Anyone who knows the stories of Jesus might say the incident in the temple showed him at his angriest: he makes a whip; shouts; overturns tables; sends coins rolling over the floor; and demands that merchants leave (John [NT] chapter 2, verses 13b-16).
(Just to explain: The animals were being sold so that people could make sacrifices in the temple. The currency exchangers were there because people came from far and wide to make their sacrifice, and needed to have the local or appropriate money.)
Three questions immediately present themselves:
- Why did Jesus get so angry with these people—what were they doing wrong? After all, the religious leaders in charge of the temple, the priests and Pharisees, had obviously been allowing it to happen until that point…
- Why did Jesus get angry and upset people? If Jesus is the son of God, how can he sin?
- How could Jesus possibly act violently?
There are a variety of possible answers to the first question:
- Previously, the merchants were probably located on a nearby hillside, but had recently moved into the temple itself.
- Jesus may have felt the temple had become too noisy, making it more like a market place than a place of worship.
- The forecourt where this happened was the one place in the temple where non-Jews were allowed to pray, and so the merchants may have prevented them coming to God.
- It is possible that the merchants were taking advantage of worshippers by charging very high prices or cheating them. It is even possible that some religious leaders were taking a ‘cut’.
Secondly, there is no sin in righteous anger. As God's son, Jesus would have been highly sensitive to anything that clashed with God's holiness, and he would have felt particularly upset by any hypocrisy or wrong-doing by those who supposedly represented him—the temple authorities. If something needs challenging, it needs challenging—as simple as that. And who better to make a righteous challenge to sin than one who never sinned?
Thirdly, it’s highly unlikely that Jesus was actually violent:
- The ‘whip’ is also sometimes translated as a ‘scourge’. Since this event probably wasn’t premeditated, all Jesus would have had to hand was the rushes on the temple floor. A better translation, therefore, might be that he made a ‘switch’, a bundle of rushes. Waving that around; whacking it angrily against tables; using it to herd animals away—these don't indicate violence against any living creature.
- There is no record of anyone or any animal being hurt.
- At this time, Jerusalem was under Roman occupation. There were Roman guards everywhere—and their sole objective was to keep the peace, especially in the temple (Judaism was tolerated by the Romans). Anyone who tried violence in the temple would have been stamped on pretty quickly by the guards!
This is a short, sharp answer and there is lots more that could be said. But perhaps most important is to point out that God is not fluffy, wimpy or weak. God is perfectly capable of anger, when it is justified.Psalm 145 tells us “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” But his anger can be aroused—and when it is, you can be sure it’s legitimate.
Pray: Lord, forgive me if I have had a wrong view of you - if I have seen you as incapable of righteous anger, or equally if I have seen you only as an angry God. Work with me to understand the value of righteous anger, and to learn from it, but also to see every side of your character. Amen.
Think about: When you get angry, is it always justifiable/righteous? If there are times when the answer would have to be 'no', are there other ways you could respond which are more loving, constructive and productive?
Challenge: Are there parts of your life about which God might justifiably be angry? Do you need to ask God this in prayer, and what steps are you willing to take to correct any there might be?