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Studies on the Women of the Bible
by Davis W. Huckabee

Chapter 13
MARY MAGDALENE


“And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils [demons], and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance,” (Luke 8:2-3). Here is the first of fourteen references by name to Mary, a woman of the city of Magdala, which was a town on the West coast of the Sea of Galilee. She had been severely demon possessed, as is suggested by the number seven, which is often associated with completeness or the ultimate degree of something. This former demon possession is emphasized again in Mark 16:9. But Jesus cast out the demons, and she was healed of whatever infirmities this demon possession had caused. This healing caused her to be grateful forever after to her Lord and Savior, for she was one of the most dedicated of His female disciples. Someone has described her faithfulness at the end of Jesus’ life as, “Last at the cross and first at the tomb.”

This group of supporters of Jesus has been welled called, “The first women’s missionary society for the support of the Gospel.” —Robertson. Paul had been inspired to argue in Romans 15:25-27 that by partaking of spiritual blessings through the Jewish saints, the Gentile saints became obligated to minister to them of their material possessions in their time of need. This was the principle upon which these believing women moved. They had been spiritually blessed, now they are a material blessing in return. It is almost certain that Mary of Magdala was not the woman that was a sinner (prostitute) in Luke 7:37ff, as some have thought who presume this to prove that she was a prostitute before Jesus cast out the demons. Demon possession took many forms in the First Century as is shown by a consideration of the different people that were so possessed by demons. If any woman’s demon possession resulted in her being a prostitute, it is not emphasized in Scripture.

It is tragic how often people let their imagination run away with them, as in the case of those modern people that think that Mary Magdalene was either the wife or the lover of Jesus, of which wicked theory there is no evidence of it being true. People of the world often cannot think any higher than their own crotches. Presently (2009) there is a wicked movie being released in Europe that pictures Jesus and His apostles as a group of homosexuals. Of course, this is simply an endeavor by spiritually blind people to try to justify their own wicked lifestyles, and it manifests what Scripture says of such people—God has given them over to a reprobate mind, (Rom. 1:21-28). Nothing so distorts the mind like giving oneself over to what God condemns. And though we do not know why, homosexuality seems especially to draw down God’s wrath so that He gives such over to wrong thinking. When the citadel of the mind is breeched by error, there is little hope of it ever being able to think sanely in regard to spiritual truth.

Of Joanna and Susanna we know nothing except what is written here in Luke 8:2-3. Some have speculated that Chuza was the nobleman who believed with all his household in John 4:46-53, but there is no evidence of this. However there is another intriguing possibility as to how Joanna became a follower of Jesus. Since Chuza was a steward in Herod’s house and John the Baptist was imprisoned, apparently not far from where Herod’s throne was, it is possible that both she and her husband had heard the Gospel from John and had believed on the coming Savior as a result. Certainly there were sometimes conversions within royal households as a result of imprisoned preachers, (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). In any case, there were several well-to-do women that had been blessed by the Lord’s ministry, and these all, in turn, ministered to the material needs of Jesus and His followers.

Just when Mary Magdalene and the others first began to minister to Jesus with their possessions is intimated in Matthew 27:55-56. “And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mazy the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children (Salome, Mark 15:40].” Jesus’ Galilean ministry is recorded as beginning in Matthew 4:12, and in verse 25 there is recorded that great multitudes of people followed Him from these localities. Was this when these women first began to minister to Jesus’ and the disciples’ material needs? If so, then they ministered for two years or more, and there would certainly have been a continuing need for such supplies all through Jesus’ ministry.

Certainly He that created and upholds all things, (Col. 1:16-17), and Who owns the cattle upon a thousand hills, (Ps. 50:10), would have had no problem supplying Himself and His followers’ needs. He did so by miracles on occasion in order to impress the multitude with His deity. But He submitted Himself and His followers’ needs to the supply of others, First, as a part of His humiliation to be in the likeness of men, who often suffer need. Second, to test the willingness of those that had been saved by Him as to whether they had pity for the needs of others. And Third, to teach the importance of one using his possessions in ways that glorify God by furthering His kingdom.

