The religious leaders were anxious to trick and trap Jesus into saying something wrong, so that they would have some charge against Him. They tried all kinds of strategies and asked many questions about His authority, about the Sabbath, about His claims, etc.
In this account, they wanted to bring about a conflict between Jesus and Moses, who had said: “If a man commits adultery… both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” ( Leviticus 20:10)
And so the religious leaders “brought in a woman caught in the act of adultery. And they made her stand in the middle of the crowd,” probably facing Jesus. They were brutal and sadistic hypocrites, more interested in trapping Jesus than in justice. Obviously, this incident was staged to trap Jesus.
The accusation of adultery was made against this woman, and it was true. There was no question that she was caught in the very act of adultery.
But wait a minute! Where was the man involved? Adultery cannot be committed alone, so why was only one offender of the law brought for justice?
The trick was clear. They wanted Jesus to contradict the Law of Moses. If they could succeed in doing that, they could turn the people against Jesus.
These leaders reminded Jesus that Moses had commanded in the law that a person caught in the act of adultery should be stoned to death. Leviticus 20:10 says: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbour – both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”
Would Jesus agree with Moses about her penalty? Let’s examine the case and its consequences.
First of all, there is no question that this woman was guilty. She did not plead innocence. She was caught in the act. Jesus did not accuse her accusers of lying. So, yes, she was guilty.
This woman actually portrays all of us; we are all sinners saved by grace. Romans 3:10-12 says: “There is no one righteous, not even one; There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Jesus did not lessen the charge against the woman. Adultery is still adultery, even though today adultery is often considered “just an affair.” God’s standard’s do not change. A sin is still a sin.
So what did Jesus do? Verse 6 says: “But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.”
The Bible does not tell us what Jesus wrote on the ground, though many have tried to guess what it was. For example, He may have written Leviticus 20:10, which would call for both parties to be stoned, not only the one.
The religious leaders, dissatisfied with Jesus’ silence kept insisting for some reply. But Jesus simply looked around for a sinless accuser and found none. So Jesus was, in effect, saying: “Yes, the law should be carried out, but it should be done by those who had committed no sin.”
In this way, Jesus upheld the Law of Moses. He did not say that the woman was not guilty and free from the penalty of the law. Instead, He accused every one of those men of having sinned themselves. Those who wish to judge others should be pure themselves.
Now, this verse is often used to excuse sin. The reasoning is that we are free from blame because everyone else has done things that are wrong. But this verse does not excuse sin. Rather, it condemns those who are guilty even though they have never been caught.
Once again, Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground. These are the only recorded instances of the Lord Jesus writing anything, and what He wrote has long since been erased from the earth.
What we see next is the power of an awakened conscience (verse 9). Those who accused the woman were convicted by their consciences. They had nothing else to say. They began to go away, one by one. There were all guilty, from the oldest to the youngest.
Who knows how many of them were as guilty as she was. Who knows how many of them or maybe all of them had visited this woman, or other women for the same act: adultery?
The only one left there was Jesus, alone, with the woman standing nearby and perhaps praying and crying for forgiveness. Then Jesus asked her, “ Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” The woman, with tears in her eyes, I am sure, said: “No one, Sir.”
Jesus had actually, in His wonderful grace, shown the woman that all her accusers had vanished. They were nowhere to be found. There was not a single person in the entire crowd who dared condemn her. Jesus was the only sinless one but even He did not throw any stones!
She then heard the most comforting words: “Then neither do I condemn you,” following by a warning: “Go now and sin no more.” ( KJV) or “ Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NIV)
The Bible says that grace and truth come from Jesus Christ. Here is an example of that. [See also “Salt = Love + Truth on page 10.] In the words “Neither do I condemn you,” we have an example of grace; and the words “go and sin no more” are words of truth. Jesus did not say, “Go and sin as little as possible.” That is because Jesus Christ is God, and His standard is absolute perfection. He cannot approve sin in any degree. And so He sets before her the perfect standard of God Himself.
How is your conscience? Whether you feel like the accusers or like the accused, do not run away. Come to Jesus and He will forgive you no matter who you are or what you have done.
Pastor Joseph Hovsepian