The Women Who Ministered To Jesus

The Women Who Ministered To Jesus

There are many women in the Bible whose words and details can be appreciated more because of the amount of scripture given to their account such as Deborah or Abigail. On the other hand, there are many lesser-known figures that are given cursory mentions in the Bible and it takes a little more digging to get their story. This study delves into such characters of the women working behind the scenes in the Gospel records who ministered unto Jesus and the Apostles.

The day-to-day necessities of eating and shelter are not aspects we often consider in the Gospel records. Indeed, it is not their intent but nonetheless interesting to consider. It’s a common assumption to envision the traveling Jesus and the Apostles as a solitary group fending for themselves. Luke’s account though gives a small window into how this was not the case. Jesus and the Apostles were sustained by a group of faithful women who “ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:2-3).

Their example of unflagging devotion is an inspiration for all those sisters who work behind the scenes, providing meals, organizing events and accommodations. While they may go unthanked, they certainly do not go unnoticed by our Heavenly Father. In the end, their devotion puts them in the place to witness and report on the most singular important event in the history of mankind – the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Introduction to the Women (Luke 8:1-3)

The first passage to mention this band of women is in Luke 8:1-3,

"And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, {2} And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, {3} And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance."

These women and "many others" must have formed a team that constantly and consistently "ministered unto him (them) of their substance". It's an amazing insight into the everyday care and feeding of Jesus and the apostles that we don't often think about but which was so necessary. Not only did they minister but they did it of "their substance". It was an unselfish act. They also organized it over a large area including “every city and village”. One can only imagine the time and organization involved in taking care of thirteen men day in and day out. Consider the coming and going, the constant planning and the giving with loving grateful hearts.

Mary Magdalene

Luke is the first of the gospel writers to mention this important woman, Mary Magdalene. The only other specific place she is mentioned is at the crucifixion (Matt. 27:56,61; Mk. 15:40,47; John 19:25) and resurrection (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1,9; Luke 24:10; John 1,11-18)[1]. Notice she is consistently mentioned in all four gospels, which cannot be said for the others. She is always mentioned first in the lists with the one exception being John 19:25 where Mary the mother of Jesus takes preeminence.

From this, we can surmise that she was a leader among the band of women that followed and ministered unto Jesus (much like Peter with the disciples). Her dedication to Jesus is evident in the crucifixion and resurrection where she is the first person to whom Jesus appears (Mark 16:9; see notes on John 20:11-18)[2]. She intently studied where and “how” (Lk.) Jesus was buried (cp. Matt. 27:61 and Luke 23:55-56). You’ll notice in Matthew’s record it says she was “sitting over against the sepulchre”. The typical rich man’s tomb had an antechamber where guests could sit and meditate. This is where the two Mary’s were sitting while scrutinized how Joseph and Nicodemus laid and prepared the body. It is also apparent that she organized and led the band of women to the tomb as early as she could to further anoint his body with spices.

It is mentioned here in Luke 8:2 and in Mark 16:9 that she had been possessed by "seven devils". This was certainly the cause for her life long devotion to her Lord. Jesus’ parable of the man who took unto himself seven unclean spirits more evil then the first (Luke 11:24-26) could have been inspired from Mary’s life and healing. Further to this, it’s interesting that in Luke’s account as Jesus is speaking this parable a “certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.’” Who else but Mary Magdalene would be so moved by the context of the parable to say such a thing? Who else but Mary Magdalene would have known the torment and anguish of being possessed by seven demons?

The only other thing we can learn about Mary Magdalene comes from her name. "Mary" is from the Hebrew “Miriam” which means "rebellious or bitter". "Magdalene" (a.k.a Magdala) is a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 15:39). This designation may simply refer to her origin but it's interesting in this case that Luke says she was "called Magdalene" not that she was "from" or "of" Magdalene. The derivation of "Magdalene" comes from the Hebrew "migdal" meaning a "tower or fortress". This could very well indicate that her name had been changed by Jesus much like he assigned other names to his apostles (e.g. Simon Peter, John 1:42). It would be significant then that her name indicates the change in her life from one "bitter and rebellious" to one who is a "tower" of faith or rather finds her strength in Yahweh her “strong tower” (Prov. 18:10)


Joanna is only mentioned here and in Luke 24:10 where she is part of the company bringing the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples. So we can be certain she was a devoted follower to the end. Luke speaks of her as being "the wife of Chuza Herod's steward". "Steward" (Greek epitropos) according to Strong's Concordance means a "domestic manager" and Vine's Dictionary says, "epitropos was a superior servant responsible for the persons composing the household" (pg. 366). This is certainly an interesting tid-bit of information from Luke, which raises more questions then answers. What was the wife of someone doing following and caring for another band of men? She must have had permission, which may indicate that Chuza was a believer too. Could this have been one of the avenues that influenced Herod's ideas and perceptions of Jesus (Luke 9:7-9; 23:8)? One wonders also if there is a connection to the believer Manaen who had been brought up with Herod (Acts 13:1).

