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Jesus Told Mary Magdalene "Touch Me Not" But Told Thomas "Touch Me"

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

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The Bible clearly states that after His resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene, "Touch me not." Later that same day, Jesus told Thomas, "Touch me in my hand and feet." Was Jesus playing favorites? Was He using a double standard? Of course not! The two occasions were different. Here is the explanation.

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Command to Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene was heartbroken over the death of Jesus. According to John 20:1-18, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried the day before. It was early in the morning, and it was still dark. When she saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance, she did not go in. Instead, she ran to Peter and John. She told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2)

Peter and John ran to the tomb and discover what Mary Magdalene said was true. The stone had been removed. John outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first. When he bent over and looked inside the tomb, he saw only strips of linen lying there, but did not go in.

When Peter finally arrived at the tomb, he did more than merely look in. He immediately went into the tomb. Like John, he saw the strips of linen lying there along with the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head when He was buried. The two disciples did not know that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Not knowing where Jesus was, they went back to where they were staying.

In the meantime, Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb crying. Like the two disciples, she bent over and look into the tomb. She saw more than they did. She saw two angels seated where Jesus’ body had laid.

They noticed she was crying and engaged in a conversation with her. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” Mary Magdalene replied, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.” At that moment, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was the same Jesus who had been her beloved friend and teacher. She did not realize it was the one who had cast seven demons out of her and whose ministry she had supported. She was not one of Jesus' twelve disciples, but she was a dedicated follower.

The man asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Then something happened to cause Mary to recognize the man she thought was the gardener was actually the resurrected Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

Mary recognized that voice that she had heard many times. She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). She was so delighted that He was alive that she reached out to touch Him and to cleave to Him. Jesus did a strange thing. He kept her from touching Him. According to John 20:17, Jesus said:

“Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene obeyed Jesus by not touching Him and by going to His disciples with the good news.

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Command to Thomas

After Jesus told Mary not to touch Him, we see in just ten verses later that He is telling doubting Thomas, to touch Him with specific instructions to put his finger in the nail prints in His hands. He even told Thomas to put his hand into the hole in His side where He had been pierced. Jesus wanted Thomas to touch Him.

Then he said to Thomas: "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side." (John 20:27)

Did Jesus forget that He had told Mary Magdalene not to touch Him? Why would He told one person not to touch Him and another person to touch Him?

Context of the Commands

Jesus' command to Mary Magdalene and to Thomas had nothing to do with playing favorites or using a double standing. Jesus was not being wishy-washy or had forgotten what He said earlier. The context of the commands was entirely different.

The timing and place of the gestures had everything to do with the commands.

  • Notice that Jesus met Mary Magdalene in the garden BEFORE He had returned to His Father. That was His explanation to Mary for not allowing her to touch Him. Reread John 20:17.
  • Notice that Jesus had the conversation with doubting Thomas in the upper room AFTER He had returned to His Father and was back on earth for 40 days before ascending to His Father.

Besides, Jesus needed to give doubting Thomas proof of His resurrection. Mary was already assured of His resurrection. Jesus proved that to her by calling her name. She immediately said, "Rabonni" which indicated she knew who He was. Thomas needed proof.

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Hopefully, the above explanation satisfies your curiosity about why Jesus told Mary one thing and Thomas just the opposite.

Remember and reflect on the timing and the reasons for the two opposite commands.

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