One text that remains an enigma to most Christ-followers is the post-resurrection story in the twentieth chapter of John’s gospel where Jesus cautions Mary to avoid touching him, but a week later invites Thomas to do just that.

Mary, seeing her beloved and presumed-dead rabbi now alive, attempted to hug the resurrected Jesus (vs. 16). He emphatically told her that she could not touch him because He had not yet ascended to his Father (vs. 17). Shortly after (when all the disciples were gathered to regroup) Christ appeared to them resurrected! Thomas was absent from this gathering (vss. 19-21). Later, when the disciples reported to Thomas that they had seen Jesus alive, he understandably responded with skepticism (vs. 24). Eight days later, Jesus unexpectedly appeared again to the gathered disciples and challenged Thomas to touch him by placing his hands into the holes that remained in his body (vs. 26-27). The obvious question is this: why did Jesus deny Mary, but later encourage Thomas to touch Him?

In order to understand Jesus’ very different instructions to Mary and Thomas, we need to understand the purity requirements for the Jewish High Priest on the Day of Atonement. The High Priest was forbidden to come into contact with anything that was ceremonially unclean in order to avoid being disqualified to enter God’s presence the following day. So much depended on this ritual purity!

After His resurrection, Jesus (as our ultimate High Priest) would shortly be ministering in the heavenly tabernacle (Heb. 9:11). It is significant that Jesus appeared to the disciples and told Thomas to touch him after eight days, because it takes seven days to ordain a priest (Ex. 29:35).

The most-likely reason for Jesus’ instructions to Mary had to do with the fact that He was determined to enter the heavenly tabernacle in a ready-to-serve, consecrated state. Defilement would not be a sin, but it would have disqualified Him (for a period of time) from entering God’s presence. Mary may have had a number of reasons for defilement (possible menstrual circle, stepping into the tomb, etc), Jesus’ priestly mission was too important to allow for any possibility of failure. By the time Jesus met Thomas, His priestly work is done. He had returned from completing His duties and possible defilement was no longer an issue.

Jesus’ role as prophet was carried out during His earthly life. His role as king was yet to be realized at the time of the ascension. He first needed to be ordained a priest and carry out His duties in the heavenly tabernacle! Nothing could be permitted to stand in the way of his mission.

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    • 4 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen. … … ……15“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus replied, “Blessed are
    • …15“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven.… you see here that Jesus is not God,,to many people still think he is ,, i just came back from Israel and the Jews only worship the ONE TRUE GOD,, did Jesus part the red sea, NO, mary had her period, and was told not to touch

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  1. Agree...
    I also had discussed with a Bible teacher many years ago.
    It seems that Mary Magdalane is the only person saw Jesus before He went to meet the Father. The others saw Jesus after He had finished His task and reported to the Father.
  2. Numbers 19:16
    Also, anyone who in the open field touches one who has been slain with a sword or who has died naturally, or a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days.

    Both Mary's were unclean. They entered the tomb. Why did Jesus disappear for a week? - It takes a week to ordain a priest.
    Exodus 29:35
    “Thus you shall do to Aaron and to his sons, according to all that I have commanded you; you shall ordain them through seven days.

    Leviticus 8:33
    You shall not go outside the doorway of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the day that the period of your ordination is fulfilled; for he will ordain you through seven days.

    Jesus said "I have not yet ascended..." and later will say "I now ascend to my father and your father..." This is said by a high priest when entering the holy of holies on yom kippur. (The TABERNACLE, by M.R. DeHaan, M.D., ISBN 0-310-23491-3, page 129.)

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    • Jesus did not disappear for a week. He appeared to the 2 disciples on the resurrection day on their walk to Emaus as well as to the other disciples the same evening. I see a different reason why He asked her not to touch Him: He wanted to give the whole world the information that there is no such a thing as soul or spirit departing from the dying body and going straight to heaven. Therefore He stated it so plainly that He had not been with the Father yet despite of being dead for 3 days.

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    • Dear Brickle,
      I think I should disagree with you in this. Psalm 110 clearly states: The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. So, Jesus was already a High Priest even before His physical death. God ad ordained Him to be one.

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  3. Quite right - but this is hardly enigmatic for anyone who has read the Old Testament. Just as the passover lamb could not be defiled or the priest offereing it by anything "unclean" - nor could Jesus be touched before what many of us have called for years a "mini-ascention" where Jesus officially offered himself as the propeitiation of the sins of humanity. This is a wonderful truth but like all things in biblical schalarship - its not new. "There is nothing new under the sun". But a wonderful posit nonetheless - thanks for doing so and well done!
  4. It seems certain that the event in John 20:17 is connected to the laws of clean and unclean, but I'm not sure it has anything to do with the Day of Atonement. Yeshua was crucified on Passover, 6 months before the Day of Atonement. There is another important event however that was connected to his resurrection, the offering of the First Fruits, which happens during the week of Unleavened Bread.

    Modern Judaism places this event on the 2nd day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the day after the Sabbath (Lev 23:11), but this timing has been disputed throughout history. Many place the timing of this offering on the day after the weekly Sabbath, which corresponds to the day Mary was told not to touch Him because He had not yet ascended to His Father.

