As Jesus hung on the cross, the Bible records that He spoke seven final statements. The third saying, recorded in John 19:26–27, expresses the Lord’s care and concern for His mother: “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” The unnamed disciple whom Jesus addressed was the apostle John himself.
Despite His excruciating physical agony, Jesus was concerned about the welfare of His mother and the pain she was experiencing. With His thoughts on Mary’s future security and protection, Jesus entrusted her into the care of John, His beloved disciple.
Most scholars believe Joseph, Mary’s husband, was already dead by this time. Traditionally, the oldest son in a Jewish family was duty-bound to provide for his mother’s care if she became a widow. By entrusting Mary to John’s care, Jesus was fulfilling His family responsibility as a devoted son.
Typically, a dying son would commit his mother into the care of another member of his immediate family. In the case of Jesus, that would have been James, Jude, or another male sibling. But Jesus knew that none of His half-brothers were disciples yet they had not accepted Christ’s claims or committed to His mission. Thus, Jesus most likely chose John out of profound spiritual concern for His mother. Even in death, Christ was focused on spiritual matters.
With the words, “Woman, behold your son,” Jesus invited His mother to look to John, His much-loved disciple and friend, to be her son now. Jesus was departing from her, but John would take the Lord’s place in her life as much as was possible. John was the only apostle brave enough to take a stand with the women who had accompanied Jesus to the cross (Luke 23:49; Mark 15:40; John 19:25). The rest of Christ’s disciples had scattered, abandoning the Lord in fear (John 16:32).
There is no disrespect in the Lord’s use of the title woman instead of mother. He had addressed her as “Woman” before (John 2:4). The address may sound disrespectful in English, but not in Greek. Woman was, in fact, “a highly respectful and affectionate mode of address” (Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887, entry for Jn. 2:4). The Amplified Bible translates it as “[Dear] Woman.”
A symbolic meaning can be drawn from Jesus’s words “Woman, behold your son.” Establishing the family of God was at the heart of Christ’s mission and ministry. Through relationship with Jesus Christ, believers become members of a new family (John 1:12). As the Lord completed His earthly ministry, His words to Mary, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “Here is your mother,” were profoundly illustrative of God’s new family being born at the foot of the cross.