The account of the woman caught in adultery is interesting. It does not feature in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts of John’s Gospel and seems logically better located just after Luke 21:38; indeed, a limited number of manuscripts do have the account appearing there in Luke. Regardless of where it ‘should’ be found, it is a beautiful story of God’s grace and kindness towards someone breaking the Law of Moses – which perhaps sums up Jesus’ entire ministry! It doesn’t contradict the rest of scripture in any way; it demonstrates an approach by Jesus that is entirely consistent with his attitude, words, and theology. It neatly summarises the same dilemma that God himself has: How do you deal justly with sinful behaviour, whilst being gracious to the sinner? “I don’t condemn you; go and sin no more” – this was the conclusion of Jesus.
The other significant fact – contained within the account – was that adultery led to death by stoning if at least one of the participants were married or even just betrothed, and if so, both of them were to be stoned. There seemed to be a missing man! Clearly this was a ‘set-up’ by the Jewish authorities to see if Jesus kept to the Law (Deuteronomy 22:22-24).
Furthermore, the Romans did not permit the Jews to execute the death sentence – so this exercise was theoretical, at best. Their only aim was to provoke Jesus either to side with the Romans and forbid the death penalty, or to side with the Law and recommend stoning, or to neglect the Law and be exposed as a wishy-washy liberal. In the event – due to a word of wisdom from heaven – Jesus did none of these things. The Law required the accusers (those who had discovered the act of adultery) to cast the first stone – and Jesus simply said that those people who were without sin must cast this stone. Since no-one matched that criterion, no stone was cast, and so the woman had to be declared ‘Not Guilty’. However, Jesus, in deciding not to condemn her, strongly commanded her to leave her sinful life!
“I am the light of the world”, he said. The Son is like the Sun. We need no other moral light than Jesus. Those who ignore that light will “die in their sin” – meaning that they will be punished by the weight of the sins that they still carry. The only way to avoid this punishment is “to believe that I am He” (8:24). How many of us can say: “I always do what pleases him”? So, if we hold on to Jesus’ teaching, putting it into practice, then we are truly his disciples. By knowing that truth (v32), we will be set free from our slavery to sin.
Jesus, clearly not concerned about offending the Jewish people, claimed that their father was the Devil himself. What this gained in truth, it lacked in subtlety! “Your Dad is a liar and a murderer”, Jesus told them, “so it’s hardly any wonder that you don’t accept what I am saying, is it?” Like father, like children!
“If you want to live forever, obey the Word of Christ, and you will”, he said. They Jews were less convinced and pointed out that no less a man than Abraham had passed away quite some time ago! “Ah yes”, pointed out Jesus, “but firstly, I am not talking about physical death, and secondly, Abraham really did see me – he stated that God himself would provide a Lamb!” “Before Abraham was, I AM”, said Jesus, claiming the full “I AM” title of the Living God. In defiance of the rule of law, they picked up rocks to stone Jesus, but it was not time for him to die, so he simply slipped through the crowd.