Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 4 (KJV)
Jesus Prevents Two Stonings
Devotional Reading: Matthew 7:1–5
John 8:1–11, 39–59
John 8:1–11, 56–59
1 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.—John 8:11b
God’s Law Is Love
Unit 1: Love Completes,
Law Falls Short
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Identify the “I am.”
2. Explain the difference between “forgiving” and “not condemning.” 3. Write a prayer of gratitude for escaping condemnation in Christ.
How to Say It
A. Deciding the Game
Referees can be much-maligned by coaches, players, fans, commentators—almost anyone who is watching the game. They are second-guessed, taunted, and even on occasion blamed for a team’s loss. Theirs is a difficult task. Referees must be quick and direct with their decisions. They must work together as a team to effectively officiate a game. And they must trust one another to know and care about the rules and work with integrity and skill to enforce those rules fairly.
The contest Jesus was called on to referee in today’s lesson was no game. At stake were Jesus’ credibility and a woman’s life. Who would come away from this confrontation crying foul?
B. Lesson Context
The events and teachings recorded in John 7 and 8 occurred during one of Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem for the feast of tabernacles (see John 7:1–2, 37; 8:20). God instituted this festival for two reasons. First, it was a time of thanksgiving during the season of the olive and fruit harvests (the September–October time frame). Second, it was a time to remember deliverance from slavery in Egypt (see Leviticus 23:33–44).
As something of an object lesson, many who celebrated this festival would live in tents (“tabernacles”) outside the city to reenact the 40 years that the Israelites had lived in tents while wandering in the wilderness. “And every man went unto his own house” (John 7:53) closes the day before the events considered in the first half of this lesson (see lesson 3).
The second half of this lesson begins in John 8:56. In John 8:12–55 (not in our printed text), Jesus responded to questions from a crowd of both laypeople (some who believed Him, others who did not) and Pharisees. Of particular interest to the following episode are the conversational threads about being Abraham’s descendants. Despite the Jews’ confidence that they were Abraham’s family, Jesus declared that their own actions revealed them to be children of the devil (John 8:44; compare 1:13)! No crowd would respond well to being called children of the devil, and this crowd was no different. They went so far as to claim Jesus must be demon-possessed to think that if Abraham and all the rest of the prophets died, Jesus’ own followers would not (8:52–53).
We do well to note that the contrast Jesus set up can apply broadly to anyone who claims to be a child of Abraham (and therefore chosen by God, including Christians today) but acts in evil ways that contradict this heritage. Neither Jesus’ words here nor anywhere else justify violence against Jews, past or present.
I. A Woman’s Cause to Rejoice
A. Jesus Prepares to Teach (vv. 1–2)
1. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
Jesus routinely took time to be in His Father’s presence (examples: Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18). And the mount of Olives was a common stop for Jesus when He was in Jerusalem. Given His prayerful habit, the specific location, and no further information, we surmise that Jesus took this time to pray (consider 21:37; 22:39–45).
The Mount of Olives first appears in the Bible in 2 Samuel 15:30, when David fled Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion (see 2 Samuel 15:32–16:4). The spot was aptly named due to the proliferation of olives in this area, though the modern reader might suggest it was more of a high hill than a mountain. It did overlook the temple, sitting off to its east side. Other examples of reference to the Mount of Olives in the Old Testament include 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:13–14; Ezekiel 11:23; and Zechariah 14:4. The Mount looms large in the Christian faith because it is the location of Jesus’ last night of prayer, betrayal by Judas, and arrest (Luke 22:39–54).
2. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
Jesus often began His day early in the morning (examples: Matthew 21:18; Mark 1:35; Luke 21:38). The temple was the place for religious teachers to meet with and instruct their students (example: Luke 2:46). All the people drawing near suggests that they were primed—through recent experience, word of mouth, or other means—to seek out Jesus’ teaching. Again points to at least one event that would have prepared the people to hear from Jesus on this occasion (see John 7:14). Teachers commonly sat as they taught (Matthew 13:1; 26:55).
B. Change of Curriculum (vv. 3–9)
3a. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery.
The relationship between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees was typically contentious (examples: Matthew 23; contrast John 3:1–2). In the generations following the return from Babylonian exile, these two groups of religious leaders came into prominence in the Jewish faith. Their zeal for the law was commendable, intended to prevent the sins that had led to exile in the first place. Unfortunately, several factors, including mistaken expectations (John 7:52), vested interests (11:48), and hypocrisy (Matthew 23:13–32), prevented these leaders from seeing God’s larger picture and made recognizing His Messiah incredibly difficult.
How this woman was found in adultery but her partner was not is a mystery. There could be perfectly innocent reasons (on the part of her accusers) why this man was not present: he escaped, he fought them off, etc. The most cynical reading (which is refuted by Jesus’ instructions in John 8:11, below) would suggest that the woman was unjustly accused or even framed by these religious leaders.
Gender dynamics of the time are the most likely explanation for the male adulterer’s absence. Especially in Roman culture, though also present to some degree in Jewish culture, adultery on the part of men was often considered an unfortunate fact of life. The women with whom they committed adultery, however, frequently were held to a higher standard and harshly punished for the role they played (see commentary on John 8:5, below). This double standard dichotomy likely resulted in part from questions of paternity and inheritance should a woman become pregnant by a man who was not her husband (consider Numbers 27:1–11).
What Do You Think?
How well do you adapt to a sudden change of plans?
Could more flexibility in this regard open doors for ministry? Explain your answer.
3b–4. And when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
Why would Jesus’ enemies refer to Him as Master? We could assume that the honorific was slathered in sarcasm, since the scribes and Pharisees largely did not consider Jesus to have any authority to teach (compare John 1:38). In addition, using the title might have been a ploy to the crowd that was gathered around Jesus. On the one hand, it could sound like they were being very respectful. On the other, it put the listening audience on alert—would Jesus answer as a learned teacher ought to, or would He reveal himself as a fraud?
What Do You Think?
Based on verses such as Matthew 18:15–17, what are some situations where it might be necessary to point out another’s sin?
What considerations prevent you from pointing out every sin you witness?
5a. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned.
The scribes and Pharisees devoted their entire lives to learning and living the Law of Moses faithfully. Given their long years of training and scholarly debate, they no doubt believed they had an edge on Jesus regarding questions of the law. Direct reference to Moses was unnecessary to establish what law they were talking about; dropping his name, however, raised the stakes of giving any answer that would seem to undercut this revered lawgiver and the God who gave him the law (consider Deuteronomy 34:10–12).
Commands to stone adulterers (found in Deuteronomy 22:20–21, 23–24) were specifically linked to a woman’s promiscuity before marriage or during her engagement. In the first instance, the man with whom she had sexual relations apparently was unknown, so she alone would be punished. In the second, the man who was not her fiancé was also to be executed. According to the law, both parties were meant to be held accountable. At least ideally, women in Israel would not face harsher consequences than the men with whom they consorted. The guilty parties were both subject to the death penalty (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). The harshness of this punishment reflects how repulsive God finds this unholy faithlessness (22:23–27; Ezekiel 22:11; Malachi 3:5; compare Romans 13:9–10).
5b. But what sayest thou?
For a clearer idea of Jesus’ apparent dilemma in answering what sayest thou, one should consider two key points. First, Jesus was known to be a friend of the sinners (examples: Matthew 9:10–12; Luke 7:36–50). What would happen when He was faced with blatant sin, punishable by death? Second, under Roman law the Jews had no authority to carry out the death penalty. Religious leaders were endlessly frustrated that Rome was the final authority (John 18:31). On one significant level, this question had nothing to do with the woman, though her life hung in the balance. Instead, it was a question designed to trap Jesus and thereby discredit Him (compare Mark 12:13–17).
