If Jesus Rose from the Dead, then (#6) the Women Would Have Known It First

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After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. (Matthew 28:1-6)

Jesus had a large following of women. We will try to unravel the confusion of their names shortly (there were a lot named “Mary”), although that is not our ultimate purpose here. Our purpose is to contemplate that it was the women who were the first to be told Jesus had risen from the dead and the first to see the risen Lord. In fact, according to the gospel records, the angels spoke to no one else except the women. And, it was the women who were given charge to inform the disciples.

This is remarkable, given the prevailing view toward women in the Jewish culture of that day. Although it pains me to go through it, consider the following: *

  • Josephus, in his “Antiquity of the Jews” under “The Polity Settled by Moses” states, “Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.” Although this rule is not in the Scripture, Josephus lists it as a rule from Moses that was being followed.
  • Consider this next one in light of the fact that the news of the resurrection was first given to, and only given to, women: A Rabbinical text (Sotah 19a) states “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women.” Think just how stark this is! Let the words of the Law be burnt? How much more extreme could one get in order to show the disgust of the thought that God’s Word might be delivered to women?
  • Or this Rabbinical text (Kiddushin 82b): “Happy is he whose children are male, but unhappy is he whose children are female!” Imagine being a daughter living in a world like that.
  • And maybe most devastating of all we have the daily prayer of every Jewish man in which he ended with this benediction: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has not created me a woman.” (Berachos 60b)

Although this seems foreign to us now because Jesus changed all of this (although God’s Word never put women in this position), we need to understand the view toward women in that day in order to feel the weight of what God did at the resurrection. It is also important as a rebuttal to those who vainly try to posit that the resurrection was a myth created by the disciples. No Jewish male would write such a thing in which it was women who first heard the good news from the angels. And, that it was to the women that Jesus first showed Himself. This is unthinkable if one were making it all up. If you wanted to create a story in that culture to convince people Jesus rose from the dead, you wouldn’t make your key witnesses women.

But God did. And He did it in spades.

The gospel accounts tell us that there were many women who followed Jesus and ministered to Him. When He was crucified, they were standing by watching, and no doubt, grieving. From Matthew:

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:55-56)

From Mark:

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40)

And John tells us this:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25) 

Additionally, as we saw in our opening verses from Matthew:

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1)

Matthew used this phrase, “the other Mary” earlier as he described Joseph burying Jesus:

 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb (Matthew 27:61).

There are a lot of women named Mary in the gospel accounts!

It was a common name.

So, this brings us to some of the confusion, and sometimes a source of rebuttal regarding perceived contradictions in the account of the women: “which Mary are we talking about?” I’ll give you my take on how to gain some clarity on who is who.

The gospels record what appears to be five different women named Mary who are prominently mentioned in the crucifixion/burial/resurrection accounts:

  1. Mary, mother of Jesus (Matthew)
  2. Mary, wife of Clopas (John)
  3. Mary, mother of James and Joseph (MatthewMarkLuke)
  4. Mary Magdalene (MatthewMarkLukeJohn)
  5. Mary, “the other Mary” (Matthew)


Number (1) Mary, the mother of Jesus, and (4) Mary Magdalene are easy for us to distinguish. It is the other three: (2) Mary, wife of Clopas; (4) Mary, mother of James and Joseph; and (5) “the other Mary” that need to be examined. I will tell you up front that I believe these are all the same person.

When Matthew and Mark tell us there were two women who saw where Jesus was laid, Matthew says it was Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary”. Mark states it is Mary Magdalene and the mother of Joses. This would lead us to believe that the “other Mary” is the mother of Joses. Do we have any other evidence of this? Yes. When Matthew, Mark and John tell us that there were women standing off looking at the crucifixion, it is clear Mary the mother of Jesus was there, Mary Magdalene was there, and Salome was there. Matthew just refers to her as “the mother of the sons of Zebedee”, whom we know to be Salome who asked Jesus for her sons, James and John, to sit at places of honor in the kingdom in Matthew 20:20-21. Mark just names her Salome. But there is a fourth woman there at the cross. Matthew calls her “the mother of James and Joseph” and Mark describes her as the mother of James the younger and Joses, which is another way to say Joseph. John, however, describes this fourth woman differently. Is this another woman or the same. I believe it is the same.

Let’s look again at what John records:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25). 

