As justification for acting out in anger, people are quick to reference an event when Jesus is supposed to have been angry. Most ministers and every picture of the event depict him as an angry man. Scripture however does not. So why is the Temple event cited as an expression of ‘righteous anger?’ Is this just an effort to justify our angry actions?
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following the miracle of turning water into wine, he visited the Temple. Located in Jerusalem, the Temple symbolized God’s dwelling among people and was intended to be a place of prayer (a). [see end notes for Scriptures] Jesus observed it had become, as prophesied centuries before, a den of thieves (b).
This Temple visit reports he overturned the business tables, made a scourge of cords, and chased the merchandisers out (c). On this occasion, it is recorded the disciples remembered a Psalm of David; “Zeal for Thy house will consume me” (d). Apparently Jesus was following God’s lead and acted accordingly.
Anger or Righteous Zeal?
The Old Testament Hebrew word translated as zeal simply means: jealousy. The New Testament Greek translated as zeal means: a bubbling, an uprising stir; as an emotional stirring. The Greek uses ‘zeal’ two other times to speak of a good reaction; a jealous stirring about the purposes of God (e). While zeal can speak of anger, it does not always.
You may ask, what about the whip that was used? A whip in those days was a common tool for performing an official rebuke, publicly. The person doing the flogging carried out the rebuke for all to see. The flogger was not driven by anger and sometimes wished it wasn’t his job.
Using a whip at this event, Jesus publicly executed God’s rebuke for the misuse of this place of worship. He even proclaimed his intent: “Stop making my Father’s House a house of merchandise” (f).
Immediately the Jews asked; “By what authority do you do these things?” Not a question you ask an angry man who just wreaked havoc in the Temple. Jesus simply left them with a riddle; “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (g). Neither his action nor his verbal response clearly indicates anger.
Following God’s lead, Jesus’ actions and verbal responses indicated zeal, not ‘righteous anger.’
Zeal To Heal and Restore
Ending three years of ministry, Jesus came again to Jerusalem in fulfillment of another prophecy; “Behold your King is coming to you… gentle, and mounted on a donkey” …The multitudes going before Him and those who followed after shouted… “Hosanna…hosanna in the highest” (h).
Upon entering the Temple and seeing they were still conducting business as usual, Jesus chased the merchandisers out once again. However, no whip is mentioned during this visit. Rather, he very clearly acted with a zeal for the purposes of God–healing and restoring those who came to him.
When the chief priests and scribes saw “the wonderful things he did and heard the children saying ‘Hosanna to the son of David’, they became indignant.” Jesus responded to ‘their’ anger with a quote from Scripture about children praising God, and left the city (j).
Not even a hint of anger is indicated in these words or actions of Jesus. It was a glorious and peaceful combination of events. Why is Jesus’ example in this situation so important for us today?
Jesus acted with a zeal for the purposes of God–healing and restoring those who came to him.
When Anger Is Sinful
God knows we can get angry. He created us with the important emotional component that can feel anger and it can happen in contrary situations and circumstances. Scripture instructs us however; “Be angry, and yet do not sin; let not the sun go down on your anger” (k). We are encouraged to not act in anger nor remain angry beyond the day.
The feeling of anger becomes sin when we speak or act in anger. An example is found in the discipline of a child. Children need to be disciplined and corrected and sometimes a spanking is appropriate. Yet, if we administer punishment while angry, we sin. When we act in anger, the corrective intent can actually be destructive. Correcting in love, without anger, can appropriately bring restoration. Doing the ‘right thing’ in anger is never the right thing.
If Jesus acted in anger, he would have been guilty of sin. Yes, Scripture reports he was tempted in all points like us, yet without sin (l). Jesus provided no justification for anyone to act in anger or to speak while angry.
The feeling of anger becomes sin when we speak or act in anger.
‘Righteous’ Anger is Not Scriptural
While the Old Testament does identify God as angry (emotionally stirred), He does not act in anger. The very first time Scripture mentions anger (often a defining moment), it was regarding Cain. God’s instruction was for him to do well lest he sin. Unfortunately Cain did not heed the advice (m).
With an enlightened understanding of anger, we can revisit the question, “Is there such a thing as ‘righteous anger’?” During the Great Awakening revivals of the mid 1700’s, the phrase, “sinners in the hands of an angry God” was used to scare people into repenting of their sinful ways. Some continue to use this approach today in messages. Scripture does not contain such phrasing or ideology.
Our heavenly Father is always motivated by His love for us and does not act in anger. God’s restoring grace functions with all the attributes of the Fruit of the Spirit and cannot lose even one, His self-control or His forgiveness(n). His sole ‘corrective’ purpose is to draw us out of our erroneous ways (o).
Furthermore, since we can’t see Eternal God, He came into humanity as God-in-Christ. Jesus is our role model in every area of life, including times when anger arises. Rather than excusing our sinful actions as ‘righteous anger,’ let’s be quick to ask Jesus for help to “not sin” when we do become angry. What a difference we will see in our life.
When anger arises, Jesus can help us to ‘not sin’ rather than excuse our actions as ‘righteous anger.’
a) Isaiah 50:6-7; b) Jeremiah 7:11: c) John 2:13-16; d) John 2:17; Psalm 69:9; e) 2 Corinthians 9:1-2; Romans 10:2-3; f) John 2:16; g) John 2:19; h) Matthew 21:5, 9; j) Matthew 21:12-17; k) Ephesians 4:26; l) Hebrews 4:15; m) Genesis 4:5-8; n) Galatians 5:22-23; o) Hebrews 12:5-10