Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery

The Apostle John provides us with a captivating scene from the earthly ministry of Jesus – the case of the woman caught in adultery. By doing so, he provides us with important insights into our fallen, sinful condition. But more importantly, he provides us with insightful, compelling reasons to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Let’s take a look at what this story teaches us about Jesus.

Jesus taught with humility. (John 8:1-2)

Throughout this book, the Apostle John reveals to us the supreme humility of Jesus. There has never been anyone so humble as Jesus. In fact, no one is humble at all apart from Jesus. He is the perfect example and only source of humility.

Look at the last verse of John 7. It says, “Everyone went to his own house.” This is what happened at the end of the day. It was the last great day of the Feast of Booths.

Have you ever attended a seminar, conference or retreat that lasted for several days? At the end of times like these, you are mentally and emotionally tired. You receive a lot of helpful information and have a lot of good conversations with a lot of interesting people. Then you want to go home to rest and refresh.

So here is Jesus. The feast had lasted for 7 long exciting and uplifting days. Scripture reading. Singing. Special processions. Meeting in the Temple. Teaching the crowds. Meeting new people. Answering hard questions. And making a major prophetic announcement: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink! Out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water!”

He had announced himself as the God and Messiah of the Old Testament. He had guaranteed to send the Holy Spirit of God to indwell everyone who believes in him. And now the week of festivities and ministry is almost finished. On the next day, Jews visiting from other places will begin to pack up their belongings and makeshift booths and say goodbye. They would begin their journeys home, while Jerusalem residents would return to bustling city life as usual.

So, everyone went home, ruminating over that exhilarating week. They went to their own houses, whether a house in the city or a makeshift booth for the festival. But Jesus had no home to call his own

Think of it. No home for the Master Teacher. No mansion for the Messiah. No palace for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Where did he go? We don’t know for sure. Perhaps he spent the night as a guest in the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha near Mount Olives. Or perhaps he spent the night in the open air, all alone. But one thing is certain: he didn’t go to his own house, when everyone else did. Why? Because he didn’t have one. Now that is the picture of humility. A man who commands the multitudes and offers the life of God to all who believe in him in the daylight, but retreats to be alone with no place to call home in the evening. That is our Jesus.

Early next morning, he entered the gates of the city and ascended to the Temple mount once more. He didn’t announce himself with miracles or fanfare, as other teachers would. He didn’t come strolling in after the crowds had arrived to ensure a large crowd. It is very simple: He just “came in.”

He didn’t announce himself with miracles or fanfare, as other teachers would.

He was standing around and the people came to him of their own accord. They wanted to hear more, so he sat down and continued teaching them. What graciousness. What absolute humility.

He had already taught these very same crowds so many things, for hours at a time. So, why did he continue to teach them? He knew what was in their hearts. He knew they were not understanding him. He knew that they would eventually shout, “Crucify him!” and take him to the cross. But even though he knew these things, he taught them anyway. Now that, my friends, is a humble teacher.

Jesus is unlike any other religious teacher in the history of the world. He does not announce himself. He does not ask for an audience. And he patiently teaches anyone who comes to him, even though he knows that they will destroy him in the end. He is not a weak or foolish teacher. He is not a proud or arrogant teacher. He is a humble teacher. Humble in every sense of the word.

Jesus answered with authority. (John 8:3-11)

As Jesus sat and taught the crowds around him, with supreme humility, the religious leaders (“scribes and Pharisees”) interrupted the gathering and tried their very best to trap him in a dilemma. They hoped that he would say something that would ruin his credibility with the people and stop his growing influence. Here’s what happened, and it was very awkward indeed.

The crowds are gathered on the stone pavement around him as he calmly, clearly teaches in the open air. All of a sudden, their attention turns to a group of religious leaders and a screaming, pleading woman who is being forcibly pushed by them. The noise grows as they force their way in front of Jesus, with the crowds looking on. They shove the lady onto the pavement for all to see and make a very shocking claim. They caught this lady as she was committing adultery! Now that, my friends, is a very awkward situation.

Would a public execution happen by stoning, right there and then?

