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John Chapter 8, verses 1-6
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “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?” 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.
The NIV translators are correct when they note that some early manuscripts do not include this account of the woman caught in adultery. We can take comfort, however, that with or without it, the teachings of Scripture are not affected. Moreover, we have no compelling reason to believe it did not happen.
As the festival ended and people headed for their homes, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. The next morning at the break of day, he returned to the temple courts, as did many people from nearby. There he sat and taught them.
Meanwhile, the religious leaders tried to set a trap for him so they could arrest him in spite of the many people learning from him. They caught a woman in the act of adultery and dragged her to where Jesus was teaching. They made her stand before the group while they accused her and asked Jesus to pronounce judgment in view of the Law of Moses. “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women,” they asserted. “Now what do you say?”
The trap was neatly laid. Never mind that they changed Moses’ words to suit their purposes. The law clearly stated that both the man and the woman must die, and death by stoning is specifically mentioned only in the case of a virgin engaged to be married (Deuteronomy 22:13-24; Leviticus 20:10). Still, the Pharisees worked their evil scheme. If Jesus called for the stoning, he would violate Roman law, which reserved capital punishment for the Romans to execute. If Jesus said, “Let the woman go,” he would violate Mosaic Law.
John Chapter 8, verse 7
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus did not answer at first. He merely “bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” We are given no hint what he wrote. Eager to spring their trap, the Pharisees pressed Jesus for an answer. Then Jesus spoke a sentence that is well-known and oft-repeated to this day: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
The Pharisees’ actions were loveless, harsh, hypocritical. Hatred prompted their little drama. But Jesus turned the trap back on them. Mosaic Law called for the witnesses to throw the first stones in carrying out the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:7). So Jesus answered in part: “If she is guilty and deserving of death, get ready to do your job.”
But Jesus put a twist on that thought that addressed the hateful hypocrisy in this entire episode: “Do your job if you are without sin.” The words echoed the sentiments Jesus expressed another time, in his Sermon on the Mount: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3; see also verses 1-5).
John Chapter 8, verses 8-11
Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
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. 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.”
As Jesus went back to writing on the ground, the Pharisees gradually slunk away. The older ones, quicker to get the point, went first. Soon only the woman was left standing with Jesus.
Jesus spoke to her. “What happened to the witnesses who were condemning you?” he asked.
“There are none,” she replied.
“Then I don’t condemn you either,” Jesus declared. But he added, “Go now, and leave your life of sin.” Jesus did not condone her sin. He forgave it and called for repentance. Sin in any form is never justifiable, and the justified sinner, trusting in Jesus, will shun all sin.
Jesus testifies against the unbelievers
John Chapter 8, verse 12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus here was again speaking in the presence of the Pharisees. The scene is easier to understand if we assume that the encounter with the Pharisees and the adulterous woman took place at another time. The weak textual evidence for that encounter supports this idea. This conversation, then, apparently continued after the words spoken in 7:52.
Jesus spoke to all the people around him. “I am,” he said, repeating the words that identified him with Yahweh, “the light of the world.” Here was the Messiah, telling those who would listen that he was the fulfillment of all Isaiah had promised: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (9:2). “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you” (60:1). (See also Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:2,3.)
In 1:4 we learned that the Word had life in him and “that life was the light of men.” Now Jesus simply declared, “I am the light of the world.” His light shines on life and gives life. He penetrates the soul, and his light and life are one and the same in us. We walk in his light instead of the darkness inherent in this sin-corrupted world.
We believe and live.
John Chapter 8, verses 13-14
The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.
Another time when Jesus faced the hostile Jews, he volunteered the same thought that the Pharisees now used to establish a case with only one witness (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15), and testimony about oneself might be doubly suspect.
Previously, Jesus had offered other witnesses: John the Baptist, Jesus’ works, and God the Father. This time he returned the challenge by insisting that his own testimony about himself was sufficient. It was sufficient because it was God’s eternal truth. Jesus knew who he was, where he came from, and where he was going. The Pharisees did not know where he came from or where he was going. They, not Jesus, had no basis to judge.
John Chapter 8, verses 15-18
You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
The Pharisees judged “by human standards” and were wrong about Jesus. The Greek expression John used was “judged according to their flesh.” The Pharisees were ruled by their reason and the sinful inclinations of their corrupted human nature. They judged the way people without God judge.
Meanwhile, their protests rang hollow because Jesus was judging no one. Even if he did judge and his own testimony was sufficient, as he just said, he was not alone. Any judgment Jesus made was supported by the One who sent him.
Jesus knew the Old Testament teaching about two witnesses to confirm the truth. His truth was established by two. He witnessed about himself, and the Father who sent him also witnessed about him. Had the Pharisees truly known and believed God’s Word, they would have had all the witnesses they needed.
