Her heart pounded, and she felt sick. Her face was hot with shame.
Adultery was a serious sin that carried serious consequences.
She and the man she had been caught with stood before a group of Pharisees and teachers of the law. They were both frozen not daring to move. The awkwardness was unbearable.
Then, one of the teachers stepped forward, and looking at the man said, “Go.”
The others stared at the teacher confused, but didn’t protest. The man quickly gathered himself and slipped past the group without looking up.
She now stood before them alone.
Turning toward the teacher, one of the Pharisees asked in exasperation, “What are you doing? Why did you send him away? You know very well the law demands both parties caught in adultery face the consequences.”
The Pharisee was an older man, likely the oldest among them, and she could tell he was deeply respected by all in the group. He seemed confused and annoyed by the actions of the teacher.
“I have an idea,” the teacher replied excitedly. “Let’s take her to him.” He glanced over at her as he emphasized the word “him”, and she could see his eyes were gleaming. “Let’s see what he will do with her.”
The Pharisee looked at him, eyes narrowing, “What’s Jesus got to do with this? He has no part with us or this matter.”
She had never seen him herself but had heard of him. He was supposedly a great teacher and a healer, but from the stories she had heard, he was very different from the men standing in front of her. She knew he was often mocked as a “friend of sinners.” He definitely wasn’t a friend of these Pharisees or teachers. Why would they take her to him?
The teacher of the law responded, “Don’t you see? Even now he is speaking to a large crowd. We can put her before him to trap him. If he says she should be put to death, he is guilty of sedition before the Roman authorities for only they can mete out a sentence of capital punishment according to their laws. But, if he says not to put her to death, he is guilty of breaking the Mosaic law. Either way, we’ve got him.”
She felt her pulse quicken as she listened to their words: trap, Romans, put to death. She was terrified.
The older Pharisee nodded in understanding along with the other men. “I see.” He turned his head toward her, weighing the situation and the opportunity. “Yes,” he said slowly. “Yes, let’s take her to him and see what he says to do. This may be our chance to finally put a stop to him.”
She felt faint. What would this Jesus do with her? These men weren’t wrong. She was guilty. Caught in the act. She was a sinner. She couldn’t deny it.
But, if this Jesus really was a friend of sinners, as he had been accused, maybe he would be a friend to her? Either way, it seemed she would be thrown upon his mercy as he was to decide her fate. Apparently, his own fate would rest on his decision as well.
As these thoughts raced through her mind, one of the men grabbed her firmly by the arm. She stumbled as he dragged her forward toward the temple.
The story of the woman caught in adultery is one of the best known stories from the Bible.
It’s not the woman that makes it particularly memorable. We know very little about her. It’s not the sin of adultery, either. Adultery is a common sin of which every society has been well-acquainted. It’s not even the harsh attitude of the Pharisees and teachers using this woman as a trap to destroy Jesus.
This story in the Bible is well-known precisely because of Jesus’ response when the woman is brought before him.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:1-11
Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23
The Pharisees and teachers that day were so quick to condemn the woman caught in adultery but were completely blind to their own sin. Here, they were using a vulnerable woman to try to trap Jesus, but the sin they were concerned with was the woman’s sin of adultery.
It is easy to condemn them for their blindness and feel repulsed by their actions.
But, before we throw stones at the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, we need to remember how easy it is for us to act in the same way. As a matter of fact, our attitudes can be very similar to that of the Pharisee who went to pray at the temple at the same time as a despised tax collector.
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ Luke 18:9-14
The tax collector had a very different prayer and a very different attitude.
…the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
Jesus made it clear which man left the temple justified before God that day. It wasn’t the Pharisee. We can all too easily be disgusted by other people’s sin while harboring a self-righteous attitude before God concerning our own sin.
Being disgusted by those sinners over there doesn’t make you right with God. Being disgusted by the sin in your own heart so that you are humbled and willing to throw yourself on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus is what makes you right with God.
When Jesus told the Pharisees and teachers that the one without sin should throw the first stone, He reminded them that they are no different than the woman they brought before Him. They are sinners under the wrath of God deserving death.
To pick up a stone would have been a declaration to be without sin, and not one of them wanted to go so far as to make that declaration, but it isn’t enough to merely admit to being a sinner. To be saved from sin requires placing one’s faith in Christ.
I’m not sure any of those men left with a truly different heart that day. How easy it is to admit, “I’m not perfect.” How hard it is to come to Jesus. Pride is a great stumbling block.
It’s important to note that Jesus isn’t trying to undermine earthly systems for justice. He isn’t saying that if you rob your neighbor’s home, you shouldn’t be prosecuted because your neighbors are sinners, too. Jesus is concerned with God’s justice which none of us can escape. The Pharisees and teachers there that day weren’t concerned with any type of justice.
Like He does in other places, Jesus exposes the Pharisees and teachers of the law as law-breakers themselves: No one is righteous – not even one, (Romans 3:10). And He points to the reason He had to come…because the law cannot save us, it can only condemn us.
Jesus reminded the Pharisees and teachers that they were sinners no different than the woman they had brought to Him and He reminds us, too. We need a Savior.
Neither do I condemn you.
Jesus, the only one who was without sin and the right to throw stones that day, didn’t hurl a single one. Jesus had not come to throw stones, but to save the world.
This is the gospel (or the good news).
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17
The woman caught in adultery deserved death. The Pharisees and teacher’s caught in self-righteousness and evil plots deserved death. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). My sin and your sin has earned us death, too, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
If Jesus had come to throw stones as judge, no one would have been left standing. It would have looked like Noah’s flood only without an ark or a rainbow promise. In other words, complete annihilation.
Jesus didn’t throw stones that day because His whole mission was to take the stones (death) upon Himself we each deserve. He would take the place of the adulteress woman and the self-righteous Pharisees and teachers. He would take my place and your place.
It is this truth that makes the scene shared here in John 8 so powerful. Jesus didn’t condemn the woman, he held back and did not punish her because He would take the condemnation for her sin in her place (Romans 3:25-26).
We are each born sinners who sin, and we come from a long line of sinners that can be traced back all the way to our first parents, Adam and Eve. It was through the sin of Adam that sin entered the world and death (Romans 5:12).
Adam passed his sin nature on to his children and children’s children so that all people everywhere are born sinners who chose sin and are therefore under the curse of death (Romans 5:12).
Our sin may look more like the adultery of the woman or it may look more like the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers, for most of us our sin is a mixture of both, but all sin deserves God’s justice.
Thankfully, God did not leave us in this hopeless state. God the Son took on human flesh and being conceived of the Holy Spirit entered our world through a young virgin. Being fully God and fully man, Jesus lived the perfect life you and I couldn’t, took the death you and I should have, and rose again defeating sin and death forever for all who place their faith in Him ( Matthew 1:18-21; John 1:14; Romans 4:23-25).
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 1 Peter 1:18-19
Jesus’ declaration to the woman caught in adultery is His declaration to all who come to Him needing mercy…neither do I condemn you.
As we are told in Romans 8:1, there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ.
Go and sin no more.
Some have come away from this account with the idea that Jesus doesn’t take sin seriously; therefore, neither must we, but to walk away from this story with the impression that Jesus takes sin lightly, is to completely miss the point.
At the time this woman is brought to Him, Jesus is already preparing to be betrayed, beaten, mocked, and brutally killed in sinful man’s place. He who knew no sin would take on the sins of the world so that we who were without any righteousness of our own could become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus took sin very seriously.
He didn’t come to justify sin, but to justify sinners. Jesus’ command to the woman caught in adultery wasn’t, Go and live your truth, as if the way she lived was of no importance to Him. His command was, Go and sin no more.
Here, we see that Jesus called the adultery sin. He didn’t use a euphemism, a practice popular today, and He didn’t sugar coat her actions. Currently, in the West, there is nothing less tolerable than calling a behavior sinful.
But, we see Jesus calling the adultery sin precisely because He loves this woman with genuine love (Romans 12:9). There can’t be forgiveness of sin if there isn’t an acknowledgement of sin, and no one can receive mercy who doesn’t first need mercy.
The woman’s salvation that day hadn’t come from her own righteousness or from her own truth. She wasn’t righteous. She was guilty. There was nothing in her for which she could boast before her accusers.
It was in allowing Jesus to stand between her sin and the penalty for her sin that she was saved. Her salvation came from faith in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) and who interceded on her behalf (Romans 3:27-28).
Jesus told her not to sin anymore. Even though Jesus had not condemned her, He also didn’t leave her in her sin, but called her out of it.
Jesus hadn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. It’s not that we stand before God justified because the law has been destroyed by Christ but because the law has been fulfilled in Christ; therefore, we look to Christ for our salvation and no longer to the law (Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 10:4).
We cannot come to faith in Jesus and remain the same…dead in our sins…for at the moment of faith we are made alive (Ephesians 2:1-5). Just as a tree cannot be both dead and alive, we cannot be both a servant of sin and a servant of God.
What comes first, fruit or life? Life of course. Without life, nothing can produce fruit. A dead apple tree will never produce juicy apples. It is the same for sinners. We must be made alive before we can live for God.
This relationship between life and fruit is what James uses to determine true faith from mere religiosity: faith without good works is dead (James 2:14-16). There must be life before there can be fruit, and where there is no fruit, it becomes questionable whether there is any life.
It is ridiculous, therefore, to assert that one can be made alive in Christ and continue as if dead in sin.
Go and sin no more.
In other words…no longer live as those who remain spiritually dead, servants of sin, and condemned under the law. Live from the grace and mercy you have been shown in Christ Jesus; live as a servant of God.
Of course, no one lives for God perfectly. We will continue to struggle with temptation and sin. Our old nature wars against the new life in us, but our old nature no longer rules over us (Romans 7:21-23). And, when we fail to do what is right, we have an advocate in heaven who is pleading our case (1 John 2:1).
As the immoral woman in Luke 7:37-50, who anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume washing them with her tears and hair, the adulteress woman’s sins were many. And just as the immoral woman loved Jesus much because she had been forgiven much, it is likely the adulterous woman experienced a similar change and devotion.
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? Romans 2:4
The more we experience the unmerited grace and mercy of Jesus, the more we love Him and the greater our desire to honor Him with our lives. For those in Christ, go and sin no more is an easy yolk and a light burden (Matthew 11:28-30).
What will you do with Jesus?
The story of the woman caught in adultery confronts us with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like the Pharisees, teachers, and adulterous woman, we are sinners who deserve death for our sin. Yet, Jesus invites us to place our faith in His finished work, to allow His perfect, sinless life to be imputed to our account, and our sins to be covered by His shed blood.
Do we respond as the Pharisees and teachers recognizing our sinfulness yet refusing to repent and accept God’s free gift of salvation? Having met Christ, do we then turn our backs and walk away?
Or, like the woman, do we allow Christ to intercede on our behalf? Do we receive as our own Christ’s declaration, neither do I condemn you? Do we allow Him to lift us up from the ground where we should have died and raise us up to new life? And do the lives we live, though imperfect, give evidence that we have experienced the grace and mercy of the Savior?
The Pharisees and teachers of the law remained in their sin, while the woman caught in adultery was pardoned. The difference between the two was faith. The former left trusting in their own righteousness, while the woman recognized she had no righteousness of her own and put her faith in Jesus.
Sinners who come to Jesus in need of His mercy will never be rejected. Are you a sinner? Then you are one of the very people Christ came for. That was the good news for the woman caught in adultery, and it is the good news for us, too.
Come in your disorder. I mean, come to your heavenly Father in all your sin and sinfulness. Come to Jesus just as you are: filthy, naked, neither fit to live nor fit to die. Come, you that are the very sweepings of creation; come, though you hardly dare to hope for anything but death. Come, though despair is brooding over you, pressing upon your bosom like a horrible nightmare. Come and ask the Lord to justify another ungodly one. Why should He not? Come, for this great mercy of God is meant for such as you. Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace