The name “Mary Magdalene” can evoke different images to various people. Many see her as a deranged woman suffering from being possessed by demons, while others view her as a fallen woman, even a prostitute. Although the Biblical record is not silent on the matter, we are only given a few details about the life of Mary Magdalene in the Bible – and you may be surprised what the Scripture does and doesn’t say! While the facts of Mary’s life are sketchy, at best, one thing is perfectly clear: Mary Magdalene loved Jesus, and Jesus loved her. In fact, her story will forever remain entwined with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The name “Mary” occurs 51 times in the New Testament and is taken from the Old Testaments names of Miriam and Mara, which mean “bitter”. The root of the name “Mary” is derived from the notion of trouble and sorrow (Lockyer, All the Women of The Bible, p. 92.) Being a common name during this time period, this Mary was distinguished from all others by being referred to as “The Magdalene”, which identifies her as being born in Magdala, a thriving city on the coast of Galilee about three miles from Capernaum. The city of Magdala was known for its primitive textile factories and dye works. While it is only speculation, it could be that Mary Magdalene was connected in some way with that industry, which would have enabled her to help support the ministry of Jesus, as she was known to have done.
There is nothing in the Biblical record of Mary’s family life. The Scripture does not list her parentage, any family members, her marital status, or her age. The gospel accounts of her life suggest that she had no family obligations, thus freeing her to follow Jesus in His traveling ministry.
While many equate Mary Magdalene with the woman of Luke 7:37 “which was a sinner” or the woman caught in adultery in John 8:3, there is not the slightest evidence in the gospel narratives or in the writings of the early church fathers to support the claim that Mary Magdalene had ever been a woman of ill repute. What the Bible does tell us about her is that she had been possessed by seven demons, which probably caused her to have bouts of insanity, and that Jesus cast them out of her, freeing her from that awful malady (Luke 8:2). Being delivered from her tormenting captors, Mary became a disciple of Jesus, to whom she showed great love and devotion. Along with other women, Mary gave both personal and financial support to the ministry of Jesus, following Him from place to place in his missionary activities.
Mary Magdalene is mentioned fourteen times in the gospels and from that record we can compose a sketchy profile of her life. It is worth noting that in eight of the fourteen instances that she is mentioned, Mary is named in connection with other women, of which she is always named first. This would lead us to believe that she occupied the place at the front in service rendered by godly women. In the five times she is mentioned alone, it is connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:9; John 20:1, 11, 16, 18).
Forever faithful to her Lord, Mary Magdalene was among the last at the cross to witness Christ’s death and, following Joseph of Arimathea to see where Jesus’ body would be laid, she was the last to leave His tomb after night had fallen. Intending to honor Christ by anointing His body with spices and perfumes, she was the first to visit the tomb on resurrection morning and the first to carry the news that Jesus had risen from the dead.
What a great honor God bestowed upon Mary in permitting her to be the first witness of His resurrection! The gospel of John tells us best of what happened that day. Mary was at the tomb at first light that first Easter morning. How surprised she must have been to see the stone rolled away! Peering in the cave she saw that it was empty, which made her weep. After finding the grave empty Mary rushed to find Peter and John and blurted out “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher and we know not where they have laid him”. Peter and John went to the tomb with Mary and found that she told them the truth, but they left, departing “to their own homes”. But Mary stayed. It was then, after speaking to two angels, that Jesus revealed himself to Mary.
After comforting her, Jesus commissioned Mary to be the first messenger of His resurrection. It was her job to “go to the brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God” (John 20:17). What an honor to be the first to herald the resurrection!
There is much we can learn from the life of Mary Magdalene. In her life we can see just how much Christ can do for a woman. He delivered her afflicted, tormented soul and healed her of all her afflictions, leaving her a changed woman.
Through her life we not only learn what Christ can do for us, but what we can do for Him. His great love and compassion toward her completely changed her life and led Mary to become a faithful, sacrificial follower. So grateful for her deliverance, Mary practiced her faith by following Jesus and ministering to Him and his disciples out of her financial means and taking care of their physical needs. Her gratitude and love manifested itself in her devotion to Christ.
Christ’s work for Mary Magdalene and her loving ministration to Him constitute the type of elevation of woman to the rank of friendship with man. She was no longer to be considered a slave or servant, but his co-worker and equal, capable of accepting equal responsibilities and sharing equally in the results.
Mary Magdalene owed much, gave much, loved much and served much. She is a wonderful example of a woman whose life was poured out in response to God’s extravagant grace.