John 7:53-8:1 – They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
‘They’ refers to all the different groups of people who heard Jesus speak at the temple during the feast of Tabernacles.
Most were considered ‘common’ or ordinary Jews. For some of them, it was a long journey home. Jesus and his doctrine were undoubtedly a subject of conversation/discussion during their travels. Others in this category lived either in Jerusalem or nearby. For them, work resumed the very next day; the marketplaces and businesses were surely abuzz with talk of the events that occurred in the temple.
How about the temple guards? After hearing only a small portion of his doctrine, they believed Jesus to be the Christ. He was probably discussed at length during their dinner that night.
And then there were the religious leaders. A few, like Nicodemus, were trying to impartially look at the facts surrounding Jesus. They desired to judge righteously and arrive at the truth. But most were doing everything in their power to stop Jesus and his message, because it threatened to disrupt the little kingdom of comfort, wealth and influence they had set up for themselves. They went home that day in frustration, because God caused their plans to end in chaos.
The point is, no one left that day unchanged. All of them returned home impacted in one way or another by the words of Christ.
This should give us encouragement as we share the gospel. It is our job to spread the Holy Spirit anointed word of God to the lost. But it is up to each individual person to consider the message and decide what they will do with it.
As the people headed for home, Jesus departed for the Mount of Olives.
We have discussed this particular location before, in our study of the book of Matthew. The Mount of Olives is about a mile east of Jerusalem. Jesus passed through this area regularly on his way to and from the city. It was his customary place of refuge for the night, when it was unsafe for him to remain in Jerusalem. He also spent time here in prayer and fellowship/training with his disciples.
The house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (close friends of Jesus) was located on the eastern side of this mountain in the city of Bethany (John 11:1). Another favorite place of Jesus, the Garden of Gethsemane, is located on the western side (John 18:2).
John 8:2 – Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.
But Jesus only stayed outside Jerusalem for a matter of hours. Early the very next day, despite the threats of the religious leaders, he was back in the temple taking care of his Father’s business.
And the crowds returned to hear him. Once again, the audience would have been a mixed group, all with vastly different motives. The Scribes came to disagree and disrupt.
Soldiers came to maintain order. The Pharisees came to tempt and ensnare him. Many of the common people came to hear a teacher who was different from any other. Some thought they were hearing the Messiah.
Each of them had at least one thing in common – they made time to meet with Jesus.
My guess is that the people back in that day were similar to the people of today. They had children to care for, lawns to mow, money to earn, sheep to feed, water to draw, laundry to wash, houses to clean and many other commitments. But they still made time to meet with Jesus and hear his word. Ironically, even those that were against him felt it was important to be present in the temple, listening to Jesus.
John tells us that Jesus taught them early in the day. We have a bit more flexibility. We can meet with God on our lunch hour, in our cars as we commute, while the kids are asleep, on our couches with a cup of coffee or on our knees in our prayer closet.
The important thing is that we, like the Jews, must ‘carve out’ time each day to be in fellowship with Christ. If we wait for a convenient time, it will never happen. What will you do today that is more important than spending some time with Jesus?
John 8:3-4 – The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.”
The incident we are about to study is an excellent contrast between the law and grace. Keep that in mind as you read it.
The Jews catch a woman in the sin of adultery (I don’t even want to know how they did that…), and they bring her before Jesus.
They don’t do this because they are great defenders of the law. They don’t do it because they are distressed about the sinfulness of their nation. They certainly didn’t do it to save her; they really didn’t care if she was helped or hurt by their actions. All they really wanted to do was trap Jesus.
By the standards of man, it was a very clever plot, similar to the case of the tribute money in Matthew 22:17. If Jesus condemns her to death, he was not the Savior he claimed to be; she would suffer the same punishment under the law.
Additionally, sexual sins in general were rampant during the reign of the Romans. While the Jews may have been less guilty than other groups, Jesus still refers to them as ‘an evil and adulterous generation’ (Matthew 12:39). To pronounce such a drastic punishment for a common form of sin would certainly have been controversial. If Jesus got caught up in some big controversy, it would take the focus away from the gospel message. In fact, it could completely overtake all interest in the true message of grace.
There was also the issue of Roman rule. Rome reserved the power of life and death for itself (hence the Jews had to get Pilate to condemn Jesus). Anyone who tried to usurp that power was swiftly and decisively silenced.
On the other hand, if Jesus simply lets her go, he is accused of being a law breaker; one who contradicts the Law of Moses and encourages sin. His adversaries would certainly take this opportunity to bring Jesus before the Sanhedrin as a false Messiah, for the true Messiah would never break the law. Incidentally, breaking the law was the same charge they already tried to bring against him when the accused him of healing on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14).
Either way, they would have grounds to accuse him before the Sanhedrin and sentence him to death. Or so they thought.
