February 23, 2020

The Anointing of Jesus by Women

When studying the events of Holy Week, we read two different recorded occasions when a woman anoints either the feet or head of Jesus. Many scholars have combined both events because of their similarities; however, by studying them as two separate events, we are able to learn powerful insights into the possible timing of the stories. Timing that foreshadows the Savior as the anointed King and the Great High Priest of Israel.

In ancient times three main groups of people were anointed: prophets, priests, and kings. Both the words Messiah in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek mean the “anointed one” and refer to anyone that has been anointed. The anointing often took place by a priest who would pour olive oil from an animal’s horn onto the head of the person. The horn is often a symbol of power. [1] The anointing oil was combined with myrrh and other spices to create a beautiful smelling ointment. Anointing with this holy oil took place as a symbol of setting apart, or making sacred an individual for the service of God. It spiritually prepared the person for the mission they would lead. What better act to proceed the events of the atonement, death, and resurrection than the anointings performed by these two faithful women!

Reenactment of Aaron being anointed by Moses
The first anointing, as recorded by John, took place on Saturday six days before the Passover; in an unnamed home in Bethany. It was done by Mary the sister to Martha and Lazarus; wherein she anointed only the feet of Jesus. (See John 12:1-8). The second anointing, as recorded by Matthew and Mark, took place two days before Passover; in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany. This was done by an unnamed woman who anointed only the head of Jesus. (See Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9).

Comparison chart of the two accounts of the anointing of Jesus by women
John’s account places Mary’s anointing on Saturday. It may be that John was trying to foreshadow how Jesus, being anointed the day before the triumphal entry, was symbolically being anointed as the King of Israel. Remember that one of the reasons it was so significant that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey was because when Solomon was anointed as the king of Israel, he similarly rode into Jerusalem on a mule.

Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts places the anointing by the unnamed woman two days before the Passover. It may be that they were trying to show that Jesus was being anointed as the Great High Priest, who would intercede on our behalf. Anciently, the high priest was the only individual who could enter the most sacred part of the ancient temple, the Holy of Holies, and only on one day a year, the Day of Atonement. The high priest entered on behalf of Israel, symbolically bringing them back into the presence of God. As Jesus suffered in Gethsemane, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, he acted as our Great High Priest, who intercedes before the Father, allowing us to once again enter God’s presence through Christ. [2]

Reenactment of the high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement
These accounts offer two women as powerful witnesses of the Messiah and their sacrifice and testimony are striking. The ointments used by both women valued 300 or more pence. A pence was a day’s wage, making the total value equivalent to almost a full year’s earnings. Sadly, both women were also criticized by a disciple adding even more to the magnitude of this great gift.

Up to this point, the apostles did not fully understand the mission of the Savior. They had all witnessed great miracles by Jesus, heard His mighty teachings, and had powerful spiritual experiences. However, they clearly did not yet understand that ultimately through Jesus’ death true redemption would come. In contrast these two women, even before witnessing the resurrection, appear to understand the need for Christ to die. For them, anointing the Messiah with oil, preparatory to His death, was a token of their faith. Faith that would in turn be planted in the hearts of others as they witness who the Savior actually is. [3] In a culture where a woman’s voice was rarely heard let alone respected, Jesus wants the men to understand the poignancy of the unnamed woman’s service, “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9 NIV).

Whether it was just one or two different women that anointed Jesus during Holy Week this incredible service to their Lord and Master will always be remembered. A service that testifies of the Savior’s most often used title, that of Christ—the Anointed One.

In our world today where the gap between what is right and what is popular increasingly widens, we can remember these women and honor their memory by also standing as powerful witnesses of the divinity of Christ. As believers we can tell those who do not yet fully understand, “This is the Messiah, the Anointed One.”

Special thanks to Heather Pack for helping to review and write the conclusion of this script. Also, I am grateful for the research done by Eric Huntsman in his book God So Loved the World (see below).

[1] The Lost Language of Symbolism by Alonzo L. Gaskill, pages 49-50.
[2] God So Loved the World by Eric D. Huntsman, pages 44-45 and 133-135.
[3] Huntsman, page 45.


  1. This is so beautiful! Thank you for being so willing to share your knowledge.

    1. You are welcome! Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Thank you for sharing. Jesus teaches with such directness, with simplicity, truth without fluff. How wonderful that two woman were able to serve and honor him, by acknowledging who He is, with directness, simple truth.

  3. I believe that one of the missions of Christ was to raise the status of women. Not just in the Jewish culture but around the world.


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