The Indignation of Jesus

The Gospels say that sometimes Jesus blazed with anger. Yet in His anger, He did not sin. Pastor Charles Edward Jefferson explains why.

The Lamb is also The Lion

“There are certain moods and feelings which we are reluctant to ascribe to Jesus, because they are so common and so human. Characteristics which are conspicuous and disconcerting in ourselves, we do not readily associate with him. For instance, was it possible for Jesus to be angry? If it was, he was amazingly like ourselves. The humblest and least gifted of us are adepts in the realm of indignation. Our capacity for wrath was manifested in us early, and we have developed it by constant use.”

“Moreover, anger is associated in our mind with infirmity. Much of our own anger has been . . . a boiling of the blood, full of sound and fury, having no ethical significance. Sometimes it has been a burst of petulance, an explosion of nervous energy, a sort of madness bordering on the frontiers of insanity. While the fever was upon us we felt our wrath was justifiable, but on the cooling of the blood we repented in sackcloth and ashes. We have also noticed what anger does for others. It has not escaped us that when men and women are angry they usually make fools of themselves.”

“Most of the indignation which we have known has been so childish or so brutish, so full of fury and of bitterness, that we find it hard to give it place in the experience of a strong and holy man. So prone is anger to mix itself with base and unlovely elements, and so frequently does it stir up the mud at the bottom of the soul, that it has been often classed among the vices as a passion which is always ignoble, and therefore to be condemned, resisted, strangled. . . . It is not easy to free one’s self from the feeling that anger has something sinful in it, or that if anger is not actually sinful, it is at any rate unlovely, a defect or flaw in conduct, a deformity in character.”

“He Looked Around at Them in Anger”

“It is because of this assumption that anger is in its essence sinful that many persons find it impossible to think of Jesus in an angry mood. . . . But the evangelists were not . . . handicapped by the notions which bewilder us. They felt that they must write down clearly what they saw and heard, and prompted thus to tell a round, unvarnished tale they do not hesitate to inform us that Jesus sometimes blazed with anger.”

“They tell us that it was inhumanity and insincerity which always kindled his heart to furnace heat. When he saw men — ordained religious leaders of the people — more interested in their petty regulations than in the welfare of their fellow men, his eyes burned with holy fire. . . . Any darkening of the world by cruelty or craft brought his soul to its feet fiery-eyed and defiant. He was angered by the desecration of the Temple. . . . That a building erected for the purpose of adorning the name of God should be converted into a market was so abhorrent to his great soul that he was swept onward into action. . . . Who can read the denunciation of the Pharisees without realizing that he is in the presence of a volcano belching molten lava? No one could speak language like that which the evangelists have recorded who was not capable of tremendous indignation. It is a wrath which leaps beyond the wrath of man.”

The Lion and The Lamb

“Here, then, we have in Jesus what seems to some a contradiction. He is a Lamb and at the same time he is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He caresses like a mother and he also strikes like a thunderbolt. He is tender but he is also terrible; he is loving but he also smites with a blow which crushes.”

“How can we reconcile the indignation of Jesus with his love? Nothing is easier. His indignation is the creation of his love. . . . Only those who have never loved have difficulty in understanding the heart’s capacity for wrath. Did you ever see a lover stand calm-eyed and gentle-tempered in the presence of the villain who had dared insult the queen of his heart? When since the world began has love ever maintained a quiet pulse in the presence of the assailant of a loved one? A mother, all gentleness and sweetness as she moves among her children, passes into an avenging fury in the face of a foe who would harm them. The dimensions of her indignation will be determined by the depth and heat of her love.”

“It is the hottest love which when enlisted in the welfare of others scorches opposing forces to cinders. The power of loving and the power of hating must always go together. There is right and there is wrong, the first must be approved, the second must be condemned. The condemnation must not be cold but vehement. It must carry with it all the energy of the soul. It must have at the heart of it that heavenly fire which is known on earth as indignation.”