    We are told in Deuteronomy 26 that the first fruit offering was a reminder of the deliverance of the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites were in bondage as slaves but were delivered by the power of the Almighty to a land flowing with milk and honey. The purpose of Yeshua's sacrifice was to deliver people from bondage to sin and deliver them to God's Kingdom (Romans 6:16-19). Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24 makes this connection in calling Yeshua the first fruits of the resurrection. Just as the Israelites were recognizing their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the world was being delivered from slavery to sin and death.

    Yeshua's presentation to the Father as the first fruits of the resurrection required Him to be in a ritually clean state, since the offering was to be presented in the Temple, in this case the Heavenly Temple. As you noted, Mary was unclean because she had been in a place of burial. Thomas touching Yeshua days later would have no effect, whether he was clean or unclean, since the offering had already been presented.

    Respectfully submitted,
    • I agree with James King. Also, to an observant Jew which Jesus certainly was, a woman was always potentially in an unclean state, so Jewish men did not touch them. And, they were in a cemetery. Mary may have already entered the tomb and come back out, and therefore she was ritually unclean in that respect too. But she did not know who Jesus was when she first saw , which gives us to wonder if perhaps Resurrection had somehow changed his appearance. Surely she would have recognized her Lord, whom she loved, had he looked the same as previously.
  5. Another alternative is this.
    Jesus' identity in John's gospel is what this text is all about. Characters come and go, all of them identifying Jesus in various and sundry ways - a teacher from God (3:2); a Jew and a Prophet (4:9, 19, 39); a "man called Jesus" (9:11); a sinner (9:24), et al. Most of them, except the man born blind (9:38), John the Baptist, Andrew, and Nathanael (all in chapter 1), don't quite seem to get it. The lesson from John 9 is that unless one lets go of one's certitude, admitting "I don't know" (9:12), one might miss out on the fullness of the revelation of Jesus' identity (Read 9:38 vis-a-vs 9:41).

    Mary Magadalene, when she finally "sees" its Jesus at 19:16, identifies Jesus as "'Rabbounni' which means 'teacher'" - one of the many inadequate suggestions as to Jesus' identity in this gospel. Thus, Jesus implores Mary to "Let go of me" may mean, "let go of who you think I am - a Rabbi/teacher." "Jesus the Rabbi" is an identity that holds Jesus to the ground. Unless one "lets go" of Rabbi Jesus," who one thinks Jesus is will never ascend to the heavens, where Jesus' Father is - where Jesus is from (above!), and where Jesus was heading after his resurrection.
    • Mr. Michael Hedges, it seems you, James King and Michael Brickle seem to have been allowed to type out much more to express your position, whereas those as ourselves were given much less allowance (100 characters only). Quite interesting that is that you men are allowed to put down more than 100 characters while certain others can't, which suggests such a fact would sure assist in maintaining a certain narrative of the reading of the Scriptures that benefits the position put forth by the article. Seems unfair & dishonest.

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    • This idea sounds okay ... ... until you consider the reason that Jesus gave to Mary, i.e. "I have not yet ascended to My Father in heaven". This reason would make no sense if He just meant to "let go of who you think I am".
    • People were required to address the Jewish religious authorities as "Rabbi" - "Great One." S'why Messiah said, ...do not (yourselves) be called "Rabbi," Matt 23:8.

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    • Jesus himself reiterated John 13:13(Aramiac bible in plain English) "You call me 'our Rabbi' and 'our Lord', and you say rightly, for so I am." Not only was Jesus affirming His position as Rabbi on earth, but He said, " when the Spirit of truth comes, He will not speak

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  6. How could it be that "as a High Priest Jesus was soon to minister in the heavenly tabernacle on the Day of Atonement (Heb. 9:11)" when the Day of Atonement would be in the Fall and not in the Spring like Passover?
    • James, its been a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time :-). Good to hear from you! You and others who commented about First Fruits may be right. The point is not which Holiday, but that it is ministry in the tabernacle that requires ceremonial purity that is neither dismissed no denied by the Jewish Christ.
    • Jesus was not a Levitical high priest ... He was not of the Tribe of Levi, nor was He a direct descendant of Aaron. He was (and ever is) a high priest forever after the order of Melchizadek ... nothing to do with the duties of the earthly high priests. She was simply being told not to cling to Him (Greek Text) because He was still here, not having yet ascended to the Father.

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  7. Is this how I get updates? Mary Magdalene saw two angels, not one (death & resurrection). I think I have seen this idea in God’s words to Moses, “Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance” (Deu 32:52). If I am correct then it is not Jesus that should not be touched, but it is Mary who has not been resurrected YET. I have always wondered how to say that seeing the revelation of the resurrected Christ is not the same as our eyes being opened completely (our resurrection aka building fences around the Torah).
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    • How did this help me? The Hebrew language often reads different than the English language. Is Mary dead (not resurrected YET)? This is problematic in English because it creates divisiveness (leaves room for bias). Is Mary a sinner? Is Mary a saved sinner? How could she be a saved sinner without being resurrected? In the Hebrew language words work together. Can Mary both sin and be dead to sin (not resurrected YET)? And since I see God's words to Moses as similar, is Moses being punished for sinning or could he both sin and be part of God's plan.
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