At the hour of our Savior’s greatest need—during Jesus’ passion—most of the original disciples of Christ were nowhere to be found. When Jesus was arrested, “all the disciples left him and fled” (Matt. 26:47–56), though Peter and John—the Beloved Disciple—soon turned back and followed Jesus from a distance (John 18:15–16). Peter did not last long, however, for shortly thereafter he denied knowing the Lord (vv. 17–27). As Jesus hung on the cross, apparently John alone stood by the Savior (19:26).
The majority of the disciples may have abandoned Jesus as He endured the cross, but He was not totally bereft of human friends in His hour of need. In addition to John, several of our Lord’s women friends and followers were also there at the foot of the cross. John 19:25 tells us that “standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” It is not entirely clear in the Greek whether John is specifically mentioning two, three, or four women, but it is most likely that the evangelist is referring to four different ladies. Matthew, Mark, and Luke also mention the presence of several women, including some details about the women not found in John’s gospel (Matt. 27:55–56; Mark 15:40–41; Luke 23:49).
John, however, tells us about an interchange between Jesus and His friends during His crucifixion that is not mentioned in the other Gospels. Seeing Mary His mother and John, Christ entrusted Mary to John’s care (John 19:26–27). Our Savior likely had assumed most of the responsibility of providing for His mother, at least before His earthly ministry, after His earthly father, Joseph, (probably) died when Jesus was young. At the hour of His greatest need, Jesus thought not of Himself but of His mother, making sure not to leave her without any provision. Whether Paul had this action of Christ specifically in view when He extolled our Lord’s servanthood (Phil. 2:5–11) we do not know, but His care for Mary certainly exemplifies His willingness to serve.
Jesus’ charging John with caring for His mother also has ramifications for how we understand the saving work of Christ. Although He was under great duress, Jesus made sure to keep the law of God, honoring His mother according to the fifth commandment by making sure that she would be provided for (see Ex. 20:12; Mark 7:9–13). He continued to fulfill the law—indeed, He had to continue keeping the law—even as He suffered in order to secure the perfect righteousness we need to stand before God (2 Cor. 5:21).