“When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ ”
No matter what trials we have, it is still possible to be concerned for others’ needs.
As the time for Jesus’ death grew closer, His mother’s well–being was on His heart and mind. His concern is consistent with what we have already seen in our brief study of some of Jesus’ last words on the cross—our Lord was faithful in ministry no matter what the cost.
Here the object of Jesus’ focus shifted to a small group of five friends at the foot of His cross. And out of this sympathetic band, which included the disciple John, Salome (John’s mother), Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, Christ’s attention drew especially toward His mother.
Mary, the mother of our Lord, was perhaps the neediest person of any in that cluster that stood beneath the cross. She was most likely a widow by this time; otherwise, Jesus would not have shown so much special concern for her future welfare. Mary was also seeing and feeling the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy that her soul would be pierced because of Jesus (Luke 2:34–35). Drawn to the place of her son’s execution by loving concern and sorrow, Mary stood with the others but undoubtedly felt very alone as she suffered quietly.
At that moment Jesus graciously intervened and reminded Mary that she needed to regard Him not primarily as her son but as her Savior. When Jesus called Mary “Woman,” He was using a title of respect. His intent was simply to commit Mary into John’s care.
At Calvary, Christ experienced the agony of the cross, the weight of the world’s sin, and the wrath of God the Father. Yet through all His ordeal, which is beyond our comprehension, Jesus took some moments to show compassion to others who were hurting. That’s a pattern we are to follow. We should never be so overwhelmed with our own pain and trials—and certainly not life’s routine, daily cares, and burdens—that we lose sight of others’ needs.
Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God for Jesus’ incredible example of compassion in the midst of the most adverse circumstances.
For Further Study: Read Matthew 27:46; John 19:28; John 19:30; and Luke 23:46. What additional traits do these reveal about Jesus? ✧ Look for at least one example you can apply to your life.
19:26, 27 In spite of His own suffering, the Lord had tender regard for others. Seeing His mother, and John, the disciple, He introduced John to her as the one who would hereafter take the place of son to her. In calling His mother “Woman,” the Lord did not show any lack of respect. But it is noticeable that He did not call her “Mother.” Does this have any lesson for those who might be tempted to exalt Mary to the place where she is adored? Jesus here instructed John to care for Mary as if she were his own mother. John obeyed and took Mary to his own home.
26 It was there at the foot of the cross that Simeon’s prophecy to Mary was finding fulfillment: “A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Lk 2:35). Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved (i.e., John; cf. 13:23), Jesus says to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.” Some have suggested that Jesus used the term “woman” rather than “mother” in order not to deepen her sorrow. But as before, when he spoke to Mary in a similar way at the wedding in Cana (2:4), the term “woman” does not connote a brusque and distant relationship but is a form of polite address.
Words from the Cross
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
There is something particularly solemn and significant about the last words of men and women. The reason is that, in the face of death, what a person is often comes clearly to the surface and is reflected in speech. For example, Napoleon Bonaparte, the famous French general and emperor, said while waiting for his death, “I die before my time, and my body will be given back to the earth. Such is the fate of him who has been called the great Napoleon. What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal kingdom of Christ.”
Voltaire, the noted French infidel, is reported to have said to his doctor, “I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months’ life.”
Thomas Hobbes, the skeptic who corrupted the faith of some of England’s great men, exclaimed, “If I had the whole world, I would give it to live one day. I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of the world at. I am about to take a leap into the dark.”
These statements and others by similarly well-known men reveal more about their true outlook on life and their true hope than anything they might have said in more fortuitous moments. They are often quite grim. Fortunately, one can hardly think of these sayings without thinking of the even more famous words of Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of the Christian faith, who in his death spoke words not of despair but of hope and thereby revealed much about his own personal faith and that of Christianity.
The Final Analysis
I have always considered it unfortunate that the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross have been termed his “last words.” The implication is that Jesus did not rise again; but he did rise again, and he returned to his disciples to say many more things to them. In fact, these last teachings are actually more important than those from the cross, for they have much more to say about Christianity. On the other hand, the sayings from the cross (although wrongly termed the “last words”) are nevertheless significant. They are significant because they show that (1) Jesus was in clear possession of his faculties until the very last moment, when he delivered up his spirit to the Father, (2) he understood his death was intended to provide salvation for the world, and (3) he knew his death would be effectual to that end. Moreover, the words also show his habitual concern and love for other persons, even at the moment of his most acute suffering.
The words from the cross are these:
- “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). These words are a prayer for God to forgive those who were crucifying him. They show the merciful heart of the Savior.
- “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). These words were spoken to the believing thief and were a confident promise of salvation.
