Summary: We need to be more like Jesus. How he handles both sinners and their accusers teach us lessons we need to practice. Here in John 8, Jesus shines again.
John 8:1-11 Jesus and the Woman caught in Adultery
It looks like an airtight case! She was caught in the act; eye witnesses stand present ready to give their deadly testimony. A sort of mock court convenes in front of Jesus there in the temple grounds and the accusers press him for a judgment. Now, you have to remember, Jesus is known as an exacting interpreter of the law concerning adultery... just read the record in Matthew chapters 5&19 and you’ll see his own words. Jesus surprises many of his own disciples at the level of strictness he applies to the law regarding the covenant of Marriage. For Jesus, divorce and remarriage are so serious there is only one exception allowed for it to be acceptable to God. If the husband, or wife, commits adultery, the innocent mate is free to divorce and remarry without sin. Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9 are normally used to understand this. What followed, according to the law of Moses, is that the guilty parties are taken out and stoned to death for their crime. (Just imagine if that happened today. God’s law reveals God’s holy standards, but, as Jesus says in John 7:19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law.). Jesus certainly kept the law. He was accused of breaking the Sabbath, but he didn’t. What was Jesus finally put to death for? Do you remember? It was for claiming to be the Son of God. He was crucified with the charge of being the King of Israel. He was crucified because they rejected him as Son of God and King of Israel… both of which were actually true. Jesus kept the law and interpreted it strictly, as we see in the Sermon on the Mount.
But here in John 8 we have a scenario that reveals another side of Jesus. Here we have an opportunity to see Jesus, the Son of God, the true King of Israel, deciding in what looks like a clear and plain case of Adultery. They bring the guilty woman before him and demand his judgment in the matter. But, instead of doing what they expect, Jesus does something quite unexpected.
What will he do with this adulteress? What will he say? How can he possibly be faithful to the Law and avoid condemning her to death? His answer is actually shocking to legalists and also it is stretched into permissiveness by the licentious. We have a problem. I did a little study on this and found some interesting things.
Adam Clarke’s commentary, completed and printed in 1831, quoting a Bishop Pearce, says of John 8:1-11: …Christ seems in this case not enough to have discouraged adultery, though he called it a sin. He goes on to say: early among the Christians, the reading of this story was industriously avoided, in the lessons recited from the Gospels, in the public service of the churches; as if Jesus’ saying, “I do not condemn thee”, had given too much countenance to women guilty of that crime. Thus this portion of the MSS, came, in length of time, to be left out in some MSS. Whether or not Bishop Pearce was right about this, I don’t know, but I do know that John 7:53-8:11 is missing from most early MSS. Some place it at the end of Luke 21, others at the end of John’s gospel, and some leave a vacant place here in the gospel of John, indicating that something belonged there, but they are not sure enough to include it. All modern translations today put a footnote indicating this in the text.
Jesus is perfect in holiness and in his interpretation of the law of Moses, and yet Jesus is also perfect in mercy and grace bringing freedom and forgiveness to all who will receive him. The law came through Moses, grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ! John 1:17. This story epitomizes this about Jesus.
Listen to John 8:31-36. Jesus has authority to set the captives free. It is why he came. It is what he does best. Freedom. This is the gift Jesus came to give, not just to this woman caught in adultery, but all of us. Jesus came to give freedom from that which enslaves the world, freedom from the invisible power that puts us to death. He came to give us the ultimate freedom… that is, freedom from sin. But that is not what these accusers of this woman were actually wanting.
I have a question: If these scribes and Pharisees and the accusers of this woman are so concerned with performing the law, why do they need Jesus’ judgment on the matter? Is their no one among them able to judge? Is there no Jewish High court to bring this case before? Aah! But this is not about needing Jesus’ judgment. This is about needing to judge Jesus! Their motives are far from pure. Let’s look through this event together and observe Jesus and learn more about our master so we can become more like him. As we study this together, keep an eye on Jesus.