The Anger of Jesus – Some Initial Thoughts

Getting back to B. B. Warfield’s essay, The Emotional Life of Our Lord, this week we will explore what we may learn from the anger of Jesus. However, before looking at the qualities of righteous anger, which, of course, Jesus always displayed (for how could He display anything but that which is righteous?), let’s consider some aspects of anger itself.

What Is Anger? Anger does not occur in a vacuum. Something occurs, either real or imagined, that moves the inner man toward a reaction.

  • Anger is an emotion provoked by a moral judgment. We make moral judgments all the time, either of approval or disapproval. It is impossible to respond to any circumstance in life while remaining neutral. That is part of what it means to be a moral being. “The moral sense is not a mere faculty of discrimination between the qualities which we call right and wrong, which exhausts itself in their perception as different. The judgments it passes are not merely intellectual, but what we call moral judgments; that is to say, they involve approval and disapproval according to the qualities perceived. It would be impossible, therefore, for a moral being to stand in the presence of perceived wrong indifferent and unmoved. Precisely what we mean by a moral being is a being perceptive of the difference between right and wrong and reacting appropriately to right and wrong perceived as such.”
  • Therefore, we should not be surprised to see anger in Jesus. Being moral, “We should know, accordingly, without instruction that Jesus, living in the conditions of this earthly life under the curse of sin, could not fail to be the subject of the whole series of angry emotions, and we are not surprised that even in the brief and broken narratives of his life-experiences which have been given to us, there have been preserved records of the manifestation in word and act of not a few of them.”

Two Movements of Feeling – Commenting on the description of Jesus’s anger in Mark 3:5, indignation at the hard-heartedness of religious, but not born-again, Jews, Warfield writes: “What is meant is simply that the spectacle of their hardness of heart produced in him the deepest dissatisfaction, which passed into angry resentment. Thus the fundamental psychology of anger is curiously illustrated by this account; for [1] anger always has pain at its root, and [2] is a reaction of the soul against what gives it discomfort. The hardness of the Jews’ heart, vividly realized, hurt Jesus; and his anger rose in repulsion of the cause of his pain. There are thus two movements of feeling brought before us here. There is the pain which the gross manifestation of the hardness of heart of the Jews inflicted on Jesus. And there is the strong reaction of indignation which sprang out of this pain.”

Discomfort of Heart, but Not Abiding Pain. The term used in Mark 3:5, Warfield says, “throws an emphasis on the inwardness of the feeling, of the discomfort of heart produced by Jesus.” Unlike the reactions of sinful anger in us; however, the anger of Jesus did not abide even though He alone possessed full right to carry out vengeance. “It is not intimated that the pain was abiding, the anger evanescent [fading away]. The glance in which the anger was manifested is represented as fleeting in contrast with the pain of which the anger was the expression. But the term used for this anger is just the term for abiding resentment, set on vengeance. Precisely what is ascribed to Jesus, then, in this passage is that indignation at wrong, perceived as such, wishing and intending punishment to the wrong-doer, which forms the core of…vindicatory justice.”

How is this different from our anger? How do we apply this to our own sense of injustice? There will be much more to say about this when we get to the end of this portion of Warfield’s essay. But let me just point out two simple differences to spur on our thinking.

  • First, we must recognize that the anger of Jesus always was provoked by perfectly accurate moral judgment. Whereas, the moral judgment of the wrongs we experience is always tainted by our self-centered heart and depraved mind. Therefore, we must submit our judgments to the infallible Word of God, which we maintain has authority over us.
  • Second, even though Jesus’s moral judgment was always infallible, he still did not take His own vengeance upon those who hurt him personally. Instead, He always “entrusted Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2:23).

Understanding these aspects of the angry reactions of Jesus fuels our obedience to other Scriptures, such as Romans 12:19.

Tomorrow, we will begin to look more specifically at the qualities of righteous anger, which were displayed by our Lord.

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