Of all the women we’ve studied thus far, I do believe Mary Magdalene’s story may be the most difficult to tell. First, she’s extremely misunderstood. Half of what people believe about her isn’t even biblical. Then, each gospel writer tells her story in a different way, and it’s hard to put them together.
Mary Magdalene in the Bible
We first meet Mary Magdalene in Luke 8 where we’re told that Jesus traveled around the countryside preaching the gospel in every town and city. And with Him were the twelve disciples as well as women such as Mary Magdalene who had been healed from evil spirits. Out of Mary had come seven demons. Mary and other women provided for the financial needs of Jesus and His disciples.
We next see her at the crucifixion. Mark and John both tell us that Mary and other women were at Calvary, watching from afar what was happening to Jesus. And when evening came and Jesus was declared dead, the women watched as Joseph of Arimathea took the body down from the cross, carried Him to a tomb and laid Him inside, then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
On Sunday morning, once the Sabbath was past, Mary and the other women returned to the tomb so that they might anoint Jesus’ body with spices which they had prepared. On the way, they discussed how they would remove the giant stone so that they could get inside the tomb. But when they got there, they saw that the stone was rolled away.
Now, here’s where it gets confusing. Mark tells us that the women went inside, saw an angel who told them that Jesus had risen and for them to tell His disciples to meet Him in Galilee, but they were afraid and said nothing. Then Matthew and Luke tell the same story but say that the women remembered Jesus telling them He would rise on the third day, and they went and told the disciples what happened.
It doesn’t make sense, does it? Did they run and tell the disciples or did they tremble in fear and tell no one?
In order to understand the other gospels, we need to read John’s account as he’s the one who focuses on Mary. He tells us that when she saw that the stone had been rolled away, she ran and told Peter and John that someone had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb and she didn’t know what they’d done with Him.
So, while the other women are inside the tomb hearing from the angel, Mary is running to get help from the disciples.
Peter and John run to the tomb and go inside. They see the folded linen cloths but don’t understand what is going on. They leave and go home while Mary remains outside weeping. While she weeps, she stoops down and looks into the tomb and see two angels. They ask her why she is crying.
“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
She then turns around and sees Jesus, only she doesn’t realize it’s Him.
Jesus says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Thinking He’s the gardener, she says, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
Jesus says to her, “Mary!”
And suddenly, she knows. She wraps her arms around Him, calling Him “Rabboni!” which means Teacher.
Jesus tells her not to cling to Him for He’s not yet ascended to His father. He tells her to go to His brethren and tell them that He is ascending to His Father and their Father, to His God and their God.
So Mary does as He asks, and tells the disciples about her encounter with the resurrected Christ.
The Rest of the Story
So, we’ve looked at what the Bible tells us about Mary Magdelene, now let’s look at what it doesn’t say.
First, she is called Mary Magdalene not because that was her last name, but because she was from the city of Magdala.
She is not the same woman as the sinful woman who anointed Jesus.
Now, Magdala had a reputation for being raunchy because of the harlotry that was common there, but nothing in the Bible indicates that Mary was anything but pure in heart. Though she was possessed by demons does not mean that she was wanton.
Those who think of her as a prostitute do her memory a great disservice.
So what does it mean that she was possessed by seven demons? This would have been a legion of demons who dominated over Mary, causing her periods of insanity. Seven represents completion, so perhaps this means that because she had seven demons, that they completely took over her body.
But by the time we meet Mary in Luke 8, she had been healed and was now a faithful follower of Jesus. Since we’re told that she helped provide financially, we know that she was a woman of means, which is interesting since we would not normally associate wealth and insanity together.
Though the other women she’s connected with were also healed from demons, hers appears to have been the most extreme case. Perhaps this is why she is the most devoted. In each instance where she’s mentioned with other women, her name is first, which shows her importance. The only exception is the crucifixion where Jesus’ mother is naturally mentioned first.
As Jesus was tried and crucified, many of His followers fled, but Mary and a small group of women remained nearby, taking notice of what happened to His body so that they might return and give Him a proper anointing of oils.
Imagine her dismay when she got to the grave and it was empty. Jumping to conclusions, she ran to tell His dearest friends so that they might help her find His body. But all they did was confirm that what she said was true, then they returned to their homes.
Everyone left except Mary. Though she didn’t understand what was happening, she couldn’t leave. All she could do was cry and try to make sense of it all. And while she waited there, Jesus Himself came to comfort her. Though she didn’t recognize Him at first, as soon as He said her name, she knew.
Her tears turned to joy as He revealed Himself and sent her on a mission to tell the others that He was alive. Though the Bible doesn’t mention her again, we can safely assume that she spent as much time as possible with Jesus during His remaining days on earth.
What Can We Learn From Mary Magdalene?
While it may be difficult to fully understand Mary Magdalene’s story, it’s easy to learn from her.
Before Christ, she was a tormented soul. Though she had money, it couldn’t solve her situation. Her case looked hopeless. But once Jesus saved her, she was never the same. She spent the rest of her life forever grateful to Him, serving Him however she could.
Chances are, as bad as things may be, your situation is not nearly as desperate as that of Mary Magdalene before she met Jesus. Just as He healed her and many other men and women, offering them new lives, He can do the same for you.
Does that mean life will be perfect? Of course not! How many times does the Bible record God coming to women and telling them not to cry? But so often, we have to get to that point, where we think all hope, is gone before we can fully appreciate what He has in store for us.
We serve a risen Savior. He didn’t remain in that grave. He rose from the dead, so that we might have eternal life.
Ladies, whatever your situation, wherever you are in life, please know that He is there for you. Though you may not understand what is going on, always know that He loves you so very much! He will not abandon you. He won’t leave you weeping alone. He will wipe away your tears and redeem you in ways you can’t begin to imagine.
Lord God, in these current days, it’s so easy for us to feel discouraged and confused, wondering what’s happened. Have You Forsaken us? Thank You for this reminder that we have limited vision. Only You know the future. Thank You for always having a plan, even though we may not understand what that plan could possibly be.
Give us the strength to stand firm when those around us are faltering in their faith. Open our eyes so that we might recognize You when we see You. Provide opportunities for us to be used by You to spread the word of Your love to those around us. Forgive us those times we falter in our faith. Thank You for Your understanding. We love You. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Mary Magdalene Bible Study
Her Story: Matthew 27:41-61: 28:1-19; Luke 24:1-12; Mark 16:1-19; John 20:1-18
Bible Study Review
- What was wrong with Mary Magdalene before she was healed by Jesus?
- What was her relationship to Jesus?
- Where was she when she was greeted by the resurrected Christ?
Thoughts to Ponder
- How did Mary Magdalene react when she saw the open tomb?
- How did Mary’s reaction compare to the other women and the disciples?
- Why might Jesus have revealed Himself first to her?
- How was your life changed after meeting Christ?
- Do you ever forget God’s promises?
- Do you look forward to the day you’ll meet Jesus face to face?
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