- “Dear woman, here is your son. … Here is your mother” (John 19:26–27). In these words Jesus commended his mother, Mary, to the care of the beloved disciple.
- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; Matt. 27:46). In this saying the true nature of the atonement is made clear and the deep anguish of the Lord is revealed to us.
- “I thirst” (John 19:28). This request shows the true humanity of the Lord. But even more important, it shows his desire that every fact of his death (as of his life) be in accord with Scripture.
- “It is finished” (John 19:30). These are the most important words of all, for they refer not merely to his life, perfect and exemplary as it was, but to his completed atonement for sin. Because of this we can be sure of salvation.
- “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). These words show Jesus to have been in control of his life until the last and indicate that the relationship between himself and the Father, which earlier had been broken as he was made sin for us (Mark 15:34), was restored.
Two Christ Loved
Not one of the Gospels contains all seven of these statements, however. Matthew and Mark each contain one, though they allude to others. Luke and John each contain three, but their lists are different and neither one mentions the saying that Matthew and Mark contain (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). John includes the words regarding Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple, “I thirst,” and the final affirmation that the work of the atonement was finished.
It is easy to understand why John includes the words of the Savior to Mary and the corresponding words to that disciple into whose care she was committed. The reason is that John was himself that disciple. Consequently, the charge was his charge and the importance of it came home to him as to no other.
Let us think of these two whom Christ loved possibly more than any other two people upon earth. Let us think, first of all, of Mary and of the pain that was hers in this moment. One commentator wrote, “What sorrow it must have caused her when, because there was no room in the inn, she had to lay her newly-born Babe in the manger! What anguish must have been hers when she learned of Herod’s purpose to destroy her infant’s life! What trouble was given her when she was forced on his account to flee into a foreign country and sojourn for several years in the land of Egypt! What piercings of soul must have been hers when she saw her Son despised and rejected of men! What grief must have wrung her heart as she beheld him hated and persecuted by his own nation! And who can estimate what she passed through as she stood there at the cross? If Christ was the Man of Sorrows, was she not the woman of sorrows?”
An anonymous poet of the Middle Ages has expressed the sorrows of Mary in these words:
Near the cross her vigil keeping,
Stood the Mother, worn with weeping,
Where He hung, the dying Lord:
Through her soul, in anguish groaning,
Bowed in sorrow, sighing, moaning,
Passed the sharp and piercing sword.
O the weight of her affliction!
Hers, who won God’s benediction,
Hers, who bore God’s Holy One:
O that speechless, ceaseless yearning!
O Those dim eyes never turning
From her wondrous, suffering Son!
As we think about these words and about the scene they describe, we recall the saying of the aged Simeon, spoken when the infant Jesus was presented in the temple by Joseph and Mary. God had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, and now, coming into the temple area at the very moment when Jesus was being presented, he took him up in his arms and blessed him. Then, after uttering that psalm of praise known as the Nunc Dimitis, he turned to Mary and said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34–35). What strange words those were! A piercing sorrow for one highly favored by God? How unlikely it all seemed, particularly at the time Simeon spoke! Yet it all came to pass. Here at the cross we see the fulfillment of Simeon’s words.
One lesson we learn from this scene is the certainty of the fulfillment of prophecy. God says, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please … what I have said, that will I bring about” (Isa. 46:10–11).
Another lesson is that sorrow, even such acute sorrow as this, may come even to those who are greatly loved by Jesus. When it comes to us, as it may, we must not think that it is because of God’s disfavor. We think of the story of the death of Lazarus and of those words to Jesus with which the account begins, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3). Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters. Yet Lazarus grew sick and eventually died, and the grief of the sisters was great. Love and sickness are not incompatible in God’s economy. God’s favor and sorrow sometimes flow along together.
But again, this is not all we can say, for although it is true that the beloved of God often suffer for God’s sometimes hidden purposes, it is nevertheless true that we take comfort in his knowledge of our sorrows and his solace for us in the midst of them. In these words we notice that Jesus was aware of Mary (even in his own sorrow), cared for her, and acted to provide what was needful.
The Beloved Disciple
The other person involved in this episode is John, the beloved disciple. He is here at the cross. But the background for his appearance is the contrasting picture of the scattering disciples at the time of the Savior’s arrest in Gethsemane. The Lord had warned the disciples of their approaching cowardice—“This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’ ” (Matt. 26:31). They all protested. Peter said, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” The rest of the disciples agreed (v. 35). But Jesus was right, and they were wrong. They had forsaken him, John included; Jesus was left to the scorn and cruelty of his enemies.
