The Whore Becomes a Virgin Bride

The last person we are considering in this series of Bible stories is unique. The others we have treated primarily as individuals. We will do this with Mary Magdalene as well, but we will also spend a good amount of time considering her typological significance. So we will treat Mary, but we will also be considering another very important person—the bride of Jesus Christ, the Christian church.

We should say another very important person because Mary Magdalene appears to have been an important person in her own right. She is mentioned in fourteen places, and in the majority of those places she is given some sort of significant prominence. We are never told the meaning of this outright, but at the same time there are some very clear textual indications.

Mary Magdalene is popularly thought of as a fallen woman who was restored by Christ. In fact, in English a magdalene is a reformed prostitute, and homes for such women have frequently been named after her. Now this background for Mary is quite possible (in the sexual sense), but we are not told this explicitly. The implication has been drawn from an identification of Mary with the woman of Luke 7 who washed the feet of the Lord with her tears, and anointed his feet with ointment. That woman was a sexual sinner, and Mary is mentioned for the first time immediately after this.

But the fact that Mary was delivered from acute bondage to sin is directly stated. Mary Magdalene was part of Christ’s traveling entourage (Luke 8:1-3), and this is how she is introduced. “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). So Mary began to follow Christ after He cast seven demons out of her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2), and this important background fact is also mentioned in another place. “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils” (Mark 16:9). This important detail may have relevance when we consider Mary typological significance. Remember that Jesus once taught us what would happen if one demon was cast out, and nothing was done to replace it with anything wholesome. He said that seven demons would come back with a vengeance, and that the latter condition would be worse than the first. This figure He gave against that generation. He cast demons out of Israel, and yet they did not receive their Messiah. So their condition was made seven times worse, and their nation was destroyed. But Mary was a woman out of whom seven demons were cast at the first. But she came to Christ in truth, and she does not have to worry about 49 demons coming back at her. The Christian church will never undergo this kind of cataclysmic judgment—the covenant will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers, as Jeremiah put it.

Mary was from Galilee. Mark 15:41 puts it this way: “(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 15:41). Luke states it this way: “And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment” (Luke 23:55). And of course, we also know this from her name—she was Mary Magdalene because she was from Magdala, a town in Galilee. She also apparently had some wealth, for she was one of Christ’s financial supporters (Luke 8:3; Mark 15:41; Matt. 27:55). Mary is included with other women in this regard. “Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:3). This ministry also likely including various forms of service, and there were quite a number of women involved in giving it. “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 15:41).

The same thing is noted by Matthew. “And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him” (Matt. 27:55).

Now out of all these women, Mary’s devotion to Jesus was particularly marked. First, we see that she attended His crucifixion: “And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. 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” (Mark 15:39-40).

So standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).

“And after the death of Jesus, when Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Christ’s body in fine linen, Mary Magdalene and another Mary marked the place where He was buried. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid” (Mark 15:47).

“And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulcher” (Matt. 27:59-61).

As soon as it was possible, when their Sabbath rest was over, Mary and two other women came to anoint the Lord’s body with spices. “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him” (Mark 16:1)

But when they arrived at the grave, they found they had stumbled into a glorious pandemonium. It is hard to keep track of all the coming and going, and still less is it possible to keep close track of all the angels.

“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it” (Matt. 28:1-2). There had been a great earthquake, and the angel of the Lord was sitting on the rolled away stone (Matt. 28:2). Not surprisingly, the chronology of events after this do require some untangling. The women saw angels who told them to give a message to Peter that they were to meet in Galilee.

“And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you” (Mark 16:5-7).

So the first thing that happened was that angels gave messages to the women. Mary and the others did eventually give the message to the other disciples, but they did not believe it. But Peter was curious enough and went to the tomb, and found it empty (Luke 24:12).

“Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass” (Luke 24:12).

Mary had also told Peter and John about it separately (John 20:2).

“Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him” (John 20:2).

Mary herself doesn’t know what to think—which can be seen in the phrase “they have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre.” This despite the fact that she had been given messages from angels. This can only mean that the messengers had appeared as men, and were thought to be such, and it was not until after they knew Jesus had risen that they concluded the young men were actually angels. So in this wrought-up condition, Mary came back to the tomb and wept.

“But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (John 20:11-13).

So, looking into the tomb again, she sees two angels, one on either side the mercy seat, the place where Jesus had lain. “And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (v. 12).

