An Angry Jesus

In preparing to teach my church from Mark 1:40-45, I stumbled in trying to understand the variant reading (used by the NIV) that said Jesus was angry when the leper came to him for healing. It’s certainly much easier to read that Jesus was “filled with compassion” instead of “pissed off” (my colloquial translation).

After reading a whole bunch of articles, I found Bart Ehrman (who I would never recommend as a resource) to take the most responsible approach to understanding Jesus’ anger. Because Ehrman doesn’t believe in Jesus as the only Son of God, he’s far more comfortable letting the text say uncomfortable things. This is something we believers can sometimes do very poorly. Regardless, he roots Jesus’ anger in confronting the unbelief of those who come to him (cf. Mark 3:5; 9:17-23; 10:14). Not that Jesus doesn’t have compassion as well, but that’s not the only emotion he displays.

This ought not disturb us, but help some incongruities we tend to intuit even if we never actually say them. Don’t we all think the OT God is much meaner than the NT Jesus? Don’t we all have this picture of Jesus as meek and mild? And how does that compare with the conquering King Jesus of John’s Revelation? Maybe the divide isn’t that big. Maybe we try too hard to gloss over the accounts of Jesus that make us squirm so that we have the Santa Clause Jesus, always jolly and ready to give out some nice gifts.

Since Jesus was and is truly God, his nature is no different to how God revealed himself in the Old Testament. If that’s true, are we really that disturbed to see that Jesus was angry sometimes, too? And especially to see that anger directed at unbelief? Suddenly the NT Jesus and OT God don’t seem that far apart…

It also helps to explain how we can exhorted to be angry while not sinning (Eph 4:26). We tend to think that Jesus was allergic to anger. But he wasn’t allergic to it nor was he mastered by it. He saw sin for what it was and was justly pissed about it. There’s a way for us as his people to do the same, even if we usually screw it up by tainting our anger with our own selfishness or self-righteousness.

Finally, I find hope in the anger of Jesus because he let that anger come full circle. He was rightly angry at unbelief. He was angry at our inability to truly have faith in the boundless power of God. But instead of pouring that wrath out on us (as would have been right to do), he submitted to have the wrath poured out on himself instead. Instead of raging at unbelief, he became unbelief so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). Even while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, he took upon himself our very shame and guilt so that we could be cleansed.

And as in Mark 1 when the leper comes to Jesus, through the simple touch of Jesus we become clean. We become whole. We become white as snow. Through contact with perfection, we find perfection. And through the anger of Jesus comes the only vindication possible: the judgment of God, poured out not on us, but on the only one who never deserved it.