John 8:5 – “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
First off, they were right about the Law, but they were selective in how they wanted to enforce it. The law actually stated that both the woman and the man should be put to death:
Leviticus 20:10 – And the man that commits adultery with another man’s wife, even he that commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
See also Deuteronomy 22:22. Funny how they were able to bring the woman to Jesus, but not the man!
Secondly, the statement of the Jews was technically false; the law instituted the death penalty, but it did not specify the particular manner of death. In such cases (where the mode of death was not specified), the rabbins favored strangulation. However, past practices included being thrust through with a sword or stoning or both (Ezekiel 16:40). If the woman was the daughter of a priest, the punishment was being burned to death (Leviticus 16:9). The Jews living in the time of Christ decided death would be by stoning which explains their statement in this situation.
In that generation, stoning entailed binding the hands of the guilty and taking them to the top of a high place where they were thrown down head first. If the fall did not kill them, then a very heavy stone was thrown upon them; the executioners continued to throw stones at the person until they were dead. If the guilty person died in the fall, they were completely covered with rocks.
John 8:6 – This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
This scene is taking place in the temple, so when Jesus writes on the ground it actually refers to the pavement or floor. It was not bare dirt, as we might picture.
There may have been dust/dirt on the floor, in which case the words he wrote were visible. However, he may not have ‘written’ words that could be seen by others. In this case, writing on the floor may have been a way to simply show that he was not interested in what they had to say. It would be like ignoring them.
Or perhaps he was simply refusing to be placed in the role of judge, which was consistent with his mission. He refused the role of judge several times during his incarnation (Luke 12:14, John 12:47, John 8:15, etc).
Either way, it shows that Jesus was divinely aware of their wicked plans. Instead of answering their question, he intentionally disregards them. He effortlessly and effectively takes control of the situation by simply writing in the dust.
Of course, the big question is, ‘what did Jesus write?’ The truth is that we really don’t know. Some early versions of scripture say he wrote the sins of all the men standing there, however, most versions do not include this.
John 8:7 – And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus cannot mean that a person must literally be sinless in order to enforce punishment for guilt. If it did, the law would be null and void, for no one would have the authority or executive power to punish law breakers. Society would be in chaos.
The passage becomes clearer when we examine the phrase ‘without sin’. Grammatically speaking, the original Greek text literally means ‘without the sin of which her sin is an example’. The implication is that the men who were present as her accusers were also guilty of some kind of sexual sin.
So obviously, Jesus is NOT saying that men/women cannot occupy places of civil authority in society. Rather, he seems to be focusing on the hypocrisy of these leaders.
Now, you probably already know that under the law, a minimum of two witnesses were required to prove something was true:
Deuteronomy 19:15 – One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
But did you also know that any witness who gave testimony in a trial where the defendant was convicted and sentenced to death, was required to be the first or primary person to carry out the death penalty?
Deuteronomy 17:7 – The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put the evil away from among you.
This means that if the woman in this case was judged and sentenced to be stoned, these very men would have to be the ones to bind her hands, lead her to the precipice and push her off. If she was still alive, it would be their responsibility to throw the first heavy stone at/on her.
Why would God command such a thing? Well, it certainly is an effective deterrent to perjury. It would be an awful burden to bear if a person falsely accused someone of a crime, and then they were forced to look them in the eye as they carried out the sentence of death.
Anyway, we find that as the religious leaders press Jesus for an answer, he proceeds to foil their plans to trap him. He did not excuse the woman’s guilt, nor did he encourage her prosecution.
Instead, he effectively turns the tables back on them. He acknowledges that she deserves to be prosecuted, but asks them to examine their own consciences and see if they are fit to be judge, jury and executioner. Jesus reminds them that they would have to be the very ones to kill her with their own hands. Would their consciences allow them to do so? Should any person be zealous in exposing and punishing the offenses of others, when they themselves are guilty of the same crime?
Matthew 7:5 – You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother’s eye.
When we see a fault in someone else, let us first examine our own lives to see if there is any wicked way in us. We need to judge our own sin before we judge someone else.
And while we certainly do not condone sin, we should make it our practice to have compassion on others and try to restore that person to fellowship (Galatians 6:1).
John 8:8 – And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.
Jesus now gives them time to examine their own hearts. Again, although it is not fully confirmed, many think he went back to writing the sins of these men in the dust. Regardless of whether that happened or not, their consciences certainly seared their sin upon their own hearts like a hot branding iron. They could hide their guilt from the world, but not from themselves or from God!
John 8:9 – But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
It makes sense that they simply walked away. These men realized they were not going to achieve their goal of trapping Jesus. If they persisted in their endeavors, their own sin was sure to be exposed for all to see, and they certainly did not want that!
They left quietly, one by one. We might say they slunk away, because they were ashamed of their conduct. It is interesting to note the order of their departure – the oldest first. It may be that they were the most guilty, or that they were first aware of the danger of their own sin being exposed to the world.
