What is happening with Jesus? You know – the meek and mild Jesus Who wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41)? What happened to the humble Jesus Who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, instead of a king’s white stallion? Wasn’t Jesus pleased with all the fanfare of the large enthusiastic crowd happily waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks down in front of His path, as a make-shift welcome carpet, and singing “Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:1-10, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-19)? Everything was going so well one minute, and the next minute Jesus is in the temple tossing tables and money and doves are flying all over the place. In the midst of this chaos, Jesus still makes time to heal people and talk to the religious leaders (Matthew 21:12-14, Luke 19:45-48). As if this wasn’t enough excitement, the very next day something else happens that causes his disciples to wonder, “Is Jesus alright?” [This is my own question and is not in the Bible]. Didn’t Isaiah write this about Jesus: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” (42:3)? So what is Jesus doing frying a fig tree?
“Early in the morning, as [Jesus] was on His way back to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, He went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then He said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this they were amazed. ‘How did the fig tree wither so quickly?’ they asked” (Matthew 21:18-20).
If I only read this part of the story, I too am asking, “What’s up with this? Did Jesus fry a poor innocent fig tree just because He was hungry? Did He get angry at a tree? Is Jesus teaching about God’s wrath? What’s up with this?
“Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer’” (Matthew 21:21-22; also see Mark 11:20-25).
Jesus was giving His disciples still one more lesson on faith. Jesus knew that time was getting short and the cross was fast approaching. His disciples were still not getting it. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, John 12:16 says, “At first, His disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.” Jesus also knew that the Jerusalem crowd was partly made up the crowd who had witnessed Him raising Lazarus from the dead and others who had heard about it (John 11:1-44) . The people, “because they had heard that [Jesus] had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet Him. They wanted to see Jesus “perform” for them. It had nothing to do with faith. Jesus knew that His disciples needed a sincere Faith in Him, in order to survive the days and weeks and months ahead. I believe Jesus used the “visual aid” of the withered fig tree and the hyperbole of moving a mountain into the sea to emphasize the need for His disciples to grow in their Faith in Him.
When Jesus cleansed the temple by turning the tables of the money changers and those selling doves, it was a dramatic display of His love for His Father’s House. Whenever we see Jesus angry, He is displaying His love for His Father and His hatred toward anything that profanes His Father’s Name. This is what I call “righteous anger.” Another example of Jesus displaying “righteous anger” is found at the grave of Lazarus. In Merrill C. Tenney’s book, John: The Gospel of Belief, he writes,
“The sisters [Mary and Martha] and those with them [professional mourners and religious elite] ‘wept’, a word which means loud crying, or wailing, an unrestrained paroxysm of grief. Jesus in less demonstrative fashion ‘groaned in the spirit, and was troubled’ (John 11:33). Of these two terms applied to Him, the former meant literally ‘to snort like a horse’. It connoted indignation rather than sorrow. As He looked upon the cemetery at Bethany, a silent memorial to the devastation that death had wrought on the human race, He was angered against man’s great enemy. Death to Him was not an impassable barrier, but a call to battle. The second word is the same one that was used in [John] 5:7 concerning the ‘troubling’ of the water, and in [John] 14:1, when He said to the disciples, ‘Let not your heart be troubled’. He could calm their agitation because He had passed through it Himself. Nor was His emotion wholly internal, for [John] 11:35 says that ‘Jesus wept.’ This word bespoke intensity of feeling rather than uncontrollable wailing. Jesus was not unmoved by the spectacle of death” (p. 175).
Jesus demonstrates how His Father God hates the consequence of sin – death, and how He is angered by man’s greatest enemy, the devil. God hates evil. God hates sin. God displays “righteous anger”. However, I do not believe this makes Him a God of wrath. In a Maundy Thursday sermon given on April 5, 2007, Dr. N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, said this:
“When God sees innocent people being bombed because of someone’s political agenda, if God doesn’t hate it, He isn’t a loving God. When God sees people lying and cheating and abusing one another, exploiting and grafting and preying on one another, if God were to say, ‘never mind, I love you all anyway’, He is neither good nor loving. The Bible doesn’t speak of a God of generalized benevolence. It speaks of the God Who made the world and loves it so passionately that He must and does hate everything that distorts and defaces the world and particularly His human creatures.”
Jesus came to show us the Father. Jesus is God‘s Love Incarnate. In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.”
Dr. Wright also states that believing in “an angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God Who demands blood and doesn’t much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent…flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s deep-rooted theology of the love of the Triune God: not ‘God was so angry with the world that He gave us His Son’ but ‘God so LOVED the world that He gave us His Son’. That’s why, when I sing that interesting recent song and we come to the line, ‘And on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’, I believe it’s more deeply true to sing ‘the LOVE of God was satisfied.’”
While I was searching for Dr. Wright’s sermon, thanks to my friend Tibby, I found another article, interestingly enough, about the same hymn, “In Christ Alone”, discussing the same difficulty Dr. Wright had with it. “On the cross when Jesus died, was ‘the wrath of God satisfied’?”, written on August 12, 2013, Ian Paul writes, “The original lyrics say that ‘on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.’ The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, ‘the love of God was magnified.’ The song’s authors, Stuart Townsend and Nashville resident Keith Getty, objected. So the committee voted to drop the song.”Ian Paul further writes, “Critics say the proposed change was sparked by liberals wanting to take God’s wrath out of the hymnal. The committee says there’s plenty of wrath in the new hymnal.”
This is what I believe to be the most important point in Ian Paul’s paper: “The real danger in talking of Jesus satisfying God’s wrath is that we separate the actions of the Trinity in the cross. It appears to portray a loving Jesus saving us from an angry God Who metes out His punishment upon the innocent. Instead, we should see in the open arms of
Jesus a welcome by a loving Father, Who no longer counts our sin against us – it is from our sin and its consequences that Jesus saves us, rather than from a hateful God.” And to that I say, AMEN!
So, you see, there was nothing out of the ordinary or out of character going on when Jesus cleansed the temple of that which was not glorifying to God. He did it out of love for His Father’s House and His desire that His House be a House of Prayer (Isaiah 56:7). And on Monday morning, Jesus didn’t get up on the wrong side of the bed. Jesus loved His disciples and wanted them to know what Faith in Him was all about. And just in a few more days, Jesus would demonstrate to His first disciples and to you and me “the full extent of His love” (John 13:1b).
I grew up in a church that talked about a wrathful God Who punished sinners, or that’s what I heard anyway. It was only when I heard that God loved me that I was able to love Him back. When I believed that God loved me, it was then that I was able to trust Him completely and confess my sins. I no longer had to fear Him and jump through hoops to be forgiven. God, my loving Heavenly Father has made me clean through the atoning sacrifice of His loving Son Jesus Who died on the cross for ME! Hallelujah! What a Savior!
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His One and Only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us…And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, Whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must love his brother ” (I John 4:7-12, 16-21).
In His Unfailing Love,