The “Many Others”

Susanna is also named but there is no other mention of her in scripture. It is apparent from Luke 8:2 that Joanna and Susanna must have been healed by Jesus at one point. There are many nameless women in scripture that could fit this description.

  • Mark 5:25ff – The woman with an issue of blood for 12 years.
  • Luke 7:36ff – The woman sinner who wipes Jesus’ feet with her tears.
  • Luke 13:10ff – Woman bowed down with a spirit of infirmity
  • John 4 – The woman of Samaria at the well
  • John 8:3 – Woman taken in adultery

Wherever they came from these women and “many others” (Luke 8:3) were recognized for their loving care and devotion to Jesus and the Apostles. Not only did they provide the temporal things of life but their love must have also been very spiritually refreshing for Jesus. Their dedication to him was just not bound by their own miraculous healings but also in the magnificent words that came from Jesus’ lips. Their ministrations must have continued for the length of Jesus’ ministry for the next place recorded of these women is at the cross of Christ.

The Women at the Cross

Is it significant that while the apostles were absent at the crucifixion the band of women remained? Of course they would not have faced the same threat but their dedication to Christ remained through the worst. It will be noticed though how the women were “standing afar off” at the moment of Jesus’ death.

"And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: {56} Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children." (Mat 27:55-56 KJV)

"There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; {41} (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem." (Mark 15:40-41 KJV)

"And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things." (Luke 23:49 KJV)

At one point some of them, with Mary the mother of Jesus, were standing at the foot of the cross (John 19:25). Now something had driven them back to witness the event. The reason is given to us in some Psalms that prophecy of Jesus.

"I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me." (Psa 31:11 KJV, cp. for Messianic implications compare the context and especially verse 5 which were the last words of Jesus)

"My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore; and my kinsmen stand afar off." (Psa 38:11 KJV, notice here the same words “afar off” used in the Gospels)

"Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness." (Psa 88:18 KJV)

Psalm 31 would indicate an amount of fear, which may be only applicable to the apostles. Psalm 38:11 is more closely related though as it indicates they drew back because of the shear pain and sorrow being so close to the sufferings of Christ. Psalm 88 shows it was all directed by God. It was a moment of pure loneliness for Christ to see these dear women standing afar off horrified and stricken with grief.

Once again, we are given the names of the prominent women among the group. Mary Magdalene is listed first by Matthew and Mark but she takes last place in John’s gospel. This is more than likely due to the presence of Mary the mother of Jesus. If John’s list is inverted and we assume the people are the same then there are some interesting connections.

Matt. 27:56
Mark 15:40
John 19:25
1. Mary Magdalene
1. Mary Magdalene
4. Mary Magdalene
2. Mary the mother of James and Joses
2. Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses
3. Mary the wife of Cleophas (Alpheus – Mt. 10:3)
3. The mother of Zebedee's children
3. Salome
2. His mother's sister
1. His mother
There is Mary the mother of James and Joses. This James is more then likely the apostle James and so Cleophas corresponds to Alpheus in Matt. 10:3 as per Strong’s Concordance. This is probably why Mark refers to James as “the less” to distinguish him from the other apostle named James (the brother of John). The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge also equates Cleophas here with the Cleopas in Luke 24:18 on the road to Emmaus. The other option here is that James and Joses refer to Christ’s brethren and so this Mary is Jesus’ mother. It would then be uncertain why the Gospel writers refer to Mary this way but it may be to strengthen Jesus’ ties with his real Father rather then his earthly mother.

The mother of Zebedee’s children, James and John, would then be named Salome and she would also be Jesus’ aunt. This would make James and John his cousins. She was the one who asked Jesus that her son’s may sit on his right and left in his kingdom (Matt. 20:20ff).

At the Tomb

"And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre." (Mat 27:61 KJV)

"And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid." (Mark 15:47 KJV)

"And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. {56} And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment." (Luke 23:55-56 KJV)

The dedication of these women was to the very end. They carefully and methodically watched where and how Jesus was laid in the tomb. Again, Matthew and Mark put Mary Magdalene as the lead. Matthew indicates they were “sitting” so it took awhile. Luke indicates (23:56) they were all ready planning and preparing the spices and ointments to anoint him.

At the Resurrection – Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20

The women’s devotion continues even after three days. They came early, while it was still dark, to the tomb. Were they having trouble sleeping? They had to rest through the Sabbath (Luke 23:56) but it’s instructive that they wasted no time once it was over. There’s something poetic in this rising early that rings with the words of these scriptures.

"O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; {2} To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary." (Psa 63:1-2 KJV)

"I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me." (Prov 8:17 KJV)

"Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O LORD, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee. {9} With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." (Isa 26:8-9 KJV)

Once again, the Gospel writers have Mary Magdalene first. John only mentions Mary Magdalene. The only other name Matthew gives is “the other Mary” while Mark identifies two – “Mary the mother of James and Salome”. So it was the same women who were at the cross but Luke adds “and certain others with them”. Later on in Luke 24:10 we find that Joanna was also in the company.

