Was Jesus angry when he turned the tables of the money changers at his Father’s house?

Q. Was Jesus angry when he turned the tables of the money changers at his Father’s house?

Rembrandt, “Christ driving the money-changers from the Temple,” 1626

I believe that Jesus was angry—very angry—at the money changers and merchants for turning his Father’s house into a “den of robbers.” That’s why he drove them out of the Temple—according to John, by making and using a whip of cords! John also records that when Jesus’ disciples saw what he was doing, they thought of the Scripture that says, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” “Consumed by zeal” is another way of saying “angry.”

But I don’t believe that Jesus was in an uncontrollable rage. That would have been a sin, and Jesus did not sin.

The Bible says, “Be angry, but do not sin.” This helps us recognize that anger is simply an emotion; it’s what we do with our anger that makes it either sinful or not sinful.

Anger can actually be a positive and constructive force. Because it’s an emotion that fills us with energy, anger can be a great motivator. We can “get good and mad at ourselves” and find the motivation to succeed at something that has defeated us so far or complete a project we’re tired of seeing half-finished. Anger can also motivate us to establish proper boundaries in our lives and to confront injustice. I think that’s what was going on in Jesus’ case: The money changers and merchants were exploiting poor people who wanted to come into the house of God to worship, and Jesus got mad enough to take action against them. (I don’t think he explained to them quietly and gently, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers”!)

But we have to be careful, because anger can also be a very destructive force. If we don’t control it (if we “lose our temper”), all that energy can be released in the verbal, emotional, and even physical abuse of others. This is something that the Bible warns against strongly and repeatedly. James warns, for example, that “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (meaning out-of-control anger). One of the many proverbs on the subject says that “fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Psalm 39 says, “Let go of anger and leave rage behind! Don’t get upset—it will only lead to evil.” And so forth.

Followers of Jesus look to him as their example, and I think that in the case of driving the money changers and the merchants out of the temple, Jesus sets us a good example to follow of being angry but not sinning. Let’s get mad enough about the things that are wrong in our world to do something about them, but let’s not give in to rage and become destructive ourselves.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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