Yet Scripture tells us that there is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing (Ecclesiastes 3:5), in the present situation the latter, out of love to protect one another from potentially lethal infection. Although the circumstance were totally different, the command to refrain from embracing reminded me of when Jesus Christ in His glorified body told Mary Magdalene "Don't touch me!" The post below originally appeared on this blog in 2014:
After Christ’s resurrection, why did He tell Mary Magdalene not to touch Him when He appeared to her at the empty tomb? This seems to contradict His instructions to Thomas and the other disciples shortly thereafter, when He told them to “handle” Him and to feel His side.
It seems that in both these appearances, Christ was in His glorified resurrection body, and not a disembodied Spirit. Mary did not recognize Him (v. 14) until He called her name (v. 16), but there must not have been anything ghost-like about His appearance, as she assumed He was the gardener and asked Him questions about where they had taken her Lord (v. 15).
Some suggest that this was a gender issue – that it was not appropriate for Mary to touch the risen Christ, whereas Thomas and the apostles were permitted to do so. But during His earthly ministry, Jesus did not rebuke the sick woman who touched the hem of His garment for healing (Luke 8:43-48), nor did He prohibit Mary from anointing His head and feet with oil and drying His feet with her hair (Luke 7:37-39; Matthew 26:7-13). According to social standards of the time, Mary’s lavish physical acts of worship would have bordered on scandalous, but He did not deny her this intimate contact. He knew that her motive was not fleshly lust, but pure adoration of her Lord.
Clearly His glorified resurrection body was different from the physical body He inhabited during His time on earth, but would that alone have prevented contact? He told His apostles to “handle” Him to see that He was made of flesh and bone (but not blood; Luke 24:39-40), and He ate in that body (Luke 24:39-40; John 21:15). Yet He was able suddenly to appear and to vanish, apparently instantaneously passing through solid walls (Luke 24:31,36; John 20:19).
Jesus in His risen body told Thomas to thrust his finger into His nail-scarred hands and his hand into His pierced side. The other apostles had already seen these wounds and believed Jesus had risen (John 20:20), but Thomas demanded a tactile experience (John 20:25), which the Lord did not deny him.
At first reading of John 20:17, it might seem that between Christ’s appearances to Mary, and then to Thomas and the others, He ascended to His Father. If that is the case, it might be that Jesus had to present Himself to the Father to verify His completed work on the cross (John 19:30; Hebrews 2:14-15), and He had to remain pure of earthly contamination until then. This does not seem sensible to me, as even stepping on the ground might be a form of contamination – particularly the ground around a tomb, which would be unclean by Mosaic Law (Leviticus 10:10; Numbers 19:11,14,16).
To me, it makes more sense that as His physical body perished, His Spirit went immediately into the hands of the Father (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46) and was in Paradise that same day (Luke 23:43). Three days later, as foretold by the prophets and by Himself, He rose from the dead and appeared to His followers in His glorified resurrection body (Luke 24:7,21,46, 1 Corinthians 15:4; etc.).
Scripture tells us that Christ ascended into Heaven 40 days later (Acts 1:2-11), being observed by the 11 remaining apostles and by angels. “I ascend” in John 20:17 therefore seems not to mean “I am at this moment completing the act of ascension,” but rather, “I am in the process of ascending, or about to ascend, which will not be completed until 40 days later.”
Yet something important and wonderful had clearly changed since Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day, as He told Mary to tell the news not to His “apostles,” or “disciples,” or even His “friends,” (John 15:13) but rather to His “brethren!” (Matthew 28:10; John 20:17) He was their Lord and Master (Matthew 10:24-25; John 13:13-14), but because He had now paid the price for all our sins and redeemed us from sin and death (Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:25-27), all who trusted Him became His brethren (Hebrews 2:11,17).
As Jesus Christ would later reveal to Paul, believers in Him were now His joint heirs, adopted children of the Father (Romans 8:14-17); and even His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Yet Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father (John 3:16), and the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36), which is why He made the distinction between “my Father” and “your Father” and “my God, and “your God” (John 20:17).
The best explanation for why Jesus told Mary “Touch me not,” may center on the word translated “touch” in the KJV. Some other versions translate this as “cling to” or “hold fast,” which may be closer to the Greek word haptomai, which some commentaries say means “grab hold of.” We see the other women holding the risen Jesus by the feet to worship Him as they realize Who He is (Matthew 28:9).
What was Mary’s reaction as she realized her beloved Jesus was not dead, but standing beside her? Any of us encountering a loved one we had given up for dead would have the same reaction – to want to fling our arms around them, clasp them tightly, and embrace them as if we would never again let them go.
But Jesus did not rise from the dead to give earthly comfort to those He loved during His ministry; He rose to give all who trust Him eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:12-26). He wants us to cling to Him, abide in Him (John 15:4-7), and remain in Him (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 1:2; etc.) – not physically, but spiritually.
Not until we reach Glory will we have the awesome privilege of not only seeing Him face to face, but of knowing Him fully as He now knows us (1 Corinthians 13:12). Not only may we fall prostrate at His feet and feel His healing touch (Revelation 1:17), but He will tenderly wipe away every tear from our eyes (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 7:17; 21:4). I believe He will embrace us lovingly as He did the children brought to Him for a blessing (Mark 10:13-16).
I believe Jesus was telling Mary, in effect: “Don’t try to keep me here with you, as much as you want to, but know that I am going to my Father so that all who love me can abide in me spiritually until I come again to bring all of you to myself. I have walked the earth with you for three years, but now you must learn to walk by faith, not by sight.” (John 14:1-3; 2 Corinthians 5:7)
So why did He allow Thomas to perform a physical examination of His wounds? Thomas’ motive for touching Jesus was different than Mary’s. She wanted to cling to Him out of love, blended perhaps with fear that He would again leave her. The other disciples trusted their vision to know that Jesus’ wounds proved His identity, yet Thomas doubted their account and needed tactile proof. Even though Our Lord was merciful in allowing Thomas the evidence he needed, He said that those with greater faith, who did not need sensory evidence, were blessed indeed ((John 20:25-29).
That would be all of us who have faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only way to Heaven (John 14:6), based on His Word, without the luxury of having seen or heard Him in person! Praise God that Jesus Christ did not remain on earth, but instead ascended to the Father, where He continually intercedes for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25), and where He is preparing a special place where each of us will spend eternity with Him! (John 14:1-3) Praise God that He ascended so that He could send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (John 14:16,26; 16:7), to live within each believer’s heart!