“Jesus said to her, “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 to My God and your God.” John 20:17
We have here a very interesting verse of scripture that is not frequently commented upon. Mary Magdalene was so overjoyed at the sight of a truly risen Lord that she spontaneously moved toward Him to hug Him. There was no romantic intention in this, as some falsely assert, but just pure joy! Consequently Jesus cautions Mary and resists her “cling” because, as He puts it, He has not yet ascended to His Father. How then are we to understand these events? I believe in the following way:
1. There is something about His physical presence on earth.
That is, His intention was to wean His followers off His physical presence. They needed to get used to the idea that His presence would now henceforth be made real to them by the Holy Spirit. He had in fact told them this. (John 16:5-14)
2. There is something about His physical presence in heaven.
Jesus appeared to His Disciples off and on over a period of forty days; but where was He in between these appearances? (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) Was He in limbo somewhere between heaven and earth; I think not. The truth is, though He was raised from the dead the holy consequences of His atoning work on the cross had to be sealed. He had to appear in heaven, without sin, in order to present the fruit of His once for all sacrifice, on behalf of all men, to His Father. In short in His Father’s presence He laid claim to the “voice of His spilt blood;” this “voice’ demanded that His Father forgive all men their sins upon repentance and that He see them henceforth as absolutely perfect (Hebrews 12:24). Until this was done Mary could not handle Him or cling to Him. The writer of the book of Hebrews referred to this truth in this way in Chapter nine and verses eleven and twelve:
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to
Come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle
not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His
own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for
all, having obtained eternal redemption. “
Jesus thus ascended to heaven immediately after His resurrection from the dead and there before His Father He presented the atoning fruits of His obedience to the way of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). Mary could not touch Him until this was done. He then came and went and appeared to His followers many times. As for “The Ascension” forty days after His resurrection; this was the final return of Jesus to heaven and by it He would be exalted to the right hand of God and pour out upon His disciples the very life of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:33-35)
3. There is something about the need of His physical appearance amongst His disciples.
Before His final ascension Jesus appeared many times to His followers. They would be tasked with carrying His message of the cross, and the power of the resurrection, into the world (Acts 4:33). By these Jesus had once and for all conquered death and His disciples needed to be thoroughly convinced of this. This foundation had to be laid in their lives in order to propel them into a very hostile world; in order to give them authority as they preached and in order to sustain them in great trials and persecutions. It did and most of them died for it!
All this means that we too must understand the message of the cross, have a real experience of Jesus and be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Mary Magdalene reminds us of the most holy and wonderful atoning work of Jesus and that His resurrection holds real hope for all people who are held captive by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)