They ask why she was crying, and she said that it was because the Lord’s body had been taken. She turns back from the tomb, and then mistakes Jesus Himself for the gardener—until He speaks her name.

“And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her” (John 20:14-18).

Now let us leave Mary Magdalene for a moment. We need to take a few steps back from this picture, and consider the larger story. If we were to subtitle the story of redemption, we could call it, “How God the Father Arranged for His Divine Son to Marry a Prostitute.” Another name for it could be “How the Whore Became a Virgin Bride.” To get an idea of this Scripture-wide context, let us consider just a few things.

Note the importance of the Messianic line

—in the first chapter of Matthew, the genealogy given for Christ contains four women, all of whom had reputation issues. There was Tamar, who dressed like a Canaanite prostitute to trick Judah into sleeping with her after his wife had died.

“And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah’s wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand: but he found her not. Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place. And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place. And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her. And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more” (Gen. 38:12-26).

Now this was the woman who was named in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ. And note also that both of her sons are named in that genealogy. “And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram” (Matt. 1:3).

The second woman mentioned as an ancestress of Jesus Christ was Rahab, who did not just look like a Canaanite prostitute, she was a Canaanite prostitute (Josh. 6:17; Matt. 1:5).

“And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent” (Josh. 6:17).

Now the Bible tells us that this Rahab married a man of Israel named Salmon. “And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse” (Matt. 1:5)

Then there was Ruth, who was a Gentile woman from Moab. This was a nation born of Lot’s incestuous union with one of his daughters. But Ruth was a virtuous woman, but could have been slandered because of her Gentile background—and after all, she did spend the night with Boaz.

“And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet” (Ruth 3:7-8).

This means, incidentally, that Ruth was Rahab’s daughter-in-law. “And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse (Matt. 1:5).

And last there was Bathsheba, the women who betrayed her husband Uriah when she agreed to sleep with David.

“And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house. And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child” (2 Sam. 11:4).

Matthew makes no attempt to minimize the scandal. “And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias” (Matt. 1:6).

Now Matthew has a clear purpose in naming these four women, just as the Old Testament mentions them all with a clear intent. And his purpose was obviously not to discredit the Lord Jesus—quite the reverse. But it is to tell us something of the nature of the Messiah’s mission. Let us go back to Tamar, that great woman of faith.

“And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez. And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah” (Gen. 38:27-30).

Now the scarlet thread was intended to mark the firstborn, and this was important because the line of Judah was the royal line. The scepter would not depart from Judah, Jacob had said, until Shiloh comes. So Zarah was the first born, but had been edged out anyway at birth by Phares. And this was prophetic. Years later, the same thing happened again, and once again a scarlet thread is involved. But this time, Phares gets the scarlet cord.

Understand that in the siege of Jericho, one household in that city was spared. But more than this, one household in Israel was destroyed, and it was an important household. Achan was of the royal line, and he became anathema, dedicated to destruction. The scarlet was transferred from the one destroyed line in Israel to the one spared line in Jericho.

“But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel . . . So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken: And he brought the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zarhites: and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken: And he brought his household man by man; and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken” (Josh. 7:1, 16-18).

Rahab was not of the royal line; she was a harlot. And yet, when her household was spared, marked and indicated by a scarlet cord, she came out into Israel, and married a man named Salmon. The book of Ruth makes a special point of telling us this relation, and the importance of where it began. Unlike the rejected line of Zerah, God had a great intention for the line of Phares. And incidentally, there is another lesson for us here—there is great blessing and edification for us in the begats.

“Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David” (Ruth 4:18-22). “And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse” (Matt. 1:5).

Rahab did not just marry into Israel. She married into the line of Phares, which had become the royal line because of the apostasy of Achan. Achan was not just a pillaging foot soldier in the back ranks of Israel. He was a royal prince, and because of his sin, that royal line came to an end. The scarlet cord of election was transferred—from Zerah’s wrist to a prostitute’s window. This is so that we might never forget that everything God gives us is always all of grace, nothing but grace, grace to the uttermost.

Remember the story of Hosea

—the prophet Hosea was commanded by God to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him. “The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD” (Hos. 1:2). In the first two chapters of this heart-wrenching book, God through His prophet gives a wonderful statement of how Israel will be cleansed of her idolatries, and how she will become chaste. These two statements summarize the glory of the gospel.

“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (Hos. 1:10-11).

And then again, we read:

“And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hos. 2:23).

Now both these passages are from Hosea, the prophet with a whorish wife, the man prophesying a glorious and chaste future for the whorish Israel. Gomer, his wife, was a type of Israel, and in the prophet we find that she is also a type of the forgiven Christian church. These verses are quoted by the apostle Paul in Romans 9:24-26, and applied to Jews and Gentiles in the Christian church together.

“Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God” (Rom. 9:24-26).

This means, fundamentally, that the Christian church is the whore who became a virginal bride.

Now consider the Samaritan woman at the well

—a motif is a literary device that sets the stage for understanding the context of events. This can be done is just a moment, without a lot of explanation. Just as we have motifs that make us understand a situation instantly, so the ancient world had them. If you see a desolate Western town around midday, with shopkeepers peering out their windows, and tumbleweed blowing down the street, you know there is going to be a gunfight. If you see a man in an office with a ceiling fan, smoking, and a translucent pane of glass in the door, and he has his feet on the desk, you know instantly that he is a private detective, and that some blonde trouble is going to come through the door. Given the motif, you know the setting. You are oriented.

In the Bible, one such motif occurs whenever a man meets a woman at a well—when this happens you know that a wedding is in the offing. Isaac got a wife this way. Moses got a wife this way. Jacob, whose well this was, met Rachel at a well. So imagine the scandal that came from representing Jesus in just this situation with a notoriously immoral woman (John 4:27). And John goes out of his way to let us know that it was in fact Jacob’s well (John 4:6). “And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?” (John 4:27).

What is the point here? The Father is seeking worshippers; He is seeking a bride for His Son, and there is a fundamental qualification, which prim and proper people constantly miss. The woman who is to marry the Son of God must be unworthy, and she must have a sordid past. Jesus did not come for the healthy, but for the immoral. But He came, not just to save, but to save through marriage. “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).

And so what is the conclusion? God loves disreputable women. He arranged for His Son to marry one. And this is the glory of grace. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We are called as parents to bring up virginal daughters, not so that we may delude ourselves into thinking that this is what we are by nature, but rather that we might understand through faith that this is what we are all becoming. Virginity and chastity among a Christian people are a glorious type, not of what we are, but of what we will be. But we misunderstand the glory of this type if we scorn the Rahabs, and the Tamars, and the Bathshebas, and the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus forgave. The Pharisees prostituted themselves by despising the prostitutes who were converted by Jesus. The woman who was a sinner washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, and the dry-eyed Pharisee thought he had been forgiven little—so he loved little.

There is another important application. In the Christian church today, there are many Christian women who are tormented by their sexual past. They know, academically, that they are forgiven, but they have trouble rejoicing in that forgiveness. This is not because of anything in the Scriptures, but rather because of many false assumptions current in the church. And these false assumptions betray our misunderstanding of the nature of grace. We constantly want to earn, to have pride of place. But always remember, when the Son of God came to earth to find a bride for Himself, the woman that His Father had chosen for Him, the choice—when it was revealed—astounded the censorious and the prune-faces alike. The Father and Son and the Spirit are altogether holy, and so the woman who is chosen must become holy. But the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are also full of grace, and the woman who was chosen was called out from her idols, her lovers, her past, her immoralities. And the Son loved her, and loves her still. Are you a Christian woman whose past declares this? Then rejoice in the power of forgiveness, and in the glory of our redemption.

And so let us come back now to Mary Magdalene. In the story of creation, Adam met Eve in a garden. In the story of redemption, Jesus met Mary in a garden. In the garden, Adam met a woman with a disreputable future. Christ met a woman with a disreputable past. We must always remember this because we are so prone to forget it. And when we forget it, when we forget our name of Magdalene, we usually do so in one of two ways. We either become self-righteous because we have forgotten our past, or we are guilt-ridden because we have forgotten our future. But through His holy Word, God wants us to dwell on these things. One of the most important women in the Bible is this woman—Mary Magdalene. The angels spoke to her first. After the resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared to her first. The messages were sent to the other disciples through her. Her devotion was extraordinary. Standing at the cross, sitting across from the sepulcher, marking the spot, appearing at the tomb first with spices for the body, speaking to the angels first, and seeing the risen Lord. This woman was truly remarkable, and she has given us her name. We are Magdalene.

 

Many thanks to Warren Gage, for many of his great exegetical insights on this crucial subject.

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