There seems to be a constant sway within the Church as to what type of person we believe Jesus to be on an emotional level. Some generations remove all forms of physical and vocal aggression displayed in the Biblical text and preach a “forgive and forget” type of Messiah that was always ready to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-40). Other generations overlook his passion and love by focusing on Him as merely a prominent “turn or burn” preacher concerning eternal punishment for sinners (Matthew 23:33). These two popular opinions fluctuate as the years come and go, and those willing to proclaim the full spectrum of God’s love and anger find themselves surrounded by either a liberal mindset that needs to be balanced with the law, or a legalistic mindset that needs to be balanced with love. It’s during these times that brave men and women step out from the crowd and proclaim change. We see it with Moses, we see it with the prophets, and we most definitely see it in Jesus as He came to bring a message of grace and peace to the humble, and law and punishment to the proud.
The Biblical accounts of Jesus in the four Gospels shows predominantly a Messiah that has come to proclaim the Father’s love in acts of compassion, healing, and eventually, the greatest act of love ever revealed: taking the world’s sin upon Himself. There are, however, sprinkled amongst His peaceful and approachable times of ministry, times where the Lord’s anger would be the only thing able to speak to the hearts of men; particularly the hearts of those that were supposed to be helping others draw closer to Him. It’s these times of anger that can be a very valuable teaching point for the Church when it comes to maintaining a healthy balance of legalism and love to those we are called to serve.
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"...we can know that he acted without sin or hypocrisy because He always did what the Father said"
We, as Christians, hold fast to the God that disciplines those He cares for, and while certain times of revealed anger from Jesus can be mistakenly perceived as directly opposing His own teachings, we can know that he acted without sin or hypocrisy because He always did what the Father said (John 8:29).
I’d like to take the time to talk about four specific areas in the Bible where Jesus acts in anger, why He had every good reason to do so, and how we can practically apply this this to our own lives in the light of Ephesians 4:26.
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1. Jesus Clears and Cleanses the Temple
Early on in the book of John; near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry after He changed water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, we find Jesus heading to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. He becomes more than a little upset at what He sees happening at the Temple. John 2:13-22 gives us the account,
“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”
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"...Jesus sees corruption, and this makes Him angry..."
Many travelers had decided it would be easier to purchase the required sacrifice once they had arrived at Jerusalem to keep the commanded time of Passover (Deuteronomy 16:16) instead of bringing it with them. There’s always the chance the animal may become unclean on the journey causing their sacrifice to be null and void.
With the local commerce, the trading of foreign coins for use in the temple, and the ability to purchase approved animals for sacrifice, people could travel and offer their sacrifice with ease. Then again, the idea of sacrifice does not quickly bring about the concept of ease.
While it’s obvious in the passage that Jesus is furious over the merchants in the temple courts, I think it’s safe to say that anyone using the system at the time would have felt as if His act was also towards the travelers’ willingness to contribute. Also, I’ve heard through countless sermons that Jesus was mad at the merchants for removing the idea of fair prices to the travelling faithful. Either way, Jesus sees corruption, and this makes Him angry; this time, and later on again.
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2. Jesus Clears and Cleanses the Temple (Again!)
“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” (Matthew 21:12)
It seems that the idea of falling back into bad habits is something humans have been doing since our creation. Still, the question remains, was His anger justified? Did he actually break His own teaching by not turning the other cheek or at least by not having a nice conversation with the merchants to start with?
Let’s look at another example of anger from Jesus’ ministry first because I believe all three of these instances will give us a clear picture of the heart of the matter, and help us better prepare for His fourth expression of wrath that is yet to come.
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3. Jesus Calls Out the Hypocrites
If Jesus clearing the Temple courts on two separate occasions gives us two of His most physical displays of anger during His ministry, then the entirety of Matthew 23 gives us his most vocal account. Matthew 23:1-4 says,
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.’”
Jesus, surrounded by his disciples, his followers, and the religious sects of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, has grown tired of the latter two parties trying their best to entrap Him with questions to discredit His teachings (Matthew 22:15-45). He proclaims the previous statement before all; since they challenged Him before all, but as you continue to read you can almost picture His voice growing louder while the veins in His neck and forehead begin to surface. He is pronouncing woes upon the teachers of the law for not practicing what they preach, and in the way they were horribly leading those put under their care.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)
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"This is anything but turning the other cheek..."