The sad part is that this was actually a missed opportunity for the religious leaders. Now that the wound of their sin had been opened, Jesus could have healed it for them, had they asked. They could have sought repentance and left that place forgiven, but instead they chose to cover the wound with a band-aid of pride and rebellion. This type of band-aid has no ability to heal or restore. In fact, it promotes death – what hope do they have, when they reject the Redeemer?
Perhaps the religious leaders did not recognize that Holy Spirit conviction is a lot like medicine – you want to avoid it because it is bitter going down, but it is the best thing for you; it brings spiritual healing.
2 Corinthians 7:10 – For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be regretted: but the sorrow of the world works death.
This healing not only restores, but it brings the peace of God along with it! Those who turn to Christ Jesus are no longer under condemnation but have passed from death to life! How sad that they leaders missed this!
And what of the woman? She was as acutely aware of her guilt as the Scribes and Pharisees were. She probably had just as much opportunity to slip away into the crowd as they did (none of them was going to stop her at that point), but she did not. She stayed behind to face her sin.
John 8:10-11 – Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.”]
The woman had a very real basis for being afraid. She was guilty and she knew it. However, the law stated that two witnesses were needed in order to carry out the sentence of death. Since they had disappeared, she was free from the penalty of physical/earthly death.
As if that were not enough, Jesus steps in and gives her the greatest gift that can ever be bestowed upon a person – he forgives her of sin and saves her from spiritual death!
At one time, all of us were in the same situation as this woman – guilty as charged! But, hallelujah, that was not the final word! The law rendered a verdict of ‘guilty’ and pronounced a judgment of death, but its demands were silenced by the blood of Christ!
As Paul so powerfully points out in his epistle to the Romans, no one on earth has the right to accuse us before God:
Romans 8:33 – Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies.
But this leads us to another point, which we need to carefully consider. Everyone standing before Jesus that day was guilty of sin. Not only had the religious leaders committed sexual immorality, they placed this woman in a position to die for that same moral infraction. Certainly, she had a right to be angry. She could have chosen to bear a grudge against them. She could have accused them before Jesus for unjustly condemning her! This was a prime opportunity to live in unforgiveness – but she didn’t. She didn’t even bring up the subject of their guilt.
As Jesus instructs his followers, we MUST forgive others! This is not optional in the life of a Christian.
Luke 17:3-4 – Take heed to yourselves: If your brother trespasses against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he trespasses against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turns again to you, saying, I repent; you shall forgive him.
Jesus is our example in this; as he hung dying on the cross, he forgave those who put him there (Luke 23:34). Therefore, we also must forgive those who sin against us.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. As long as we are on this earth, subject to the malady of sin, we will continue to do so. The real question is, how do we handle that?
The religious leaders in this narrative reacted judgmentally; they were willing and eager to end this woman’s life to help make their case against Jesus. In our day we might say they ‘threw her under the bus’.
We need to be careful that we don’t act in the same way. There WILL BE Christians around us who fall into sin. We need to have the wisdom to correct them, without falling into judgment. Let me reiterate – correction and judgment are two very different things.
When a fellow Christian falls into sin, they need to repent. In fact, Jesus will bring a rod of correction into their lives if they don’t (Proverbs 3:11-12).
If the sin is a grievous one, or if they are in a position of leadership in the church, they also need to submit to the oversight of the pastor and/or elders. This may include stepping down from positions of leadership. They need time to heal and get back on the right track, before they can be in authority again.
For instance, if a person fell into the sin of adultery (like the woman in John 8), they will need time to work through their marriage and family relationships. They need time to analyze what went wrong, and how to avoid it going forward. They will need to rebuild trust in those around them.
During this critical time, it is our job to love, encourage and support them, as opposed to being judgmental.
Galatians 6:1-2 – Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. Bear you one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Notice what Paul tells us in Galatians – by praying and supporting these believers, you FULFILL the law of Christ. This is the opposite of what the Sadducees and Pharisees did to the woman; they wanted to use the law to condemn her.
Let me offer you some relief:
If you are one of the many Christians who has fallen into sin, remember this: You can be restored! It will take time. There may be a high price to be paid in the natural realm. But in the eternal realm, Jesus forgives you the moment you repent. And we have the assurance that Jesus will walk with us through whatever comes next (Hebrews 13:5).
Let me offer you some strength:
The best thing for us to do is avoid falling into sin in the first place! We are not ignorant of the enemy’s plans; scripture tells us that he is a roaring lion who seeks to kill us. In fact, his only goals are to steal, kill and destroy the children of God.
The good news is that Jesus has already given us both victory and authority over Satan. If we resist him, he will flee from us (James 4:7). So strengthen yourself in the Lord. Keep his word in your heart, in your mind and on your lips. Listen to the leading of Holy Spirit who will help keep you from the unseen snares of the enemy.