The crowds are quiet. Tension fills the air. You see, the law of Moses condemned adultery and assigned the death penalty for anyone proven guilty. Would a public execution happen by stoning, right there and then? And that’s what the religious leaders asked from Jesus.

  1. Now if Jesus agreed that she should be stoned, he would agree with the law of Moses. He would be right according to the OT law, but would risk his reputation among the people as a compassionate, forgiving teacher. He would also violate Roman law that forbade the death penalty for anything but religious reasons.
  2. But if Jesus disapproved of stoning her, then he would risk his credibility as a teacher of the law of Moses and undermine his claim to be the true Messiah prophesied by Moses and the prophets.

The religious leaders thought they had laid the perfect trap. They called him teacher, pretending to show respect. But flattery never works with Jesus, and it didn’t work then. In the rush and the intensity of the moment, they pressed him to give his answer.

Now a man anxious for approval, who wants to prove himself to people will often give a quick answer to difficult questions. He wants to prove he knows what he’s talking about. To delay could be taken as a sign of weakness. So, with the traumatized woman, the gloating religious leaders and the curious, confused crowds looking on, did he give them a quick answer? No, he didn’t.

He delayed his answer. (John 8:6)

Preachers have said a lot of things to explain what Jesus did next. Instead of talking, he stopped teaching and stooped down to write in the sand with his finger. You know what? We don’t know anything more than this. We know that he did this, but we don’t know what he was writing, if anything. And good preaching cannot say something that the Bible does not say.

The best possible answer I’ve discovered is that Jesus may have been somehow alluding to Jeremiah 17:13. After all, he was the master teacher who mastered the OT front to back and only the day before had he made the great announcement about the water of life and the promise of the Holy Spirit for those who believe in him. Here’s what the verse says:

O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You shall be ashamed. “Those who depart from Me Shall be written in the earth, Because they have forsaken the LORD, The fountain of living waters.” (NKJV)

Is Jesus alluding to this prophecy about the Jews? Is he hinting at the fact that the religious teachers rejected his offer of salvation and, by refusing to believe in him as God and the source of living water, they stood on the precipice of being rejected by God? This is certainly possible. If it is true, it would have been a very appropriate and powerful thing to do. But we cannot say for sure that he was doing this.

Jesus did not answer them right away. Instead, he was silent. And the silence was deafening.

One thing is clear, though. Jesus did not answer them right away. Instead, he was silent. And the silence was deafening. As the master teacher, the Son of God, the man of perfect speech and the very Word of God himself, perhaps he was showing the timeless wisdom of Proverbs 29:11, which says:

A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.

You and I may have spoken promptly, but Jesus did not. Why? We can’t say for sure. But think about it this way. This period of shocking silence gave these men a chance to cancel their case. This silence gave their conscience a chance to speak before they would become embarrassed before the crowds. But the hypocrites and fools that they were, they persisted. They were blind leaders of the blind. John says they “continued asking him.” So, he raised himself up and gave them a very surprising answer.

He accused the accusers. (John 8:7)

Notice with me some details about this very strange situation:

  • Here is this lady being accused of adultery. Adultery is a very serious sin. It is in the 10 Commandments. It is so serious that it deserved the death penalty.
  • This is strange because the Pharisees claimed to catch her in the very act. We won’t say much about this, but please tell me how this happened. Were they spying on her personal life? Or peeking in a window? Or even worse, did they set up the situation that lured her into this in the first place?
  • You might also notice the glaring fact that the man who committed adultery with her is mysteriously absent. Adultery takes two people, and both deserve to be stoned. So where is the man? Did he run away? Did they let him go free, but single out the lady because she was defenseless? And even worse, was it one of them who had committed the sin with her? Were they covering this up? The only people that know are the people who committed the sin, the people who saw the sin and, of course, Jesus.
  • Most of all, I wince at the fact that these religious leaders are using this disgraced woman as a means to an end. How sad is this? Here is a lady, humiliated beyond reason. Guilty of sin, yes to be sure. But if witnesses saw it, then the witnesses should have already stoned the woman. According to the Law of Moses, this was the responsibility of the witnesses who seem mysteriously absent (Dt. 13:9; 17:7). If they really cared about enforcing the law, the witnesses should have already cast the first stone. But they didn’t. Here is a lady, bracing for a traumatic execution before the crowds, and she is being used as a prop by the Pharisees. How cruel. How calloused. How cold-hearted.
  • Furthermore, this is entirely hypocritical. They don’t even believe that Jesus is a credible teacher. They’ve made that clear in the previous chapters. So, if they were acting on their beliefs, then they would not bring this lady to Jesus. He was neither a witness t the sin nor a licensed judge in the city.

