Have you ever met a woman so misunderstood, a woman who over the centuries has been caught in endless controversies and conspiracies? And unjustly so? Well, Mary Magdalene is just that woman! From the writing of the New Testament to the filming of The Da Vinci Code, her image has been repeatedly conscripted, contorted and contradicted. She has been labeled a prostitute, a promiscuous woman, and the “sinful woman” with alabaster jar of fragrance. In fact some believe she was the wife of Jesus with whom Jesus had biological children, and these children grew up and migrated to France as aristocrats. #Really? She even bagged the “sinner to saint” badge – as in – a repented prostitute who became a heroine of faith.
However, none of these theories can be substantiated from the Holy Bible. They are just inventions of men, men like Leonardo da Vinci, and institutions like the early churches and traditional Jewish mythology.
Other people also believe she was the same Mary as the sister of Martha & Lazarus: this is not likely as she was from Magda in Galilee, while Martha, Mary & Lazarus were from the more inland town of Bethany in Judah.
So, who was Mary Magdalene?
For starters, she was a young lady named Mary, and she got her surname from the her hometown of Magda, a coastal town in the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. She was listed in all four Gospels in the Bible, her name appearing mostly in events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. She left her hometown of Magda in Galilee to come to Jerusalem and stood by Jesus and Jesus’ mother during his crucifixion, and beyond.
While Luke hinted us about an unsavory past of hers, the other gospels placed her at the scene of the Lord’s resurrection, with Mark and John’s gospels alluding to the fact that she was the first human to see Jesus in His resurrected body, even though Jesus did not allow her to touch him at that point.
Mary Magdalene became a symbol of devotion and complete surrender to the Lord.
Mary Magdalene in the Gospels
In total, the name “Mary Magdalene” was mentioned 14 times in the Gospels (depending on the version), with specific information of what she was doing and how she was doing it. She was mentioned mostly in company of other women.
Mary Magdalene and Her Seven Demons
Our first encounter with this young lady was in the book of Luke.
Luke 8:1-3: “…He (Jesus) took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women he had healed and from whom he had cast out evil spirits. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.”
This was probably where the misunderstanding started, because Luke introduced Mary Magdalene immediately after he had introduced “a certain immoral woman” who heard about Jesus and “brought a beautiful jar filled with expensive perfume” (Luke 7:37). Naturally, the human mind would connect the dots, but hey, they were different ladies.
Luke further mentioned something quite disturbing about Mary Magdalene – she had seven demons. Mark also witnessed to it in Mark 16:9. What did that even mean? Did she have seven demons as a medium or spiritualist? Or did she have seven demons oppressing and tormenting her and plaguing her with infirmity or vices? While the Bible did not expatiate, what we know is that she was delivered and she was happy to embrace her new life without the seven demons, and was happy to “contribute from her own resources to support Jesus and his disciples”.
Mary Magdalene After The Seven Demons
A striking feature in most of her appearances in the Scriptures is that Mary Magdalene was named in connection with other women in 8 out of these 14 times: mostly with the “other Mary”, with Mrs Zebedee, with Jesus’ aunt Salome, with other group of women supporting Jesus’ ministry. And in all these, she always led the pack and was always distinguished from other women named Mary by adding “Magdalene” to her name.
Once she was mentioned with Mary the mother of Jesus, standing with her at her son’s crucifixion. And giving due respect to Mary the mother of Jesus and her sister Mrs Mary Clopas, Mary Magdalene was mentioned third unlike in other places where she was always mentioned first.
John wrote in John 19:25 “…Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene.”
Mary Magdalene witnessed most of the events surrounding the crucifixion, from the trial of Jesus and sentencing by Pontius Pilate, through the long walk to crucifixion, the beating and humiliation, she witnessed it all (Matthew 27:55, 61). Finally at Jesus’ demise, she spotted the place where he was buried with plans to return asap: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid” (Mark 15:47).
And on Sunday morning, at dawn, having purchased necessary spices the previous night, the ever energetic Mary Magdalene with the “other Mary” and Salome were first to visit the tomb of Jesus, contemplating as they walked about how on earth they would roll the stone by the entrance of the tomb; and they were utterly shocked when they found that the stone had disappeared and Jesus body was also missing from the grave.
What was her driving force? Was it love? Was it gratitude? Was it devotion? Whatever it was, it definitely paid more than living with seven demons.
Mary Magdalene After Jesus’ Crucifixion
In the five times where Mary Magdalene was mentioned alone – Mark 16:9; John 20:1, 11, 16, 18 – it was all in connection with the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It was an interesting and inspiring story. Let me summarize it here:
Following Jesus’ arrest, His hearing, sentencing, execution and burial were all rushed, this was despite the fact that his hearing was in three phases – first by High Priest, then by King Herod, then by Roman Governor Pontus Pilate who finally gave the execution order. It was all accomplished in one night. Everybody seemed to want to get it done before the Sabbath, because from dusk on Friday until dusk on Saturday, no work must be done. And this Sabbath was more important because it coincided with the Passover ceremony. As soon as the crucifixion was finally done and Jesus gave up His Spirit, the Pharisees and Chief Priests demanded for a rushed burial and for the grave to be sealed before the Sabbath began.
“The next evening, (Saturday) when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene and Salome and Mary the mother of James went out and purchased burial spices to put on Jesus’ body.” (Mark 16:1). And on Sunday these three ladies rushed to the grave to give their respect: “Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they came to the tomb. (Mark 16:2). Anyways, on getting there, they found that their loved one was missing. And an Angel appeared to them reassuring them of the Resurrection, that indeed, Jesus had risen.
Needless to say, the ladies were afraid. Mary Magdalene and her friends ran and rushed to the Disciples to tell them what happened. “The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, saying nothing to anyone because they were too frightened to talk” (Mark 16:8). Then Mary Magdalene ran again back to the tomb, this time in the company of Peter and John. Of course John was a better runner, he got back to the tomb first, then Peter, but on seeing an empty grave, the two men left, deflated and worried. But Mary Magdalene stayed behind. Maybe she would finally have the time to mourn properly.
It made sense for Mary Magdalene to stay behind. She had been the strong one since all these crises started. She was strong for Mary Jesus’ Mother, and strong for everybody, she was last to leave the crucifixion scene, making sure she saw exactly what happened and where. She had done emergency spice shopping the previous night and she had been running forth and back since morning. All for nothing. Her friend and Lord had been brutally murdered and now some unknown people must have come during Sabbath to steal his body. And what about those thunders? And the men in white?
Mary Magdalene was tired. Very tired. Tears running down her cheeks and she was such a mess.
More men in white…
She checked the tomb again and saw more men in white…
“She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” ” (John 20:12-13).
Well another Man in white…..
That was not where the story ended, because Jesus was not going to overlook her works of love and commitment without at least stopping to say Hi. Like a Superhero who just saved the world, literally, He took a detour to show off a little before jetting off to the Father. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and Jesus stood behind Mary Magdalene, careful not to tap her on the shoulder, possibly winking at the Angels who were trying to reassure her.
“She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him.
“Why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
“Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him and exclaimed, “Teacher!”
“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”
It was early on Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead, and the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons (Mar 16:9).
One more run…
Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!”
The rest, they say, is history!
All scriptures, unless otherwise stated, are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation.