In John chapter 8, a woman caught in the act of adultery, a capital crime in Israel, was arrested by the religious leaders and brought before Jesus. There were numerous witnesses against her and there was no denying the crime on her part. The issue of her guilt was never in question. The disposition of the religious leaders was one of justice according to the law. She should have been stoned to death according to Leviticus 20:10. The law offers no mercy for sinners. I think the writer of Hebrews is referring to the disposition of the law versus the disposition of Christ toward sinners. Hebrews 10:28 says, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” I’m interested in the phrase “without mercy.” One commentary says, “The writer of Hebrews summarizes the essence of the verdict in the words without mercy. According to God’s instructions, the guilty person had to be killed, and the example was to serve as a deterrent.”[1] When the religious leaders brought the adulteress to Jesus he had a different disposition towards her. It was one of mercy. Mercy on the sins of others only comes from the recognition of one’s own sin. Jesus says to them in John 8:7, “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” The crowd is dispersed.

While the religious leaders were hot to keep all aspects of the law, Jesus was hot for them to learn about mercy. The sacrificial system, the religious practices, the sacrifices and all the details associated with the tabernacle were strictly enforced by the religious leaders. They would study Jesus and his followers to find discrepancies in their behavior that contradicted the laws of Moses. One time, as recorded in Matthew 9:13, the religious leaders accused Jesus and his followers of associating with those who did not live up to the standards of the law. Jesus simply said to them, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” Later in Matthew 23:23, Jesus addresses the religious leaders with the disposition of law and says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”

James 2:13 observes, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Jesus, the only sinless one, wants sinners to have a disposition of mercy toward other sinners rather than a disposition of judgment and or vengeance. He tells us in Hebrews 10:30, that the settlement of justice and vengeance is a matter that’s under his purview alone. We should not venture to take that issue into our own hands. There is no mercy under the law, only justice! Jesus on the other hand offers mercy. He reaches out to sinners like us with mercy. Paul explains this in Ephesians 2:4-6, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.”

[1] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of Hebrews, vol. 15, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 294.