The Restrained Fury of Jesus

Continuing our study of The Emotional Life of Our Lord, Warfield now moves to “another phase of angry emotion [that] is ascribed to Jesus by Mark, but in this case not by Mark alone.” I will call this expression of anger restrained fury. Two examples are cited.

  • Mark 1:43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him [the leper that he just healed] away at once.
  • Matthew 9:30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them [the two men he had just healed of blindness], “See that no one knows about it.”

What is meant by Jesus speaking sternly to these three healed men?

Does it mean “bluster”? – No. Warfield is convinced that the English translations are too weak. “This term…does not seem to mean, in its ordinary usage, to ‘charge,’ to ‘enjoin,’ however straitly or strictly, but simply to ‘be angry at,’ or, since it commonly implies that the anger is great, to ‘be enraged with,’ or, perhaps better still, since it usually intimates that the anger is expressed by audible signs, to ‘rage against.’ If we are to take it in its customary sense, therefore, what we are really told in these passages is that Jesus, ‘when he had raged against the leper sent him away;’ that ‘he raged against the blind men, saying, ‘See that no one know it!’ If this rage is to be supposed (with our English versions) to have expressed itself only in the words recorded, the meaning would not be far removed from that of the English word ‘bluster.’”

Are these merely threatening words? – No. “Certainly Jesus is represented here as taking up a menacing attitude, and threatening words are placed on his lips: ‘See that thou say nothing to any man,’ ‘See that no one know it’ – a form of speech which always conveys a threat. But ‘threaten’ can scarcely be accepted as an adequate rendering of the term whether in itself or in these contexts….How our Lord’s rage was manifested [in the above texts], we are not told. And this is really just as true in the case of Matthew as in that of Mark. To say, ‘he was enraged at them, saying (threatening words),’ is not to say merely, ‘he threatened them’: it is to say that a threat was uttered and that this threat was the suitable accompaniment of his rage.”

Does the cause of Jesus’s anger lie on the surface? – No. “The cause of our Lord’s anger does not lie on the surface in either case. The commentators seem generally inclined to account for it by supposing that Jesus foresaw that his injunction of silence would be disregarded. But this explanation, little natural in itself, seems quite unsuitable to the narrative in Mark where we are told, not that Jesus angrily enjoined the leper to silence, but that he angrily sent him away. Others accordingly seek the ground of his anger in something displeasing to him in the demeanor of the applicants for his help, in their mode of approaching or addressing him, in erroneous conceptions with which they were animated, and the like….This variety of explanation is the index of the slightness of the guidance given in the passages themselves to the cause of our Lord’s anger; but it can throw no doubt upon the fact of that anger, which is directly asserted in both instances and must not be obscured by attributing to the term by which it is expressed some lighter significance.”

Was it vehement anger mingled with compassion? – Yes. “The term employed declares that Jesus exhibited vehement anger, which was audibly manifested. This anger did not inhibit, however, the operation of his compassion (Mk 1:41; Mt 9:27) but appears in full manifestation as its accompaniment. This may indicate that its cause lay outside the objects of his compassion, in some general fact the nature of which we may possibly learn from other instances….The same term occurs again in John’s narrative of our Lord’s demeanor at the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus (Jn 11:33, 38).” Let me now summarize another full-page explanation given by our beloved, dead theologian.

When Jesus observed Mary weeping (wailing) he groaned in his spirit and groaned in himself. However, the “natural suggestion of the word ‘groan’ is…pain or sorrow, not disapprobation; and this rendering…is misleading….What John tells us, in point of fact, is that Jesus approached the grave of Lazarus, in a state, not of uncontrollable grief, but of irrepressible anger. He did respond to the spectacle of human sorrow abandoning itself to its unrestrained expression, with quiet, sympathetic tears: ‘Jesus wept’ (verse 36). But the emotion which tore his breast and clamored for utterance was just rage.” This is not “just rage,” meaning simply rage. This is “just rage,” meaning his anger was intense and it was just. “The expression of this rage, however, was strongly curbed.” How? Jesus raged within himself, “the ebullition [seething, overflowing outburst] of Jesus’ anger expended itself within him [emphasis mine]. Not that there was no manifestation of it: it must have been observable to be observed and recorded; it formed a marked feature of the occurrence as seen and heard. But John gives us to understand that the external expression of our Lord’s fury was markedly restrained: its manifestation fell far short of its real intensity….His inwardly restrained fury produced a profound agitation of his whole being, one of the manifestations of which was tears.”

What, and who, was this restrained fury directed at? – Death and the devil. “Why did the sight of the wailing of Mary and her companions enrage Jesus?” Warfield asks and then answers his own question: “The spectacle of the distress of Mary and her companions enraged Jesus because it brought poignantly home to his consciousness the evil of death, its unnaturalness, its ‘violent tyranny’ [Calvin]…and “burns with rage against the oppressor of men….It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage as he advances to the tomb…The raising of Lazarus thus becomes…a decisive instance and open symbol of Jesus’ conquest of death and hell. What John does for us in this particular statement is to uncover to us the heart of Jesus, as he wins for us our salvation. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against his foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression, and under the impulse of these feelings has wrought out our redemption.” Wow!

The fury that Jesus restrained within Himself was being reserved—in all its fullness—for His two enemies: death and the devil. Though measurably curbed it was displayed against disease, the precursor of death. But when the fullness of time came (Gal 4:4) God sent forth His Son, Jesus, the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15), and to do so with unrestrained rage and fury at the cross. Why? To purchase our redemption. To rescue us from the grip of the enemy who held us in his power!

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:12) and who—three days after being slain—arose victorious and furious, as the Judge to destroy the devil (Heb 2:14) and free sinners like us from our bondage to sin (Heb 2:15).

Glory! Glory! Glory to God in the highest!

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