They came in faith for they questioned among themselves “who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” (Mark 16:3). Certainly, they didn’t expect an angel to do it! Nevertheless, it was an angel who had done it before they had arrived (Matt. 28:2-4).

The chronology of events here are not easy to correlate but here’s what may have happened.

  1. Upon seeing the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene quickly runs by herself to tell the Apostles.
  2. The others stay and then see the angel who talks to them. According to the angels instructions they leave to go to tell the disciples but they hesitate because of fear (Mark 16:8).
  3. Mary Magdalene returns with Peter and John. Peter and John see the empty tomb and leave while Mary stays behind and weeps. She then actually meets Jesus.
  4. The other women while lingering on their way to the disciples are met by Jesus who reassures them they shouldn’t be afraid and instructs them to go to the disciples (Matt. 28:9-10).
  5. The women all come together to relate their witness (Mark 16:9-11; Luke 24:10-11).

It must be very significant that Jesus does not appear to Peter and John first (cp. Luke 24:24). He waits until they’ve left and then he reveals himself to Mary Magdalene, to a woman. Is there something in Mary (and the other women) which is symbolic of Christ and his bride the ecclesia? She was a woman with a checkered past who had been healed, redeemed and followed Jesus. There must be something in the way she mistakes Jesus for the gardener (Adam? Gen. 2:15), calls him Rabonni and clings[3] to him (John 20:17). Like the early ecclesia she is then called upon to witness to his resurrection (John 20:18 cp. 1 John 1:1-3) to those who would not believe her report (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:11).

Mary was not alone as the other women also saw Jesus and were instructed to tell the disciples (Matt. 28:9-10). Therefore, there was a company of women proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Those victorious in battle were heralded by a company of women such as Miriam (Gk. Mary) in Exodus 15:20 and for David in 1 Samuel 18:6. How fitting then is a band of heralding women for the one who had overcome our greatest enemy, sin and death.

This privilege of the women to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus is possibly a fulfillment of Psalm 68:11, which is brought out in the NASB translation.

“The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host.” (cp. v. 18 for Messianic connection. See also Young’s Literal Translation)

The word translated “women” is “company” in the KJV and NIV. The Hebrew word is Tzah-vah (Gk. Sabbaoth) which is a feminine word but is most often translated as armies or hosts. ”. The NASB may have it right though since female singers are mentioned in v. 24 (cp. also v.12).

A very similar Hebrew word is also applied to a company or host of women in Exodus 38:8 where it is translated as “assembling”.

"And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the lookingglasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation."

A note on Exod. 38:8 in the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge says this,

“assembling: Heb. assembling by troops, It is supposed that these women kept watch during the night. Among the ancients, women were generally employed as door-keepers. See 1 Sa 2:22. Pr 8:34 Mt 26:69 Lu 2:37 Joh 18:16 1Ti 5:5” (“Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge” on Exodus 38:8) [See also Acts 12:13 T.Y.]

It is interesting to follow this thread through scripture and think of the group of women at the tomb of Jesus as a host of door keepers like the women of old. It therefore seems fitting that they were the ones to whom Jesus appeared. It seems good that they were the ones to bring the good news. It seems right for God to do the unexpected when he sends forth his word.

The Acts

There’s no doubt that these same women continued to play a vital role in the development of the early church. They were there with the disciples in the upper room in Acts 1:14,

"These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren."

This would also lead us to the conclusion they were there during the day of Pentecost when “they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). The prophecy of Joel quoted by Peter would make it necessary.

"But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; {17} And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: {18} And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:" (Acts 2:16-18 KJV)

Beyond this, we have no more record of these faithful women.


We should follow in the footsteps of Jesus just like these sisters of old --- from the hills of Galilee to the foot of the cross. Everyday it’s the little things that matter, the food, the hospitality, the care and the affection. Their devotion showed in all that they did. May we learn from their example and fortitude.


[1] There is quite a good bit of circumstantial evidence to equate Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the "woman who is a sinner" in Luke 7 (see Harry Whittaker’s "Studies in the Gospels" pg. 247-250 and Alfred Norris "The Gospel of Mark" pg. 131-133). In this study we will only concern ourselves with the solid facts.

[2] Jesus’ appearance to Mary will be dealt with later.

[3] From the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge: “Touch: Or rather, ‘embrace me not,’ or, ‘cling not to me,’ – ‘Spend no more time with me now in joyful gratulations: for I am not yet immediately going to ascend to my Father; you will have several opportunities of seeing me again; but go and tell my disciples that I shall depart to my Father and your Father.’” This fits with the urgency that the angel gave to the women as well in Matthew 28:7.