As Easter Sunday approaches and Christians everywhere remember Jesus’ journey to the cross, we can’t help but wonder about those who stuck by His side till the bitter end—especially His earthly mother. The Bible doesn’t tell us what Mary thought, how she felt, or even how old she was when Jesus died. But Scripture is clear that Mary, from a young age, surrendered her life to the Father’s will, and in the prime of her life, a “sword pierced her soul” as she watched her son, our Savior, die for the sins of the world.
How Old Mary Was When She Got Engaged to Joseph?
Jewish marriage customs in Biblical times were far different than modern Western traditions. Today, most couples in the West marry for love, and according to recent census findings, most U.S. couples wed when they’re around 31 years old. This is notably older than the average marriage age from 1950—which was just 21 years old.
But in ancient times, Jewish families traditionally arranged marriages for their sons and daughters while they were still in their youth. Most Jewish girls aged 12-15 were promised to eligible young men aged 18-19.
The reason for early betrothal (or erusin) was practicality. A girl was considered the right age for marriage when she could physically bear children, a milestone marked by the start of her monthly cycle. A young man was considered ready for marriage when he had mastered the skills needed to support a family.
Jewish marriages were contracted between the bride and groom’s families, usually within a narrow circle of familial clans. The idea of marrying outside of one’s clan was taboo, lest foreign practices defile their beliefs and other tribes take possession of the family property. This is one reason why Mary and Joseph’s genealogies originate from the same ancestral lines. (Luke 3:23-38; Matthew 1:1-16).
Based on Jewish tradition, Mary’s father would have consulted her about his decision to make Joseph her husband, but only as a formality and only after negotiations for Mary’s bride price (or mohar) were settled. Back then, it made sense for the groom’s family to offer payment for a wife. After the wedding, the groom would continue to live and work in his father’s home with his new bride, while the bride’s family lost a valuable and profitable member of their household.
After their betrothal was finalized, Mary and Joseph probably had little to no contact for up to a year as they awaited their wedding ceremony and the consummation of their marriage. The bride’s chastity was protected and treasured. At no time did the families permit the bride and groom to be alone before their wedding night, even though the couple was considered legally married.
During Mary and Joseph’s betrothal period, God sent the angel Gabriel to visit Mary and inform her that she was the chosen vessel to bring the Son of God into the world (Luke 1:26-38). Since she was a virgin, Mary couldn’t understand how this blessing could occur. But the angel assured her that the Holy Spirit would accomplish the miracle, and Mary humbly and joyfully agreed to the Holy mission.
Had the angel not also visited Joseph and assured him that Mary’s pregnancy was the act of the Holy Spirit, Joseph could have legally divorced Mary for infidelity or had her stoned to death for adultery (Leviticus 20:10).
Today’s 12-to-14-year-olds typically carry the responsibility of cleaning their room, taking out the trash, and completing their homework. At that age, Mary rejoiced over the privilege to carry the Messiah into the sin-fallen world.
How Old Was Jesus When He Died?
The Bible does not provide specific dates for Jesus’ birth and crucifixion, but we can use scriptural context clues to get a close estimate of Jesus’ age when He died.
Luke 3:23 tells us, “Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.” This makes sense, given Jewish traditions prohibiting rabbinical teaching until age 30 (Numbers 4:3). Jesus, in all ways, submitted Himself to the law so that He might fulfill the law. (John 3:1-36, John 20:16). Part of this submission included His baptism, which mirrored the requirements of the Melchizedek priesthood (Matthew 3:13-15). Jesus was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” and began His earthly ministry around 30 years old.
After His baptism, Scripture reveals that Jesus attended three annual Passover feasts (John 2, John 6, John 12). Consequently, scholars believe that our Lord ministered for three and a half years before His death on the cross, making Jesus 33 years old when He died.
In roughly 1,200 days of ministry, Jesus accomplished more than any of us will in a lifetime. He recruited, loved, and cherished His disciples. He shepherded hordes of lost and wandering followers. He performed miracles beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. He told the truth wherever He went—whatever the cost—even unto death. And in doing so, Jesus showed the Father’s love to the world and offered the way of salvation to all who believe.
Was Mary a Widow When Jesus Died?
When Jesus was 12 years old, He and his parents went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. After the festival was over, Jesus’ parents joined a large caravan of friends and family members to begin their three-day journey back to Nazareth. After one day of travel, Mary and Joseph realized Jesus was not with the group, so they returned to Jerusalem to find Him. They found their son in the temple courts three days later, astounding all who heard Him (Luke 2:41-48).
Upon finding Jesus, Mary asked, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
Jesus answered, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
This account in Luke’s Gospel is the last time we hear about Mary’s husband, Joseph, in Scripture. It’s interesting to note that the passage also marks the first time Jesus calls God His “Heavenly Father.”
Although Mary is mentioned at the wedding at Cana (John 2), there is no Biblical evidence that Joseph was there, nor was he present at any of Jesus’ other public appearances. These conspicuous absences in Scripture suggest that Joseph died before Jesus’ public ministry began. The theory is made more credible by the fact that Jesus, while dying on the cross, commissioned the apostle John to care for Mary. Had His mother not been a widow at that time, Jesus’ gracious provision for her would have been unnecessary.
Mary at the Foot of the Cross
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple 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. (John 19:25-27)
What love and tenderness we see in Mary’s presence at the cross. According to Simeon’s prophecy when he took the infant Jesus into his arms, Mary’s destiny was to witness her son’s ultimate suffering.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
Undoubtedly, a sword did pierce Mary’s soul as she watched Jesus’ blood pour from His body, knowing there was nothing she could do to comfort Him. In the prime of her life, around age 46-49, Mary stood and faced the worst day of her life—and witnessed the best day for all humanity.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/rudall30
Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.
Learn more about the meaning and significance behind the Easter holiday and Holy Week celebrations:
What is Palm Sunday?
What is Maundy Thursday?
What is Good Friday?
What is Holy Saturday?
What is Easter?
At Easter, the Son of God took on the world’s sin and defeated the devil, death, and grave. How is it, then, that history’s most glorious moment is surrounded by fearful fishermen, despised tax collectors, marginalized women, feeble politicians, and traitorous friends?
In The Characters of Easter, you’ll become acquainted with the unlikely collection of ordinary people who witnessed the miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection. This FREE podcast provides a fresh approach to the Lenten season and can be used as a devotional or study for both individuals and groups.