One of the keys to good debate is mastering the art of asking trick questions. One of my high school debate teammates was particularly good at leading an opponent into a cleverly disguised trap. Such questions would start, “Would you say that …” or “Is it fair to define your argument as …” and finish with an emotionally charged phrase implying that the argument was based on the individual’s feelings or faulty sources. My classmate’s questions were designed to leave his opponent with no choice but to provide answers that burned their argument down.
The scribes and Pharisees tried to trap Jesus in the same way. However, Jesus does not fall into traps (see John 8:9, below). Answer honestly: Have you ever tried to trap Jesus with a question? Will you accept His answers? —M. E.
6–7a. This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him.
Tempting him in this instance should be understood as testing Jesus—fitting, given the teaching setting. Their motive was to discredit Jesus. If they were successful at discrediting Him, they would, in turn, be able to bring a charge against Him. This was not the first time Jesus’ opponents asked Him seemingly innocent questions to have reason to accuse him. In those instances, Jesus always had a ready response (examples: Matthew 19:3–9; 22:23–46). When He stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, the scribes and Pharisees might have believed they finally had Him stumped! Jesus, for once, seemed to be speechless.
What Jesus wrote or why He acted as though he heard them not is unclear (see John 8:7b–8, below). We could speculate based on the context and Jesus’ character and ministry up to this point. His pause, however, did nothing to deter the men from continuing to question Him.
What Do You Think?
What would be the best way for you to respond when someone asks a question to trap you?
How can you control your emotions to give a wise response in such a situation?
7b–8. He lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
Rather than address the issue the scribes and Pharisees presented, Jesus went to the very heart of the matter. Whether the woman deserved to die for her sins faded to the background; Jesus’ challenge was whether any of these men was without sin. Later Paul—an educated Pharisee himself—asserted that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and further: “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). Surely these legal minds also knew that every person was a sinner.
Jesus’ statement was a pointed reminder that even those who studied the law and sought to obey its every word were still guilty of breaking it (James 2:10–11). And because of that, all of them—not just the woman—faced a death sentence. This should prevent any honest person from initiating the execution.
9. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
Heartfelt conviction of conscience leads to repentance (example: Acts 2:37). Far from insisting that they were correct, Jesus’ challengers accepted this humbling turn of events and went out one by one. This movement started with the eldest accuser until Jesus was the only one left, suggesting something about wisdom that can come with age. Ironically, those who came to discredit Jesus and catch Him in a trap were caught in their own trap and left without a sound.
The men who left were also the only witnesses to this crime. Without witnesses, no one was left in the crowd who was able to initiate punishment (Deuteronomy 13:9; 17:7). Thus, the question of whether Jesus would break Roman law for the sake of Jewish law was rendered void (see John 8:5, above). In the midst reminds us of the learners who were still present, observing Jesus’ interaction with the religious leaders and now with the woman.
C. Life-Changing Lesson (vv. 10–11)
10–11a. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord.
Jesus’ response began with a pair of clarifying questions. Addressing the woman for the first time, Jesus’ rhetorical questions were intended to confirm that the accusers were gone. Her address Lord stands in contrast to “Master” (John 8:4, above). We note that this use of Lord did not suggest insight into Jesus’ character and could appropriately be translated “sir,” as it is in Matthew 13:27. While the previous title Master was used less than genuinely, the woman spoke to Jesus with respect. 11b. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. Jesus knew this woman’s sin, whether this particular accusation was true or not (example: John 4:16–19). Just like her accusers, the woman’s sin made her subject to death (see 8:7b–8, above). And being the Son of God, Jesus was entitled to enforce the death penalty, if He so chose (consider Hebrews 10:28–31). But Jesus gave the woman another option. He desired her to repent and thus sin no more. In this act, we see an example of the choice between death in sin and life offered in Christ.
No further information is given regarding the woman’s repentance. But based on other, similar interactions Jesus had, we might surmise that the woman did indeed find her heart changed by this interaction with the Lord (compare John 5:1–14).
