Since Jesus was human “in every way that we are, except without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), it is not surprising that He showed anger. His anger never ran wild, however, and anger danger was never an issue with Him.
But Jesus often got angry at His disciples, especially Peter. He got angry with the Pharisees. Jesus got angry with the priests and publicans of the temple. It is very revealing what ticked Jesus off. Of course, we are encoded beings, and human nature is not the same in all ages. If Jesus exhibited the seven basic facial expressions that correspond to seven basic emotions recognized by people from all cultures, the emotion ascribed to that face would depend on the broader context in which it occurred. What sparks anger in particular can differ radically from one age to another.
The Range of Jesus’ Ire is Impressive
The range of Jesus’ ire is impressive. For example, within a very short period of time in Jesus’ life, three things made Him see red, and each one reveals something important about the essence of the Gospel. In this post, we’ll just look at one of them . . . along with His greatest irritant.
Jesus’ anger at self-righteous judgmentalism
The third anger episode that makes Jesus’ inner life less mysterious to us is His “temple tantrum.” As He drove out the money-changers from the spaces normally dedicated to prayer for Gentiles as well as Jews, overturning their tables and ATMs, He cried out the words of Isaiah: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
What is “My house”? The “house” is God’s temple, and in the Hebrew tradition the temple and the garden are different ways of talking about the same reality.
For Jesus, the “house” is the same, but the definition of the temple is more precise: the temple of the church, the body of Christ, and the temple of the person, as in “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Two of the most shocking events in the Second Testament, Jesus and the money-changers and Peter and the money-cheaters, are both cleansing rituals. When Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” He was telegraphing the upcoming transition from the temple as a place to the temple as a people. And just as there was a temple cleansing just before the closing of the placed temple, there was a temple cleansing (Ananias and Sapphira) just after the opening of the peopled temple.
It was the self-righteous, judgmental Pharisees and Sadducees — those who didn’t see themselves as sinners who leveled that charge against everyone else.
Something else made Jesus absolutely livid and was perhaps His greatest irritant: self-righteous judgmentalism. Survey those to whom Jesus directed His strongest, most severe words. It was the self-righteous, judgmental Pharisees and Sadducees—those who didn’t see themselves as sinners but who leveled that charge against everyone else. He characterized such people as “blind guides,” “hypocrites,” “fools,” “whitewashed tombs,” a “brood of vipers” and children of the devil.
Not exactly kind words from a mild-mannered Messiah.
And to whom did Jesus show the most compassion? People who were involved in immorality of all types, such as prostitutes, adulterers, tax collectors and thieves. It’s easy for us today to acknowledge that Jesus treated the self-righteous more severely than the “real sinners” without applying this standard to our own context—or to ourselves.
But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What He deemed to be the severest of all sins (self-righteousness) is what many contemporary Christians view as a mere misdemeanor. And the sorts of sins toward which Jesus had great compassion and patience are what many Christians place at the top of the totem pole of “serious sins,” deeming them to be felonies.
Don’t be deceived: the “odious complacency of the self-consciously pious” is what infuriated our Lord the most. Philip Yancey was dead-on when he said that some Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do.
This is an excerpt from my book Jesus: A Theography with Leonard Sweet. In the book we discuss two other things that made Jesus angry. I wanted to keep the post short so I didn’t include the whole section. Copyright © 2012. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.