Here are men who call themselves religious leaders, but they are nothing more than blind leaders of the blind. They humiliate people and ignore the sin. They use people to their advantage, even when it violates their beliefs. Throughout this entire scene, they display a complete disregard for the woman we see here.

So how did Jesus answer them? What did he say? Did he give a complicated, legal answer? No. He gave a very simple answer that spoke straight to their conscience. He said, “Whoever is innocent, step forward and cast the first stone.” This was an amazing answer.

  1. First, Jesus upheld the Law of Moses. He accepted the woman’s guilt and recognized the proper consequence, death by stoning. He did not deny it.
  2. But at the very same time, he expanded the force of the Law by including a mention of the sins of the accusers as well. By doing this, he prevented the execution from actually happening. This not only extended mercy to the woman, but prevented any violation of Roman civil law.

Jesus was not making sinless perfection a requirement for stoning the woman and enforcing the law. If that were the case, then no one would ever be able to carry out the law of Moses. Everyone has committed sin, and sinners were responsible to carry out the law.

Jesus was not making sinless perfection a requirement for stoning the woman and enforcing the law.

So, what is Jesus saying here?

  • He may have been hinting at the fact that the eye witness or witnesses was mysteriously absent. Who saw the sin? If the only witness to this sin was the man who was also involved, then that person deserved to be stoned at the same time and was a disqualified witness. How shocking this would be if it were one of the Pharisees!
  • If this were not the case, then were the Pharisees relying on the witness of the man involved? If so, then they were covering up his sin to serve their own purposes and were guilty on that account.

At the very least, Jesus may be alluding to various sins, whether adultery or otherwise, that were hidden among these men, sins that would disqualify them from carrying out the execution, sins of which they might themselves be accused. And perhaps these men worried whether Jesus might begin to call out their sins in public, to their embarrassment and shame.

Whatever the case, no one threw a stone. This reminds me of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Rom. 2:1:

“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”

What an amazing criticism of our human nature. And who knew this better than Paul himself? He himself had been a Pharisee. He tells us that he was the most strict Pharisee of them all. And we might forget that when the Pharisees show up to criticize Jesus throughout the Gospels that Paul was probably in this group, at least some of the time. Perhaps he was there for this amazing moment? Perhaps he was one of the men who slipped away? Remember when he saw Jesus on the Damascus Road and Jesus said, “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks”? Perhaps this day, this moment, was one of those pricks, those convicting memories of Jesus that brought him to salvation.

Romans 2:1, he reminds us that the religious crowd is no better before God than the pagan crowd in the remote places of the earth. Why? Because we all commit the same sins, deserving the death penalty as prescribed in the Law of Moses.

Every person is a sinner. Every person falls short of the glory of God. And every person deserves not only the death penalty in this life, but death forever, eternal suffering and separation from God in the life that is to come. No amount of religious behavior can cover over that fact, and we all know it. So, before we begin to compare ourselves to someone who seems to be more sinful than us, let us remember the fact – that we are just as guilty.

Yes, none of these men stepped forward. Instead, the oldest and most respected among them slipped away, literally one at a time. Those who were younger and less respected were less confident in their ability to entrap Jesus, and so they also slipped away. And what’s sad is not only that these men are lost, disconnected from the truth about Jesus. They were leading the multitudes away from Jesus as well, misleading them about Jesus. False shepherds. Stealing them away from the Good Shepherd, the very God they claimed to worship.

If these men drove cars to get away from this scene, then perhaps you would see bumper stickers on the back of their cars that said, “Don’t follow me, I’m lost like you are.” The truth is that the people who call themselves teachers today are as lost and sinful as the crowds they lead. The truth about Jesus reveals this and also reveals that Jesus is the one to follow.

