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Bible: What Does John 8:1-26 Teach Us About Mercy and Judgment?

Updated on September 9, 2016

Jesus and the Woman "Caught in Adultery"


Punishment for Adultery

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Caught in Adultery

Very early the next day, Christ walks the short distance from the mountain to the temple where He sits and teaches those who follow Him there (v. 2).

Sometime during the day, the Pharisees cast at his feet an adulterous woman—one whom they had caught in the very act (vv. 3-4).

[The man committing this sin with her is conspicuous by his absence.]

According to Moses, she should receive capital punishment by stoning (see Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-24); the Jewish leadership tests Jesus to see what He would do to resolve this case (vv. 5-6a).

[What the Lord wrote on the ground with His finger is, of course, open to speculation; perhaps the commandment prohibiting adultery or the sins of the woman’s accusers top the list of guesses.]

He delays giving them an answer not because the dilemma stumped Him, but because He wanted His adversaries to achieve the height of a supposed victory before humbling them.

Norman Geisler, in Ethics: Alternatives and Issues, suggests that Jesus acquitted the woman because the prosecutors lacked witnesses (243-4); the text, however, indicates that the Jews found her in the “very act” (v. 4).

By making them think about their own sin, Jesus points out that they are in no position to judge another (vv. 7-8).

Perhaps because they have lived longer than the others, the elder men know in their hearts that they are sinners; thus, they leave the premises first (v. 9).

After everyone exits, Jesus addresses the woman and makes her acknowledge to herself that no accuser remained (v. 10).

He then pronounces upon her His judgment of “Not guilty” with a proviso that she “sin no more” (v. 11).

[By “sin no more,” Jesus obviously means that she, having received God’s mercy, should make a decisive break from her previous lifestyle and begin to live righteously.

He does not issue the impossible demand that she live sinlessly.]

Jesus and Pharisees


Verse 12 records Jesus again addressing a plurality of individuals (“them”); therefore, the Pharisees must have been standing by while this “trial” was taking place, and now they have returned for a lengthy debate (vv. 13-59).

He claims before them to be “the light of the world” who gives “the light of life”—the moral knowledge that originates from the life of God—to those who follow Him.

Hearing this testimony, the Jews accuse Him of bearing witness to Himself—an act that judges do not consider valid in court (v. 13).

[Upon the testimony of two or three witnesses, let every fact be established (see Deuteronomy 19:15).]

Jesus, however, declares that His witness is true because He knows both His origin and His destination (i.e., heaven), but the Pharisees know neither (v. 14).

They can judge only according to the flesh (i.e., they cannot judge people’s hearts; they can only see what appears to be true, and are thus limited) [v 15a].

Jesus claims to judge no one at this time (v. 15b); when He does judge, however, His judgment is true, for He is with His Father (v. 16).

He and His Father co-witness to the truth of Jesus’ testimony (vv. 17-18).

By their question concerning Jesus’ Father, the Pharisees seem to show that they still do not understand that Jesus is talking not about an earthly father, but about His Heavenly Father.

Christ asserts their ignorance of both His identity and that of His Father, and equates knowledge of Him with knowledge of the Father (v. 19; cf. 14:7, 9).

The Apostle John inserts the location of this dialogue (namely, the temple’s treasury), and that the Jews have not succeeded in arresting Jesus yet, “for His hour had not yet come” (v. 20; cf. 6:59; 7:30).

Judgment of Unbelievers


The Unpardonable Sin

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Jesus: "You Will Die in Your Sin"

The Lord’s extended confrontation with the Jews continues, as He reiterates the fact that He is “going away,” and that they cannot come to where He goes, but will “die in your [their] sin” (v. 21; cf. 7:33-34).

As they often do, the Jews entirely miss Jesus’ point.

Disregarding His statement about their dying in their sin, they guess that they cannot follow Him where He goes, because they surmise that Jesus is going to commit suicide (and thus not go to heaven: their expected destination) [v. 22].

The Lord does not let them neglect consideration of the crucial element of their sin (v. 24), but He first clearly declares that His normal “sphere” of operation and abode is higher than theirs (v. 23).

[He speaks to them almost as if they are children.]

Jesus links four spiritual truths characteristic of the Jews:

(1) they are “from beneath”;

(2) they are “of this world”;

(3) they are dying in sin; and

(4) they do not believe in His deity.

The sin of not trusting in Jesus as the divine Savior from this sin of unbelief characterizes people whose home is this world.

Uunbelief will cause eternal separation from Him and from the world that is “above” (vv. 23-24).

The Jews still do not understand Who He is; perhaps His “I am He” puzzles them (v. 25a).

Christ tells them to recall what He has said about Himself in the past, but He does not belabor the point anymore (v. 25b).

Instead, He informs them that one day they will be on the receiving end of judgment from Him (v. 26a).

In the meantime, He will continue to convey to the world the truth that He has received from the Father (v. 26b).

© 2014 glynch1


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