5 Times Jesus Got Angry
You can tell a lot about a person by what makes them angry. It reveals their highest priorities and their deepest insecurities. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but what most often sets me off is incompetence. A slow checkout lane, an inefficient governmental process, or an employee who doesn’t know and doesn’t care. It got me thinking about what made Jesus angry. There are five times the Gospels use a word describing Jesus’s anger. They reveal a lot about him.
1. Prioritizing Religious Ritual over Human Need
One Saturday (Sabbath), Jesus was in the Synagogue worshiping. There was a man there with a shriveled hand. One tradition says he was a stonemason who had his hand crushed in a vocational accident. Without workman’s comp, this guy was in real trouble. The Pharisees were waiting in the wings hoping to catch Jesus in the act of breaking the Sabbath. So, Jesus straight up asked them: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4).
The answer is obvious. You know what they said? Nothing! And that triggered Jesus. The word used indicates not only anger, but lamentation. He was bitter to tears at their lack of love for a hurting human all the while claiming to worship God in the synagogue. Jesus stared them down and defiantly declared the man healed. He was.
2. “Let the Little Children Come to Me”
One day, Jesus was preaching and teaching. The crowds loved him, and helicopter parents hovered over him with their kiddos hoping to have Jesus bless them. It’s totally understandable. But the disciples, with due diligence, safeguarded Jesus’s time by barricading aggressive parents. After all, he was preaching the Gospel, saving the world, and all that stuff.
When Jesus saw what was happening, he was “indignant.” The Greek word actually means “to shudder or quiver.” If you ever see some dude do that in a bar, you better back off. That’s fightin’ mad! What was Jesus’s problem? Well, he explained it himself: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:14–16 NIV).
What made Jesus shudder was the idea that little ones with the most faith would be treated like second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. Unacceptable!
3. The “Cleansing” of the Temple
It is a well-worn story. Jesus enters the temple and sees merchants profiteering off the pious pilgrims. The Bible doesn’t actually say he was angry, but it’s a pretty good assumption given that he fashioned some cords into a whip and started lashing the vendors and flipping over their tables. It happened twice. Once at the beginning of his ministry (John 2) and on Monday of his last week (Matthew 21; Mark 11; Luke 21).
Jesus showed his cards when he quoted Scripture: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” Notice, this single sentence quotes two Old Testament passages: Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. If you dig into the context of each passage, they are threats against the Temple establishment. The problem wasn’t that they were monetizing the worship of God (although that is never a good thing). The real problem was that the market was set up in the court of the Gentiles—the only space outsiders were allowed to enter. If they’re not able to engage with God in the outer courts, they have little chance of being drawn close in to him. That is what set Jesus off.
Summary: Jesus was angry with the religious establishment (Sadducees), the primary teachers of the law (Pharisees), and his own disciples—and all for the same reason: they were keeping vulnerable people away from God. Warning: they were all religious people…like you and me.
4 and 5. Sickness and Death
There are two other times the gospels use some form of the word “anger” to describe Jesus. (1) A leper runs up to Jesus, begging for a healing. “Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’” (Mark 1:41 NIV). Who was he indignant with? No particular person but sickness itself.
(2) As Jesus stood at a dear friend’s grave, he was “deeply moved” (John 11:33). This word connotes an intense feeling of indignation. But what was Jesus mad about? Death itself. Jesus cares for people more than anything else. We can therefore see that anyone who comes between Jesus and the people he loves will experience his wrath.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Ben White
Mark E. Moore is the acclaimed author of books such as Core 52 and teaching pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona—one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic churches in America. He previously spent two decades as a New Testament professor at Ozark Christian College.
His newest book, Quest 52: A Fifteen-Minute-a-Day Yearlong Pursuit of Jesus, highlights the key moments from Jesus’s life, revealing his identity, his expectations, his priorities, and his ultimate purpose. Each week features a handpicked gospel reading from the life of Jesus, plus an Old Testament passage foreshadowing his coming, a New Testament story revealing his impact, an invitation to discuss insights with fellow travelers, and practical ways to practice each lesson. The quest will enhance readers’ understanding of Jesus and will forever change how they make choices, engage with others, interpret today’s big issues, and even view themselves!