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Alasdair Groves

Jesus and Anger

April 1, 2024



How can understanding Jesus’s emotions help us understand our own? Listen as Alasdair Groves focuses on one particular emotion which Jesus felt: anger, which we see in Scripture is often directed at the things that turn people away from him.

Mentioned in this episode: We recently released a new podcast called the CCEF Blogcast! Listen as CCEF authors read their own blogs on a variety of topics. You can find it on your favorite podcast app!

This is episode 4 in a miniseries on emotions (listen to episode 1episode 2, and episode 3). Quick reminder: the final episode of this miniseries will be a response to listener questions. Do you have any questions about emotions? We'd love to hear from you! Email us your question at


Hi, my name is Alasdair Groves, and I’m the host of Where Life and Scripture Meet, a podcast of CCEF, the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, where our mission is to Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church. For more information about our ministry and for thousands of resources that seek to mine the treasures of Scripture for the troubles of life, visit our website at

Today's episode is part 3 in a miniseries we’ve been doing this spring on emotions. In particular, we're looking at the emotions of Jesus, and how understanding his emotions can help us with our own. We'll be looking at anger today, but if you haven't heard the introductory episode, or the episodes on dread or compassion, you might want to give them a listen. Quick reminder, we would love your questions on emotions, because the final episode of this miniseries will be a response to listener questions. We'd love to hear from you. Email us at

Today, we're going to look at Jesus's anger. And Jesus's anger is almost always an awkward emotion for us to engage, in my experience. We just don't like the idea of Jesus being angry. I certainly don't. My gut recoils from thinking of Jesus as angry about anything ever. I think there's times when we can be a little bit okay with thinking about him being angry if we picture him being angry against the people we don't like. Things we disagree with, okay, we can sort of start to get on board with that sometimes. In my experience, and not just as a counselor, although probably especially as a counselor, we are even more likely to zoom in on Jesus being angry when we're thinking about him being angry with us and with our sins.

And I've actually watched that particular experience of people terrified, or certain, or just significantly concerned that Jesus is angry with them because they have done wrong, and they have been bad, and they have been sinners, and they feel the guilt and the reality of what they've done. So I'd like to do this. I'd like to look at two examples of the anger we see in Jesus in Scripture, and then consider a couple of applications of what that might mean for us.

Example number one, I'd like to look at John 2 and Jesus cleansing the temple. I'll just read a couple of verses here. I'll start in verse 14. “In the temple courts, he found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and he drove all out from the temple area, both sheep and cattle. He scattered the coins of the money changers, and he overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here. How dare you turn my father's house into a market?’”

What do we make of this? A couple quick thoughts, and I want to get to our second passage before I make any summaries, but it doesn't say the word angry here. It doesn't say that Jesus was angry, but I think we can safely assume from his actions that he is not just passively doing this, that he is furious, that he's incensed. It says later down in the passage that his disciples would later remember, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

That's written in the prophets and that is applied to Jesus here in this case. And there's a passion here that Jesus shows: you have done something wrong. You've done something terrible, you've committed an injustice, and that leads me to take strong action to bring justice, to make things right. And if I were going to define anger as an emotion, I would say anger is the most fundamentally moral emotion. The emotion that says this is wrong, and justice must be done. Anger is the emotion that says you have committed something that is a grief against something that I love. You have harmed, wronged, destroyed, done what is evil against someone or something that I love and care about, and I want to see justice. I'm angry against what you've done. So Jesus here is angry, and he's angry in particular, if you're new-ish to the Bible, you may feel like this is a bit of an overreaction here from Jesus. The system that has been set up here into which Jesus is walking is that the temple is the place where God's people could go to not only receive atonement for their sins—they could offer sacrifices, hence the animals being sold, and they could offer a sacrifice that would be the way God had laid out for them to atone for their sins, to be forgiven, to know that their imperfections, that their wrongs, were actually being addressed and were pardoned before him, and that they were welcomed back into fellowship. So like I said, not just that, but that's a central piece of it. But it's that last bit: welcomed back into fellowship. The temple is actually the place where God met with his people. That's how he had set up the system throughout the Old Testament, and Jesus has come, and he's seeing people streaming to the temple, coming to the house of God to meet with their heavenly Father, knowing they have done wrong, and that they need to be restored to fellowship. They need to be forgiven, and here's their opportunity and their chance.

