Rembrandt portrays a Bible story about the nature of God's forgiveness for those who sin. The subject comes from the Gospel of Saint John. The Scribes and Pharisees, knowing that Jesus took pity on wrong-doers, tried to catch him condoning disobedience to the Law. They brought a woman to him who had been caught in the act of adultery and said, 'Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?' Christ replied, 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her' (John 8: 3-7). In Rembrandt's interpretation, Christ's stature is exaggerated to make him seem taller (and by analogy morally superior) than those trying to trick him.
The work is dated 1644, although it is more characteristic of his paintings of the 1630s in its detail, colouring, quality of light, and the small scale of the figures. It shows Rembrandt's gift as a colourist; although the colours are generally muted, there are balancing touches of brightness, for example in the dull gold of the throne and the altar.