Here, He calls them hypocrites, but He also goes on to refer to them as, “Blind guides” (Matthew 23:16), and a “Brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33). To top this off, He asks them point blank, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).
This is anything but turning the other cheek, and while it may seem the furthest thing from loving your neighbor (Mark 12:31), or forgiving someone seven times seventy for the things they’ve done to you (Matthew 18:21-22), there is a lot going on here that requires us to remember that God Almighty is a God of justice and righteousness, as well as a God of love and forgiveness.
None of this means anything if we forget that Jesus is God.
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"Jesus is God."
He is the very same God of the Old Testament who, on the day of giving His laws to Moses, wanted to strike down all the Israelites in His anger because they crafted a golden calf and worshiped it. Instead, only 3,000 are listed as dying by the hand of the Levites that day (Exodus 32).
- He is the God who sent a plague that killed 24,000 Israelites for sexual immorality and bowing down before the false God of the Moabites before a priest named Phineas killed two people caught in the act and subsided the Lord’s anger (Numbers 25).
If those are not enough to show the wrath of the Lord, then perhaps the most extravagant display of His anger previously experienced by mankind can set the record straight:
- This is found in Genesis 7 where He killed every living creature on the earth because of their violence and corruption, saving only eight humans, one pair of every unclean animal, and seven pairs of every clean animal.
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4. Jesus Will Return
He is the same God who will one day return in His love and His anger to gather the faithful followers to His side for eternal life, and cast those that did not believe, or led others astray, away into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:31-46). This is the fourth, and main act of anger that I desire to point out because it has yet to come, and it concerns us all.
You see, it is impossible to take the Bible in its full context without learning that God creates and forgives those who are repentant and faithful with love, and God punishes and pours out His anger on those who break His laws and teach others to do so.
He’s particularly hard on those called to teach those who are saved and pave the way for those who are not (James 3:1). This could be the very reason His anger is so great towards the Pharisees and Sadducees. Still, these three signs of anger that I’ve presented are tame compared to the punishments of those found in the Old Testament; and yet, they are nothing in comparison to the eternal punishment that will come upon all the unfaithful at the time of His return.
Instead of wondering why Jesus displays these acts of anger in the Gospel records, we should be wondering why He displays any act of mercy on a people that, for all intents and purposes, deserves to be treated no different than those we see judged and punished in the Old Testament.
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Jesus Took the Wrath Meant for Us
All sin deserves to be punished, and we know as Christians that Jesus took that punishment upon Himself as a sacrifice for the world. Even though He demands complete obedience of His creation, He still shows all of us mercy and grace because He loves us much the same way a parent loves their children.
The difference lies in the fact that God is all knowing, and judges accordingly to His omniscience (Revelations 20:12). If He sees it as good to destroy one nation, and save another, even though their offense is similar, then He is just to do so whether we think He is or not. Only God can truly know our hearts, and, while He poured out His love despite this knowledge, He also pours out His wrath and punishment accordingly. Jesus also was fully justified in His angered response to not only the offense, but towards the heart and place of authority of the one offending. Our desire for judgement and forgiveness based solely on offense is misguided when we forget that these should be handed out based on the offense and the offender’s heart. We cannot know the heart of others since we can barely know our own. God can and that is why it’s impossible for His anger to be anything but just. Jeremiah 17:9-10 says it best,
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure—who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart; I test the mind to reward a man according to his way, by what his deeds deserve.”
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Be Angry and Do Not Sin
“In your anger do not sin,” (Ephesians 4:26).
We can be angry and be justified in our anger, especially when it’s towards something that’s blatantly evil, yet there are established guidelines that we follow so that justice can be served without us falling into sin. It’s why we are commanded to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mark 12:31) and, “Turn the other cheek,” (Matthew 5:38-40). Jesus is perfect, and therefore judges according to this perfection, but in all of this, He always judges according to offense and the offender’s heart. He always judges in perfect love. I hope you remember this when your anger is aroused towards any type of injustice. It may not be the best time to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” but instead ask, “What Would Jesus Have Me Do?”
Richard Lee Sorensen is a happily married father of 7. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology – Christian Counseling from Liberty University and is a Certified Professional Life Coach from Light University. He helps people overcome the often emotionally overwhelming process of decluttering at Declutter Planning, and writes a blog with his oldest daughters at Fiction and Fatherhood.
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