Set Up

by The Doctor

“Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered and he sat down to talk to them. As he was speaking, the Jewish leaders and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and placed her out in front of the staring crowd. ‘Teacher,’ they said to Jesus, ‘this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. Moses’ law says to kill her. What about it?'” (John 8:1-5 TLB)
 There’s a term that people often use to describe what’s happening in the verse quoted above. We commonly call this situation a set-up, or a situation that is intentionally designed to get someone into trouble. That “someone” here in John chapter eight happens to be Jesus Himself.

You see, this incident with the woman caught in the act of adultery was not the only time that Jesus tangled with the religious elite of His day. For example, there was another incident  mentioned in John chapter five where Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath day. This act so enraged the religious leaders that they got together to accuse Jesus of being a lawbreaker (see John 5:16).

Then there was the episode in Mark chapter eleven when Jesus entered the Temple area and tossed out the merchants and their customers saying, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves'” (Mark 11:17 NKJV). We’re told that this incident in the Temple caused the religious leaders to start looking for ways to kill Jesus because they were afraid of Him.

So it seems that the religious establishment of Jesus’ day was actively looking for an opportunity to make Jesus look bad in the eyes of the people -and here in John chapter eight, they get one.

Now The Doctor thinks that it’s unlikely that these religious leaders just “happened” to stumble upon this woman who was caught in the act of adultery. The Doctor also suspects that this woman’s affair may not have been as secret as she may have thought. In fact, The Doctor thinks that this woman may have also been the victim of a set up; in other words, her sinful relationship had become known but was allowed to continue until it suited these men to use her for their purposes. The Doctor also believes that this whole scene may have been arranged specifically to make Jesus look bad in the eyes of the people.

You see, there’s something very suspicious about the whole situation with this woman. For instance, take another look at the verses quoted above- notice that the religious leaders bring this woman to Jesus and say, “…this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. Moses’ law says to kill her. What about it?” But wait a minute- is that what Moses really said? Well, if you check into it, you’ll find that these men are quoting from the Old Testament book of Leviticus, chapter 20 verse 10. Here’s the passage that these religious leaders are referring to- check it out for yourself and see what you think….

“The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10 NKJ).
With this in mind, The Doctor would like to ask you a question- what’s missing from the scene with Jesus, the religious leaders and this woman caught in the act of adultery? Well, did you notice that the Law says that both the adulterer and adulteress should be put to death? So where’s the man who was involved with this woman- where is the adulterer? Why wasn’t he also brought to Jesus?

You see, if these religious leaders were truly following the Law of Moses -as they claimed to be- then they would have brought both the man and the woman. In light of this, The Doctor suspects that this woman was -unknowingly- used in an attempt to trap Jesus. Notice also that we’re told that a crowd had gathered to hear Jesus speak (indicating a pretty big group) and that she was placed right out front for maximum impact, no doubt.

Now why would this situation present such a problem for Jesus? Well, the religious leaders were trying to force Jesus into making a difficult choice. You see, the Roman government which occupied Israel at the time did not allow the Jewish people to carry out death sentences. If Jesus had agreed to put this lady to death then He would have been in conflict with the government. But if He stopped her from being killed then He could have been accused of disobeying the very Law which He said He came to fulfill.

So what would you do? Before you answer, think about it for a moment and picture this scene in your mind…

  • On one side there is a woman who had just been pulled out of bed with her sexual sin now displayed for everyone to see
  • On the other side there is a group of instigators demanding that you make a decision on the spot
  • And all around there is a group of wide-eyed onlookers who are not really sure what’s going on but anxious to see what happens next.

And this woman’s life hangs in the balance. What would you do?

Well, here’s what Jesus did…

“They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger” (John 8:6).
So what’s Jesus’ reaction to all this? He bends down and starts drawing in the dirt!! Now it’s probably safe to say that most people in Jesus’ position would be frantically trying to figure a way out of this mess- the last thing that anyone would probably think to do is to start scribbling on the ground. But notice that Jesus certainly doesn’t appear to be nervous or frantic or afraid- He’s just… writing.

Now the question that everybody asks is, “Just what was Jesus writing there on the ground?” Some people think that He was listing the sins of those who had brought this woman to Him, sins that they had hoped would remain hidden. Others believe that Jesus was using this time to pray for the wisdom to answer his critics.

Perhaps Jesus was simply giving these men an opportunity to back away from their accusations gracefully before suffering the embarrassment of His response. The fact however, is that the Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus writing, so each of these possibilities is just a guess. But whatever you believe Jesus was writing there on the ground, you have to agree that His answer was devastating to His critics…

“They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, ‘All right, hurl the stones at her until she dies. But only he who never sinned may throw the first!’ Then he stooped down again and wrote some more in the dust. And the Jewish leaders slipped away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until only Jesus was left in front of the crowd with the woman.

Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, sir,’ she replied. And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more'” (John 8:7-12).


So why didn’t Jesus condemn this woman? Certainly her sin was worthy of condemnation in the eyes of others. What made her so different?

Well, The Doctor believes the answer is found in her response to Jesus Himself. When Jesus asked this woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” she responded by saying, “No one, sir” (or “No one, Lord” as it is found in other translations).

You see, when the religious leaders spoke to Jesus, they often used terms of respect by calling Him “Teacher” or “Rabbi.” This indicated that they considered Him to be a person of some importance but still just a man. But in her response to Jesus, this woman indicates that she has taken a critical step that the others haven’t- Jesus is no longer just an important person, but Lord.

The same is true for people today. Many people will accept Jesus as a great person but not Lord. For example, people may believe that Jesus was a great man, a great leader or a great teacher and while all of these descriptions are true, they still fall short. Jesus was, is and claimed to be Lord.

This woman accepted Jesus as Lord as seen by her response to Him. And in light of this, Jesus told her, “Neither do I condemn you- go and sin no more.” This woman -having recognized Jesus as Lord- was not condemned by Him but set free. And it’s the same for everyone who truly makes Jesus the Lord of their life, for as Jesus Himself said,

“…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).