“In Your Anger Do Not Sin”

“In Jesus, then, we see what a normal man is and feels. He is full-orbed, complete. He gives sweep to every passion of the soul. He will not admit that in the garden of the heart there are any plants which the Heavenly Father has planted which ought to be rooted up. All the impulses, desires, and passions with which the Almighty has endowed us have a mission to perform, and life’s task is not to strangle them but to train them for their work.”

“Jesus was angry but he did not sin. Anger because of its heat readily passes beyond its appointed limits. Like all kinds of fire, it is dangerous and difficult to control. Jesus controlled it. ‘Thus far,’ he said, ‘and no farther.’ No sinful element mingled in that indignation which burned with a white and resistless heat.”

“Our anger is frequently a manifestation of our selfishness. We become indignant over trifles. The streetcar does not stop, or someone knocks off our hat, or a servant disappoints us, and we are aflame. Our comfort has been molested, our rights have been entrenched upon, our dignity has been affronted, and we are downright mad. . . . But in the presence of gigantic outrages perpetrated on the helpless and the weak, some of us are as calm as a summer morning. Bad men do not make us angry unless they interfere with our own affairs.”

“Our indignation then is quite different from that of Jesus. His anger never had its roots in selfishness. When men abused him, he was unruffled. When they lied about him, his pulse beat was not quickened. When they nailed his hands to the cross, . . . his calm lips kept on praying, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ It was when he saw his brother men abused that his great soul rose in wrath. The more helpless the person who was mistreated, the hotter was the fire of his indignation. . . . The thought of bad men leading innocent souls to sin converted him into a furnace of fire. What a whirlwind of flame sweeps through a sentence like this, ‘Whoso shall cause one of these little ones which believe on me to stumble, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.'”

Our Anger and God’s Righteousness

“If, then, we have ever been scandalized by the account of Jesus’ indignation, we should examine ourselves and find out why we shrink from the thought that a man like him should burn with anger. . . . It may be that our criticism springs from blood which has become impoverished.”

“If we fail to burn in the presence of cruelty and injustice, it is because the higher faculties of the soul have become atrophied by sin. If wood does not burn, it is because it is green or rotten. If hearts do not burn with holy fire against wicked men and their wicked deeds, it is because the heart is too undeveloped to feel what manly hearts were meant to feel, or because the core of the heart has been eaten out by the base practices of a godless life. It is one of the lamentable signs of our times — our incapacity for anger. Many of us are lukewarm in the presence of evils which are colossal. Some of us are indifferent. Indifference to wrongdoing is always a sign of moral deterioration. If we do not flame against villainy, it is because there is so much of the villain in ourself.”

“Society would be cleansed of much of its pollution if we had more men and women capable of becoming genuinely angry. Let us pray then every day that a new indignation may sweep through the world. As Plutarch put it long ago, ‘Anger is one of the winds by which the sails of the soul are filled.’ Many a belated bark would have reached port long ago if anger had been allowed to do its perfect work. It is the devil’s trick to keep good men from becoming angry.”

“The world is full of sentimentalists — men and women who gush of love, and who do not know what love is. After listening to their flimsy talk it is refreshing to get into a book where every bad deed is held up to scorn and every bad man, if unrepentant, is overwhelmed with shame. Nowhere in the Gospels is there a soft or flabby thought, a doughy or mushy feeling. . . . Under such a sky, life becomes august, solemn, beautiful. It is worthwhile to strive, to work, to suffer. One feels sure that God is in His heaven, and though wickedness may flourish for a season, God’s heart burns with quenchless fire against it, and at the end of the days every impure man, and every cruel man, and every man who loves and makes a lie, will find himself outside the city whose streets are gold.”

Excerpts from The Character of Jesus by Charles Edward Jefferson (Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1908)

One thought on “The Indignation of Jesus

  1. Jesus at work: How much of your anger is selfish, pointless, petulant anger — focused on your rights and your comfort? How much of it is Jesus’s mature and fiery defiance of the world’s cruelty and injustice?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s