Christians love to focus on the gentle and tender heart of Jesus. But what about his righteous rage? In the Gospels, what, and who, ignited Jesus’ anger? How should we appropriately respond like Jesus when necessary?
Bible Gateway interviewed Tim Harlow (@tlharlow) about his book, What Made Jesus Mad?: Rediscover the Blunt, Sarcastic, Passionate Savior of the Bible (Thomas Nelson, 2019).
If anger is not a sin (Eph. 4:26), what is it?
Tim Harlow: Anger is an emotion. Paul said, “In your anger, do not sin.” Jesus didn’t sin, but he did get angry. He was also sad with grief (John 11:35). He was fully human with the full range of human emotions. This is why I believe it’s so important to talk about it.
What is recorded in the Bible to be the “match that always lit Jesus’ fuse”?
Tim Harlow: I believe this is the key verse: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13).
There are three times where we’re told Jesus is angry. The first is the temple scene during Holy Week (Mark 11:15-17). Then there was a time he was healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6), and he was angry about their stubborn hearts. And, the third time is when the disciples blocked the children from coming to him, where we’re told Jesus was “indignant” (Mark 10:13-14).
If you add to that the many times he used very strong language, what you start to see is a theme based around the things the people on the inside of the kingdom are doing which blocks those on the outside (shutting the door).
In every scriptural instance where Jesus expresses anger—the rawest of all emotions—this is the match that lit his fuse: “DO NOT GET IN THE WAY OF GOD’S LOVE.”
Who was Jesus angry with and why?
Tim Harlow: It was always those who were on the inside of the church, usually the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. One time it was the disciples. NEVER was it at anyone on the outside. Jesus was never mad at “sinners.”
Think about it this way: Jesus came to provide access to the father. When Jesus was crucified, the veil was torn in the temple (Matthew 27:51). This was an enormously symbolic piece of the crucifixion scene that most people miss.
The area behind the veil was the “Holy of Holies,” where God dwelt. Only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies, and only once a year, but at least God was “with” his people.
God set it up this way because he wanted his people to know how much he wanted a direct relationship with them, but also for them to understand how deep the divide was between their sinfulness and his holiness. He wanted them to be ready for a savior.
At the crucifixion, the Bible tells us the veil was torn “from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51). This was God’s way of showing us that Jesus’ mission was complete.
Jesus knew that his mission was to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and he knew the price he’d have to pay for it. So what made him angry was anything that got in the way of the goal of reuniting Dad with his kids.
How did Jesus express his anger?
Tim Harlow: This is what’s fascinating if you step back and take a new look. Jesus made a whip and overturned tables in the temple courtyard. This is the only instance we have where he acted on his anger, and to be clear, it was premeditated. He’d been in the temple the night before (Mark 11:11). But even in other instances, his words were extreme. “You’d be better off with a millstone tied around your neck and thrown into the sea“ (Matthew 18:6) sounds more like a line from a mafia movie than the red letters of Jesus. Could he have said, “you’re a child of hell” (Matthew 23:15) without scowling a bit? At one point, even the disciples, the “sons of thunder,” chided Jesus about being a little harsh (Matthew 15:12).
Explain the story of Jesus cleansing the temple—probably the most common example of Christ’s anger.
Tim Harlow: Honestly, this was one of the newer revelations for me. I always thought that Jesus was mad because of the marketplace in the temple thing. As I was growing up in the church, we weren’t allowed to have bake sales or sell t-shirts for the youth group because of this passage. But listen to Jesus statement, in Mark 11:17, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Sure, the den of robbers is part of it. But no one was required to do business there. The key question is where they were doing this business. It was within the temple courts, but in the Court of Gentiles…in the “All Nations” section. The only access for the people on the “outside” – the non-Jews – to the house of prayer was precisely where the marketplace was set up. In other words, they were literally blocking the door to the kingdom (Matthew 23:13).
Why did Jesus get angry with people who were being “good”?
Tim Harlow: Jesus was never angry with someone for “being” good. Jesus hated sin more than anyone. He was the one who was going to have to die for it. He got angry at the “good people” because of their elitism. I make up a term in the book for it: gracism…which I define as thinking I’m better than someone else because my actions are more righteous.
Jesus told the parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector going to pray (Luke 18:9-14). He told it “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else…”
In the parable, the Pharisee went to remind God about his goodness, but the tax collector was actually repentant in his prayer and was the only one who went home “justified” (v. 14).
How should we apply—in the 21st century—Jesus’ attitude toward hypocrisy in the first century?
Tim Harlow: There are two problems with hypocrisy. It keeps me from getting better, and it keeps other people from getting better. For example, if I can’t admit I’m an alcoholic, I’m never going to change. That’s why AA makes you admit it to yourself, every day.
But the real problem goes back to Matthew 23:13 and the kingdom blocking. Jesus called the Pharisees “blind guides,” and said they were just leading people into a pit (Matthew 15:14). Jesus said the blind guides were trying so hard to strain gnats (little legalism issues) that they were missing the big picture (swallowing camels) (Matthew 23:24).
In the 21st century, it’s even harder to hide behind our junk, so maybe we shouldn’t. The more real we are with ourselves, the faster we’ll grow toward being more like Christ. The more authentic we are with others, the faster they’ll want to be with Christ.
How does using humor in your book help convey your intended message?
Tim Harlow: I can’t help it. I like to laugh, but I also think it diffuses the harshness of the message. Jesus did it. Don’t you detect a little sarcasm behind the “why are you trying to get the dust out of someone else’s eye while you have a log in yours”? (Matthew 7:4).
Or what about the gnat-straining / camel swallowing statement? In my book, I make that into a Monty Python sketch. 🙂 I think Jesus is laughing at it right now.
Probably the first thing Christians should do to stop making Jesus mad is lighten up and learn to laugh at ourselves.
What would you like people to do as a result of reading your book?
Tim Harlow: I’d like for the insiders to take a much harder look at Jesus. What are we doing to block access to the kingdom? I’d also like to call the church to a higher place of doing the kingdom in a way that causes the Prodigal actually to want to come home. I’d also love for What Made Jesus Mad? to make its way into the hands of the multitudes of people who’ve walked away from God because God had been badly represented to them.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Tim Harlow: Luke 15:31-32: “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” because God loves both the prodigal and the older brother…we’re all his children.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Tim Harlow: I have an expensive Bible software program that I never use, because Google and Bible Gateway are much easier to use. Bible Gateway is seriously open on my laptop most of the time. The Bible Audio is so vital for the times I need to not be staring at a screen. I’m excited that my book is being made available in audio. It’s so important for this day and age. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m hoping they got Morgan Freeman for the voice. 🙂
What Made Jesus Mad? is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Dr. Tim Harlow has been senior pastor of Parkview Christian Church since 1990 when he and his family came to a ministry that was running 150 in attendance in a heavily unchurched area. Today, Parkview is a multi-site church of more than 10,000 people in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, with campuses in Homer Glen, New Lenox, and Orland Park, Illinois.
In 1984, Tim met his wife, Denise, at Ozark Christian College and she has been his partner in life and ministry ever since. They have three daughters and three sons-in-law: Rachel and Ash Harris; Lauren and Tommy Carreras; and Becca and Andy Deming. They also have four grandchildren: Charlie, Olivia, George and Caleb.
Tim is the author of two books: What Made Jesus Mad?: Rediscover the Blunt, Sarcastic, Passionate Savior of the Bible and Life on Mission: God’s People Finding God’s Heart for the World.
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