I believe you should read this as “Mary the wife of Clopas” being an appositive of “his mother’s sister”. This is the better understanding from the Greek, which gives the form x and y and z. There are only two conjunctions here.

When we put this all together we find that this fourth woman at the cross was Mary, the sister of Jesus’ mother, the wife of Clopas, and the mother of James and Joseph, sometimes called Joses. It may seem strange to have two sisters named Mary, but it is possible she was a half-sister.

So, we have three named Mary. We will internally rename them so that we don’t get confused:

  1. Mary, the mother of Jesus
  2. Aunt Mary, the sister of Jesus’ mother and therefore Jesus’ aunt; the wife of Clopas, the mother of James and Joseph
  3. Magdalene, Mary Magdalene

You can see, then, what John was faced with: 

“Near the cross of Jesus stood Mary, Mary and Mary."

If, for clarity, we use our temporary substitutions, we then have: 

“Near the cross of Jesus stood Mary, Aunt Mary and Magdalene.”

This makes so much sense for us, because there are consistently four women who are prominent in the larger resurrection narrative. When we use our substitutions, it makes it easier to understand and removes the contradictions. Who went to the tomb in Matthew 28:1? 

  • It was Magdalene and Aunt Mary.

Who followed Joseph of Arimathea to see where the body of Jesus was laid in Matthew 27:61 and Mark 15:47? 

  • Magdalene and Aunt Mary.

Who does Matthew and Mark list at the cross in Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40?

  • Magdalene, Aunt Mary and Salome

Who does Mark list as bringing spices to the tomb in Mark 16:1?

  • Magdalene, Aunt Mary and Salome  

Hopefully, that will help clear up some of the confusion when one comes to reading about the women and their part in the resurrection story. It may also give you a greater appreciation for Aunt Mary and her prevalent role.

But let’s now return to our purpose of the key role women played in the resurrection account. The women, first of all, were no small part of the life of Jesus. They were following Him from town to town and sacrificially providing for Him. Here is Luke’s account:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1-3)

Here we find two more names: Joanna and Susanna. They are listed here because Jesus had cured them of demons and disease. Joanna is listed as one of the women who is found testifying of the risen Jesus to the skeptical disciples. (Luke 24:10)

We don’t know the background of Mary Magdalene. What we do know, however, is that Jesus healed her of seven demons, as we just read above. Whether the number seven is taken literally or figuratively, they had completely consumed her. But then Jesus touched her life and she was made whole. Her subsequent dedication to Him is found throughout His final days and resurrection.

If we follow John’s account: Mary Magdalene came early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, to the tomb. Was she doing what she had seen Jesus do countless times—seek the Father early in the mornings? No doubt she was still heavily grieving the loss of her Lord. Shockingly, the stone had been rolled away. She went into the tomb and found the Lord’s body gone. This must have been emotionally devastating to her. She was crushed. Her Lord had been savagely scourged, then crucified and put to death and buried in a tomb. And now, on top of all of that, someone had taken His body and violated his grave. She must have been in shock as she ran to tell Peter, who then, with John, ran to the tomb and also found it empty. The men returned home. No angel appeared to them.

But Magdalene, who had followed them, was left standing outside the tomb, weeping deeply. And as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb again and saw two angels, one at the head where Jesus had lain and one at the feet. They asked her why she was weeping and she said that it was because they had taken away the Lord’s body and she didn’t know where it was. Poor Mary, so filled with grief, eyes so full of tears, a heart so deep in pain. Maybe this is why it appears as if she didn’t even recognized them as angels. Her world was turned upside down. Her heart, no doubt, was wrenched and her world in complete turmoil… until, someone behind her asked: “Who are you seeking?”

And then Jesus called her name. 


And, for this woman, nothing would ever be the same again. Oh, what unspeakable joy! He was alive! He had conquered the grave!

The women were the first to know the tomb was empty. They were the first to see the risen Lord. They were second-class citizens. Of no account. But God blessed them mightily—the God who has a heart for the lowly and the outcast; the God who has compassion for the oppressed and the downtrodden. 

And this is the God who called your name. He is the One who called mine. And that is why, for those of us in Christ, nothing will ever be the same again.

Who are you seeking?

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* Thanks to William Lane Craig, “Reasonable Faith”, for these quotes, page 367

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