Chapter 1.
Historical Aspect

Chapter 2.
Theological Aspect

Three Days and
Three Nights

Mary Magdelane
at the Tomb

Chapter 3.
Experiental Aspect

Also by
Arthur Custance

How Did Jesus Die?

by Arthur C. Custance, Ph.D.

We have yet one aspect of the bodily Resurrection which seems to me to have tremendous theological importance, even though some of the most renowned authors of books on the subject of this Paper have not seen fit to pay any attention to it. For this, we need to put together four passages of Scripture which seem in a special way to be so obviously related that I cannot believe we are simply reading into Scripture more than we are intended to do. The first of these is found in John 20:11-18. I think it is desirable to quote this passage in full, and to note that what immediately precedes it (verses 1-10) tell how Mary Magdalene had come to the tomb very early on Sunday morning, while it was yet dark, and found to her surprise that the stone had been rolled away. She immediately ran to tell Peter and John that someone had removed the Lord's body. These two disciples ran together to the tomb, John getting there first but hesitating about entering it, while Peter coming up behind him ran straight on in, in his characteristically impetuous manner. Then these disciples "went away again unto their own home," apparently fully convinced that Jesus was not there, but not realizing that He had really raised from the dead.

Meanwhile, Mary had arrived back at the tomb and stood there, overcome with grief and perhaps a little bewildered. Scripture records what followed (John 20:11-18):

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?

She said unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

Jesus said unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?

She, supposing him to be the gardener, said unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou has laid him, and I will take him away.

And Jesus said unto her, Mary.

And she turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni!

Jesus said 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.

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had spoken these things unto her.

The particular circumstance which I wish to comment upon is that fact that the Lord did not allow her to touch Him (verse 17), and to explore the reason which He gave for denying her at this time what He invited the other disciples to do later (Luke 24:39).

I have seen it argued that there was a peculiarly close attachment on the part of Mary Magdalene to the Lord's Person and that it was this attachment which the Lord was forbidding her to give expression to because He now bore a different relationship to all His disciples. But, it seems to me clear from the Lord's words that He meant something much more significant. He said, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father." In what way could His ascension to His Father change the propriety of allowing those who loved Him to touch Him? The words are meaningless unless one assumes that after He had once ascended to His Father, such personal contact would then be allowable. But this in turn indicates that after the ascension to His Father He would come back to the disciples in such a form, i.e., bodily, as to be accessible to them in this sense. So the use of the word "ascension" here cannot logically be equated with His ascension into heaven at the end of the forty days, though many Bibles assume that it does by giving a reference at this point to the Ascension.

I think we have a clue as to the significance of the Lord's words in the fact that He instructed Mary to go and tell the disciples, "my brethren," as the Lord so beautifully puts it, that He was about to "ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and to your God." It seems to me important to note that on three occasions Jesus referred to His Father by the more austere title God. The first of these occasions is in Hebrews 10:7, at which point we seem to be given a momentary glimpse of the events which transpired at the very instant when the Lord entered into the little baby which Mary bore and actually became a part of our world of time and space. It might be possible to speak of it as "the moment of Incarnation." In verse 5 the announcement is made in heaven that when "he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared me..." And in verse 7, "Then said I, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God."

The second occasion must surely be the most familiar of all: at the time of the Crucifixion, when darkness fell upon the world and all our sin was laid upon Him -- which, after all, was the time of the fulfillment of Hebrews 10:7 -- when the Lord cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).

We have, then, two occasions recorded, in both of which, clearly, there is implied a special relationship between Jesus Christ and His Father in which the crucial factor was not one of love and sonship, but one of judgment. In the first, the Lamb was offering Himself as a sacrifice, addressing Himself to God as Judge. And in the second case He is again appealing, as the Lamb being sacrificed, not to His Father, but to His God.

And in the third case with which we are concerned in the present passage, the Lord is evidently still seeing Himself in two roles. He is now fully restored to fellowship with the Father, but He has yet apparently to present before God as the sacrificial Lamb some essential symbol of the completed sacrifice. In some mystical way this symbol is His blood, the blood of the Lamb.

In the Old Testament temple ordinances, after making the sacrifice on behalf of the people according to the Law of Moses, the High Priest took some of the blood which was the proof of death and entering into the Holy of Holies poured it upon the Ark of the Covenant which contained the two Tables of the Law. This was practical acknowledgment of the fact that God's Law had been broken and that an innocent sacrifice of life had been made in recognition of the penalty. We know from the New Testament that these Mosaic institutions were symbolic, shadows of a heavenly reality. This reality is outlined in some detail in Hebrews 9:12-24. The last two verses of this passage read as follows:

It was therefore necessary that the copies [RSV] of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the copies of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.

I am convinced that when Mary Magdalene encountered the Lord He was, as High Priest, about to ascend to the Holy of Holies in heaven, there in some way beyond precise description to present His blood not only before His Father but before His God and the God of His brethren. To have touched Him at that moment would have been an act of desecration. This ascension, then, was not the Ascension which occurred forty days later when He passed out of visual contact with His disciples.

Shortly after, in what seems to have been a matter of hours, He appeared to the disciples and this time had not the slightest hesitation in allowing them to handle Him, indeed He invited them to do so and to see that it really was He, bodily, who stood among them. Moreover, they held Him by the feet (Matthew 28:9). The highly significant thing to my mind is that when the Lord offered Himself to their uninhibited examination in proof of His real identity he said (Luke 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.

What I think is so important here is that the Holy Spirit has not adopted the commonly accepted phrase in the New Testament for a living person, namely, "flesh and blood." I cannot think this was an accident.

In the Old Testament it is common to find the phrase "flesh and bones," and it will be observed that this phrase is used to indicate blood relationship and is usually accompanied by a personal pronoun (cf. Genesis 2:23; 29:14; 2 Samuel 5:1,19; 12:13). This is curious in view of the omission of the word "blood." By contrast, we do not find in the Old Testament a phrase which is descriptive of the living individual as an abstract idea and without reference to personal relationships. But in the New Testament this is not the case: with two exceptions, one of which is the present passage. The phrase "flesh and blood" is used, as will be observed by reference to 1 Corinthians 15:50, Galatians 1:16, Ephesians 6:12, and importantly, Hebrews 2:14 -- none of which are concerned with the relationship between individuals, but rather with existence of the individual per se as a living organism. The deliberate change in terminology is therefore exceptional enough that it should be noted and an explanation sought for it.

The body which the Lord now presented to the disciples -- and presumably Mary Magdalene was one of them -- was a body in which the life-giving principle, namely, the blood, upon which we are dependent, was no longer present. In some way the Lord had changed, not merely because in the new plane in which He now moved blood was no longer the source of life, but because His blood had been presented in heaven as an everlasting memorial of a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice made on our behalf.

The beautiful thing about Scripture is the way in which it supplies concordant statements almost incidentally, which one may read again and again and never see their significance -- until one day they suddenly stand out illuminated by the Holy Spirit. As we have suggested above, between the incident with Mary Magdalene at the tomb and the subsequent meeting with the disciples, a significant change had taken place in the Lord's resurrected body. The wonderful thing is that this change is reflected in Mark 16:9-12. In order to set the precise chronological order of events, the Holy Spirit tells us, through Mark, that the Lord had appeared first to Mary Magdalene and that she had immediately gone to tell the others, who were incredulous. Then in verse 12 we find these words:

After that He appeared in another form unto two of them as they walked [emphasis mine].

So we are being quietly told that a change had taken place in the form of the Lord between His appearance to Mary Magdalene and all those to whom He appeared subsequently. The Greek has en hetera morphe, which means, without a shadow of doubt, "in another form." It seems, then, that Mary Magdalene found Him as He was about to present His blood, the symbol of His death on our behalf, before God's presence as Judge, in heaven. In some way this act of presentation changed the constitution of His body from flesh and blood to flesh and bone -- albeit in a mystical sense which nonetheless was a real change in form. Mary was the only one who saw Him in that form which He bore immediately after the Resurrection. All the others saw Him in that form which He bore after He had presented His blood in heaven.

As noted above, there is one other occasion where we meet with the phrase, as it applied to the Lord's body, which was not "flesh and blood," but "flesh and bones," for we are told so very appropriately that we who now constitute His church, are members of His body, "of his flesh, and of his bones" (Ephesians 5:30).

Reverting once more to the Old Testament system of temple worship, in the Day of Atonement when the priest had carried the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies, those present must have waited breathlessly to learn whether the sacrifice had been acceptable. The signal of God's acceptance was that the High Priest re-appeared from the Holy of Holies alive, for as the bearer of an unworthy sacrifice into the very presence of God he would otherwise have been judged unfit to live. Thus, the re-appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ alive after presenting His blood was -- and is -- our final assurance that His sacrifice is indeed "full, perfect, and sufficient." Hallelujah!

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