Q.

On the morning Jesus rose from the dead, Mary Magdalene met the Savior in the Garden near the tomb where Jesus had lain. Jesus told her not to touch Him. Why? After all, we read later that the apostle Thomas physically touched the risen Christ.

A.
First, let me point out that the word for “touch” (haptomai in the Greek) actually means “cling onto.” Thus the New King James Version records Jesus’ statement to Mary Magdalene this way: “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father and to My God and your God’ ” (John 20:17).

You are absolutely correct in your observation that Thomas touched Christ. The account of Thomas’s doubting and then believing is a familiar one (John 20:19–29). After physically touching Christ by putting his finger into the risen Lord’s nail prints and putting his hand into His side, Thomas was ready to believe. Perhaps a less familiar passage is Matthew 28:9, which indicates that others touched Jesus after His resurrection: “As they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ And they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.” Some have wondered if there is a contradiction here if “held” has a similar connotation to “cling to.”

There are at least two plausible explanations. Some Bible scholars believe that Jesus went up to the Father between His encounter with Mary Magdalene and His later encounters listed here, presenting His blood at the throne of God. If this were the case, that event could be what Jesus referred to when He told Mary Magdalene that He hadn’t yet ascended to the Father. When Jesus returned, it was all right to touch Him physically.

Another view is that Mary Magdalene’s “clinging” refers more to a spiritual and symbolic clinging than an actual physical clinging. If we take the latter position (and some might subscribe to both), we would believe that Jesus was pointing out to Mary that the relationship Jesus would have with His people, including her following His resurrection, was about to change. It would involve the soon coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ people following His ascension to Heaven.

In our present dispensation, which began on the Day of Pentecost, our relationship with Christ is by faith, through the Holy Spirit Who indwells us; it is not a physical relationship. We can’t see or talk with Christ personally, but we do experience a relationship with Jesus, made possible by the Holy Spirit.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (April 2004).
© 2004 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.