Jesus was a remarkably patient man—perfectly patient you might say—because he was perfect in every way. He was especially patient and kind toward those who were slow to understand or had any form of incapacity. He explained things repeatedly, he told stories, he gave illustrations, as we do with children when we are teaching and disciplining them.
But there were times when Jesus got truly angry. I’ve often heard people point to the biblical account in John 2 when they are trying to normalize or justify human anger reactions. This was the time when Jesus stormed through the temple courts with a whip, turning over tables and making a scene. But we need to be careful with this in our interpretation and application. Since this is the only time we know of when Jesus behaved in this way, and because we know that he only did what he saw the Father doing, there must have been a specific, God-ordained reason for that dramatic display of his outrage. That is a good topic for another day.
My questions at the moment are these: Why did that scenario evoke such anger in Jesus, and what other types of situations elicited his anger?
Understanding what made Jesus mad tells helps us discern his value system and priorities. And for those of us seeking to emulate him and follow him as devoted disciples, it teaches us how to think rightly and take right actions when our anger is provoked.
Anger is usually a response to a threat. We need this emotion for our survival. When someone threatens our safety, our property, or our sense of fairness, anger is the normal God-given response. Sometimes anger motivates us to take action to rescue or protect others who are facing such threats.
Child pornography and abuse should make us very angry. Trafficking of human beings should make us furious. Rampant contempt for the lives of pre-born babies should keep us awake at night with righteous anger.
We don’t get angry for anger’s sake or when it perversely feeds our carnal nature. To the contrary. As lovers of God, we should be moved with anger when we experience threats to the true and loving values of his kingdom, in which justice and mercy prevail. When there are serious attacks on these kingdom values, we are right to feel anger, and to channel our anger into fighting against injustice and cruelty.
In that light, I have found 5 categories of behavior or attitude that made Jesus mad:
Faithlessness. Sometimes Jesus’ disciples reacted with fear and unbelief to situations in which he wanted to see courage and faith. On at least one occasion, he got frustrated when they could not seem to exercise the authority he had imparted to them. One example is when they couldn’t cast a demon out of a child. He rebuked them, saying, “You unbelieving and perverse generation…how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me” (Matt. 17:17).
Exploitation of the poor and weak. This one covers a lot of situations in the Gospels. Consider the woman caught in an adulterous affair, brought to him only to try to impugn his position on the Law of Moses. He warned his audiences against doing anything to destroy the innocent. They’d be better off tying a stone around their necks and jumping in the lake than to stand before the judgment seat and give account for injury to children or other defenseless people. Jesus despised arrogance, self-righteousness or power-grabbing at the expense of the humble and vulnerable.
Empty religion. Matthew 23 includes an extensive discourse on this topic. He calls the religious legalists of his day vipers, hypocrites, and blind guides, men who talked a good game, but whose actions belied their professions of righteousness. He compared them to “whitewashed sepulchers full of dead men’s bones.” He despised their practice of keeping appearances of religious scrupulosity when he knew their hearts were wicked, proud, greedy, and perverse.
Love of money/materialism. A central tenet of Jesus’ gospel was surrendering worldly wealth and preoccupation with money as a condition for being his disciple. He seems to have been righteously indignant toward people who claimed to be devoted to him, but were unwilling to sacrifice their attachments, wealth, and comfort to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Misusing Scripture to prop up or justify any or all of the above. Jesus indicted the religious leaders and teachers of the Law for missing the essential truths and prophesies of God’s word. On another occasion when the Pharisees attempted to trip up Jesus in his doctrine, he answered them, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God (Matt. 22:27). Don’t quote the word to me if you have no fear of God and only want to prove yourself right.
It is not hard to see how most of these behaviors and attitudes were present in the temple that day. The threat was the undermining of the faith of the common people, their financial exploitation, the bringing of sacrifices without a corresponding sincerity of faith, corrupting God’s holy place with commercialism.
Jesus is still alive, and I assume these things still displease and anger him when they occur in our lives, whether we are the perpetrators or the victims.
If we want to know what does please our Lord, we simply need to flip these attitudes and behaviors around. He commends and responds to bold faith. He rewards sacrificial giving and service to the poor, to children, and to outcasts. He loves sincere, unashamed devotion to God that exceeds the bounds of typical religious activity. He encourages surrender of all worry and greed related to material possessions, putting complete trust in him to meet our needs. He honors obedience to the Scriptures, as the Holy Spirit reveals their truths to our hearts.