What Makes Jesus Angry?

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.



  1. John says

    I believe if you put three different Christians from different denominations you will probably get 3 different truths. Throughout its long history religion has been twisted to satisfy the truth as they see it . Christ knew there was only one truth and had little patience for self righteousness cloaked in religion.

  2. SETH G. says

    I remember a portion of ‘From Eternity To Here’ was dedicated to this as well. I’m starting Theography now so i haven’t made it to this section of the book yet, but i do look forward to you both going into more detail!

    After reading that part in FETH it made me realize that self-righteousness is really the only sin. It will lead to all other sins. If you really believe you don’t need grace then trying to fix all your fleshly habits or outlets to sin won’t ever get you anywhere anyway. Self-righteousness will keep you striving for God’s love when He already gave it to you. It will keep you under the burden of sin management, and outside of the promise of 2 Cor. 5:14-17. Self-righteousness gets you to thinking that your identity isn’t Christ’s, and that your inheritance isn’t the same one His Father gave Him. It won’t let you grasp love. What i read from your book Frank made me realize this. It helped me to receive grace, and to not focus on others shortcomings. “see no man according to the flesh”

    • Robyn G says

      Seth…I love your point about self-righteousness…narrowing sin down to that root cause…that was Lucifer’s sin…SELF above GOD…the opposite of humility before GOD

  3. Hope says

    I enjoy Frank’s blogs. As I was going through the site, the title of “What Makes Jesus Angry” caught my eye. Yes, I am familiar with stories of the bible, but I must admit, I have never thought of “what makes Jesus angry.” When put in that context and the examples shared above, I believe it just humanizes Him even more. We was created in God’s image as a human. One of our core emotions is anger. Now I will have to read the book. :)

  4. Robyn G says

    Am reading the book but not to this part yet and am so glad it is included because it is one of the things heavy on my heart these days. It breaks my heart to see the words and the sentiment of many I know who claim Christ. So much anger, fear and judgmental attitude in their comments as they discuss politics and the woes of the world. I’ve encouraged friends through the years to stop being suprised that the lost behave as if they are lost…be heartbroken instead of shocked; love instead of hate; come along side instead of hiding away in fear. And be self-reflective and self-examining when we lose compassion. One of the ways we are identified with GOD is do we love what HE loves and hate what HE hates… :)

  5. Peggy Fletcher says

    I am enjoying the book but am working through it slowly. I find it a lot to digest and don’t want to miss anything!

  6. says

    Seems so common anymore for us Christians to spend more time debating and arguing with each other over matters that we really don’t have any control over. In the New Covenant, the commands from Christ are to love God and love others. Seems pretty simple but so, so hard. If we could just focus on Christ as our everything and ask for His strength to live a life like His, the world would be much more open to listening and learning about Jesus. It’s when we take the time to treat everyone with love and respect, even those we disagree with, rather than being condemning and trying to prove our way of thinking, that people will see a difference.

  7. Nancy says

    Have not read the book yet but fully intend to. Could have used this article in my Bible study class yesterday when a discussion arose that became pretty awkward; one person became quite obnoxious with their perceived knowledge of scripture. Ha, ha, that’s almost an oxymoron. The facial expression in this case said everything. Perhaps I’ll put my class onto your book next week.

    Thanks for stickin’ with us.

  8. says

    So true. There is such a sinister power in religion when it savors little of the living centrality of Jesus. I’ve been there, and it is brutal and it is ugly, using the power of conviction to control. Lord forgive us!

  9. says


    I finally finished reading “Jesus: A Theography.” This book that you and Leonard wrote is in the category of “Classic.” In other words, it is of the category that people will go back and read it over, and over again. This book has put in place a great challenge, a new precedence, for the authors today who write concerning our Lord Jesus. Since all time is Christ’s time, I am pleased that His hour has come for such a book as “Jesus: A Theography” to be written. Frank (and Leonard), I cannot express enough the importance of this book at this time, and for this time. I find myself searching for words to tell you how greatly I long to put this book in all the hands all over the world. Gratitude? Sometimes only the words “Thank you” are said, but ‘thank you’ comes in many sizes, so picture those two words written across the sky.

  10. says

    The book is life-changing! So grateful to see our beautiful Jesus being highlighted, uplifted, reflected in such a way. (Beautiful even in his perfect anger.)

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