Just as God portrays His Triune nature in patterns of three throughout His Word, His nature, and His creation, it is not surprising that there are three women named Mary in close association to Christ in His earthly ministry. These are Mary, mother of Jesus (Luke 1-2), Mary Magdalene, Jesus’s disciple from the time He cast out seven demons from her (Mark 16:19), and His close friend Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42; John 11:2). These women were bound to Jesus by love as His family, follower, and friend.
There are also three additional women named Mary described in less detail in Scripture, but also worthy of mention. One of these is referred to as "the other Mary" (Matthew 27:61), also known as the mother of the disciples James and Joses (Matthew 27:55-61); and as the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25). The second is the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12); and sister to Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), who opened her home to the disciples to meet for prayer (Acts 12:12). The third is Mary of Rome, whom Paul thanked for her "many labors" in support of his ministry to the Roman Christians (Romans 16:6).
These three women: the “other Mary,” the mother of John Mark, and Mary of Rome, are known for their association to Christianity by being relatives of the first missionaries and by their service to the early church. All six of these women have much to teach us about the Biblical ideal of womanhood.
“Mary” in the New Testament is the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew names “Miriam,” given to the sister of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 15:20-21), and “Mara,” the name Naomi adopted to reflect her great sorrow in bereavement (Ruth 1:20). The name means bitterness, sorrow, or trouble, reflecting the pain, grief and tribulation each woman bore, though in differing circumstances.
The root word of this name is the same as for the spice known as myrrh, a bitter, fragrant and costly herb. In symbolic terms, myrrh may represent the bitterness of childbirth, mandated by the curse of sin (Genesis 3:16); the joys of motherhood (Proverbs 23:22-25); and the priceless value of Biblical womanhood, exemplified by the Proverbs 31 woman.
Myrrh was one of the gifts presented to Jesus as a young child to symbolize that He came to die (Matthew 2:11); it was offered to Him on the cross (Mark 15:23); and it was used to anoint His body for burial (John 19:39-40). And yet it was also included in the holy anointing oil used in Old Testament worship (Exodus 30:23; Psalm 45:7-8); it purified women such as Queen Esther (Esther 2:12); and it perfumed the marriage bed. (Proverbs 7:17-18; Song of Solomon 1:13,3:6;4:14).
In keeping with Divine triplets in Scripture, there were three Marys present at the crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:25). Mary, mother of Jesus, came to the cross by submission to God’s calling her to carry His Son (Luke 1:28-38). Mary Magdalene came by Christ’s mercy as He freed her from demonic possession (Mark 16:19); and Mary of Cleophas came by her relationship with Christ’s followers, for she was the close relative of two disciples.
These three Marys present at the cross of Christ therefore represent the three-step process by which every born-again believer (John 3:3-8) comes to know Christ and places their faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). First, we have some association with Christians who share the Gospel with us; then we ask Christ for His mercy to forgive us and spare us from eternal death that our sins deserve (Romans 3:23); and finally we submit to His perfect will for our life (James 4:7), all through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Praise God that He gave us victory (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) over sin, death and hell! Three Marys witnessed the evidence of His resurrection firsthand as they came to anoint His body at the tomb, only to find that He had risen! These three were Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1), Mary the mother of James (the “other Mary;” Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1), and the mother of Jesus, as one of the women that were with Mary Magdalene at the cross (Luke 24:10).
Each of these women has a unique story, yet with common themes that illustrate how we can lead lives pleasing to Lord Jesus Christ, as we shall see in subsequent posts. Like the three Marys, may we turn from the bitterness of sin to the joy of salvation and the blessings of serving Him!
© 2015 Laurie Collett
Thanks, Denise! God bless.
I have wondered where you get all this information from, as throughout my forty years of Christian living and Bible study, I have never noticed the significance of the three Marys who played an important role in the life and death of Jesus Christ. However, heresy has never been that far away, first with the Roman Catholic idea the Mary was the mother of God, since Jesus is the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. Secondly comes this theory, dreamt up by modern academics, that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus.
But despite all that, I admired the way Mary, whilst pregnant with Jesus at the presence of John and Elizabeth, recited a poem borrowed from Hannah the mother of Samuel, and delivered a beautiful magnificat to the glory of God.
A brilliant post. God bless.
Thank you for your kind words. I take no credit on my own for what I write, for only God deserves the glory. I pray each time I write that His Holy Spirit will guide me to the right passages and give me the words He would have me express, and I thank Him for His faithfulness. I am blessed by your comment just as I am by your own writing.
It is sad that false teachers have deified Mary and attempted to cast doubt on Christ's purity. Even Mary herself realized she too needed a Savior and willingly submitted herself to God's perfect plan.
God uses ordinary people to do his work. The apostles were ordinary men, with ordinary trades common in their day. These women were so ordinary as to have one of the most common names and are only distinguished by what they did, yet each one had a significant impact on the church throughout history, simply because they believed God. God rarely uses the gifted, the highly educated, or the wealthy but usually chooses the ordinary and unknown to accomplish his plan.
Amen, Donald! God does not look for ability, but for availability. If He calls us to a mission and we are faithful to follow the call, He will equip us with talents and resources to fulfill it.
Thanks as always for sharing your insights, and God bless.
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