Here’s one of the most oft-debated texts of the New Testament…

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

John 20:17

Again, Jesus’ statement to Mary here has sparked some heated debate among scholars. Why does He forbid Mary from touching Him? What connection is there between that and the fact that He had not yet ascended unto the Father in Heaven? Later He will offer His nail-pierced hands to the disciples to touch, so why does He here deny Mary the right to touch Him?

Often it is the case that attempted explanations end up raising more questions than answers. The old saying “what proves too much proves nothing at all” comes up a lot when studying men’s opinions on this text. Bible students, I think, have simply over-analyzed this verse so much that they’ve lost the forest for the trees. It’s such a hotly-debated and discussed text that every word has been scrutinized and argued, while the basic gist of Jesus’ statement has fallen by the wayside.

The Lord is telling Mary to go. His point is not “you can’t touch Me right now.” His point is “I need you to go tell the disciples that I’ve risen.” Notice that He mentions ascending to the Father both to Mary directly and in the message He wants her to deliver to the disciples.

It isn’t that there is some supernatural aura around Jesus that a mere mortal can’t come into contact with. There’s nothing about Jesus here that makes Him so that He can’t be touched. If that were the case, then the disciples to whom He offered His hands and side to would not be able to touch Him either (what proves too much proves nothing!). Some argue that in the immediate hours after His resurrection that Jesus was not able to be handled, but notice here that the Lord draws a connection between not touching Him and His ascending to the Father (which will come after He offers His hands to the disciples, after He eats breakfast with them, etc). The idea of some physical “no touchy” explanation lacks merit.

Instead it seems that Jesus is saying “You can’t stay and hug me; you have a job to do: Go tell my brethren that I am going to ascend to Heaven.” He has risen, but He is not staying on earth. His time here is limited before He ascends. There’s been such an emphasis placed on the “touch Me not” that we’ve missed the other two major parts to this verse: “I’m ascending” (that is, “I’m not hanging around for long”) and “Go tell” (which is why she can’t hang around with Him in the garden).

I think sometimes we study ourselves right out of common sense and right into confusion and headaches. Often the simplest explanation is the correct one!