What Do You Think?
How have you seen acts of mercy attract people to Jesus?
In what current situation(s) could your merciful intervention also be a call to repentance?
Learning from Experience
I sheepishly walked into work five minutes late. A coworker glared at me and pointed out my untimely arrival to our manager. My coworker was understandably frustrated; my tardiness caused her to take her break late. But my manager just laughed. A few coworkers were around, so my manager asked them if they had ever been late. Every single one had, so she told them no one had any right to criticize me. As my boss, and someone who is always early, she could have chosen to discipline me or just allow the comment to stand unaddressed. She offered me grace instead. She also declared that I should not be late again because that would be taking advantage of her kindness.
The Pharisees, like my coworkers, were not blameless. But Jesus was without sin, so He could have condemned the woman. Instead, He offered her grace conditioned on repentance. Have you accepted Jesus’ offer of grace? Does it show in your habitual conduct? —M. E.
II. Abraham’s Cause to Rejoice
A. Jesus’ Day (vv. 56–58)
56. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
Given that Jesus just asserted that the crowd’s actions showed them to be children of the devil, calling Abraham their father implies that, if they were really his children, they would react as Abraham did. The man had received the promise from God that his own family would bless the whole world (Genesis 12:1–3). This promise is fulfilled in Christ (Galatians 3:16), giving Abraham reason to rejoice that Jesus’ day had finally come. By faith Abraham believed this would be so. Because of his hope in God’s promise, Abraham saw it, and was glad even without living in Jesus’ time (Hebrews 11:8–12).
57. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
Given the antagonistic character of the conversation up to this point, it’s no surprise that the Jews misunderstood what Jesus was saying. They knew Jesus was not even fifty years old in this time (compare Luke 3:23). He would need to be generations older than 50 to have seen Abraham! For context, Abraham was born about 2167 BC, which places his death at 1992 BC (Genesis 25:7). But readers of John’s Gospel are well-aware that Jesus was not exaggerating His knowledge of Abraham—Jesus is from the beginning (John 1:1).
58. Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
Verily, verily draws attention to the truth of what Jesus was about to declare. Not only did He know Abraham; Jesus predated the man (compare John 1:1–5)! His claim here is weighty indeed. “I am” is God’s formula for self-identification (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43:10; 45:18; etc.). For anyone to use this formula in the same way was blasphemy (47:4–11; Zephaniah 2:15). With this statement, Jesus’ audience heard Him claim to be God.
In the Gospel of John, we notice Jesus making frequent statements about himself that involve God’s sacred name, I Am. For the sake of convenience, we can call these “the ‘I am’ sayings.” These sayings take two forms. The first form occurs when Jesus simply applied God’s divine name, I Am, directly to himself. He did this to stress His complete union with the Father (John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19).
B. Not Jesus’ Time (v. 59)
59. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Leviticus 24:16 states that anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death by stoning. Their reaction confirms that they understood Jesus’ “I am” to be a claim of equality with God (John 8:58, above). But the crowd was unsuccessful in the moment because Jesus hid himself and so passed by. The larger picture, however, makes clear that they were unable to stone Jesus because His time had not yet come (John 7:6–8).
A. Following I Am
Jesus was completely within His rights to condemn the adulterous woman, but He chose to offer mercy with His call to repentance. Jesus could have refrained from revealing himself as I am, but He chose instead to make himself known. We certainly benefit from Jesus’ self-revelation and His merciful call to turn to Him. Considering who Christ is and who He calls you to be, what repentance is necessary in your life? What “stonings” will you divert because of your love for Jesus? What rejoicing will you spread?
What Do You Think?
What is most challenging to you about Jesus’ teaching and actions in today’s lesson?
What is most comforting to you about His teaching and actions?
Lord, we all have sinned and fallen short of Your ways. Lay our hearts bare so that we might repent and sin no more. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
What cause has Jesus given you to rejoice?
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2023-2024 (pp. 106-123). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.