The Sin We Can't Ignore: When Jesus Became Angry

The Sin We Can't Ignore: When Jesus Became Angry

The Sin We Can't Ignore: When Jesus Became Angry

They say you can tell a lot about a person by what makes them angry, and this is certainly true regarding Christ. Yes, He is a God of love and mercy who shows compassion for a thousand generations. And though God Himself tells us He is longsuffering, there were times when situations triggered within Him intense negative emotions. As we evaluate these instances, we’ll come to see a fierce love that always has been and always will be fighting for mankind.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by what makes them angry, and this is certainly true regarding Christ. Yes, He is a God of love and mercy who shows compassion for a thousand generations. And though God Himself tells us He is longsuffering, there were times when situations triggered within Him intense negative emotions. As we evaluate these instances, we’ll come to see a fierce love that always has been and always will be fighting for mankind.

1. When Merchants Profited from Religion

Shortly after performing His first miracle at a wedding, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Scripture tells us:

“In the temple area He saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifice; He also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.” In response, “Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money-changers coins over the floor, and turned over the tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, He told them, ‘Get these things out of here. Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace.’” (John 2:13-16, NLT)

Scripture indicates this event occurred shortly before the Passover celebration, one of the most important Jewish festivals. People from throughout the Roman Empire, Gentiles included, had journeyed long distances to worship the God who had miraculously freed His people from 400 years of slavery. Most of them would have wanted to travel as light as possible and therefore likely wouldn’t have lugged sacrificial animals with them. Instead, they would have purchased them once they arrived in Jerusalem.

Seizing on the opportunity this provided, money changers and merchants set up booths in the temple’s outer courts, where Gentiles were allowed, and sold animals. Can you imagine the filth, noise, and chaos? Worshipers needed both of these services in order to pay the Temple tax and to offer sacrifices, thus making it easy for greedy individuals to take advantage of them.

Though we can’t know for certain, some scholars believe Jesus “broke up the religious mafia that controlled business transactions in the temple and enjoyed a handsome take” (1999, Vos). Others say we don’t have enough evidence to make such claims and suggest Jesus’ anger came from the noise, confusion, and religious capitalism.

Regardless, in Jesus’ response, we see His passion for purity of worship and reverence to God. We also see His desire to protect sincere God-followers from harm.

What This Means for Us

Though most of us will never intentionally swindle another believer, we’re all born with a self-obsessed bent that continually provokes the question: What’s in it for me? It’s easy to carry this mentality into our worship. Perhaps we sing on the praise band for self-promotion, or serve in the nursery in order to gain someone else’s respect. But Jesus wants our worship to remain pure and reverent in adoration to the King of kings.  

2. When Hypocrites Pretended to Mourn

In John chapter 11, Jesus performed the miracle that simultaneously proved His deity and sealed His death. One day, two sisters Jesus cared deeply for sent Him a message: Lazarus, their brother was dead. They likely expected Christ to rush to their brother’s aid, but He didn’t. Instead, he delayed coming. John 11:17 says, “On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days” (NIV).

Christ’s timing was significant and intentional. Ancient Jews believed a person’s soul remained with his body for three days, after which it departed. Therefore, through this miracle, Jesus made it clear to all, Lazarus was truly dead—and that He held power over death.

As He approached the tomb, however, those He encountered affected Him greatly. Scripture says, “When He saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was “deeply moved in Spirit and troubled” (John 11:33, NIV).  Our English translations don’t quite capture the intensity of the original Greek, which tells us He “groaned in the spirit.” Translated literally, it means “to snort like an angry horse,” and therefore likely signifies indignation. Scholars say He might even have physically shuddered.

Some suggest this showed intense grief. Others believe He was angered by the hypocrisy displayed by the mourners accompanying Mary, who on that day wept, but would later plot against Him (John 11:46). And not just Him, but Lazarus, the one they’d “mourned” as well (John 12:9-11). Jesus felt both deep compassion for His friends, evidenced later when Scripture says He wept, and indignation, thus eliciting the groan, at those who were less than sincere. Though we can’t know for certain what caused Christ’s strong emotions, we know He opposed hypocrisy in all its forms and degrees.

What This Means for Us

So often, our hearts predict our response. Notice in this story how God reveals two types of people. Those who encounter the living God, the “Resurrection and the Life” in flesh, who witness a miracle firsthand, and are overwhelmed with gratitude and praise. Then there are others who come for the spectacle, looking not only to be entertained but also to oppose. God invites us all to “come and see” and to experience His transforming “resurrection power,” but He won’t force Himself upon us. And as the account of Lazarus so clearly demonstrates, when our hearts become hardened, even the most miraculous events have little effect.

3. When a Barren Fig Tree Appeared Fruitful

This next burst of anger occurred shortly after Jesus had cleared the temple for a second time. Scripture tells us, while returning with His disciples to Jerusalem one day, He became hungry. Seeing a fig tree “in full leaf,” He “went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves” (Matthew 21:19 NLT.) Therefore, He cursed the tree, and it immediately withered.

In the discourse that followed, it appears as if Jesus used the dead plant to teach His disciples about praying with faith. And while this is true, there’s much more occurring in this passage. First, note the immediate context. He and His disciples had just left God’s temple, a sacred place that presented itself as fruit-bearing, but in truth, wasn’t. Similarly, though it was late spring and thus too early for figs, the tree Christ encountered looked mature but was barren. It gave the appearance of fruitfulness but nothing more.

The disciples would have readily thought of Old Testament passages where God described Israel as His vineyard. His people were to be fruitful, through their covenantal relationship with Him. Failure to do so was viewed as consequences for rebellion. And here again, through Christ, God was calling His people to fruitfulness. Initially, at the temple and during His triumphal entry, they appeared to respond. They hailed Him as Savior when He rode in on a donkey, but their proclamations were hollow.

A short time after, many from that same crowd cried, “Crucify Him.”

What This Means for Us

It’s one thing to proclaim Christ as those people did on His triumphal entry. It’s another matter entirely to receive Him as Lord—to live surrendered and connected to Him. If we belong to Him, Scripture promises, we will produce fruit. Not through striving but yielding to Him. He is the true vine and we are the branches who receive nourishment from Him (John 15:1-5). Apart from Him, we, like the cursed and barren fig tree, can do nothing. But in Him, we will bear fruit that endures and transforms.

The Sin in Ourselves We Can’t Overlook

As the above examples demonstrate, our pride drives us from Christ, but a humble heart ushers us close. Though we may not oppose Him as vehemently as those who called for His crucifixion did, each day selfishness temps us to deny His Lordship. But this leads to barrenness, no matter how “fruitful” our lives appear.

Jesus came that we might have a rich and satisfying, filled to overflowing life, and we gain that life through surrender. This is what Christ calls us to. Apart from Him, we’re all self-elevating hypocrites who present an image to others, and maybe even to ourselves, of goodness and purity, that upon further inspection, proves false. Only through Christ can we live with complete honesty, as one whose heart is laid bare, knowing we have nothing to hide. May we all guard ourselves against the pride that tells us we know better or deserve better or could do better on our own and surrender to the only one with the power to redeem and restore. 

Praise God, we don’t have to fear God’s anger, as Christ paid the penalty for all sin. May we show our gratitude to Him for all He’s done by receiving Him as Lord and allowing Him to do in and through us all that He desires, for we know His plans are always good.

Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Restoring Her Faith and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team love to help women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. Visit her online to find out more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event, and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE to learn of her future appearances, projects, and releases.

 Photo Credit: © Getty Images

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