But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning, he came back into the temple courts. And all the people kept coming to him. He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and had her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 They asked this to test him, so that they might have evidence to accuse him. Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. 7 But when they kept on asking him for an answer, he stood up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they went away one by one, beginning with the older men. Jesus was left alone with the woman in the center. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
There is something wrong with this picture. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman before Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. They were correct in saying the penalty for adultery according to the Law given at Mt. Sinai was death (See Leviticus 20:10). But did you notice something missing? It takes two people to commit adultery. Leviticus 20:10 demanded that both the man and the woman caught in the act of adultery must be put to death. If the accusers really wanted Jesus to decide the case, why didn’t they bring both offenders before him? Another consideration is why they even involved Jesus in the first place. These men were supposed to be Israel’s religious leaders. Why didn’t they simply decide the matter for themselves? In most cases when the scribes or Pharisees came before Jesus they were trying to find some way to discredit him. That was probably the case here. They probably felt they had Jesus trapped by this situation. If Jesus said to let the woman go then he was violating God’s Law. If he said to stone her to death he was violating Roman law. The Romans ruled the land. Only they could impose the death penalty. Either way the scribes and Pharisees thought they had Jesus in trouble.
Jesus saw something that was even more wrong with this picture. He didn’t question whether the woman was guilty. He didn’t question what God’s Law said about the punishment for adultery. But the woman’s accusers failed to see there was more than one guilty party standing before Jesus. That’s why Jesus said to them “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Once again the Son of gave the perfect answer. In this case he showed that all have sinned and fallen short of the standard God has established. Any sin is detestable to God. Romans 6:23 said “For the wages of sin is death.” Any sin makes us worthy of God’s judgment now and in eternity.
But there was one more thing that seemed wrong here. The crowd got Jesus’ message. They had no choice but to disperse. The only people left at the scene were Jesus and the woman. Notice that Jesus didn’t say the scribes and Pharisees were wrong about their accusations against this woman. The fact that Jesus told her not to sin anymore is a good indication she was guilty and deserving God’s judgment. All the ones who were equally guilty were gone away. The only one left was the sinless Son of God. If anyone had the right to punish this woman for her sins it was him. He would have been perfectly justified to carry out the Law by stoning the woman to death. We might even say that he as the Son of God had an obligation to do so under the commands of God’s Law.
But we praise our Lord that he always acts according to his own holy will and not according to our will. Jesus said in Matthew 9:13 “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ In fact, I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mercy is what Jesus showed to this woman. After he pointed out that the woman’s accusers were no longer present he forgave her. At the same time he taught her how she should live as a forgiven sinner, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
We are not required to stone someone to death for the sin of adultery any longer. That was a command given to one nation at one time. But there is much we can learn from this account. The wage we earn for our sins is still death. God still has every right to bring us under his judgment for any sin we commit. But in mercy our Lord desires to treat us with mercy just as he treated the sinful woman in John 8. Our Lord doesn’t look the other way and pretend our sins didn’t happen. Jesus carried the punishment of our sins to the cross where he paid the death penalty for us. Now he calls on us to live a life of repentance. Confess our sins and trust in God’s mercy. Then in grateful response to our Lord for his mercy let us leave behind our life of sin and follow our Lord in faith striving to live according to his holy will.
1 – The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman before Jesus and charged her with the sin of adultery. What penalty did God’s Law demand for such a crime?
In Leviticus 20:10, God demanded that if a man and woman were caught in the sin of adultery both of them were to be put to death.
2 – Why did the accusers bring the woman before Jesus?
Clearly their goal was to trap Jesus in his words. It is likely they thought they had Jesus trapped either way. If he said to let the woman go then he was defying God’s Law. If he demanded that she be put to death he was defying the law of the land. Rome ruled over the province of Judea. According to Roman law, only the Roman government could hand out the death penalty. Either verdict Jesus gave would seemingly land him in trouble.
3 – How did Jesus avoid the trap and get to the heart of the matter at the same time?
He gave the perfect response. He didn’t deny the guilt of the woman. But he let all the accusers see that they were equally guilty before God. Sometimes human beings like to think certain sins are worse than others. Jesus showed that the sins of the accusers made them just as guilty before God as the woman caught in adultery.
4 – Jesus told the woman “Neither do I condemn you.” Some have incorrectly used Jesus’ words to say we can’t condemn someone of their sins because Jesus is accepting of everyone just the way they are. How would you respond?
Jesus was not accepting of the woman’s sins. He told her to “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” Jesus doesn’t condone any sin. The reason he forgave the woman is because he had come to sacrifice his life to pay for her sins. God’s mercy doesn’t give us an excuse to go on sinning. God’s mercy ought to lead us to show our thanks to him by striving to turn away from our sins and instead to live our lives according to his holy will.
If you have any questions about the Word of God we studied in this lesson please contact Pastor Greg Tobison. You can send your questions to