When Jesus was on the cross, both the apostle John and Mary the mother of Jesus stood nearby. In John 19:26–27 we read, “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 clear understanding of the passage is that Jesus commanded John to care for Mary after His death.
Mary was most certainly a widow at this point in her life and also an older woman. Though she had other sons, Jesus chose John to provide care for Mary after His death. Why? Jesus’ brothers did not become believers until after His resurrection (John 7:5). Further, Jesus’ brothers were not present at His crucifixion. Jesus was entrusting Mary to John, who was a believer and was present, rather than entrusting her to His brothers, who were not believers and who were not even present at His crucifixion.
As the oldest son in His family, Jesus had a cultural obligation to care for His mother, and He passed that obligation on to one of His closest friends. John would have certainly obeyed this command. Mary was most likely one of the women in the upper room and was present when the church was established in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12–14). She probably continued to stay with John in Jerusalem until her death. It is only later in John’s life that his writings and church history reveal John left Jerusalem and ministered in other areas.
This is also confirmed by Acts 8:1 that reads, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” John was still in the city at this time (perhaps one or two years after the resurrection) and was still there three years after the conversion of Paul (Galatians 2:9).
There is no contextual proof within Scripture itself that would point to Jesus broadening Mary’s role as “mother” of all Christians. In fact, Catholic teaching can only point to early church leaders as proof that Jesus meant to establish Mary’s “motherhood” to all believers in Christ or that Mary was a cooperative participant in salvation. John took Mary into his home to care for her. The Bible does not say “from that time on Mary became the mother of all believers.”
The beauty of John 19:26–27 is reflected in the care Jesus had for His mother, as well as the care John provided for her. Scripture clearly teaches the importance of caring for widows and the elderly, something Jesus personally applied during His final hours of His earthly ministry. James, the half-brother of Jesus, would later call such care for widows “pure religion.” “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).