He Does Nothing On Accident: Why Did Jesus First Appear to Women After the Resurrection?

“Jesus said…. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17 

Women were the first witnesses at the resurrection and right away this tells us something about Jesus. He doesn’t look at people how man does. The culture would’ve looked over women, not trusting their testimony and yet God gives the best assignment in the Bible (the first person to share the good news!) to a woman with a bad reputation.   

This is an “and” conversation, not an “or.” I shy away from gender conversations, because they tend to be “or” (women or men,) but it’s not that He revealed Himself to women over men, or women instead of men. He simply included women in the most important moment in history— He is risen. He’s an includer by His very nature. He included the least likely at His table, sinners in His company, children into His arms… 

I think we can be inclusive, without being divisive, biblically sound, and not political.  Jesus revealed Himself first to women, and we know He did nothing on accident. So, what does this mean?  Why didn’t He just go Himself to the disciples? It could be one of these four reasons: 

  • Because women stayed with Him through the crucifixion, He appeared first to those who stuck with Him to the last. Women have a stick-to-it-ness about them, especially when it comes to someone they love. I’ve watched women stick by men who have failed them, children who are sick or wayward, and friends who need more than they give. In the fabric of our gender, we stay.
  • Women traditionally carried out the burial rituals in first century Judaism, so they were witnesses by default. In almost every corner of this world/throughout recorded history, women have been entrusted with the care of bodies. We birth them, feed them, wash, mend, comfort, and worry over them. It is unremarkable women arrive at the tomb of Jesus to anoint Him for burial. The women who fed Him and looked after Him in life, came to care for His body one last time.
  • It could be a tip to Jesus’s elevation of the status of women in general. He had been doing it for the last three years, speaking to women in public.  He cures a woman who had been crippled for 18 years, laying hands on her in the Temple and saying, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity” (Luke 13:12).  Jesus uses a title of dignity for her, “daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16.) The expression “son of Abraham” was used to indicate a male Jew bound by covenant to God, women had never been called “daughters of Abraham.”  God doesn’t count like we do. When someone speaks to you, you feel honored. God’s people look like Him when we open our mouth to honor, like He did.   

In John 4:4-42, Jesus talks to the woman at the well- arguably the first missionary. Jesus ignores two codes of behavior. He initiates a conversation with a foreigner, a Samaritan who is also a woman. “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (John 4:9). Jesus recognizes and honors her.  When His disciples return, they are uneasy with Jesus’ behavior. “What are you looking for? Why are you talking with her?” (John 4:27).  John made sure we knew although a woman’s testimony was not trustworthy, here the Samaritan woman’s words are acted upon. “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified on his behalf (John 4:39.)

Jesus recognizes the dignity of women in situations that, by ritual law, demand judgment. In both instances of Luke 7:36-50 and 8:3-11, we see Jesus seeing someone deserving compassion (the sinful woman who anoints Jesus, and the woman caught in adultery.)  After Jesus is touched and anointed by a woman who is a recognized sinner, his host, Simon, reacts accordingly. This prominent religious leader, a Pharisee, says, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 8:39). Jesus tells the woman her sins are forgiven, but then also uses her actions (and the love which prompted them) to teach his offended host! 

Jesus’ question is pointed: “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 8:44.) 

Jesus sees women without the cultural context the rest of us see through. He sees all of us that way, regardless of the lines/classes/distinctions this world places on us. He just sees us, deserving of compassion. 

  • Lastly, it could be an apologetic choice. “Perhaps the strongest reason of taking the stories of the empty tomb absolutely seriously lies in the fact that it is women who play the leading role. It would have been very unlikely for anyone in the ancient world who was concocting a story to assign the principal part to women since, in those times, they were not considered capable of being reliable witnesses in a court of law. It is surely much more probable that they appear in the gospel accounts precisely because they actually fulfilled the role that the stories assign to them, and in so doing, they make a startling discovery.” -Anglican priest and physicist John Polkinghorne

Knowing Jesus trusted women to share the good news, and to be the resurrection’s first witness, fills me with appreciation of His character. He sees people- not gender or color or age or ability. He regularly shocked His audience with attention and honor going to the least likely. If we want to look like Him this season- we need to be inclusive and loving. We need to see people and then tell them this incredibly good news.   Jesus’ assignment of the commission to Mary was intentional and it assures us we all qualify to tell of his resurrection.