John Chapter 8, verses 19-20
Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place wherethe offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.
The depth of the Pharisees’ unbelief became clear. “Where is your father?” they challenged. “Produce the second witness and make your case.”
Jesus’ answer plumbed the depths. “You do not know me or my Father. . . . If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” The eternal Word made flesh stood before their very eyes. God from God testified to them. They refused to listen. The way to see the Father is through the Son. They didn’t see.
This passage should trouble our souls. Can more terrible words be heard than for Jesus to say, “You do not know me or my Father”?
We know his words troubled the hostile Jews, but they still did not capture him as they wished, because his appointed time had not yet come. Jesus’ work for our salvation continued to follow the Father’s timetable.
John Chapter 8, verses 21-24
Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”
This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”
But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
Once again Jesus tried to show the Jews how far off they were from the truth about him. Where he was going, they could not go (7:34). This time Jesus added a thought, however, that clarified what he meant. He said, “And you will die in your sin.”
Those who do not believe in Jesus do not receive the forgiveness of sins he has won for them. Those who have no forgiveness die in their sins. Those who die in their sins die forever. They do not have eternal life. They cannot join Jesus in heaven.
The Jews, however, didn’t catch the meaning and tried to fit his words into their earthly way of thinking. They wondered if he meant he would commit suicide rather than let them seize him and put him to death. That would be one way he could keep them from following him.
Jesus ignored their speculation and continued to explain exactly what he meant. Only minds closed in unbelief could miss his point. Those Jews were from below, from this world. Jesus was from above, not from this world. They were under the control of the prince of this world (8:44; 12:31). Jesus was doing the will of his Father.
Jesus told them directly, “You will die in your sins because you do not believe I am who I Whether they heard it that way or not, Jesus used the “I AM” words again to identify himself.
John Chapter 8, verses 25-26
“Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”
The hostile Jews challenged him again. “Just who are you?” they wanted to know. They knew he claimed to be the Son of God and, therefore, equal with God (5:18). They heard him say, “I am the light of the world” (8:12), but they didn’t believe it, so they asked for something they could believe.
“I’ve already told you, haven’t I?” Jesus replied. They had the answer, but it only sealed their judgment. The more Jesus would tell them of himself, the more he would have to condemn them. And Jesus would be telling them only what the Father gave him to tell. Jesus’ message for the world came from his Father in heaven.
John Chapter 8, verses 27-30
They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.
They couldn’t see where Jesus was pointing them. For all they knew, he was speaking of someone from Galilee who sent him to Jerusalem. They did not identify Jesus’ sender with the Father.
“You will know one day,” said Jesus, “when it’s too late.” Hardened in their unbelief, they would lift up the Son of Man. They would crucify him who embodied everything a man was supposed to be before sin ruined it all. “Then,” said Jesus, “you will know that I am who I am. When I’m lifted up on that cross, you will realize I am will realize I said and did only what the Father has taught me. The Father is with me. I do what pleases him.”
The Father sent Jesus to become human like us, but he did not abandon Jesus in his humanity. And Jesus in his humanity never displeased the Father. He lived in perfect sinlessness as our substitute.
Other Jews heard Jesus besides those who openly opposed him, and many believed what they heard.
John Chapter 8, verses 31-32
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus spoke to those who believed while, apparently, the unbelieving Jews were listening too. The tender faith of those new believers needed strengthening. Others whose new faith wavered already had left him (6:66). For their faith to grow and for them to be truly Jesus’ disciples, Jesus them to “hold to [his] teaching.”
To draw close to Jesus, the Word, they literally needed to remain in (here, “hold to”) his Word (here, “teaching”). Jesus had power to still storms. He fed hungry crowds and healed illnesses. That all had an impact and drew people to listen to him. But how did he make disciples? He taught them about himself. How did he keep disciples? He held them by his Word.
We still have Jesus’ Word today. His Word leads us to him and keeps us with him. The mark of true followers of Jesus is that they remain true to his Word, where they learn the truth, and the truth makes them free.
What do we learn from Jesus? We learn that he is God sent from God to save us from sin. We learn that we have forgiveness with Jesus. We learn that Jesus leads us to our heavenly Father. Those truths set us free—free from the curse of sin, free from death, free for eternal life.
This passage of Scripture is often misused. The words “the truth will set you free” are isolated, and any learning that might help us find “truth” (whatever that may be) is praised. We see the words on libraries and as college mottoes. We hear them on the lips of intellectual and political leaders. But we don’t hear whose Word reveals the truth that sets us free. We don’t hear whose disciples have that truth and the freedom that comes with it. We don’t hear about Jesus.