John 7: 45 – 53, and 8: 1 – 11 Unbelief of the Jewish leaders
To ensure that I read today’s passage in context, I have started with John 7: 31 – 32
Also, the NIV, from which I am working, says this about John 8: 1 – 11: “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7: 53 – 8: 11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7: 36, John 21: 25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24: 53. Nevertheless, I’ve included it because it feels to me as though it expresses some of the truth about Jesus.
[Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, ‘When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?’
The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him]…
…Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why didn’t you bring him in?’
‘No one ever spoke the way this man does,’ the guards replied.
The temple contained many treasures. At festivals, there were large crowds of visitors, many from foreign lands. There were strict rules about who could visit which parts of the temple, what ritual washing they should carry out, and how they should be dressed. The temple guards were there to ensure that this all happened smoothly. They would have been steeped in knowledge about worship in the temple.
Something about what Jesus said and how he said it spoke so strongly to these guardians of tradition that they couldn’t bring themselves to arrest Jesus. They went back to their leaders – their employers – and admitted failure.
‘You mean he has deceived you also?’ the Pharisees retorted. ‘Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law – there is a curse on them.’
The chief priests and the Pharisees reject the testimony of the temple guards. They have seen that Jesus is a threat to their power and influence and are determined to find evidence against him. Look at how they refer to the crowds Jesus has been addressing: “This mob that knows nothing of the law – there is a curse on them.” What a thing to say about the people you are supposed to teach and lead! There is a curse on them! And it’s also a threat to the temple guards who failed to make the arrest. “Believe this man,” they are saying, “and you are cursed.”
Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, ‘Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?’
Nicodemus tries to defend Jesus. He picks an argument that should carry weight with the legalistic Pharisees. Surely they will accept an appeal to use due process when considering whether Jesus is a law breaker? It’s a timid intervention but at least he’s speaking out in support of Jesus. I think it was very important for Nicodemus that he did this. Had he ‘chickened out’ at this point, would he have later been at the foot of the cross? (John 19: 38 – 42) It’s so important that we’re ready to testify to our faith in Jesus, even in a hostile setting. Who knows what hangs on our testimony?
They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.’
The chief priests and Pharisees sneer at Nicodemus. Their ‘evidence’ of Jesus’ origin is fatally flawed, as we saw yesterday. I don’t think they would have cared if they’d known. The charges were purely designed to silence this troublesome rabbi who threatened their interests.
Then they all went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
At dawn, he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round 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. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 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.’
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees said that the woman was caught in the act of adultery. For a capital charge like adultery, Jewish law required two witnesses who had been physically present at the crime, and had shouted a warning that the criminal was committing a capital crime. That’s why the account makes the point that the woman was ‘caught in the act’. Had the case gone to trial, the woman would have been found guilty.
It seems likely that Jews were not allowed to administer the death penalty during that period of Roman rule.
It must have looked to the Pharisees that they had Jesus cornered. If he said that they shouldn’t punish the woman, he would offend his Jewish followers. If he said that they should stone the woman, they would denounce him to the Romans.
But Jesus finds a response; he writes on the ground with his finger, and when pressed, challenges the woman’s accusers, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And when they have all left, Jesus tells the woman that he doesn’t condemn her either.
“Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus wants his followers to have life in all its abundance. Sin – not doing God’s will – impedes that, both for the sinner, and for those affected by the sin. But Jesus came to save those who sin, not condemn them, and here we see that in action. Praise the Lord!
Heavenly Father, Thank you for your mercy. Thank you that your will is that we should be whole and have life in abundance. Please help me to follow Jesus better. In Jesus’ name, Amen