“And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:1-3).
The gospels of Matthew and Mark also mention the women who followed Jesus, but those mentions do not come until the time of His crucifixion. Luke tells us that there were women among those who travelled with Jesus at a much earlier period. He names three of them and says there were many others, and that they provided financial support for His ministry. The gospels of Matthew and Mark add the names of Mary, mother of James the less and Salome, the wife of Zebedee, and also mention that there were many others. It is always mentioned that these women came from Galilee.
Luke tells us that Jesus had cast out seven devils from Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala). Some would infer from this that Mary was a woman of low repute who had been rescued by Jesus. It seems more likely that she was a woman of some status and means who was in no way inferior to Joanna and the others. The Herod mentioned here would be Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. It appears there were believers in his household, just as Paul later mentioned the believers in the household of Caesar.
These mentions are tantalizing and we would wish to know more. Did they aid Jesus and the apostles in their ministry, perhaps ministering to women and children along the way? Certainly Jesus considered them to be worthy to be present during His ministry and to hear His teachings.
Yet most people of Jesus’ time would have been scandalized to see women among His entourage. No doubt they were somewhat discreet in their actions, but the very fact that they were there is evidence that Jesus held women in much higher esteem than did either the Jews or the Romans. The fact that they are mentioned at all in the gospels attests to the fact that the writers of the gospels had caught Jesus’ attitude of respect for women.
The role of these women comes into much sharper focus at the time of the crucifixion. All three of the synoptic gospels mention their presence and Luke tells us that Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection before He appeared to any of the apostles.”And they remembered his words, and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles” (Luke 24:8-10).
This is in itself a mark of the authenticity of the gospels, for if they had invented the story of the resurrection they would never have mentioned the women as being the first witnesses of the risen Lord. The testimony of a woman had no validity at that time and place. In fact, the next verse tells us the apostles did not believe the women. It was only Peter and John who were sufficiently stirred by their testimony to run to the sepulchre to see for themselves.
If we see nothing exceptional in the account of the women at the tomb, it is because over the years the gospel has transformed people’s attitudes toward women. The last mention of these women is in Acts 1:14, immediately after the ascension: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” No doubt these women were present a few days later on the day of Pentecost and were filled with the Holy Ghost, thus becoming witnesses and participants in the beginning of the Christian church.