No, that title isn’t misleading. You just aren’t reading it the way I am meaning for it to be read. I’m not talking about making Jesus angry, as if you are doing something that Jesus finds particularly awful (though you shouldn’t be doing things that Jesus said not to).
What I am talking about is the tendency that Christians have to make Jesus like ourselves; angry. And more than just angry, we make Jesus like us. We make Him violent.
I realize that there is a separation between being angry and being violent, but strangely, Christians seem to miss that separation when they talk about Jesus and what went down at the Temple prior to his arrest; the overthrowing of tables and driving out of animals.
I’m going to share all 4 accounts of it, because each gospel records it, and then quickly dismantle any notion of Jesus acting violently in this story.
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” – Matthew 21:12-13
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “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.’” – Mark 11:15-17
When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” – Luke 19:45-46
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” – John 2:13-17
When we read the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see a lot of similarities. But perhaps the biggest thing is that Jesus “drove” out everything and everyone. That, and he “overturned” the tables.
There is nothing violent about those to ideas. But for whatever reason Christians continue to insist that there is. Why? Because Jesus had to be violent when he did it…?
Violence seems to be the only actions that we can understand, or respect. If someone is going to war, if someone is punching someone else in the face, we understand what is going on. We respect the person fighting for what is “right”. And if Jesus wasn’t beating people up, if he was throwing tables left and right…well, it just doesn’t seem to make sense.
It does, but I’ll explain in a minute.
There is nothing in the reading of these three gospel accounts that says Jesus was violent in his actions. Nor does it say anywhere in Matthew, Mark or Luke that Jesus was angry. We will talk about John’s account in a minute, but I want to say this.
No matter what Jesus did, no matter what He said, His character and conviction did not change. When Jesus said we are to love our enemies, that did not change when they were beating Him. Jesus responded by asking God the Father to forgive them. When Jesus says that we are to turn the other cheek when we are slapped, that didn’t change when he was beaten. It didn’t change when Jesus was being arrested in the Garden, and Peter cut off a servant’s ear. Jesus rebuked Peter’s act of violence.
When Jesus is in the Temple, clearing it out and overturning tables he doesn’t have a Freaky Friday moment where he completely turns into a different person. Jesus was still Jesus. Still acting and teaching the same message He had been teaching since the start of His ministry. And that was a message that included non-violence.
Now, let’s talk about John’s account.
John includes some details that are not included in the Synoptic Gospels, such as Jesus making a whip. Some people latch onto this detail as proof that Jesus used violence, and mostly He hit people with his whip to get them to leave.
Consider what I just said, then read the text again. Jesus made a whip, and then drove out the animals. There is no mention of Jesus using it to drive out people. If you think that is an example of Jesus being violent to animals, ask any farmer what they use to get animals moving when they are comfortable where they are. (They use a whip or switch or stick or their hand. Usually, they hit, though not hard or aggressively, on the hind quarters to suggest movement. Or if you need another example, look at the idea of spurs on a rider’s boots.)
Also, note what Jesus does to the doves. He doesn’t set them free to fly away. Jesus is still respecting the fact that these animals belong to someone. He tells the dove owners to get them out of the Temple. Not a sign of disrespect for animals, but a sign of great respect for the people and the animals. With that thought at the forefront, how easy is it to act violently towards the people that you respect? Do you think about punching your mentor? Your closest friends? Of course not. Neither would Jesus have.
That takes us to the issue of “zeal” and Jesus’ anger issue. Let me start with a story.
In 2011, the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins were competing in the final game for the Stanley Cup, the NHL’s highest honour. Both teams were deserving of the coveted trophy, they battled hard in all seven games. But in the end there could only be one winner, the Boston Bruins. It was a devastating loss for the Canucks, especially in their home arena. But fans weren’t taking the loss lying down.
What became known as the Vancouver Riots began shortly after the game ended. While not a large riot by standards, it was unprecedented. One person was stabbed. 9 police officers were hurt. A car was overturned and set ablaze. 101 individuals were arrested. It took 4 years before any charges were laid.
All because of the passion, or put another way, all because of the “zeal” that fans had for their team. They could not deal with the fact that their team had lost, and their passion or zeal drove them to violence.
Can zeal drive someone to be violent? Yes, it can. Does zeal have to, does it force you to act violently? No, it doesn’t.
Even with that same zeal, that same passion for their losing team, I have friends that did not riot, did not set cars ablaze, did not protest in the streets of Vancouver or wherever they were. They may have stewed, they may have sat quietly and avoided human interaction, but there was no violence. They were consumed with zeal, with passion, wanting to see their team win, and when they didn’t, that zeal was still there but did not need to provoke a violent response.
Jesus came into the Temple, consumed with zeal. Did He have to react violently? No, He didn’t have to. It was possible that He could have, but it isn’t supported when you read Scripture, or when you look at the consistency of Jesus’ teachings and His actions. Jesus may have been upset or angry, but there was no violence towards people or animals.
If we want to start attaching attributes and attitudes to Jesus in this situation, try this: authority and power.
Imagine someone walked into your place of business, a complete stranger, and he tells you that you are closing up shop for the rest of the day. He turns off the lights, puts the closed sign up, and holds the door as all your employees walk out. At first you would think this man was a lunatic, until he did exactly what he said he would do. Until you watched everyone submit, even through their protesting, you thought he was crazy, but not now.
Jesus could have, and so much more likely, drove out animals and overturned tables with great authority and power. He could have escorted everyone and every animal out as if it was HIS FATHER’S HOUSE, implying it was His house too. And when you are in your house, you don’t need to use violence. In your house, you have power and authority.
The evidence for Jesus being non-violent goes beyond just this handful of verses. I am not trying to prove that here by any means. What I am doing is reacting to people continually talking (or writing) about Jesus suddenly being violent and trying to make it okay. Or using these Scriptures as an excuse to act in violence, saying things like, “Well, Jesus was angry and hit people” or “Jesus was violent in the Temple, and He was right. I’m right so…”.
That isn’t what the Scriptures say. That isn’t what they are implying in any way, shape, or form. If you want to read Jesus as violent and angry, if you want to add that to His character, you are free to do that. But understand that the violence you attribute to Jesus was something He spoke clearly against.
Stop making Jesus angry and violent.