Why did Jesus tell Mary not to touch Him?

Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

QUESTION:Why did Jesus tell Mary not to touch Him?

“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me [Touch Me not – KJV], 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 20:17NKJV

ANSWER: Mary Magdalene had lingered near the tomb of the Lord Jesus that resurrection morning, weeping after the other women and Peter and John had left. She loved the Lord Jesus. He had previously cast out seven demons from her. Deeply grateful, she was one of the women who had ministered to Him of their substance during the time of His ministry on earth (Lk. 8:1-3). When she recognized that the One she had through her tears mistaken for the gardener was Jesus, according to John 20:16, “she turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher).” In her joy she would gladly have resumed the relationship which she had had with Him before His crucifixion.

But this could not be. Although Jesus was standing there alive, He would not again be walking about from place to place doing good, teaching, healing and feeding crowds that would throng around Him. That work He had finished. He was soon going to ascend to the Father, to the One who had sent Him into this world and whose will He had done at all times while here on earth.

He then gave Mary a wonderful task. “Go to My brethren!” Never before had he called His disciples “My brethren.” A few nights earlier He had called them “My friends,” but now He was referring to them in this even more intimate way. She was to be His messenger to bring them a very special message. “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” His brethren would now enjoy a blessed personal relationship with God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice He did not say, “I am ascending to our Father and our God.” While He was elevating the disciples, and us who are their successors, to this wonderful relationship with God, a relationship of sons to a Father, it is only He who has ever enjoyed that relationship in a unique way. He alone is the Only-begotten Son. He is the only One of His kind. He is matchless. He is God the Son! We are creatures. But He has most highly privileged us by bringing us into a place of sonship where we can cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). While we can call God “Father,” Scripture never gives us liberty to call Jesus, “Brother,” or “Elder Brother.” He has lifted us up to a position corresponding to His position. Let us never lower Him to our level from His unique position. That would be a lack of proper respect altogether.

“Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her” (Jn. 20:18). She was privileged thus to serve the Lord, a privilege greater than touching or clinging to Him now that He was risen from the dead. A new era was beginning in the ways of God with man.

Jesus met Mary Magdalene in her sorrow, dried her tears, and sent her to the disciples with a message of His resurrection. But He did not permit her to touch Him. In Matthew 28:9 the other women held Him by the feet. Why the difference? The reason appears to be that in the earlier gospel it is the pledge of a bodily presence for the Jews in the latter day; for whatever the consequences of Jewish unbelief now, God is faithful. The gospel of John has no purpose here of showing God’s promises for the Jew. On the contrary, it diligently detaches the disciples from Jewish thoughts. Mary Magdalene is a sample or type of this. The heart must be taken off His bodily presence. “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (Jn. 20:17 KJV). The Christian owns Christ in heaven. As the apostle says, even if we had known Christ after the flesh, “henceforth know we him no more” (2 Cor. 5:16). The cross, as we know it, closes all connection with even Him in this world,although it is the same Christ. John shows us, in Mary Magdalene contrasted with the women of Galilee, the difference between the Christian and the Jew. It is not outward presence on earth, but a greater nearness because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

— William Kelly, The Gospel Of John