As we approach the end of Jesus’ life we find these numerous women more and more prominent, and they are at the Cross when Jesus is crucified as recorded in Matthew 27:55-56. They had continually ministered to Him throughout His ministry, so where would they now be, but standing by in great love and sympathy. Greek scholar Marvin R. Vincent says that the Greek pronoun rendered “which” in verse 55 denotes a special class. These were a regular body of His followers, having constantly followed Him and ministered to His material needs during His travels in Galilee, and now they are with Him at the last, but Mary Magdalene stands out as the scenario develops.

When the death of Jesus takes place and His body is taken down from the Cross Joseph of Arimathea requests the body and lays it in His own new tomb. There were numerous other women besides Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome, Zebedee’s wife, (Mark 15:40-47) and these all behold where His body was laid. This being laid in a new tomb has led someone to characterize Jesus’ life as being “From a virgin womb to a virgin tomb!” Because of the press of time, the High Day of the Passover being about to begin, these women make plans to come back later to embalm Jesus’ body, and Mary Magdalene was the foremost in her concern.

It has been commonly supposed that Mary Magdalene was a woman of abandoned character, but of this there is not the least evidence. All that we know of her is that she was formerly grievously afflicted by the presence of those evil spirits, that she was perfectly cured by Jesus, and that afterward she became one of his most faithful and humble followers. She was at his crucifixion (John 19:25) and burial (Mark 15:47), and she was among those who had prepared the materials to embalm him (Mark 16:1), and who first went to the sepulchre after the resurrection. And what is particularly interesting in her history, she was the first to whom the risen Redeemer appeared (Mark 16:9), and his conversation with her is exceeded in interest and pathos by no passage of history, sacred or profane, John 20:11-18.—Albert Barnes, Notes On The Old and New Testaments, Volume on Luke and John, p. 55.

Upon the arrival of Mary Magdalene and the others on the first day of the week they are in question as to who will roll away the heavy stone door to Joseph’s tomb so that they can minister to Jesus’ body, (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:3-5). The Greek verb for “said” in Mark 16:3 is imperfect in tense—they kept on asking this question. But this is all needless, for, behold, an angel has caused an earthquake to open the tomb for them, and the angel still waits to explain. God is always ahead of His people in preparation. Let us learn from this that though problems and difficulties are the common lot of the Lord’s people in this world, yet the Lord has promised to take care of all these. Our chief duty is to seek to the Lord with a willingness to worship and serve Him; the problems are His to remove, and He will do so as it pleases Him. However He often tests our faith and obedience by the presence of seemingly insurmountable problems but faith should simply turn them over to the Almighty, All-wise God.

In order to harmonize the statements of all the writers we must note the following. These began their journey to the tomb “in the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” (Matt. 28:1), “when it was yet dark,’ John 20:1, but they do not arrive until the new day has dawned. “They” are not identified here, but the reference is back to the women mentioned in Matthew 27:55-56. It had been shown in Mark 16:1 that Mary Magdalene was accompanied by Mary, the wife of Cleopas or Alphaeus, and mother of James the less and Joses. Subsequently, Luke will record in V10 that Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and other women were with them. We know not how many of these women there were together, but a minimum of six is required by the language used.

Upon entering the tomb they see an angel. The different Gospel accounts describe him as “an angel,” (Matt.), “a young man,” (Mark) because angels often appeared in the likeness of men, and “two angels,” (Luke). But contrary to skeptics, these are not contradictions. As “ministering spirits,” (Heb. 1:14), angels could appear or disappear as their commission required, and could, and did appear in different forms as it pleased the Lord. These two angels remain on the scene as we see from their appear­ance to Mary Magdalene later, (John 20:11-18), and vary their positions, yet they are seen by humans only as needed to fulfill their commission. Often they are “angels unawares,” (Heb. 13:2).

In Matthew 28:2, he is called “the angel of the Lord;” but here he is described as he appeared to the eye, in the bloom of a life that knows no decay. In Matthew he is represented as sitting on the stone outside the sepulchre; but since even there he says, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (28:6), he seems, as Alford says, to have gone in with them from without; only awaiting their arrival to accompany them into the hallowed spot, and instruct them about it. —David Brown, in Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, A Commentary Critical. Experimental and Practical On The Old And New Testaments, Vol. V, p. 213.

