The resurrection is good news for women.
In John chapter 20 Mary Magdalene is depicted as the first witness of the empty tomb. We don’t know much about this Mary.
At various times in church history, the assumption was that she was both the sinful woman who used her hair to wash Jesus’ feet with perfume (Luke 7.37) and sometimes as Mary, the sister of Martha. Both connections would be convenient for us to learn about her background, but almost every scholar hesitates to make these connections.
Most likely, the only authentic mentions we have of her in the Bible are in Luke 8.2 (mentioned as one of the women following Jesus who previously had been healed of seven demons), Matthew 27.56 and Mark 15.40 (one of the women who watched Jesus with sadness as he was killed), Matthew 27.61 and Mark 15.47 (at the tomb as Jesus is buried), and in all four Gospels she is one of the first witness of the resurrection.
From these verses we infer that she loved Jesus deeply and that from the moment she was released from the bondage of seven evil spirits, that her life was never the same. She loved Jesus enough to sit alone at the tomb and sob over her loss.
With the death of Jesus, the one who made her feel accepted and full of purpose, she must have felt like a reject. Jesus dignified women, who often were regarded as second-class citizens, and now Mary’s dignity was buried. Not only buried, but apparently stolen.
In the ancient world, women were considered inferior to men. They were temptresses, weak, limited to the household, and worthy mostly of submission to men. This mentality played itself out in several corners of the Roman Empire (although not all) and in much of Jewish thought. Josephus (a first century Jewish historian), Philo (a first century Jewish philosopher), and many other leading males of the period depicted women poorly in their writings.
One Jewish man in a document called the rabbinic Tosefta actually prayed in gratitude that he was not born as a woman (t. Ber. 7.18). In fact, the apocryphal book of Sirach (from about 180 BCE) states: “A man’s wickedness is better than a woman who does good…” (Sirach 42.14 CEB).
You can imagine the sort of scenarios that this basic undignified view of women brought about. Just think about the woman caught in adultery in John 8, where Jesus invites the person without sin to cast the first stone (essentially disarming them all!), and we begin to see how this cultural situation could be devastating for women.
Then, Jesus comes along, healing, affirming, and inviting women to follow as his disciples. In the context Mary Magdalene found herself, you would be hard pressed to find a more passionate feminist than Jesus. He elevated women, so much that the Apostle Paul could follow Christ’s lead and say that male and female “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28).
The good news for an outcast like Mary Magdalene was that her life had value as a dignified image-bearing woman. Resurrection in John chapter 20 affirms this fact.
In what follows after Christ’s ascension we find women being elevated to teachers, preachers, apostles, and house church leaders. The hopes of Mary broke free from the tomb leading to the liberation of women everywhere to live into their potential for the kingdom of God!
Liberating Women for Ministry – A series defending a biblical theology of having women in every role of leadership within the church.
When Women are Called and the Church Says “NO!” – a guest article sharing stories of how this issue affects real people.
 Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (880–886). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.