Jesus is teaching in the temple courtyard when He is suddenly interrupted by the Scribes and Pharisees. They present to Him a woman caught in the act of adultery (Jn. 8:1-11). Intending to make her a public example, they “set her in the midst” (v. 3). Whether or not she admits her guilt, the Law of Moses stipulates an adulteress will be stoned to death (Deut. 22:22). These bigots are self-acclaimed experts of the Mosaic Law, but there is no hope for mercy from men who exploit women. They do not quote the entire passage, for the fornicating man must also die. Pretending they only want Jesus’ opinion on this matter, they attempt to force Him to say something that contradicts the Law of Moses. This is one of several occasions when the religious rulers attempt to snare Him with His words (Jn. 8:6, Mk. 3:2 & 10:2). The rulers consider this woman bait for the trap they attempt to set, but the Son of God will not allow Himself to be baited. Neither will He give His verdict in the presence of a biased jury.
Ignoring their allegations, Jesus stoops twice to write something in the sand. Pointless speculation concerning exactly what He wrote can fill volumes. Jesus meets the rulers on their own turf by quoting another aspect of the Law (Lev. 17:7). He appeals to the conscience of each man whether or not he is a fitting prosecutor. According to the Mosaic Law, those who witness adultery should be the first to throw a rock at the perpetrator. However, it is not the woman Jesus accuses but the men who have brought her. “Anyone here who is sinless can cast the first stone at her.” Jesus forbade no one to throw stones; the question was who is worthy to throw them. He earlier gives a similar principle: “Rid yourself of the beam in your own eye before judging the man with a splinter in his” (Mt. 7:3-4). The rulers throw this girl at the feet of the only One who is truly sinless. He alone has the right to throw the first brick, but He does not.
Jesus knows how to expose men with double standards. One by one, the perplexed accusers drop their stones and leave (v. 9). Those who came to shame Jesus depart in shame. None can stand in the presence of Jesus with a guilty conscience. Sin blinds us to our own faults. Their departure proves they feel no need to repent.
There is no hope for this girl until she talks with Jesus. He has ignored her persecutors, for she is the focus of His concern. He picks up no stones to throw. He does not question her about her guilt but makes two inquiries regarding her accusers. “Where have they gone? Has no one condemned you?” Respectfully she replies, “No man, Lord.” There is none left to pass sentence upon her except Christ. He instructs her to depart and sin no more (v. 11). The rulers seek her condemnation while Jesus seeks her redemption. They are concerned with her past, but Jesus is concerned with her future. Case dismissed.