Mary, Mother of the Saints

This is the sixth (and what I plan to be final) article in a series exploring what the Scriptures teach about Mary, the mother of Jesus. We have considered the special grace given to her in bearing the Son of God, her example of faithful obedience, her role in directing others to her Son, and the passages enjoining us to call her blessed. Most recently, we considered her as a foil to Eve; as Irenaeus wrote, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience.”

We wrote last week that we had yet to consider another Old Testament type of Mary, the matriarch Sarah. As we wrote then, the basic parallels between the two women are obvious: God promised sons to two women who shouldn’t have been able to bear children. Furthermore, God chose Sarah and Mary specifically, not incidentally. We see this, for example, when Sarah had Abraham take Hagar. Abraham pleaded that God would accept Ishmael, but God told Abraham, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him” (Gen 17.19).

Sarah is a type of Mary in other ways. We have seen how Mary expressed her trust in God through her song of praise. The Hebrew writer tells us that Sarah had this same combination of faith and hope: “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised” (Heb 11.11). Sarah is a type of Mary in her obedient and submissive attitude. Mary submits to God (Luke 1.38), to her husband (Luke 2.1-5; Matt 2.13-14, 19-21), and to her Son (John 2.5). Remember what Peter says of Sarah: “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet 3.6).

I want to turn our attention to that last thing that Peter says about Sarah in 1 Pet 3.6, “And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” Paul makes a similar point about Abraham, calling him “the father of us all [i.e., of all the faithful]” in Rom 4.16. Abraham and Sarah were patriarch and matriarch not just of their immediate family but of the whole nation of Israel, which is to say all of God’s people. God promised to make nations and kings out of them (Gen 17.6, 16). Centuries after their deaths, Isaiah admonishes Israel, “Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him” (Is 51.2). This leads us to the last thing that we will consider about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Just as Sarah is a type of Mary in her childbearing, her obedience, and her faithfulness, Sarah is also a type of Mary in her status as matriarch of the faithful.

Revelation 12, the Vision of the Woman and the Dragon, opens by describing a woman dressed in splendor and pregnant with a son. Another sign appears—a “sign that is opposed,” we might say—a dragon seeking to devour the child. We learn in verse five that the child “is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron [cf. Ps 2.7-9]” and “was caught up to God and to his throne.” Apocalyptic imagery is meant to carry many meanings simultaneously, but we cannot miss the most obvious interpretation of Rev 12: the male child is Jesus, making the woman Mary (again, Mary is not the sole meaning of the woman, but she undeniably is one of the symbol’s meanings).

The vision’s end presents Mary as matriarch of the faithful. “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12.17). The vision explicitly identifies the faithful (i.e., the church) as the offspring of Mary. And so, as our forebears in faith identified Sarah as their mother, we are to identify Mary as ours.

The vision further connects Mary and Sarah when we consider that Sarah’s name means “princess.” The woman of Rev 12 is dressed as a queen, “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12.1). The number of stars in her crown evokes the tribes of Israel and the number of the apostles—in other words, the whole of God’s people before and after Christ’s ministry. It is an understatement to say that these connections were not lost on Christians of the first four centuries.

Finally, the vision presents us with a deeper understanding of Mary’s connection with Eve. As we saw last week, Mary is Eve as she ought to have been. Rev 12 makes the connection more explicit. Mary (the woman) flees from the dragon, which the vision identifies as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12.9, the only place in Scripture that explicitly identifies the serpent of the Garden as Satan). She flees as Eve should have done, and for that, she becomes our mother, our own Eve, “mother of all living” (Gen 3.20).

May God bless all of Mary’s children with her obedient faith.

Image: Inmaculada Concepción, Diego Velázquez (1618)

Full title: The Immaculate Conception Artist: Diego Velazquez Date made: 1618-19 Source: Contact: Copyright © The National Gallery, London

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