And in particular, we learned in other places that there's not just a whole system that's been set up here, but that it's in fact exploitive. It's making it difficult for the poor to come and have the experience. So Jesus is objecting to, this is supposed to be a place of worship, a house of prayer, a place of forgiveness and fellowship, and you've turned it into a big market with vendors, and you're exploiting the poor. You're actually making money off of the fact that people are coming to know and love and experience the fellowship of their heavenly Father. And he says that is the exact opposite of what it ought to be. This is an injustice done against God's people.

Okay, second Scripture, Matthew 23. I'll not read the whole thing, but let me just read a couple of little excerpts, little snippets. Start in verse 1. “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat, so you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.’” And then he goes on to talk about them praying grandiosely in the marketplace to be known and well thought of and praised and says, that's not right. You're not here to earn praise with the authority that you've been given. And so he goes on to say, “Woe to you, woe to you, woe to you,” seven times over and over throughout the passage, and he's hammering them, and you can feel a righteous indignation against what they are doing.

And he acknowledges lots of effort they make. So verse 15: “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Those are strong words. Verse 16: “Woe to you blind guides.” And then he goes on with this long example about something that they do that's the sort of hyper-intricate legal binding that they put on people. And he's trying to say, essentially, you're really good at keeping some of the intricacies of the law, but you have absolutely failed the very heart of what the law is about, which is bringing people to the Lord. It's fine to go across land and sea to make disciples and to make converts, and to bring people to a acknowledge that there is a loving God, a heavenly Father who is their hope and their refuge, and the one who can forgive sins and bring life eternal, right? Those are good things for us to want for people to know.

But there is a... Yeah, I like the way it puts it in verse 4, this binding up of heavy burdens and being unwilling to help them lift it. So it's a structuring of a power system, and of a legal code, and a religious set of practices that maintain the Pharisees and the teachers of the law at the top of the ladder, and keep everyone else scrambling to try to keep God happy, and to live up to these heavy burdens of laws and procedures, when the whole point of the law, the whole point of the relationship God establishes with his people, the whole point of giving them leaders is to be shepherds and guides who will carefully lead them to health, and salvation, and hope, and comfort.

What do we see in these two passages? What are the commonalities? I would say the cleansing of the temple is the most active we ever see Jesus in response to his anger. And I would say Matthew 23 is the longest and most vivid sermon that we get, as long as teaching, that is an expression of an inner furious sense of injustice being committed.

Well, I would say in both cases, we see Jesus being driven, his anger flowing from a profound desire that his people would be profoundly connected to and helped by the living God, by their heavenly Father. Jesus is angry precisely because people who had the ability and the responsibility to bring people to the Father are actually preventing them, or actually making that fellowship more difficult, or actually putting obstacles and barriers, and at times exploiting and profiting off of the difficulty they have in coming. And as you can see, Jesus's concern here is actually especially, particularly driven by having a frustration and an anger on behalf of those who are poorer, those who are weaker, those who are not in leadership, who don't have a lot of power and a lot of agency.

I've never done the research on this myself, but my friend and former colleague and beloved mentor David Powlison, a man many of you may be familiar with, used to say that we are right to see God's wrath against our sin throughout Scripture. It's one of the dominant themes. He said, "What we so easily miss is that actually God's anger is more often spoken of on behalf of his children against oppression and evil being done toward them than it is toward their sin." Now hear me carefully, this is not an either/or, right? God is angry at all sin and all evil all the time. And to the extent that we are sinners, which, spoiler alert, is enormous and utterly unquenchable by us, we do indeed know what it is for the Lord to be angry against the fact that we are participants in, and lovers of, evil in ways that we can't just snap our fingers and change. That's why we need forgiveness. That's why we need the Holy Spirit. That's why we need the cross that actually allows us to be anything other than rebels and enemies of the living God.

Having said that, it's a both/and. And if we downplay what is arguably the larger theme, which is that God is angry on behalf of injustice against his beloved, he's angry on behalf of the weak, and of the poor, and the vulnerable. He's angry on behalf of you, his child, when you experience and brush up against the places in this life where you are wronged and mistreated and harmed.

