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.”
Imagine the scene: its early morning and Jerusalem barely stirred from the stupor of last night’s slumber. As His custom was, for the last two weeks or so, Jesus walks towards the temple and sat down and began to teach those gathering around Him. It’s almost Passover and the Roman authorities are wary of any subversive activities particularly at this time when religious fervor and Jewish patriotism are on its peak.
Now, sexual immorality is a serious crime in Israel and the penalty according to the Law of Moses is death by stoning for both the man and the woman (cf. Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). The Law has another essential component: justice. Justice ensures that there is due process for anybody accused of violating the law.
Under the Mosaic Law (the law of Moses), every matter should be established by two or three witnesses (cf. Deuteronomy 19:15; Deuteronomy 17:6). Without compliance to this critical component of the law on witnesses, the death sentence cannot be carried out. During this time, it is worth noting that the Romans have stripped the Jewish leaders of the power to execute a criminal; only the governor, who is appointed by the Roman authorities, has the power to pronounce the death sentence.
And so when the teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought the case of the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, they have an impure motive. They said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” In fact in verse 6 it says, “They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him”. The case looked unassailable except that there are missing elements: the witnesses and the man who was involved with the woman. Also, it is clear that the Law of Moses was misquoted by the experts of the law because it clearly stipulates that both the man and the woman should be stoned to death.
If Jesus would agree with them to stone her, it would be an injustice because there were no witnesses and the man involved was not included; it would also be against the Roman law because only the governor has the power to execute such criminals. However, if Jesus would say not to stone her (forgive her) it would be against the Law of Moses. At any rate, the dilemma was presented so that when Jesus fails to find a solution, they would have the opportunity to discredit His moral authority and accuse Him for inciting a rebellion against Rome.
What the teachers of the law and the Pharisees failed to understand is that they are dealing with Jesus – whose finger wrote the Ten Commandments (The Law) given to Moses; that He is the only one who knows the motives of the heart; that He alone is worthy to throw a stone because He is blameless; that He is the ultimate Judge of heaven and earth, of all the living and the dead.
The response of Jesus was sublime yet powerful: He ignored them; He wrote something on the ground with His finger. When the crowd insisted, Jesus replied: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” This is the moment of truth because the witnesses ( two or three) should have been the first to throw stones followed by the everybody in the crowd. The wisdom behind this practice of a whole community throwing stones is to avoid finger-pointing that it was his stone that killed the convicted criminal in order to avoid guilt or retribution.
The effect was phenomenal in that slowly everybody began to go away beginning from the oldest until only Jesus and the woman were left alone. She came to a point in her life where she stood face to face with Jesus. Instead of judgment (which she deserves anyway) Jesus gave her something she did not deserve: mercy. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” He did not condemn her but gave her a warning about her life of sin; He gave her a chance to repent, something she really have to think about and make a decision with.
Jesus saw in her a person worth saving, a person worth loving, a person worth dying for.