Question

Islam asserts that Jesus did not die because he had not ascended immediately after the resurrection. Is this true? - John 20:17

Answer

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.'"

Islam asserts that Jesus did not die because he did not ascend immediately after the resurrection.

First, Jesus is God and he can decide when to ascend and not to ascend. He obeyed the Father's will (John 6:38; cf. 4:34) and did so perfectly (1 Pet. 1:19; Heb. 4:15).

Second, we need to look at the full context of what is happening. In John 20, eight times before John 20:17, the word "tomb" is used (John 20:1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and twice in John 20:11). Mary said to Peter, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb," which implies he was dead and couldn't have removed himself (John 20:2). She thought someone had stolen Jesus' dead body. Peter went to the grave and noted that Jesus was no longer "inside" (John 20:5-8). Luke tells us what was happening:

Luke 24:5-8 . . . the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" Then they remembered his words.

Notice again the phrase "among the dead." Moreover, John 20:17 is sandwiched on the other end by literal proof of the resurrection from the dead when he appears to Thomas (John 20:24-29).

The evidence of this chapter/passage clearly reveals that Jesus died and was resurrected from the dead. So, what is the meaning of this passage? Here he says "touch me not," but in other places (Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:39; John 20:24-2) he says "touch me." Is this a contradiction?

A little Greek can assist us. In the verse, "do not touch me" - me mou haptou - is employing what we call the present imperative tense. The present tense is used for expressing continued action. This then is a "prohibition," or STOP touching me. A prohibition in the present imperative demands that an action then in progress be stopped. A better translation then of this phrase would be "stop touching, holding onto, grapsing me" (cf. NASB and/or Kenneth S. Wuest's Expanded Translation). So, Mary was already touching the literal Jesus and he commanded her to stop.

But why? Why must Mary stop? John Calvin explains:

Touch me not. This appears not to agree with the narrative of Matthew; for he expressly says, that the women held him By The Feet, and worshipped him, (Matthew 28:9.) Now, since he allowed himself to be touched by his disciples, what reason was there for forbidding Mary to touch him? The answer is easy, provided that we remember that the women were not repelled from touching Christ, till their eagerness to touch him had been carried to excess; for, so far as it was necessary for removing doubt, he unquestionably did not forbid them to touch him, but, perceiving that their attention was too much occupied with embracing his feet, he restrained and corrected that immoderate zeal. They fixed their attention on his bodily presence, and did not understand any other way of enjoying his society than by conversing with him on the earth. We ought, therefore, to conclude, that they were not forbidden to touch him, until Christ saw that, by their foolish and unreasonable desire, they wished to keep him in the world.

For I am not yet ascended to my Father. We ought to attend to this reason which he adds; for by these words he enjoins the women to restrain their feelings, until he be received into the heavenly glory. In short, he pointed out the design of his resurrection; not such as they had imagined it to be, that, after having returned to life, he should triumph in the world, but rather that, by his ascension to heaven, he should enter into the possession of the kingdom which had been promised to him, and, seated at the right hand of the Father, should govern the Church by the power of his Spirit. The meaning of the words therefore is, that his state of resurrection would not be full and complete, until he should sit down in heaven at the right hand of the Father; and, therefore, that the women did wrong in satisfying themselves with having nothing more than the half of his resurrection, and desiring to enjoy his presence in the world.

Therefore, what Jesus was saying was: I'm not finished yet. The state of my resurrection is not full and complete, as I have not yet ascended unto my Father. So, don't be satisfied with having nothing more than my resurrection, as there is a lot more to come. I will ascend unto the Father; I will send the Holy Spirit; I will make you witnesses, etc.

Oh Christian, there is much more to understand here:

Col. 1:3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Jesus is alive! He is risen - HE IS RISEN - from the dead and sits at the right hand of God! Rejoice with me:

Psalm 24:7-10 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.

Please see Christianity and Islam Contrasted

Reference

Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Jn 20:17). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).