Touching Jesus After the Resurrection

Did Jesus Contradict Himself?

Does Jesus contradict himself following the resurrection? I ask this because he initially told Mary Magdalene not to touch him (John 20:17), but later seemed to permit Thomas to do so (John 20:27). This detail caught my attention yesterday as I listened to children recite John 20 in our morning worship service, and it caught the attention of others in the church as well. So here are some follow-up thoughts, having given this a closer look.

First, the KJV chooses the word “touch” in v.17, while other translations choose either “hold onto” or “cling to” instead. The Greek verb is a present imperative form, indicating that Mary was doing more than reaching out to touch Jesus. She was touching him persistently, as in “holding onto him” or “clinging to him.” Once she realized who Jesus was, she seems to have fallen down before him and grabbed hold of his feet. But Jesus urged her to stop doing this.

By urging her to stop, Jesus was not necessarily teaching that no one could touch his resurrected body. Instead, he was teaching her that the proper response to his resurrected appearance was not to cling to him, but to go tell others that he had risen. She immediately responded and did so.

Did Anyone Else Touch Jesus?

Now here is an interesting question. Did anyone else touch Jesus in his post-resurrected state? I’ve already mentioned Thomas (v.27), but a careful examination reveals that Jesus invited Thomas to reach out his finger and look at his hands, and to reach out his hand and put it into his side. Technically, these are not verbs that convey touching, though touching may have occurred. Furthermore, John never tells us that Thomas did any of these things. Perhaps he did, but we only know for certain what he said: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus himself tells us that Thomas saw and believed, but he does not say that he touched and believed.

“My Lord and my God!” Jesus himself tells us that Thomas saw and believed, but he does not say that he touched and believed.

But still the question remains, did anyone else touch Jesus after the resurrection? In Luke 24:39, we learn that Jesus invited all of the disciples, not just Thomas, to touch his resurrected body. But we only know that he showed them his scars, with no clear evidence that they touched them. In Matthew 28:9, we see that some other women held Jesus by the feet and worshiped him. Unlike his encounter with Mary Magdalene, there is no mention of Jesus forbidding them to touch him, but there is a repeated emphasis on the more appropriate response – to go and tell others what they had seen.

One more indication that others touched Jesus after his resurrection appears outside of the four gospels in 1 John 1:1. In this verse, the apostle John tells us that the disciples both saw the resurrected Jesus with their eyes and handled (or touched) him with their hands. This may refer to the encounters previously mentioned, or to others off the record. But here John verifies the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ based upon multiple disciples having touched him.

Getting the Word Out Before the Ascension

What should we make of these observations? Perhaps the answer is simple. Jesus invited certain disciples to touch him, to verify his bodily resurrection and to affirm his claim to be the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God. That this happened was important and appropriate. Jesus would never invite his followers to do the wrong thing (Jam. 1:13). But when Jesus told the women to stop holding onto his feet, he was teaching another lesson. The women were not looking for evidence. They believed and worshiped.

The appropriate response to the resurrected Christ was not to hold on to him, but to go and spread the word.

Knowing this, Jesus urged them to go tell others that they had seen the Lord. The appropriate response to the resurrected Christ was not to hold on to him, but to go and spread the word. After all, Jesus was on the move. He had not completed his mission. He had not yet ascended to the right hand of God. And others, especially the band of soon-to-be apostles needed to see him before his impending ascension took place (John 20:17).

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