Turning Over Tables

One of the stories in the gospels that intrigues me is when Jesus got so ticked off He started turning over tables like a mad man.

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!” (John 2:13-16)

I guess I’m drawn to this part of Jesus because I can identify with feeling angry. I get angry every day. Anger is a commonplace human emotion, and to read that Jesus experienced this emotion, too, makes me feel like He gets me. He understands. He wasn’t always cool, calm, and collected.

What’s peculiar to Jesus, though, is that while He was angry, He didn’t sin. He couldn’t sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Even when He looked totally out of control, He wasn’t sinning.

Of course, that’s not usually the case with us. When we get angry, we often sin. Sometimes our anger prompts us to use speech that tears down others (Ephesians 4:29), to retaliate against the person who hurt us (Matthew 5:38-42), or to harbor bitterness and resentment (read: unforgiveness) (Ephesians 4:31).

As Jesus illustrates, it’s not the anger that is sin. As we demonstrate, it’s the feelings and behaviors that flow out of anger that can be sinful (Ephesians 4:26).

Truth be told, I struggle with knowing how my outbursts are any different/worse than Jesus’ tantrum in the temple courts. And on the outside, they may look very similar. But inside – in my heart – things might not be so similar.

Everything Jesus did was motivated by love for His Father and love for people. Everything. Even scattering animals and flipping over merchant tables (John 14:31, 15:9).

Jesus wasn’t angry because He wasn’t getting attention or because things weren’t going His way or because somebody hurt His feelings. Jesus’ anger wasn’t fueled by self-focus at all.

Jesus was angry because God the Father was being disrespected. Jesus loved the Father too much to idly sit by and allow others to disrespect Him.

At the same time, Jesus was angry that the money changers weren’t making God-honoring decisions for themselves. Jesus loved every person in the temple courts. He loved them too much to idly sit by and allow them to disrespect God because He knew that wasn’t in their best interest; Jesus wanted better for those money changers.

When we find ourselves turning over tables, or at least wanting to, we need to ask ourselves why? Why are we angry? Are we angry for self-centered reasons or for God and others-centered reasons? Is love the motivation of our violent display of emotions?  If not, we should probably hold off on pulling a Jesus-in-the-temple-courts.

7 thoughts on “Turning Over Tables

  1. Very well described. Great blog. As an aside when a father, grandfather and husband experiences his family being ” disrespected ” he becomes extremely “angry” with instinct to protect them. I am not akinning the disrespect in the same righteous manner as Jesus. I am saying our instinct to protect our family from others is a righteous “anger ” . Even though one may not literally turn over tables in the synagogue, the same human anger is present. Love Pop

    Rick Levatino

    • I think I can agree that the instinct to protect your family is a righteous one, and sometimes that instinct will provoke us to anger when our family is threatened. And that’s okay.

      I think Jesus displayed this, or at least He may have, when the crowd surrounded the woman caught in adultery and wanted to stone her. He protected her out of His loving instinct while (perhaps angrily) challenging the crowd to examine their own sin and charging them, indirectly, to leave her alone. In His anger, He did not sin. How? Because He loved both the crowd AND the woman 100%. Although He was angry with the crowd, He loved them just as much as He loved the one He was trying to protect.

      We, on the other hand, very, very, very, very seldomly love both parties. When our loved one is disrespected or threatened, it immediately becomes an “us versus them” situation in our hearts, and we stop loving “them”. This is not what Jesus models; it is sin. We are to love our neighbors, even when we’re angry with them. We can’t do this on our own. We need the Spirit.

  2. Yes, Jesus loving everyone is the key… And on that topic, another of your articles just caught my eye – had never thought about it before, but yes, I think you may just be right that Judas is in heaven, and as close to Jesus as anyone for that magnificent outpouring of grace.

  3. I love the lesson here. I had never focused on Jesus’ love for the money changers as a possible motivation for his actions.

    Also, I completely believe in Jesus’ full humanity, but somehow I struggle with some of the descriptions, particularly his “tantrum.” I also wonder what it would have looked like to have been there and see him do this. Was he still cool and collected? Maybe not, but I certainly know he wasn’t out of control or giving in to his emotions. Just some thoughts.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • Thanks, Stephen.

      Yes, perhaps the word “tantrum” isn’t the best to describe Jesus’ actions because of what that implies about the heart (selfishness, immaturity, etc.). I think it’s a fair assumption from the passage that He was amped up and was probably yelling (if not out of anger, simply to be heard over all the noise in the court). I think you’re right, as I tried to imply above, that He was totally in control of Himself in that moment, even if it didn’t appear that way to observers. I think Jesus had perfect self-control, which is what is so striking about this passage – the juxtaposition of Jesus’ sinlessness against His powerful physical and verbal display of anger. The implication for us, then, is that we, too, can express our anger in a vivid way without sinning. It is possible for us to do that. And we need to learn how.

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