These angels first ask a question that implies astonishment, (Luke 24:5): “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” and then reminded them that Jesus had repeatedly foretold His resurrection. They invite them to come into the tomb and see where He had formerly lain. At this point in the narrative both Matthew 28:7 and Mark 16:7 reveal that the women are commanded to go tell the disciples about the resurrection and that Jesus would go before them and meet them in Galilee. And though not mentioned, there would be several meetings of Jesus with His disciples before the meeting in Galilee. It is especially significant that the angel charged them to also deliver this encouraging word to Peter (Mark)—yes, even to this one that, so arrogantly sufficient a short time before, nevertheless forsook Jesus when He was arrested, and later denied Him three times.

It is possible that the apostles and disciples were not all gathered in the same place, and that the women divided up to deliver this message to the different groups. Mary Magdalene is singled out as the one that quickly ran to deliver the message to Peter that Jesus’ body had been taken away and they knew not where, (John 20:2-3). Another intriguing thought is, that perhaps Peter was in John’s house, for they both run together to the tomb. If so, then Mary Magdalene’s message would have had great bearing on Mary the mother of Jesus, whom John and taken into his own home. As a pitiful woman, Mary Magdalene would have felt great concern for the feelings of this other bereft woman.

Both Peter and John race to the tomb, accompanied by Mary Magdalene, but John, being the younger, outruns Peter, but he timidly stops at the entrance to the tomb while Peter, always the brash one, bursts on inside. Here they find all the grave clothes intact, including that which was wrapped about Jesus’ head. Several theories, some of them quite intriguing, have been put forth to explain this, but none of them take into account that Jesus rose from the dead in a new, glorified body that is not subject to time or space. What is suggested here is that His body passed through all these wrappings, napkins, etc., without disturbing them, nor disarraying them from the form that they held when His body was inside. Later the same glorious character­istic is seen when Jesus appears in a closed and locked room, (John 20:19), without having to come through a door, a window or down the chimney. And this is the glorious body that is to be given to each saint at the resurrection when Jesus returns to earth.

John is convinced by all this that Jesus has risen from the dead, although Peter went away still in a state of doubt that will not be convinced until Jesus makes a special appearance to him in a glorious new body, (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-33). This was what Jesus apparently did to His own younger half-brother James, (1 Cor. 15:7). These two apostles return to their homes, and Mary Magdalene continues at the tomb, weeping in frustration that someone has apparently stolen the body of her beloved Lord.

The tenses of the inspired Greek give us an insight into Mary’s actions, for “stood” is imperfect, indicating that she had been standing here since arriving with the two men. And she continue to do so, for she is perplexed at what has happened to her Lord, and it breaks her noble heart that she cannot pay her last respects to His body.

Her heartbreak is evidenced by her continual wailing. The Greek word for weeping (klaio) indicates loud, vocal expressions of grief, such as is so common among Eastern mourners. Her weeping evidenced her love, but not her faith, for she, like the others, had not believed Jesus’ promise to rise again, and so, she had no hope at this time.

Here, once more, the Holy Spirit shows us that love needs to be regulated by faith. It was love for Christ that caused her to weep; she was weeping because the sepulchre was empty, yet in fact that was the very thing which should have made her rejoice. Had the Lord’s body been still there, she might have wept indeed, for then His promise had failed. His work on the cross had been in vain, and she (and all others) yet in her sins.—A. W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, Vol. 3, p. 270.

As she stands and wails she stoops and looks down into the sepulchre and sees the two angels again, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body lay, (John 20:11-12), but she sees with unseeing eyes. Peter and John had not seen these, and the other women had seen, some one, and some two, of them because the angels can be visible or invisible as their commission may require.

The angels question her as to why she is weeping and she explains that she thinks that someone has stolen Jesus’ body and she knows not where it is. She then turns around and sees Jesus but does not recognize Him All sorts of speculation has been made about why this was so—her tear-filled eyes, the morning obscurity, or the converse, the sun shining in her eyes, or that, as a modest woman she did not look directly at Him, et al. But the most likely reason is that she did not recognize Him for the same reason that the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not—”their eyes were holden,” (Luke 24:16). And indeed, it is declared in Mark 16:12 that when he appeared to these two disciples it was “in another form.”

