The crowds disperse—the Pharisees retire for the time being and go about their own business once more, and Jesus retreats to the Mount of Olives, presumably to pray and rest for the evening, but He does not stay away long—Jesus’ ministry is taxing, but it needs doing and He cannot wait. The very next morning, Jesus returns and goes to the temple courts where a crowd gathers around to hear what He has to say. He teaches them, but like always the religious Pharisees could not allow Him time to simply be about His Father’s business. Instead of attempting to correct His teachings, they bring before Him a woman they claim was caught in adultery.
What is incredibly interesting about this story is that this woman is brought before Jesus as an adulteress—but there is no accused man anywhere to be seen. Adultery, by definition, is a two-person act. No matter which way you slice it, if this woman was caught in adultery there should be a man standing right beside her likewise guilty of adultery. The very obvious question to ask is this—Why did the Pharisees bring to Jesus 50% of the wrongdoers? Why did they bring before Him this woman instead of bringing the man if their only goal was to get Him in trouble with the Roman authorities? Why not bring them both—if she was ‘caught in the act’ it is clear that the man was there too!!
The answer cannot be rightly known, but based upon Jesus’ answer we can infer. Let’s take a look at this portion of scripture:
53 Then they all went home, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
A few things are clear in this text. First, that the woman was without questions guilty, and Jesus does not rebuke the men for wrongly accusing the woman, nor does He shy away from confronting the woman about her sin (John 8:10). It is also clear from His response to the accusers that He knew they were all guilty and worthy of the same punishment according to the law. Some of her accusers may very well have been adulterers too—some may have been guilty of breaking other laws, but even the Pharisees themselves realized that Jesus was speaking the truth—that they were all guilty, and none of them truly worthy to judge her misdeeds and sentence her to death.
Jesus’ writing in the dirt in reminiscent of another passage of scripture wherein God wrote with His finger—when the laws that the Pharisees where seeking to accuse the woman by was initially given:
When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.
We don’t know what it was that Jesus wrote in the dirt, but we do know a few things about what was going through His mind as He did it. First, that the Law of the Lord is perfect and holy, a refreshing for the soul and good for mankind (Psalm 19:7), also, that the entirety of the Law hangs on two points—love God and love your fellow man (Matthew 22:40). And lastly, that Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that by Him all the world could be saved (John 3:17). We know all of these things are true, and we know based upon His actions that His conclusion was that despite the transgression of the Law, the woman needed mercy—as does everyone else.
We know that Jesus died on the Cross for this woman’s sins—the transgression did not go unpunished, but Jesus took this woman’s condemnation upon Himself and did eventually pay her due—as well as the necessary cost for the sins of her accusers. Jesus took true ownership of the judgment of this woman—He did not judge her innocent, but He also did not condemn her to death. He was able—unlike anyone else in the history of time, to judge this woman with a righteous judgment—He was able to simultaneously judge her worthy of death and to love her beyond what we can possibly imagine, granting her forgiveness and mercy beyond our comprehension. No one else in the history of time could do what Jesus did, because no one in the history of time could really say they were without sin before the Father, except for the Son.
When we condemn someone, what we are essentially saying is that this person is worthy of punishment or death for their wrongdoings—that they are below us in righteousness, and that we can execute justice upon them because of the disparity between us. The problem is if we condemn someone as worthy of a punishment before God, we are saying that we too are worthy of the punishment we prescribe, because no one is truly innocent. We have all sinned and fallen short of the requirements of God. If they have sinned against God in their adultery, we have likewise sinned against Him in our disobedience and wickedness. We are all in desperate need of a savior since we are all worthy of death. It took the Lord to free us all from this vicious circle—from the shackles of the Law.
That’s the beautiful thing about the Lord—He didn't come to condemn, though He most certainly could have. God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life (John 3:16).
No matter how sinful your life has been—no matter how caught away in fruitless, unscriptural doctrines you were and no matter how much condemnation you are feeling from those around you—particularly the religious and zealous—know this: Jesus came to save. Jesus came with mercy and grace to bestow upon those who call upon His name. This woman that was brought before Him didn't even ask for His mercy, didn't try to clean up her life beforehand, and didn't ‘say the right thing’ in order to earn what Jesus gave her. Jesus granted her mercy and forgiveness first, declaring that He did not condemn her, nor could any man, as He had demonstrated just prior to this, and called her to live a different life.
It really is that simple.