The truth is that the people who call themselves teachers today are as lost and sinful as the crowds they lead.

How different Jesus is from the religious leaders of that day and of ours as well. Turn on your television. Peer into the pulpits of Catholic cathedrals and gospel-denying denominations. See the empty hypocrisy of false teachers. Jesus is not there. Unlike these hollow pulpits, he is humble and teaches with authority.

He also teaches with compassion, too. Think of it, He knows the thoughts of our hearts. He easily could have announced the sins of each religious leader in public, but he gave them an easier way – step forward to stone the lady or slip away. That was the choice, and he let them slip away.

In reality, he gave them a third option as well. They could easily have stepped forward to believe in him and receive forgiveness of sins. But they did not. And as they quietly, slowly stepped away, Jesus stooped down to write in the sand again. What came next?

He forgave the sinner. (John 8:10-11)

With the group of religious leaders dispersed and gone, Jesus stood up once again. And this time he spoke – not to the crowds, but to the woman brought before him. What a night. What a morning it had been for this dear lady. A sinner? Yes, indeed. But the object of cruel, unmasked hypocrisy, false religious leaders who cared nothing for the holiness of God and nothing for her own soul.

Jesus, the Lord of the universe and the Judge of all people, spoke to this immoral woman in a polite and respectful way. When he said woman, he was using the manners of a gentleman. This was the same way that he addressed his mother (Jn. 2:4; 19:26), the adulterous Samaritan woman at the well (4:21), and Mary Magdalene (20:13, 15), another woman with a well-known reputation of a sinful lifestyle.

Jesus, the Lord of the universe and the Judge of all people, spoke to this immoral woman in a polite and respectful way.

Friend, like this woman, you have been disrespectful to the Lord of the Universe, the Christ of the cross from the day you were born. But he still speaks to you with outstretched hands and words of compassion and respect. Perhaps he is speaking to you right now through this true story in his Word. You are made in God’s image and he wants to save you from your sins. Will you stop depending on the religious things you do and let him save you? Will you call him Lord as he speaks to you in most respectful tones?

This lady did not excuse her sin. She did not profess to be innocent. And Jesus implies that she is guilty. But he did this without adding additional pain to her shame. She had already been shamed and humiliated. She deserved to be stoned, but he rescued her from the full force of the law.

Jewish men had barged in on her sin, rushed her into the streets and thrust her in front of Jesus and the crowds. For all she knew, it would be minutes, even seconds, and the crowds would pound large stones on her helpless body, crushing her to death in a horrific way. Her life was flashing before her eyes. Perhaps she was shaking. Perhaps she had been screaming. Perhaps she was crying still.

But Jesus said something that only God can say. “I do not condemn you.” He forgave her in honest confession of her sin. She acknowledged her guilt and he restored her life to her instead.

Notice that he did not minimize her sin. In fact, he said, “Don’t sin anymore.” Forgiveness is not a license to sin. It is a reason not to sin. In Romans 6:1-2, the Apostle Paul says this (my translation):

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin go on living in it?”

Also, notice that Jesus does not agree to save you only if you commit to never sin again. The woman never made such an agreement. Salvation is entirely the result of God’s free grace. No man or woman can earn it. “It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Jesus forgave the woman apart from any agreement about future behavior.

But Jesus gave instructions. “I’ve forgiven you. Now, don’t sin anymore.” This is not a condition for salvation, as I’ve already mentioned. Neither is this a threat. Jesus is not saying, “I’ve forgiven you; now, don’t sin anymore, or I’ll rescind my offer.” No, Jesus is simply stating the proper response to the forgiveness of God. Don’t sin.

Jesus is simply stating the proper response to the forgiveness of God. Don’t sin.

So, I give the same command to all today who have believed in Jesus Christ for salvation. “Don’t sin.” You can rely on the Holy Spirit who dwells within you, as he promised in John 7. But you must make the choice. If you are going on sinning, just as you did before you believed in Jesus, then you have a serious problem. Either you never believed in Jesus, or you are confused about Jesus somehow.