Yet notice, the cowardice of the disciples was only temporary. Later, after his resurrection, they would seek him at the appointed place in Galilee (Matt. 28:16) and would speak boldly on his behalf. And here, even before the resurrection, there was at least one who sought him out even while he hung on Calvary. Why? It is not difficult to discern why. That which brought John to Calvary was the same thing that brought Mary there, and the other women—Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. It was that which later brought these and others to the tomb and which brought Mary Magdalene back even after she knew that the body of Jesus was no longer in the garden. It was love, love for Jesus. Thus, although they can do nothing at all, they still want to be as near to him as possible and linger to the end. Mary loved him. Hers was a mother’s love. John loved him too; this was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and who, quite naturally, loved him in turn.
Do you love him? I do not ask whether you have forsaken him in some moment of danger. I do not ask whether you have served him as you should have done or have failed to serve him. I do not ask whether you have denied him. I only ask, Do you love him? If you answer yes, then come to him regardless of what terrible thing you may have done in your life or regardless of what good thing you may have failed to do.
John came to him in spite of his earlier failure. What did he find? Did Jesus rebuke him? Did he look with scorn on one who could not watch with him even one short hour and then forsook him when the moment of testing came? Not at all! Jesus did not rebuke John on his return, any more than he rebuked Peter or any of the others. Instead, he gave John an unmistakable privilege. He committed his mother to his charge. If you are one who has deserted Christ, do as John did and as Arthur W. Pink admonishes in his remarks on these verses: “Cease then your wanderings and return at once to Christ, and he will greet you with a word of welcome and cheer; and who knows but what he has some honorous commission awaiting you!”
We have spoken of Mary in this study and of John too. But clearly, the central figure in this moving drama is Jesus. He is the One who knows Mary’s sorrows. He is the One who knows John’s love. Now he speaks out of his own love to provide for each one.
The one who hangs on the cross is even at this late moment still providing for others. He is stripped of everything, yet he leaves rich legacies. To his executioners, who even now stand guard over him, he bequeaths a prayer for pardon—“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). To the dying but believing thief he grants the promise of salvation—“Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). In his words to John and Mary he grants a continuing legacy of the most tender love. By this word he gives a son to his mother and a mother to his friend.
It is customary in Catholic theology to see this word as a commending of John, and through him all Christ’s disciples, to the patronage of Mary. For example, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen remarks, “When our Lord spoke of John, he did not refer to him as John for then he would have been only the son of Zebedee. Rather, in him all humanity was commended to Mary, who became the mother of men, not by metaphor, or figure of speech, but by pangs of birth.” Actually the opposite was the case. Jesus did not commend John to Mary, but Mary to John. The real meaning of this episode is that Jesus was caring for his mother and thus fulfilling the Old Testament commandment to “honor your father and mother” (Exod. 20:12). So must we honor that commandment. We are under a God-given obligation to honor our parents, and that obligation does not cease even though we should come of age or move far from them.
We note too that spiritual responsibilities do not remove these obligations. What could be more of a spiritual responsibility than that which the Lord himself was fulfilling? At the very moment at which he spoke these words our Lord was dying for sinners. He was offering himself as satisfaction to the outraged justice of almighty God. Yet even at this moment, he does not fail to provide for her who was his mother.
There is one thing more. When Jesus commends Mary to John, he bypasses his own unbelieving brethren and leaves her to the care of the beloved disciple instead. Is this accidental? Is it only because John happened to be near the cross at this moment? It is hard to think so. Rather, we sense that the Lord is here bringing into existence a new family based on his atonement. As Mariano Di Gangi writes, “Our Lord brings into being the brotherhood of believers. He fashions the fellowship of the household of faith. This is the new society, which is not segregated according to race or nationality. It is not predicated upon social standing or economic power. It consists of those whose faith meets at the cross, and whose experience of forgiveness flows from the cross.”
This is our fellowship if we are truly Christ’s followers. We should conduct ourselves as those who are members of it by caring for and loving one another. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
19:26 the disciple whom He loved. This is a reference to John (see note on 13:23; cf. Introduction: Author and Date). Jesus, as first-born and breadwinner of the family before He started His ministry, did not give the responsibility to His brothers because they were not sympathetic to His ministry nor did they believe in Him (7:3–5) and they likely were not present at the time (i.e., their home was in Capernaum—see 2:12).
19:26 Woman, behold your son. “Woman” is not a harsh form of address in Aramaic (2:4 note). Even in the midst of dying on the cross as the Mediator of the new covenant, Jesus fulfills His duty as the son of Mary in a splendid example of obedience to the letter and spirit of the fifth commandment, taking initiative as Mary’s firstborn by entrusting to the beloved disciple the ongoing care of His widowed mother. In a time of intense physical pain and mental anguish, the Lord is thinking of others, as is shown in the first statements from the cross (Luke 23:34, 43).
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