Let me summarize it this way: Jesus is angry about anything that pulls his people away from him, that pulls his people away from their home, the place of life, the house of the living God, where he is leading us to dwell forever and ever.

So let me make a couple of applications for us in our own experiences of anger. And let me put it this way: given what we've just learned about Jesus's anger, then I would say we want to be, we should be angry at, one, anything in our own lives that cuts us off from a strong fellowship with, and a trusting rest in, the presence of our Father. What habits, what blindnesses, what foolish lazy weaknesses, what hardened places of refusal to walk in obedience? What is in your life that would pull you away from fellowship, and from love, and from simply resting and trusting and following the God who loves you and says, "Come to me, come to my house."

Whatever that is, we should have a fierce anger against it. Not a self-loathing that spends its time beating ourselves up, but just a deep desire that justice would be done, that deliverance would come, that we would have an earnest, fierce eagerness to see any sin, any blockage between us and the Lord rooted out of our lives, that we would walk with him with hearts increasingly free of the burdens of sin. I love the way Hebrews 12 puts it: let's just cast off the sin that so easily entangles. I love that language, the sin that so easily entangles.

Number two: let's be angry at anything that pushes, pulls, hinders others from coming to the Father, and knowing fellowship. Yes, that could include core lies in a culture that point people away from the hope of Christ. Yes, that could include horrible injustices, and the worst vile practices, and sex trafficking, and oppression, and violence, and abusive behaviors between people, and marriages, or families, or school systems, or churches, or governments, and so on and so forth.

Let's have a righteous anger against anything that is a twisting of the way that God made this world to be, that points people away from a hope in the living God, that suggests authority is meant to be used for my own benefit and pleasure, that suggests that I can just go find my happiness and refuge in some substance, or some relationship, or some activity that is utterly destructive to my soul and to my life. I could go on and on and give a long sermon about all the things, but there's a right kind of anger that says, "I want to be angry on your behalf, my friend, for any place that you are being pulled by any force, whether it's inside of you or outside of you, away from life in the presence of the living God."

And maybe the last thing I'd encourage us to be angry at, which I suppose is really just a subset of the first, but my third would be this: let's be angry at the seductive self-righteousness that our own anger so easily overflows into. If you think about anger in the Bible, and how we're most often talked to in relationship to it, so how does the Bible often speak about anger and us? It's mostly cautions and warnings, and do not go there, and avoid, eject, bail out. James 1 is maybe your best example. Don't be real quick to run your mouth. Instead, open your ears. And don't be quick to get angry. Why not? The anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. It doesn't yield a life of fruitful, obedient, worshipful, glory to God. That's not where anger tends to go. So there are passages of Scripture, and plenty of them, that point to the importance of God's people being angry against what is unjust and sinful and wrong.

But we are cautioned frequently not to give into our anger, because our anger so easily blinds us, and makes us self-righteous, and makes us feel like we are in fact in God's place. And it is up to us to hand out judgment and to meet out right and wrong, and we are the ultimate arbiters. It treats us, our own anger invites us to consider ourselves omniscient and omnipotent, knowing all that really should be, and doing anything we can to make it happen. And man, does that so easily get twisted, and abused, and exploited, and run away with us in ways that we are so easily blind to, because we feel so right, so justified.

I want to land us here. I just want us to find comfort that Jesus's anger is primarily on behalf of his people, and that his anger leads him, in the gentle power of his Spirit, to actually make war against the things in us that would cut us off from his love. We can rest in the fact that however blind, however weak, however selfish we may be, we have a Lord. We have a good Shepherd. We have someone who will overturn the tables to open the way for us to come to his home, and to be with him, and dwell with him forever.

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Alasdair Groves

Executive Director

Alasdair is the Executive Director of CCEF, as well as a faculty member and counselor. He has served at CCEF since 2009. He holds a master of divinity with an emphasis in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Alasdair cofounded CCEF New England, where he served as director for ten years. He also served as the director of CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling for three years. He is the host of CCEF’s podcast, Where Life & Scripture Meet, and is the coauthor of Untangling Emotions (Crossway, 2019).

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