The gospel writer’s detail of the women present at Jesus’ tomb is a most perplexing twist to the resurrection account. Many Biblical scholars argue that the fact that women were the first to see and proclaim the empty tomb builds credibility for the authenticity of the resurrection. If the disciples were lying, they wouldn’t have invented women as the witnesses. After all, even in a court setting, the testimony of women held less weight. No one making up a story would pick an “unreliable” witness.
But the women’s presence at the tomb is significant for more than just apologetic reasons because the fact that women were the first witnesses points us back to Eden. God, the great real-life storyteller, intentionally picked them as characters to remind us of the very purpose of the resurrection.
In our competitive human nature, these women are often used to make statements about men and women—pitting the works of one group against the other group. The men hid. The women showed up. We still want to compare and contrast the sexes even in redemption. Whose fault was it? Who did better? Like siblings, we make our defense for who our father loves more, and why he should love us the most. We believe it’s at the resurrection account that women can finally say “girls rule, boys drool!”
I’ve heard various explanations along this line, trying to make sense of why Jesus talked to the women first. If the men weren’t so scared, they could have seen Jesus too. Or, The women were the faithful ones, and they were rewarded for their faithfulness by seeing Jesus first.
But once again, God is not comparing us. He’s pointing to himself.
It’s not about us—any of us.
It’s logical to assume that in a highly politically charged environment where people are being crucified, men would be seen as more of a threat, and be in greater danger than women going about their chores. There are many possible reasons the women were there and the men were not—even fear. But the fact that men were absent is not even entirely correct. Peter and John were there. John 20:1-10 says that Mary Magdalene [and likely the other women from the other gospel accounts] ran back to the disciples to tell them that Jesus’ body was not there, and Peter and John raced each other back to the tomb.
They were there—and they didn’t see the angels. They didn’t see Jesus.
The angels appeared to the women. Jesus appeared to the women—not to Peter and John. This was an intentional, ordered meeting. Jesus wasn’t five minutes late and just happened to miss Peter and John. He wanted to see Mary first. It was the proper order of things.
To understand this proper ordering, we have to go back to Genesis 3. In the garden, it was Eve who gave the fruit to Adam. They both sinned against God, and God sought them out, and spoke a word over the serpent, the woman, and the man—in that order. He cursed the serpent, and prophesied how the woman’s offspring would strike him down. He told the woman that her labor pains would be intensified, and her desire would be for her husband, yet he would rule over her. Then he spoke over the man. God said the ground would be cursed, and the man would eat from it by means of painful labor, and his work would be among thorns and thistles, and he would eat by the sweat of his brow.
The serpent, the woman, the man. Once sin broke the world, God spoke to these three to condemn this sin and then offer his promise to defeat the serpent. Then he covered his children and led them away from the garden, away from the tree of life. They would need to die to be resurrected.
When Jesus took our sins to the cross, and died our death, he went down to hell, to show the curse had been broken. Then he went to the women, to show the curse had been broken. Then he has the women tell the men before he showed his living body to the men, to show the curse had been broken. Piece by piece, thread by thread, the resurrected Jesus unwinds the curse from the garden.
Every part of Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene in John 20 was incredibly intentional and personal for God to systematically redeem what was lost. Even her name—Mary. That’s all he says in greeting. All over the gospel accounts we find Marys from the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha (another derivative of Mary), or a Mary sometimes referred to simply as “the other Mary.” How many Marys were there?
If you look up the name of “Mary” in any baby name book, you’ll find the definition: “bitter, rebellious, favored one.” That last descriptor, “favored one” comes from the Biblical account of Mary, the mother of Jesus, when the angel calls her “favored one.” But before that time, the name “Mary” was just known as rebellious or bitter. Why would so many parents in the New Testament name their daughter’s bitter, or rebellious?
In truth, it was a family name, passed down through the generations from “Mara,” from the book of Ruth, when Naomi returns to Bethlehem, the “house of bread” and tells everyone to call her “bitter,” because the Lord had dealt bitterly with her. She was removed from her home, she lost her family, and she was bitter. But even further back we find Moses’ sister, Miriam, whose names means “bitter waters.” Another woman who lost her home, lost everything.
These are each daughters of Eve, the mother who lost her home, lost her sons, lost everything.
She was bitter.
She gave the fruit to her husband, and in doing so, she lost everything.
Jesus was surrounded by Marys, the daughters with the family name passed down to them: bitter, rebellious. Each marked by the fruit that was handed to the man.
In John 20, The two disciples leave the tomb before Jesus reveals himself to Mary while she weeps outside the tomb. He simply says, “Mary.” He calls to the woman, as she is next in line to see her redemption.
And then, instead of going straight to the men, he does something unexpected. He tells Mary that she can tell the men. The woman, first marked by handing over the fruit, now gets to hand over the news of the gospel. The curse unwinds. The kindness of such an act is profound. A daughter who was rejected for what she gave to man, now both receives and gives better news – a better fruit.
It’s not about the women. It’s not about the men. We are not competing for our Father’s affections. Jesus’ intentionally ordered post-resurrection words reveal that no curse is too big, no sin too large, for our God to redeem.
The women were not an afterthought. They were not an accident. Their presence at the tomb was not a mistake. They were not more faithful. Like you and like me, they were part of the story of the fall, and therefore also a part of the story of redemption, as God systematically tears apart the curse of sin thread by thread.