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When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

John 19:26-27

Jesus spoke but seven times during the six hours of suffering on the cross. The first crossword was spoken after the soldiers nailed Him to the cross at 9:00 a.m.: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The second crossword was spoken later in the morning to the penitent thief who sought salvation from Jesus: “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.”

And now we come to the third crossword that was spoken still later in the morning. Jesus’ mother Mary and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, step forward from the crowd and approached Jesus. Speaking to Mary but nodding to John, Jesus said, “Woman, behold thy son!” Speaking then to John, but nodding to Mary, Jesus said, “Behold thy mother!” And immediately John took Mary to his house.

This is a very significant crossword. Jesus was saying farewell to His mother as He faced death. What a sad moment for both Mary and Jesus. We must see that the pain of this farewell constituted part of Jesus’ atoning suffering. But there is more. Jesus was also providing for the care of His mother after His death. Jesus did this not only as her son but also as her Savior. So also does the crucified Jesus provide for the care of all His people.

A sad farewell

Jesus’ farewell was sad first of all for Mary. Jesus was Mary’s son. It is true that Jesus is God’s eternal Son. But He was also Mary’s son, her firstborn, her own flesh and blood. Undoubtedly, Mary was very close to Jesus. He was the perfect son, who honored His mother with perfect love. Joseph, her husband, had evidently died, since no mention is made of him during Jesus’ ministry. Mary had relied a great deal on her firstborn son, Jesus. How difficult, therefore, the events of the past several hours must have been for Mary. Jesus’ enemies had arrested Him, condemned Him to death, and crucified Him. Soon her beloved son would die and she would lose Him. And now before He dies, Jesus says farewell to His mother. How dreadfully sad.

But Jesus was more than Mary’s son. He was also her Savior. Mary had understood this from the very beginning. An angel had announced His birth to her, informing her that her son would be great; He would be called the Son of the highest; God would give to Him the throne of His father David (Luke 1:35). This wonderful message of the angel had been confirmed by the miracle of the virgin birth as well as by the whole of Jesus’ life, especially His short ministry of three and a half years. Consequently, Mary had followed Him, pinning all her hopes of salvation on Him, as had others. But now all her hopes and dreams were dashed. Mary, as the others, did not understand the death of Jesus. All now appeared to be lost. Their hopes and dreams were shattered as they saw Jesus crucified and about to die. What a horrible defeat this seemed to be! How sad, therefore, for Mary was this farewell of Jesus.

This farewell was also sad for Jesus.

Death is very painful. And perhaps the greatest pain in death is the fact that death severs all earthly ties. This certainly is true of those who are left behind in death. Death tears from your life someone whom you have grown to love, trust, and depend upon so that a void is left. The closer the person was to you, the deeper the hurt. But the pain is no less intense for the one who is dying. We are all of the earth earthy so that all our life here below is closely tied to this earth. But when we die, we leave it all behind. We leave behind all that we have labored for and accumulated. And, above all, we leave behind our loved ones. How painful it is to say farewell in death, even when we die in the Lord and know that heaven awaits us.

And it was no less painful for Jesus. Jesus is not only God; He is truly man. According to His human nature He was of the earth earthy, just as we are. Jesus had strong earthly ties, especially to His disciples. But closest to Him was His beloved mother. And now Jesus was about to lose it all through death. And the greatest earthly loss was His mother Mary. This loss is reflected in the very way Jesus addressed Mary—not mother but woman. How painful this was for Jesus.

A necessary farewell

This sad farewell was necessary for Jesus, first of all, to atone for sin. Jesus came into the world to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). This required atonement for their sins. To save His people from their sins required that He take the penalty of death that His people had incurred and bear it all away. That death is the eternal death of hell that Christ experienced on the cross. But Christ must also suffer physical death with all its pain, including the breaking of all earthly ties. That also is the punishment for our sin. The pain that Jesus suffered in this sad farewell to His mother was part of His atoning suffering for sin.

But Jesus’ farewell was also necessary so that Jesus might focus on a new and better relationship He has with Mary and with all of God’s people. We who belong to Jesus Christ have relationships on two different levels that we enjoy in this life. On the earthly, physical level there are the natural ties of husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, and more. In Christ, however, there are also higher, spiritual ties that are enjoyed only in the salvation that Jesus brings to His people. On that higher, spiritual level we are the children of God. God is our Father who has adopted us and transforms us into His image through a spiritual rebirth. We belong to the family of God in which we are all brothers and sisters of each other. And Jesus is our eldest Brother. We have and enjoy these spiritual ties only in the power of Jesus’ atoning death.

Furthermore, these spiritual ties are far superior to the earthly, physical ties that we have. This is evident from the fact that our earthly ties are only temporary, whereas our spiritual ties in the family of God are everlasting. The Bible tells us that in heaven all earthly relationships will cease. In heaven, for example, there will be no marriage (Matt. 22:23-30). Neither, therefore, will there be the parent-child relationship. All these belong only to this life. However, the spiritual ties we have in Jesus Christ will remain and carry over into the Father’s house of many mansions. In fact, in eternity our spiritual ties in the family of God are perfected. We will be freed from the sin that hinders our present relationships. This will bring us closer to our heavenly Father, our eldest Brother, and to all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Nor will we miss the old relationships of this life. And so, as Jesus was about to leave this life to enter into His Father’s house of many mansion, He broke His earthly ties with Mary. While on the earth, Jesus had a twofold relationship with Mary. From an earthly point of view He was her eldest son. From a higher, spiritual point of view He was her eldest Brother. Now that Jesus was about to leave this life to enter into His Father’s house of many mansions, Jesus broke the earthly tie of being Mary’s son that He may focus on His work of being Mary’s eldest Brother.

A loving farewell

We see in this farewell the loving concern of Jesus for Mary, His mother. It had been Jesus’ responsibility to provide for the care of His widowed mother. This was His responsibility as her firstborn son. But it was especially His duty as her Savior. And so, as Jesus was about to depart in death, His concern was directed towards Mary’s care. It would have been natural for Jesus to commit her care to the hands of His brothers and sisters according to the flesh. However, they had not believed in Him as had Mary. They would not embrace Him as the Savior until after His resurrection and exaltation. And so Jesus committed the care of Mary to His beloved disciple John. Notice closely what He said. To Mary He said, “Woman, behold thy son!” And to John He said, “Behold thy mother!” The meaning is that Mary must view John as her son to provide for her. And John must view Mary as his mother to provide for her. What a loving and tender farewell!

In like manner Jesus provides for all whom the Father has given Him. On the basis of His atoning sacrifice the exalted Jesus is preparing for us a place in His Father’s house of many mansions. In anticipation of taking us home Christ has sovereignly brought us into the family of God. And until the time that we are taken to our heavenly home, Jesus as our Savior and eldest Brother provides for our care, as He did with Mary. While on the earth we have many needs, both spiritual and physical. But Jesus our Savior and eldest Brother graciously provides for our every need until we are safely home.