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John 20:16-17 (ESV):

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Jesus did not want Mary to cling to him, because he had not yet ascended to the Father. Why? Why would the fact that Jesus had not ascended yet to the Father warrant his not being touched by people? What was wrong with Jesus' being touched before his ascension? How does one thing follow from the other? What is the logic behind Jesus' argument?

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John 20:

17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

cling to
ἅπτου (haptou)
Verb - Present Imperative Middle - 2nd Person Singular
Strong's 680: Prop: I fasten to; I lay hold of, touch, know carnally. Reflexive of hapto; properly, to attach oneself to, i.e. To touch.

Jesus said to her: "Do not continue [Greek present tense] clinging to Me."

New American Standard Bible

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me."

Why?

Because Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father. He was about to ascend shortly. He could not ascend with Mary Magdalene holding on to him. She should instead go to the disciples and tell them the latest news: Jesus was ascending to the Father.

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  • "He was about to ascend shortly." Are you arguing that in between seeing Mary and seeing the disciples Jesus ascended, before the documented ascension 40 days later? – One God the Father Apr 24 at 16:45
  • Right but I could be wrong. – Tony Chan Apr 24 at 16:51
  • @OneGodtheFather, as mentioned in user48152's answer, Jesus had to immediately fulfil his role as anti-type in the symbolic wavesheaf offering of the firstfruits, which was required on the first day of the week immediately following the first weekly sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. (It's from this wavesheaf offering day that 7 first-days must be counted until Pentecost.) – Ray Butterworth Apr 24 at 18:31
  • @RayButterworth See my answer. – One God the Father Apr 24 at 18:37
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This is a puzzle because

  1. People tend to believe the verb translated 'ascended' here refers to the Ascension (logically enough).

  2. Other people touched Jesus before he Ascended. Women grabbed his feet, and Jesus even invited Thomas to stick his finger in His side.

Some people have attempted to resolve this by arguing Jesus is emphasizing 'clinging' here, and this has to do with something like the psychological aspects of Mary's response to seeing him.

However, the resolution is fairly simple - Jesus is not referring to the Ascension here. The verb usually translated 'ascended' is 'anabaino', which means

Strong's Greek 305: To go up, mount, ascend; of things: I rise, spring up, come up. From ana and the base of basis; to go up.

It can instead mean simply 'go up'.

Commentary on John 20:17 in the Revised English Version (Biblical Unitarian) makes the argument that haptou here relevantly involves 'touch' as opposed to 'clinging', and that Jesus wasn't referring to the Ascension. Rather, he was referring to going up to the Temple and presenting himself as the High Priest. Since Mary Magdalene had just been in a tomb, she was ritually impure, and hence couldn't touch him. Once he had gone and come back from the Temple, it was then fine for others to touch him.

"One thing we must understand is that the Greek word most English Bibles translate as “ascended,” is anabainō, which is a common Greek word and is used of many types of “going up” in the New Testament. [...] Another key to understanding the verse is in the last sentence of the verse: “But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am going up to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.’” Jesus said “I am going up,” using the present tense verb. That indicates that going up to his Father was something that Jesus was in the process of doing or just starting to do. [...] Another key to understanding what Jesus meant when he said he had not yet “gone up” to his Father is that Mary knew what he was talking about. [...] This should have signaled us from the start that the “going up to the Father” did not refer to his ascension into heaven, because the disciples did not know about his ascension into heaven. [...] After his resurrection, Jesus was both the High Priest (Ps. 110:4; Zech. 6:13; Heb. 5:5; 8:1) and the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20, 23), and he had to go to the Temple and show himself in both those roles. According to the Law of Moses, the firstfruits of the harvest were shown to God during the Feast of Unleavened Bread “on the day after the Sabbath.” [...] The day after the Sabbath is Sunday, and in the year Jesus was crucified it was Sunday the 18th of Nisan [...] After the sun came up, Jesus Christ, as the acceptable firstfruits, went up from the tomb area to the Temple on Mt. Moriah and showed himself publicly to God and was acceptable in God’s sight to represent the rest of the harvest—all the believers who will be raised from the dead. [...] As both the High Priest and the Offering, Jesus had to remain Leviticaly clean until after he offered himself, and he would not be Leviticaly clean if Mary touched him (Lev. 22:1-8). Mary was unclean by virtue of the fact that she had been in the tomb that morning and seen that the body of Jesus was gone. However, after Jesus had fulfilled his role as High Priest and firstfruits offering by showing himself in the Temple, he could let people touch him—and he did."

Given this context, the proper interpretation refers to telling Mary not to touch him, not necessarily not cling to him, and this is because it would make him ritually unclean before he went up to his Father at the Temple.

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  • Could it have been the case that Jesus ascended more than once? So maybe he was referring to an actual ascension, but not the one eye-witnessed by his disciples (that was another one). – Spirit Realm Investigator Apr 24 at 16:43
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator It's possible, and I think if you hold Jesus is talking about an actual ascension it would make more sense of the text (because the documented Ascension doesn't happen for 40 days). But the only evidence for a pre-ascension would be this particular line. But it doesn't make a lot of sense to me, unless Jesus had to ascend then and there and so Mary had to let go of him really quickly, or perhaps she had been clinging onto him for a long period (but there's no evidence for this in the text) and he simply was getting impatient, or something like that. – One God the Father Apr 24 at 16:53
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What the Lord asks of Mary is that she not merely cling to what is familiar but step back and see what is new. Jesus is no longer a mere rabbi or teacher. He is not merely the Jesus she knew; He is Lord and He is risen.when Jesus says that He is ascending to “My Father and your Father,” He does not use the “and of equivalence” but the “and of comparison.” As a man, Jesus can speak of God as His Father, but His human nature is hypostatically united to His divine nature as God, the Second Person of the Trinity. So, although God is our Father and Christ’s Father, He is Christ’s Father in a far richer and more profound way.

Jesus says, “My God and your God” not by way of equivalence, but by way of comparison.

In all these ways, the Lord Jesus must ascend in our understanding. He will do that provided we do not go on clinging to Him in a merely human and familiar way.

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Jesus is simply stating what is going to happen next. He is finally going to the Father to finish the whole journey begun with his holy conception. He tells Mary that she should not worry or cling to him - hold him back from this final stage.

Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father

Mary had lost him once already under tragic and horrific circumstances, she didn’t want to lose him again!

This is nothing about making him unclean. He was always holy, and now he is risen and going to the Father, his holiness is now baked in.

Jesus also emphasises the benefits of going to the same God Mary had, his God. They were both worshiping the same God and His purposes for Jesus leaving, were going to be good for Mary too! IOW, 'let me go now Mary for this next part is very important'.

By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place Heb 10:20

Jesus death had finished the process or salvation. His new life and exaltation was his reward for doing a great job. He would present himself to God as the wavesheaf offering picturing the new harvest. Jesus being the first fruit, the firstborn from the dead. Col 1:18

He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it Lev 23

Notice the alignment of the time - Jesus rose late Saturday, this is now Sunday, the day after the Sabbath.

++++++++++++

Certainly there are other accounts of an ascension, but there are clearly more than one 'going to the Father', and need not be construed as a contradiction or error of the text. The plan for Jesus is totally laid out by the Father and/through the type of every OT prophecy that points to what Jesus needed to accomplish, how and certainly when - God doesn't need to be late for anything! Certainly not this!

The wavesheaf offering practiced for centuries was only a 'shadow' - now that the REAL THING, Jesus, is here and ready, he must go.

Him finalising the Death - burial - rising sequence is this initial 'going to the Father'. He has a reward and exaltation to receive to go with his new eternal life.

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