It’s always amazed me how the simplest of sentences often leads to great controversy.  The sentence above is straightforward enough that if the verb “ascend” is explained, a five year old could understand.  Yet scholars and bible students to this day disagree on whether Christ meant for Mary ‘not to touch him’ or whether he was instructing her to stop clinging to me, I haven’t gone to heaven for good yet  – I’ll still be with you for awhile now?


That’s the argument in the simplest form.  Just two sides of the coin to choose from:  Literally, don’t touch, or stop clinging.


The debate that rages on some two thousand years later is centered not just on the wording, but the timing of His ascension.  What he said and what he meant all depend on when the accession took place.


Did it happen on the morning of the resurrection?  Or forty days later on this occasion in Acts?


Act 1:9-11 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;

Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.


Of course, the argument expands depending on what you think the bible teaches about the purpose of the ascension.  What was the point of the final, public ascension in Acts?  Was it the only one?


There is much to decipher and consider in the scriptures rich design.  As we look at “here a little, and there a little, line upon line,” we can peel back the layers and find new treasures with every study.


Those who take the position of the ascension in Acts being the final and only one, want us to understand Mary was so relieved and overwhelmed to see the Lord after watching the crucifixion, she grabbed Him, and held Him so that He would not leave her again. That’s pretty solid reasoning.  I pray we would do likewise.


Surely all that is expressed there – not to mention the comfort granted Mary in that version of the events: Stop clinging, and let go for now, I’ll still be around for some time to come, and you must go and tell others I am alive forevermore.


You can picture that exact scenario in your mind’s eye.  It’s an easy explanation and a real possibility, except for one important point:  The book doesn’t say that.


We actually have a record from the beloved Apostle of the conversation that took place on that morning.  And to change that record from what is recorded, given not only the reliability of John’s writing, but more importantly the inspiration and protection of the Holy Spirit, puts us on dangerous ground.


One problem with the “stop clinging” interpretation of the verse is nowhere else in scripture do you find where quoted verbatim conversation is changed to say something it doesn’t.  What Jesus said is this, but what he meant to say is this. 


Furthermore, if the Holy Spirit wanted John to report that Jesus said “don’t cling to me,” there’s evidence that terminology was known to the Spirit.


Rth 1:13 Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me

Rth 1:14And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.


Ruth clave unto her.  Surely, if the meaning we are to get from John’s gospel about Jesus and Mary was clinging, the term “clave” or cling might be brought into play.


To accept the “stop clinging” position, you have to change the very words of Christ and assume she was “cleaving unto Him” but John (or Jesus) didn’t know how to express that.


Jhn 20:17 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.


The very next words tell us a number of things:  He hasn’t ascended yet but he’s about to, and Mary needs to be specific in telling His brethren: He’s going to ascend, to whom and the relationship:  My father, your Father, my God, your God.   


What’s noteworthy about this discussion is Jesus is going to appear to many of His brethren and sisters the same day.  And he knows that when he tells Mary to report about the ascension.  Does it make sense that He uses such immediate language for Mary and instructs her to relay that message if He’s truly not going to ascend for another forty days?


Can we be so bold to change the language – as others must:  “Stop clinging to me, I haven’t yet ascended, but go tell my brethren that I will ascend, unless I get to them first later this same day, then I’ll tell them that I will ascend in forty days.”  Nonsense.  God forgive my folly in trying to make a point.


Surely the more important message would be Jesus is alive!  He’s risen from the dead! He’s back among us and has proven He’s the great conquering King, Messiah and Son of God.  But no, tell them I ascend.


And at the very next appearance, on the very same day, Jesus allows them to touch him, handle him, cleave unto him.  Why?  Because Mary could not touch him.  She had no physical evidence to report to the brethren.  Consider what they might have thought.  Mary saw a spirit and not the Lord.   I believe if Mary had touched Him, she would have been unable to keep that fact to herself.


Mary, if only you had touched Him to confirm He was the Lord indeed, then could we believe and have confidence in your report, but without that touching confirmation…


Sometimes, we over think issues, instead of taking the scriptures for what they say.  Touch me not, in the morning, becomes “touch me, handle me,” that evening.  If “touch” were not an issue, the Spirit could have left that out of the morning conversation and left the controversy off as well. Touch me not is there for a reason.


Luk 24:36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace [be] unto you

Luk 24:37   But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.

Luk 24:38   And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?

Luk 24:39   Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.


Why couldn’t Mary have touched Jesus?  Why use that particular wording? The offering priest and the prepared sacrifice could not be touched by one still in a sinful state.  Mary was such.  And perhaps she didn’t recognize the Lord at first, because of the clothing he wore – she, supposing him to be the gardener, had never been allowed into that part of the temple where she would put her eyes on the priestly garments.


We don’t like to talk about this fact, but Jesus, whose garments went to those who cast lots for them, was naked on the cruel cross.  He was wrapped in a linen burial cloth.  Mary would have recognized that oversized cloth.  On the morning of the resurrection, Jesus was wearing garments brought unto him by angels.


After the resurrection, our Lord is still on mission.  He was working on the agenda set by God himself.  He was adhering to a calendar and timetable that was penned by divine inspiration.  He had an appointment with the eternal Father and Judge of all mankind.  First, He shows forth proof of rising form the dead.


Mat 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Mat 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.


Next, He is about to make the firstfruits wave offering. 


But the skeptics will point out there is only one High Priest – and that year it was Caiaphas.  Mat 26:65 Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.


The Jews say that by rending or ripping his garments, Capiaphas nullified his priesthood.  How timely for every jot and tittle to be fulfilled.


Act 3:20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:
Act 3:21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.


Let’s apply some logic here shall we?  If “the heaven” must receive Jesus until the times of restitution of all things, can we safely surmise the agenda and calendar is still at work?


Hbr 9:20 Saying, This [is] the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.

Hbr 9:21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry.

Hbr 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

Hbr 9:23  [It was] therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

Hbr 9:24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, [which are] the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:

Hbr 9:25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
Hbr 9:26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.


This is heaven itself.  We have to now ask:  When did this take place?  At the death on the cross?  Or at the ascension immediately following the resurrection?  Or at the “final ascension” forty days later? 


Jesus is fulfilling God’s calendar, keeping the law and the feasts of the Father in perfection.  (Don’t look at these feasts as holidays, but rather God’s appointed times.)


Consider this:  On the cross, He’s our Passover.  In the grave, he’s the unleavened bread, and on the morning of the resurrection, at the exact time it was to be offered, he’s fulfilling the first fruits offering.


Forty days later there is a public ascension.  Why forty days after the resurrection?  Three times in the year, Hebrew males were to appear before the Lord at the place appointed.  Unleavened bread, weeks and tabernacles.  Jesus is going to appear before the Lord God on Pentecost.


Our mission is not to tackle the whole of scripture with this effort, but simply to try to rightly divide the touch me, touch me not question.  No matter which position one takes, you must ask yourself this:  Where was Jesus from the time of this discussion until his appearance later that day unto the apostles?


As for no ascensions until 40 days later? I suppose we could argue He didn’t mean what he said that morning, but how do we account for the witnesses on the road to Emmaus and this ascension later that same day:

Luk 24:50-52 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them , And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.

And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:


Brother Royce Ellis