Bow at the feet of Jesus. Recognize the seriousness of your sin. And follow his command. He has forgiven you of terrible sins. Why would you want to continue sinning? What a thoughtless, rude and thankless thing to do!

In all of this, Jesus reveals the truth about himself, about our sin and about our human nature.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

Here is this lady. The Pharisees. The crowd. They all came to Jesus. Why? Because of the Law.

  • The crowds celebrated the Feast of Booths because of the Law.
  • The Pharisees came to Jesus to ask a question about the Law.
  • The woman was brought to Jesus because she had broken the Law.

And that’s what the Law does. It doesn’t make us righteous. It doesn’t take away our sin. It is our accuser and it brings us to Jesus. Unfortunately, not all who learn about Jesus believe in him.

That’s what the Law does. It is our accuser and it brings us to Jesus.

  • The crowds continued on their way, continuing to be confused because they were willingly and stubbornly following their hapless teachers.
  • The religious leaders slipped away because they were too afraid of acknowledging their sin and too proud to admit they were wrong and depend on Jesus.
  • But the sinful woman, caught in the act of adultery, believed in Jesus. She no longer cared what people thought about her. She had been exposed for her sin. Her only hope was to believe in Jesus and receive the full forgiveness that he would give.

How could Jesus forgive the sin of this lady? Rather than authorize her to be stoned to death, he would take the punishment for her sins onto himself on the cross in the weeks ahead. He would do for her what no religious leader could ever do. Take her stoning for her in the form of a cross.

Hear the words of the OT prophet Isaiah, speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:4-6):

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The point of this story is not that the law of Moses was wrong. God gave it. The point is not that this lady did not deserve the death penalty for adultery. She did. The point is that when you believe in Jesus, he takes the death penalty for you. You can go on sinning and trying to do religious things, but you will die for your own sins. Or you can believe in Jesus as God and Savior, because he died in your place.

When you believe in Jesus, he takes the death penalty for you.

I’ve heard a man describe a painting that hangs on his wall, of a man in misery collapsed onto the ground. Moses stands over him, lifting up the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, as though he were about to swing them down upon his head to crush him. But the key to the picture is that Jesus is painted as draped over the man entirely, ready to take the full blow of the law.

And that’s what you have here. A sinful lady is about to be stoned. She deserves to die, and so do we. The law of Moses is accusing her. But Jesus forgave her knowing he would take the blows for her instead. But what about you?

Do you identify with the crowds in this moment in the life of Jesus?

Are you curious about Jesus? Attending church to hear more about him, but not quite sure whether he is God or whether you have truly believed in him? Are you someone who participates in special holidays, follows special traditions and gathers together with religious people, here or somewhere else, because it is a good thing to do – but you are not following Jesus Christ as Savior and as your Lord and Teacher?

Or do you identify with the scribes and Pharisees?

Do you find yourself staring at the sins of other people and feeling good about yourself because you haven’t done the same things? Or because you haven’t been found out? Are you failing to understand that no matter how much people respect you, you are just as bad as this adulterous woman? As you learn more about the person and message of Jesus, are you choosing to slip away because you are too proud to admit your sin and hypocrisy?

Or do you identify with the woman who committed adultery?

Has the guilt of your sin brought you to Jesus? Have you discovered that the same Jesus who gave the law and will judge the people of the world for every sin they’ve committed has also taken the full punishment for every sin that you’ve ever committed, whether you’ve been found out by people or not? Have you admitted your guilt to Jesus without excuses? Have you let go of trusting in your own religious efforts?

If you have not believed in Jesus, then I urge you on the basis of the Law of Moses that proves your guilt and on the basis of the death of Christ that suffered the full punishment of the law for you in your place, believe in Jesus today. If you have any questions about this, reply to this post and someone will be in contact with you shortly to answer any questions you may have about Jesus.

If you have already believed in Jesus, then I ask you a simple question: what do you say about the most reasonable command of Jesus to “go and sin no more”? What sin do you continue to commit? What sin do you allow to be your master? How foolish that is. And how thankless, rude and absolutely ungrateful that is, when the same loving Lord Jesus who commands it to be so took the punishment for the very sins that you continue to pursue. Let them go and submit to Jesus as your Master. I urge you to do this today.

2 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *