John – “But Who Do You Say That I Am?” – John 8:1-11

What do you suppose is the most interesting, fascinating, and perhaps, the most important thing ever written? If you’re from England, you might say the Magna Carta. If you’re from Israel, you might say the Torah. Those of us from America will probably say the Declaration of Independence and/or the U.S. Constitution. Christians would probably say The Bible while Muslims would say the Koran. All of these have a valid argument depending on your point of view but besides The Bible, I also believe perhaps the most interesting, fascinating, and perhaps, the most important thing ever written was some scribblings in the dirt on some temple stones 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ. It is the only time the Gospels ever record Jesus writing anything down and it disappeared probably almost as quickly as He wrote them down but it has puzzled commentators, pastors, and all of us who know this account in John’s Gospel that we are about to look at, for centuries. What did Jesus write in the dirt on those stones thousands of years ago? Whatever it was, it helped save the life of a woman both physically and spiritually which is why this could have been the most important thing or things ever written. We are going to take a look at some possibilities but the important thing is that this is not the focus of this passage that we are about to look at in John’s Gospel. The focus is how Jesus deals with hypocrisy and the love and forgiveness that Jesus shows this woman and all of us who come to Him in true faith. Let’s get started and as always, the text link and the audio for the entire chapter are included so you can follow along but before we do, let’s go to the Lord in prayer…

Father,

Thank You for the word of God that does the work of God in the hearts of the people of God. We come, Lord, and we bring ourselves. We bring our attention, our minds, to engage in the words that we hear, the words that we read, the thoughts your Holy Spirit is going to give us, the questions we’re going to be wrestling with– some hopefully that will be answered. And as we bring ourselves, we do so, Lord, because that’s our reasonable service. That’s the smartest thing to do. It’s the wisest thing to do. Because we remember Paul wrote, in view of God’s mercies, present your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and acceptable which is your spiritual act of worship or reasonable service. Lord, we put away all distractions and our hearts and minds are open to hear Your Word. Speak Lord for Your servants are listening! In the saving name of Jesus we pray…Amen!

John 8

Let’s look at the passage that we will be focusing on for this post. …

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. (2) Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. (3) Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, (4) they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. (5) Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” (6) 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. (7) 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.” (8) And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. (9) 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. (10) 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?” (11) She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” … John 8:1-11 NKJV

This passage continues a pattern that we find in John’s Gospel…an incident and then a message. Back in Chapter 5, there is an incident, the healing of a man at the pool of Bethesda, followed by a message from Jesus regarding it. The same in Chapter 7. There is an incident and then a message and the same here in Chapter 8. There is an incident and Jesus delivers another message regarding it. This passage, commonly called “The Woman Caught In Adultery”, is one of the most misinterpreted, misapplied, and mishandled in The Bible. This account does not appear in any of the other Gospels except in John and some say it never happened and these are Bible commentators mind you! This passage also has raised a lot of questions as well. The questions raised are…

1) Who was the woman?

2) Where is the man?

3) What did Jesus write on the ground?

4) Was Jesus too lenient with the woman?

We will look at each of these and provide answers to some of them. Let’s look at the passage in more detail. …

v 1 – But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

Here we have an unusual beginning to this chapter because proper grammar does not start a sentence with the word but and it shouldn’t start a chapter either. Proper grammar places this sentence at the end of Chapter 7 and verse 53. The verse should read “And everyone went to his own house but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” So why the chapter break here? First, you have to ask the question “How did the Bible get divided into chapters?”. Here’s a short synopsis of that because I don’t want to dwell on this. When the books of the Bible were originally written, they did not contain verses or chapters. The reason why it was done was to find Scripture much easier. The chapter divisions of the Bible were developed by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury around 1227. The Wycliffe Bible of 1382 was the first Bible to use the chapter divisions. From then on nearly all of the translations use these chapter divisions and for the most part, they are properly placed and flow together quite nicely with a few exceptions and this chapter in John would seem to be one of them. However, I think Mr. Langton might have had a reason for the odd placement of this chapter division. Verse 53 of Chapter 7 ends with John saying, “And everyone went to his own house.” The Feast of Tabernacles was over so everyone went back home. So you’re probably thinking, “Yeah so what’s the big deal? Everyone goes back home when the day is over.” Look how John emphasizes the beginning of Chapter 8 though…But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. I think this is done for two reasons. The first one was that John was pointing out that Jesus was basically homeless! I’m sure you’re saying to yourselves, “How do you know that?!” From Jesus’s own words! If you flip back to Matthew and Chapter 8, we read…

(19) Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” (20) And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” … Matthew 8:19-20 NKJV

Luke records this in his Gospel as well. Jesus was pointing out to the scribe, “You sure you want to do this? I have nowhere to go! Are you sure you want to follow Me and live like that?”. The idea is that it is a metaphor showing there is a cost to follow Jesus a cost that many people don’t want to pay.

The second reason why John emphasizes about Jesus going to the Mount of Olives is that while everyone else went back home to enjoy themselves or to rest after the feast, Jesus went back to the Mount of Olives probably to pray. Throughout the Gospels, we notice that Jesus was constantly in prayer and this is where He mainly did it. Again back in Matthew, it says…

(23) And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. … Matthew 14:23 NKJV

We also have this example from Luke…

(12) Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. … Luke 6:12 NKJV

What we learn from these passages is that Jesus had one heck of a prayer life! The Mount of Olives, again, was probably His favorite place to pray. I remember when I first came to the Lord, I had a certain place where I liked to pray. It was on a train platform far away from the other commuters with a great view of the open sky between the trees in the heavily wooded area. I would always pray there in the mornings before going to work. Let’s move on now. …

v 2 – (2) Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.

Besides praying, Jesus also loved to teach. He also must have liked to hike a lot too! LOL! The temple wasn’t far from the Mount of Olives but He had to walk down the side of the mountain and across the Kidron Valley and then back up to the city where the temple was located. The text says and all the people came to Him. This probably doesn’t mean everyone in the city was there. These were the people that were there hoping that Jesus would show up and preach another sermon again. These people were probably not true followers though but what I like to call “lookie-loos” sort of like people who drive by accidents just to look at what’s going on. These people were curious to see Jesus and hear what He was talking about though John doesn’t tell us what that was. Notice the text says that He sat down and taught them. It is interesting to know that in those days, teachers, rabbi’s, would sit down and preach while the people stood. When they sat down to teach, it showed that they had authority and that they also intended to be there for quite some time doing it. So Jesus is sitting there teaching and now we come to another incident. …

vv 3-4 – (3) Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, (4) they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.

As Jesus is sitting there and teaching, there is a major commotion as the “religious” people drag probably a screaming woman and place her in the area where Jesus is teaching. They made her stand, set her in the midst, in the middle of the crowd probably facing Jesus. I tend to believe that she wasn’t standing though but rather thrown into the middle of the crowd. First question, who was the woman? John doesn’t say but the woman could have been Mary Magdalene. To settle that debate, Pope Gregory I announced in 591 AD that the woman caught in adultery, the woman with the sinful past who washes the feet of Jesus in Luke 7, and the sister of Martha and Lazarus were all Mary Magdalene. We do know from Scripture that Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her, Mark 16:9 & Luke 8:2, and demon possession is believed to be the root cause of why this woman committed adultery by some commentators. She was at the foot of the cross, and she was the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. She is one of the most mentioned women in the Gospels so it stands to reason that yes this woman could have been Mary Magdalene. Either way, it’s not important who she was.

The second question that is important is where is the man? The Pharisees and the scribes tell Jesus that she was caught in the very act. To be caught in the very act though, you need two people. They had the woman but where was the man? The “Law of Moses”, as they put it, was very specific that both the adulteress and the adulterer were to be put to death. In Leviticus 20, it states that. ….

(10) ‘The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death. … Leviticus 20:10 NKJV

Not only that, no one could be convicted of a crime without a witness so again, where’s the man? Another far fetched idea is that there was no man and the woman was part of the plan to trap Jesus but I doubt this scenario. This was probably a case of the woman getting the blame and the man getting off scot free. Moving on to verse 5…

v 5 – (5) Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?”

Adultery was one of the biggest crimes that demanded death the others being murder and idolatry and other forms of serious sexual immorality. I have an issue with what these “religious” people say to Jesus though. They tell Him, Now Moses, in the law, commanded us. Stop right there! First of all it was God’s Law and God commanded not Moses! The Law was passed from God to Moses who then gave it to the people. God was the law giver not Moses. He was God’s spokesperson and, as I recall, not an adequate one at first. However, the Jews, even to this day, hold Moses in such high esteem like he’s God. Throughout the Gospels it’s “Moses said this”, “Moses said that”, “Moses commanded this”, and “Moses commanded that”. Perhaps maybe that was one of the things that Jesus was writing on the ground…”I commanded you not Moses!”.

Getting back to the verse though, the “religious” people tell Jesus that the penalty for someone caught in adultery is death by being stoned. Then comes the trap question…But what do You say?. They were right. Deliberate participation in serious crimes like adultery required death. However, nothing said that the participants in adultery had to be stoned. In fact I found out listening to a message preparing for this study that there was another preferred way to put a person to death. According to the Mishna, a written commentary of the Torah, most would actually receive death by strangulation. The condemned man or woman would be placed in about three feet of manure (punishment enough I think! LOL!) and a soft cloth would be tied around their neck followed by a harsh cloth and then rope. The reason for the soft cloth was to symbolize divine punishment. They didn’t want to leave any human evidence that it was done that way. Soft cloth, harsh cloth, rope tied around the neck, two people at each end, and they would pull as hard as they could until the person died. Apparently the Mishna describes how to do this in great detail. Just a bit of trivia for you. The question they put to Jesus though is a question to trap Him. If He said, “No don’t stone her”, Jesus would be accused of going against the Law of Moses which would be considered blasphemy and therefore would require Him to be put to death. However if Jesus said, “Yes I agree! Stone her!”, it would go against His teachings of love and forgiveness and discredit Him as a friend to sinners. Not only that, the people were under Roman occupation and they had been stripped of their right to execute capital punishment so if Jesus had said, “Yes! Stone her!”, He would have been going against Roman law and therefore, be arrested and convicted by the Romans for breaking Roman law. Jesus knew this was a trap though and He had a unique way to respond to this trap as we move on. ….

vv 6-8 – (6) 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. (7) 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.” (8) And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

Jesus knew that their question was a trap. He also knew the thoughts and actions of these religious hypocrites. Instead of saying anything at first, Jesus stoops down and begins writing on the ground with His finger. Now comes the question…what was Jesus writing on the ground? John doesn’t say and no one really knows except possibly for the people who were there and as I said in the opening, what Jesus wrote probably disappeared almost as quickly as He wrote it. It is believed though that what Jesus could have been writing on the ground the first time, because we know by the text that He did it twice, was the 6th, 7th, and 10th commandments…thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, and thou shalt not covet. In fact in the Talmud, it expands the 10th commandment of coveting specifically to include your neighbor’s wife further emphasizing the commandment regarding adultery. He could have also been starting to list the sins of the people pressing this issue. After continuing to badger Him, Jesus stands up, and makes this statement…He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first. Jesus then stoops back down and resumes writing on the ground. Now this time, it is highly believed by many commentators that Jesus is listing the people who were accusing this woman of adultery of committing it themselves. He was probably writing the names, the times, and the dates of when they occurred. Here’s the reason why. As I mentioned, the Romans stripped the rights of the Jews to execute capital punishment so believe it or not, many of the Jews used this to commit adultery especially the Pharisees and the scribes…the very same people who were accusing this woman of it! When Jesus bends down and begins writing on the ground again, many commentators believe that He is now listing the people who had committed this very sin that they were accusing the woman of. There is a very interesting prophecy in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 17:13, it says…

(13) 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.” … Jeremiah 17:13 NKJV

The translation in the International Standard Version of the same verse, it says Those who turn aside from you will be written in the dust.

So here’s the scene. You have these so-called religious people and others in the crowd, probably with stones ready to throw in their hands, waiting from a response from Jesus so they can stone this poor, terrified woman to death! Jesus, however, doesn’t say yes. He doesn’t say no either. What He does say probably shocked everyone there. Jesus says He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first. Jesus turns this legal issue into a spiritual issue now. The Greek word for sin is anamartētos. It means to be faultless or without error. Another Greek word that describes what Jesus means here is the word hamartanō. It means to “miss the mark”. So what Jesus is saying to the people and her accusers is “Those of you who are anamartētos, faultless and without error in thought and deed, throw a stone at her!” Jesus wasn’t saying the woman shouldn’t be stoned but what He is doing here is appealing to the consciences of her accusers and the people whether they were fit to carry it out. Moving on to verse 9 now…

v 9 – (9) 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.

One by one, convicted by their conscience and perhaps what Jesus was writing on the ground, the people began to leave some of them dropping the rocks they probably had in their hands. John mentions that it started with the oldest one of them there down to the youngest. Why the oldest? The older ones had probably more to remember and feel guilty about than the younger ones did. They were much wiser as well. In one of Hollywood’s biblical epics of Jesus’s life, I can’t remember which one off the top of my head “King of Kings” I think, where this part is portrayed after Jesus says “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone”, it shows a younger guy raising his arm up to throw a rock and much older man who stops him and shakes his head at him! LOL! Let’s finish out the rest of the passage now…

vv 10-11 – (10) 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?” (11) She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

With Jesus and the woman alone now, Jesus points out to the woman that everyone had left and that no had dared to pass sentence on her something which probably shocked this woman figuring she was going to be stoned to death! When Jesus asks the woman if anyone had condemned her, she answers, No one Lord. The word Lord used here, probably means Sir. A few translations actually use this word rather than Lord. When Jesus addresses her, He uses the term woman. It is a term of respect and He was trying to restore some dignity back into this woman who had been humiliated by this whole ordeal. Jesus extends further grace to this woman by telling her, Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more. Jesus was the only one who had any right to throw a stone at her and He didn’t! What love and forgiveness our Lord shows here! Jesus doesn’t exactly let her off the hook though. He gives her a warning…go and sin no more. Jesus gives this woman a second chance to turn her life around. It is called repentance. He doesn’t tell the woman, “Go and sin as little as possible”. God can not tolerate sin in any form. We are not perfect as human beings but to go out and deliberately sin is not the sign of a truly saved person. In Romans, Paul says…

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? (2) Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? … Romans 6:1-2 NKJV

Notice also Jesus tells the woman not to “sin”. He didn’t call it a “disease” or a “hang-up” or an “alternative lifestyle” or a “mistake” or any of the other euphemisms that so many people use these days to make excuses for their or others sinful actions. Basically what Jesus was saying to this woman was, “Stop the lifestyle that is destroying you!”. He is giving this woman a second chance and don’t you think that we all need that? A second chance? A do over?

In closing, here are the takeaways from this passage. First of all, we see how tough sinners are on other sinners. Many of us carry the belief that our sins are not as bad as others. The fact is sin is sin in any form and God condemns it. Second, we see how the Law treats sinners. The Law sets the standards but doesn’t cleanse the soul. The Law identifies sin and what is required but there is no absolution in the Law. Which brings us to the final takeaway…we see how Jesus treats sinners. Jesus doesn’t pass any kind of judgement on the woman. He doesn’t claim her to be innocent but He doesn’t condemn her either. The righteousness and mercy meet with Christ with these words that He tells her…Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more. Those who ask the question, “Was Jesus too lenient with the woman?”, do not know or understand the love and forgiveness that can be acquired by a relationship with Jesus! In Romans, Paul says…

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. … Romans 8:1 NKJV

What this woman did not know is that in a few short months, Jesus would be taking away her sin and everyone else’s by going to the cross. That is where righteousness and mercy really meet in Christ is at the cross. Jesus was perfect and sinless and a perfect substitutionary atonement. He died and took the punishment that the woman that all of us should have taken. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says…

(21) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. … 2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV

If you have come to that point in your life, where you know that something is missing in your life, and you need and want forgiveness and you don’t know Christ, you can change that right now! Just pray this simple short prayer. Remember it really doesn’t matter what you say. What matters is that what you say comes from your heart!…

“Dear Lord, I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself. I am sorry and I repent. I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life, I give it to you. Help me to live every day in a way that pleases you. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you. Amen.”

If you have prayed this prayer and you have truly meant it in your heart, then you too have found the righteousness and mercy that can only be found with a relationship with Jesus Christ!

Heavenly Father,

Thank You for sending Your Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross and do what we in our flesh can not do…live up to Your perfect standards. We love you Lord and we pray that others will come to know You today. As we live out these end days Lord that we are in, I pray for us, Your people, that we would grow stronger in Christ and growing up in Him and not just growing older. Father, we pray that no one would resist Your Holy Spirit. Bless our lives and our country and we pray this in the saving name of Jesus…Amen!