John chapter 8 begins with Jesus coming from the Mount of Olives and entering into the temple, in which He began teaching “all the people who came to Him” (John 8:1-2). It was in this setting that the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him “a woman caught in adultery.” (John 8:3). Verses four and five show the scribes and Pharisees explaining the situation further, and asking Jesus what they should do: “they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” (John 8:4-5). The scribes and Pharisees already have their answer in the Law--that is, the law according to the Torah provided by Moses (ultimately, by God). This topic is a lengthy and complex subject to tackle, so I will sum up the law that the scribes and Pharisees address as the standards/moral code of God.
1) God's law
To provide just a little more context, the law provided by Moses in the Old Testament (the first five books: the Torah--or “law” in Hebrew) is the standard in which we are judged by God. These standards are stated throughout the Torah, but the highest of the law is established in the Ten Commandments: you shall serve no other gods before the Lord, you shall have no idols, you shall not say the Lord’s name in vain, you shall remember the Sabbath, you shall honor your father and mother, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, and you shall not covet (Exodus 2:2-17).
These Ten Commandments are not simply laws of the Old Testament that have faded in importance with many of the others at the Cross--these commandments remain deeply important to God, so they are still something we should contemplate (to go deeper into what the law of God is could take up many articles… I hope my brief explanation can somewhat suffice).
God’s law accuses us and our sin, as is said in Romans, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20). There is no salvation in the law; it only serves to make us aware that we are sinful. It is God’s law and it is good, but we--being naturally sinful--are prone to break it and thus bring judgement upon ourselves for doing evil. Because, at the bottom line, the natural order for us as humans is to choose wrong, and in so doing we condemn ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9). To be perfectly good as God is, it would require that we never make any choice that is contrary to Him.
2) The woman who committed adultery does deserve death
So this is the stage in which the scribes and Pharisees stand: that a woman has been found guilty of committing adultery (a severe sin in God’s eyes; one of the Ten Commandments), and that they are justified in their answer (to stone her) by the Law of Moses. This is important to understand: the scribes and Pharisees are not wrong in the fact that the woman does deserve death. This is a difficult truth to understand and to accept, but it is a deeply humbling one if we can receive it. Sin is entirely contrary to God’s nature, since it is the act of not choosing God (love, peace, compassion, grace, righteousness… summed up in who Jesus is).
God cannot accept sin whatsoever, and thus it is totally separate from Him. Our choice of separation from God, to put plainly, leads to His justice; that He judges sin to the fullest degree because He is--to the fullest degree--perfectly holy and good. And if one is judged by a Being such as this, the only judgement that can be exacted upon something such as sin (acting contrary to God; rebellion; acts of evil, no matter how “small” they may seem) is punishment, and therefore, in the end, God’s wrath. But do not lose hope or fear--always remember that God is good...
The concept of sin and it’s punishment is sobering for sure, but this is integral to the Gospel message, and is the exact concept God is addressing in this section of Scripture. The scribes and Pharisees have accused the woman of committing adultery, and are justified in their accusation and their verdict. But the story does not stop there. In verse six, we continue after their accusations: “This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.”
*A little side note: it’s pretty funny and amazing that the scribes and Pharisees were just trying to find something of which to accuse Jesus of. Of all the teaching Jesus did, and of all the people He was with and the time He spent in the public, there was nothing they could find fault in Him for--aside from them being offended that He claimed to be the Son of God. I think that is quite significant.*
And so, to get back on track, the scribes and Pharisees continue pestering Jesus with questions as to what they should do--testing Him in their hearts, and trying to trap Him into answer by which they could accuse Him and find fault. But what Jesus says is what it’s all about, and we see this in verse seven: “So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’” (John 8:7). The next two verses demonstrate the power in Christ’s answer: “And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (John 8:8-9). Each person that was accusing the woman before was so convicted by what Jesus said, that they just had to leave. That’s all they could do. And it is because what Jesus said is truth.
3) No one is sinless and worthy to throw a stone, except for One
This is the next extremely important point: that there is no one who has ever been, is, or will be, sinless--except for One. The very people accusing the woman of adultery and claiming that she deserves death, are also pronouncing the same judgement on their own lives because they, themselves, are also sinful. No one there is worthy of casting a stone; they all have sinned in their life, and all deserve death under God’s law. And the text tells us that they acknowledge this reality of themselves because of Jesus’s words, and because of this realization, they each leave one by one. But One remains with the woman, and it is Jesus alone.
The only One worthy of casting a stone is Jesus, but instead He does something different: “When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’” (John 8:10-11). The only Being who is justified in condemning anyone under God's law is God alone; yet out of His perfect love He desires mercy. God does not want to condemn; He wants all people to come to Him and be saved in Jesus Christ, like the woman who committed adultery. For, just like the illustration of the scribes and Pharisees looking to stone the woman, our sin under the law is the same. But just like how Jesus treated the woman and showed grace, so too does God want to show grace to each of us instead.
This is why in the next verse Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12). God is the light of life. Jesus is the light of life. Only God is holy and has the authority to exact judgement; only Christ is holy and has the authority to exact judgement. Jesus Christ is one and the same as the Lord Most High; He is God! Only God can forgive sins, and only He can condemn.
We will never perfectly understand the Triune nature of God (at least in this lifetime), but Christ provides us with the opportunity to have a relationship with Him, and to rise from death to life. Because, like the adulteress, we all deserve death, and already condemn ourselves because of the evil we do. But God does not leave us to die; His hand is outreached, and He longs to stand alone with each of us and say, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” His will is to save; to show mercy; to extend grace--not for us to be stoned to death. But without Jesus, we are subject to the stones of our own decisions, and our own sin under the law.
4) God does not turn away from our sin or overlook it; He pays for it Himself
And so this brings us to the final point: God does not simply turn away from our sin and let us walk free without doing anything about the evil we have committed--that would not be just, nor would it bring about any solution to the problem of sin. Instead, God steps in and pays the price for us. Like Jesus does for the adulteress, He bestows grace upon her and let’s her walk away free. But there is way more going on than meets the eye. God is able to forgive the adulteress’s sins because of what Jesus goes on to do at the Cross.
That same punishment that the adulteress deserved--under God’s law--for committing adultery, is now taken from her and placed upon Jesus. When Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before His crucifixion, He became so burdened by the weight of the task He was about to fulfill that His sweat became blood. And although the beatings, whippings, mockeries, and torture Jesus received at the hands of man were terrible; nothing could compare to the full weight of God’s judgement and wrath being placed upon Him.
Jesus knew the task He had to fulfill, in order to provide a bridge for humanity to return to God. Christ’s sacrifice at the Cross paid--in full--for every sin, every transgression, every wicked thought, every wrong choice, every bad decision--everything. He paid for it all. Every person who ever was, is, and will be, has been given the grace of God. It has been paid by Jesus Christ. To every non-believer and to every Christian. God’s grace has covered all of our evil to ever exist. But there is only one way to accept this gift of grace and accept eternal life in God: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).
God took upon Himself His own wrath of judgement so that you and I can walk away free. God did for us what we could never do on our own, and He has given us a gift we do not deserve. How many times have I stared at the stones in the hands of the law, ready to be thrown at me; a verdict that I deserve. And how many times has Christ stepped in to save me, delivering me from a war for my soul that I cannot even comprehend?
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God; the sacrifice that bore the full weight of our evil and its punishment upon Himself… and defeated it. The keys of Heaven and Hell are in His hands, and He is alive and seated in all power. If we have heard the Gospel, then we have become aware of what God has done for us. And with knowing, it is solely up to you to decide what you will do with this knowledge. Are you someone who is holding a stone, not realizing the Answer to the adulteress’s sin--as well as your own--is standing among you, writing in the dirt? Or are you like the adulteress, alone with Christ and now free because of Him? We all have sinned. Jesus Christ is the only name above all names, and He alone is worthy.