We must remember that the resurrection body is radically different from the natural body, being actually a glorified body. So glorious will His body be when He returns in the full radiance of His glory that it will literally consume people as if they were at ground zero when an atomic bomb is exploded, II Thes. 2:8. Doubtless Jesus had to partially veil the glory of His resurrection body for the sake of His disciples, and this would partially account for Mary Magdalene not recognizing Him when she first sees Him there outside the garden tomb.

Jesus questions her as to why she weeps so, using the same question that one of the angels had used, and she, supposing Him to be the groundskeeper, explains and offers to take the body away for decent interment if He will but show her where it is. Only one word from Jesus is necessary for Mary to recognize Him—He simply calls her name, (John 20:16). To Moses Jehovah had said, “I know thee by name, and thou hast found grace in my sight,” (Ex. 33:12), and now the incarnate Jehovah, risen from the dead, proves this again as He had said in John 10:14. Her reply is also one word­ “Rabboni”—a Galilean word that means “Lord’ as in its only other appearance in the New Testament, (Mark 10:51). This term is similar in meaning to Rabbi—Teacher—but some think that it shows greater respect.

Many have completely misunderstood Jesus’ command to Mary Magdalene in John 20:17, for the English Version is not a good translation and takes no account of the Greek case form, which is imperative, and so, is a prohibition of something already going on. The Greek word haptou has to do, not with a mere touch, but with a fasten­ing on to or clinging to something. Jesus did not forbid her to touch Him—indeed He allowed Himself to be touched by others, (Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:39; John 20:27)—but rather He forbade her trying to hold Him so as to restrain Him from ever leaving her. Her old knowledge of Him “after the flesh,” (2 Cor. 5:16), must give way to a new know­ledge of Him only in a spiritual sense. For soon He will no longer be visible to the eye of flesh, but only to the eye of faith and their communion will be totally spiritual.

With the fact established of His new relationship to His people, Mary is given a commission to go to the Lord’s brethren—not His half-brothers according to the flesh—but those that have God the Father as their Father in common with Jesus. Jesus’ words are in the light of Psalm 22:22 and Isaaih 8:18, on which texts see the inspired inter­pretation of their meaning in Hebrews 2:11-13,17. But a distinction must be noted in what Jesus said and did not say. It is to be noted that He did not say ‘our Father and our God,” for this would be to lower Himself to their level. In saying my Father and your Father... my God and your God,” He associates them together with Him, yet still mani­fests the distinction between Himself and them so far as their natures are concerned. For all of our blessed closeness of fellowship with our Lord, we must never let ourselves assume an undue familiarity with our Lord. We need to keep in mind the fact stated in Ecclesiastes 5:1-2. He is the sovereign Creator of all things. We are but creatures of the dust.

Mary now hastens to where the Apostles are gathered with the glad news that their Lord is risen from the dead. It is to be noted that she does not refer to Him by His human name, but rather by the term “Lord,” for by the resurrection He has been proven to be the Son of God in the fullest sense, Rom. 1:4. “Jesus made Mary Magdalene an Apostle to the Apostles.” —Brentius.

Matthew 28:9-10 records that Jesus also appeared to the other women as they went on the way back from the empty tomb. And to these He gives a like commission to that which He gave to Mary Magdalene—to go tell the disciples that they too had seen the risen Christ and that He is alive forever more!

Several commentators have noted that it was by means of a woman in a garden that the Tree of Life was lost to mankind, and death came upon all men. And it was by means of another woman in another garden that the glorious message of the resurrection of the “Seed of the woman” by which the Tree of Life was restored, was delivered. Thus, it was most appropriate that Mary Magdalene was chosen to be the first messenger of Jesus’ resurrection. Last at the Cross, first at the tomb, and first to proclaim the resurrection was this faithful woman of Magdala. Here ends the last reference to this remarkable woman.

In her and in all the Apostles we see the sad truth that so stubborn is unbelief that no earthly power can convince it of the Truth. This is why God must always put forth the effectual power of sovereign grace to overcome sin. But praise God, where sin abounds, grace superabounds, and then some more on top of that, as the inspired text of Romans 5:20-21 reads.

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