And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17 NIV)
The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:29 NIV)
Some find it unbelievable that the Son of God expressed anger. Is it legitimate to think that Jesus, because he had a truly pure heart that always pleased his Heavenly Father, lacked that unpleasant, but valuable core emotion?
It helps to know anger can give energy for action while fear and anxiety most often compel retreat. Of course, immediate action isn’t always advisable and retreat may be the best path under certain circumstances. Here are the words of David: Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. (Psalm 4:4 ESV)
John’s gospel records a really scary, seemingly impromptu expression of anger by Jesus. This event happens very close to the beginning of his public ministry.
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17)
Jesus replicates this action three years later – again at Passover – just prior to his trial and crucifixion.
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. (Mark 11:15-18 – also see Matthew 21 & Luke 19).
Jesus celebrated the Passover for many years prior to that first incident. It’s not hard to imagine him becoming angry, pondering, and repeatedly asking his Father why the esteemed priestly class had turned the Court of the Gentiles in the magnificent Temple into a dirty marketplace. He must have had a righteous aching to challenge these officials and clear the space for its intended purpose. But he waited for his Father’s approval for action.
Several things are worth more thought. In both cases, Jesus acted alone rather than seeking support. Also, teaching regarding his body being the true Temple accompanied both actions. Here’s what Jesus taught after the first episode.
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:18-21 ESV)
Also reflect that Jesus cleansed the Temple a second time two or three Passovers later. So why didn’t he address the problem yearly? On one of those intervening Passovers it appears he remained in Galilee highlighting his teaching about the true manna from heaven rather than further irritating religious leaders in Jerusalem. Did his heavenly Father anticipate Jesus would jeopardize further ministry by escalating an already volatile situation?
There are no ten step formulas outlining how our Father wants us to process anger from a pure heart. The phrase “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Psalm 69:9 ESV) seems to place anger in a realistic setting. Reflect on the surrounding emotions of the Psalmist as you read Psalm 69 and his appeal to the Lord to act on his behalf.