The Person of Christ Before the Doctrine
There are two sides from which this parenthetical fragment can be viewed, the natural and the spiritual. The natural is that which relates to the trap which was set before Christ. These Jewish leaders, seeking to ensnare Him, brought this woman, as they said, taken in sin, and presented to Him this query: "Moses commanded ... what sayest thou?" When all the factors are taken into account, it would seem to be a trap from which escape would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. In laying it they would consider, if He set Moses aside, there would be a clear case against Him before the whole Jewish world, and especially before the Jewish Sanhedrin. Such an attitude would also involve Him in a charge of Himself being a party to sin. If, on the other hand, He stood with Moses, and agreed to, or demanded the stoning of this woman according to the law, two things would happen. He would come into collision with the Roman authorities, who for the time being had superseded Jewish law, and then also He would bring a very large social feeling against Himself, for morality had become very lax, and it would be difficult to be poplar, if such extreme measures were applied in such directions. There may have been other features, but, on the face of it, this seems to be a reasonable interpretation of what was going on. The probability is that the latter alternative is the weaker surmise, and that, inasmuch as so often He had taken a place of superseding Moses with His: "... but I say unto you ...," they would be content to get Him into moral implications of seeming to condone this sin, against which Moses had so severely prescribed.
With this trap before us, and - as they who laid it might think it to be - one from which there is no escape, we are able to see why the Spirit of God has placed this incident where it is, when to the human mind it appears to be so unconnected with the narrative. In three ways it serves the main purpose of bringing out the glory and greatness of Christ. Before we consider those three ways, let us notice, first of all, that it does stand at the threshold of a new section, and it is not so much a mere incident that becomes the focal point of attention, but the Person. This reminds us that it is the Person Who is always presented first, before the doctrine, and that all that which follows emanates from the works back to Him. This is a law which governs everything in the Scriptures. Teaching is never something in itself, and we are not to be governed by a system of doctrine, however high and good. What is essential is that everything shall be related to the Person, for it is the Person Who makes the doctrine live, and Who governs it. Apart from the living presence of the Lord in our lives, the teaching resolves itself into something merely theoretical.
Now, as to the above mentioned trap, and the three ways in which the main object of John's gospel is served by it.
The Superiority of Christ
Firstly, there is escape from the trap. This escape is magnificent. It is not merely cleverness. Mere cleverness would simply resolve itself into extrication from a difficulty, but here the issue is so much more far-reaching, and leaves standing tremendous moral and spiritual factors, which challenge the world, and especially this religious world. It is not merely that those who sought to capture Him have been frustrated in their purpose, or disappointed of their object: they are left with something to think about, and that something for them raises the ultimate issues between themselves and God.
Then secondly, as being a part of those issues, something has been done, which no one but Christ could have brought about. Meet any of these Jewish leaders in the course of daily life, and seek by argument or by accusation to bring home to them conviction of sin, and to precipitate the effect of such conviction, that is, a slinking away under condemnation - such a thing would have been impossible. They were so utterly satisfied with their own righteousness. Were they not the people, God's chosen, possessing the oracles, within the covenant? Were they not always thankful that they were not as other men were? No! nothing could have been a more thankless task, than to try to bring sin home to their consciousness. But here it is done, and they themselves have provided the very ground for it. No one but the Lord Jesus could bring home to Jewish hearts condemnation because of sin. Here we see, what we have said before, to be so true; that it is not doctrine, the philosophy of Christianity, the morality of the Christian religion. Such would utterly fail in cases like these, but the whole question of sin and condemnation is related to the Person; "and this is the condemnation, that light is come": "I am the light ..."
A Change From Law to Grace
The third thing which inheres in this parenthetical fragment, is that of the change of the dispensation. From time to time as we have moved through the chapters of this gospel, we have remarked upon the fact that chapter one is the seed-plot of the whole gospel, and that what is there in fragment, is developed subsequently. This is true with regard to the passage under consideration. In chapter one, verse 57, we have: "The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." What an example of that is here. They said: "Moses commanded ...". That was the law, and by the law this woman ought to die. But how magnificently through Jesus Christ grace and truth came in. But for this there would have been no escape for the woman, so far as the law was concerned. But while grace does not condone sin or make it less sinful, grace provided a way of forgiveness and salvation. The law was turned back upon the head of these Jewish leaders themselves, and smote them in condemnation; grace ground a way of escape for this one, whom they had sought to destroy on the ground of having violated the law, and yet concerning which law they themselves are proved not guiltless.
(continued with # 36)