this subject without any discussion. It is my belief and the position of many other theological pundits that they do not discuss this subject because they feel it is of little import to the readers and that it does not produce any new doctrine or reveal any overtly new insight into things of great eternal significance. If it were so, to these believers that Christ was discussing His ascension to heaven to deliver His blood to the Father and then place it on the Mercy Seat of heaven’s tabernacle; these authors would have dealt with this text with some intensity…as well they should have had it of been the Scriptural fact of this passage, which it is our position, as well as theirs, that it was not. The following is a list of some of those authors and the location of their commentary and text:
- Barnes Notes: Notes on the New Testament, volume: The Gospels, by Albert Barnes, pages 376 and 377.
- What the Bible is all About, by Henrietta Mears, pages 411 and 412.
- With the Word, the chapter by chapter Bible Handbook, by Dr. Warren W. Wiersbee, page 703.
- Halley’s Bible Handbook, by Dr. Henry H. Halley, pages 552, 553, and 554.
- The Lord told Mary not to touch Him. The word touch is haptomai, meaning “To hold on.” Later, He told the disciples to touch Him. Why the difference? He says to her “For I am not yet ascended to my Father.” This is the reason she should not hold on to Him. So apparently He did ascend to His Father before His appearance to the disciples in the house. I believe that the Lord Jesus presented His blood at the throne of God and that His blood turned the judgment seat into the mercy seat which it is today. That blood was shed for your sin and for my sin. I think the blood will be there throughout all eternity as an eternal testimony of the price He paid for us.
- The verb haptou, the present imperative of haptoumai (680), should be translated “do not continue touching me.” The significance of Christ mentioning this statement is related to the fact that He had not ascended to His Father. Some suggest that Mary was attempting to show Christ that she desired for Him to remain in the world and not go to His Father. Christ’s command to her to stop touching Him was His explanation to her that His life now would not be the same as it was before His death. In this view, it has been stated that Christ would be ascending to His Father, which would complete His resurrected state. Others go a step further to say that this woman reflected the feelings of all of Christ’s followers who desire to have Christ set up an earthly kingdom. This statement by the Lord was a reminder of His earlier statements about His ascension to His Father (cf. John 14).
There remains for us a Biblical search for contextual and correspondingly applicable passages and verses so that we can therefore arrive at our theological conclusion by the process of good Hermeneutical principles. Those principles are always arrived at by the following process, some of which has already been accomplished, on this subject, for us:
1. Study of the Canon – Canonicity.
2. Textual Criticism.
3. Historical Criticism.
4. Hermeneutics (Exegesis) discovering then: Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology.
The first three have already been accomplished for us by numerous authorities and theological writings and inputs. It remains now for us to exegete this passage with the original word(s) and a comparison of concurring text from the Holy Bible itself.
(5) Sixth, a Biblical assessment of the text: John 20: 17 and the statement by Jesus to Mary “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” Is this statement, concerning the ascension of Jesus to present His sacrificial blood, to the Father, on our behalf? Is He, Jesus, imploring her, Mary, not to touch His body – It was glorified – and He did not want her to taint it? What verses can assist us in determining the truth of this Scripture?
1. Does Jesus present His blood to heaven’s Mercy Seat? Heb. 9: 1-4.
2. What did Jesus do during His hours in the grave?
· Lk. 23: 53 – He was buried.
· Lk. 23: 42-43 – He went to Paradise.
· Lk. 16: 22-23 & 26 – Paradise is described.
· I Pet. 3: 18-19 – He preached (II Pet. 2: 4)
· Ps. 24: 7-10 – He emptied Paradise as described in Isa. 5: 14.
· Eph. 4: 8-10 – He delivered the captives into heaven’s glory (Ps. 68: 18)
· Heb. 9: 23-28 – He did deliver His blood to the Mercy Seat of heaven, before His bodily resurrection took place.
· Jn. 20: 19 & Phil. 3: 21 – He rose from the grave in a glorified body – and nothing can taint a glorified body.
· Acts 1: 110-11 – He did ascend forty days after the resurrection, just as He said that He would, to be seated at the right hand of Almighty God.
a. Heb. 1: 3 – In Majesty.
b. I Tim. 2: 5 – As Mediator.
c. Heb. 7: 25 – As Intercessor.
d. I Jn. 2: 1 – As Advocate.
In conclusion: The Greek word for “touch” aptoumai (haptoumai) used in this verse is best described as “to cling to or hanging onto.” Jesus is simply reassuring Mary that He is really alive, really risen from the grave bodily, and that she does not need to hold onto Him. His ministry on this earth has permanently changed, as well as her relationship to Him eternally. He has not yet ascended to heaven to be seated in glory, but go and tell the disciples: That He is alive, but He will soon ascend to the Father, just exactly as He promised them that He would.
A studious study of this text, or any text, under the leadership of the Holy Ghost of God, will lead you to the clear and proper understanding that God has designed for us to receive.
Dr. J. D. Hillenburg