In a day when women were considered second-class, Jesus shattered prejudices and elevated the status of women to unprecedented heights. That value equalization continued with His apostles. Peter warned husbands that, unless they treated their wives with respect, recognizing that women are co-heirs with them in all God promised, their prayers would be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The apostles did not learn the value of women from their culture. They learned it from their Master, Jesus. And Jesus treated women with the same love and respect with which He treated men.
Jesus’ elevation of women began before He was even born. In God’s divine plan, He had chosen a woman to begin His process of redeeming mankind. God sent His angel Gabriel to a young woman in the town of Nazareth with the good news that she would be the mother of God’s Son (Luke 1:26–38). Gabriel’s first words to Mary were, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” God first entrusted a woman with the most important message the world has ever received: the long-awaited Messiah was on His way.
When Jesus was only eight days old, the Holy Spirit revealed His identity to a woman, Anna (Luke 2:36–38). So before Jesus was even old enough to declare anyone’s value, God the Father was already at work revealing His heart to His faithful daughters. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, women flocked to hear Him teach, and some even supported Him financially (Matthew 27:55; Mark 15:41; Luke 8:2–3).
What was it about this Teacher that drew both men and women? Jesus was completely without prejudice. He loved every human being regardless of race, ethnicity, occupation, background, or gender. He treated them equally and included several women among His closest friends (Luke 10:38–39; 24:10; John 11:5). The fact that women are called by name in the Bible is significant. In a culture where women could not own property or testify in court, a woman’s opinion or her presence at an event was not even worth mentioning. The New Testament shatters those social norms by including the names of many women and the specific roles they played in furthering God’s kingdom.
Jesus broke down more cultural barriers when He took a detour through Samaria. There, He had an encounter with an immoral woman (John 4:4–26). The fact that she was a Samaritan was enough to bar her from any conversation with a self-respecting Jew, but, to make matters worse in the disciples’ eyes, she was a woman (verse 27). As they watched, their Master transformed that woman and through her impacted an entire city with His message of hope and redemption (verses 39–41).
Another time, an immoral woman was paraded before Jesus by Jewish leaders hoping to entrap Him (John 8:2–11). They demanded that Jesus give His opinion on the punishment she should receive for her adultery. They considered this an easy win since the law required the death penalty (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). If Jesus took the woman’s side, He was negating the law. If He took her accusers’ side, He was negating all He had ever taught about forgiveness (see Mark 2:15–17). Either way, they figured, they had Jesus cornered. Jesus turned the tables on them and dealt with their self-righteousness, forcing them to inspect their own lives first: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” He said (John 8:7). Again in this case, Jesus used the example of a woman to teach an important lesson about equality in God’s eyes. We are all sinners, men and women. None of us have the right to pass final judgment on another while hiding our own similar actions (see Romans 2:1–3).
Women were last to leave the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and first at the empty tomb (Matthew 27:61; 28:1), indicating that the transforming power of Jesus had given the women courage and boldness to follow Him openly. In a marvelous display of the women’s faith and God’s approval, those women became the world’s first witnesses of the resurrection (Matthew 28:8).
In all His interactions with women, Jesus treated them with dignity, compassion, and respect. In so doing, He countered the prevailing notions of the day concerning women and their place in society. When Jesus calls a man or a woman to follow Him, He transforms them into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Old prejudices and stereotypes no longer define us. Christians are united by one Spirit (Ephesians 4:5), and we are to view each other as brothers and sisters in the family of God. God never pretends that men and women are the same, but Jesus’ life indicated that He valued both equally. Both sexes make unique contributions to the family and to the church, and both should work together for the advancement of all.