A lot of folks read the story about Jesus chasing the cattle and sheep out of the temple, of Jesus overturning the tables of the business-people there, and they infer that Jesus was angry, that he was displaying a holy wrath.
But that’s not what the stories actually say. In fact, since the stories never say what Jesus was feeling. Anybody who declares what Jesus was feeling – whether they think he was angry or whatever – are using something *other* than Scripture for that statement. Mostly, they’re imposing their own imagination into the gap of where the Bible is silent.
That is not Bible interpretation. That’s abusing the Bible to justify your own prejudices and misunderstandings of who God really is.
So what does the Bible actually say?
The first time, in John 2, it says that Jesus saw what was going on in the temple, and then stopped to weave a whip out of cords (literally, out of cords made from rushes, from plants like grass). Some observations:
• It takes a fair bit of time to make a whip, and it takes even longer to make one out of *small* cords. This was not a rash action, not an act of rage or passion. This was carefully thought out.
• The sort of whip you make from rushes or small cords is not a weapon. It’s a flimsy thing, only useful for driving livestock. This is not Indiana Jones’ favorite weapon; it’s more like a sisal rope. It will get the animal’s attention, but no more.
• The record is very clear: Jesus used even that wimpy whip only on the cattle and sheep. He reacted to the people differently, and unpleasantly for them, but Jesus did not go after people with even a wimpy whip.
The second event (Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19) is different. Jesus came into the temple during his “Triumphal Entry” on Palm Sunday. So he saw the shopping mall that they were setting up that day.
But it was the *next* day that he came back and cleaned the place out [Mark 11:11-12].
This was not a rash action either. He went back to his AirBNB outside town, and took no action whatsoever until the next day. He certainly had time to think through his choices. And knowing how Jesus did things, I’ll bet he talked it over with Father before he did anything. After all, this is the guy who said, he “can do only what he sees his Father doing” [John 5:19]. So apparently, cleaning out the temple was something he saw his Father doing.
Conclusion: the actual facts of what the Bible says about these events, absolutely do not support the idea of Jesus flying off the handle, Jesus in a rage, Jesus having a temper tantrum. Jesus was not out of control.
Yes, he did clean the place out. Yes, he did make a big old mess. Yes, he interrupted business in a very big way.
But there is no record of him ever hurting anyone, either human or animal. This was not an emotional reaction of any sort: in both cases, the record is very clear that he took his time before responding.
Summary: there are lot of folks who have a vested interest in the idea of an angry God. Some of them have leathery wings. But the New Testament doesn’t actually support that silly idea nearly as much as they shout and fuss.
Don’t believe their shouting and fussing.
Point One: Plunder. When you conquer an enemy, the enemy’s property becomes your property.
That illustrates a key principle: what the end result looks like will probably be remarkably different than what we thought it would look like, what we still think it should look like. I think God does that on purpose, because if we saw the end result too clearly, we'd likely rely on our own skills to get there, rather than relying on walking with him to get there.
And “Faith,” it has been said, “is spelled R-I-S-K.”
Jesus surely didn’t. He hung out with porn stars and filthy rich tax thieves and the most unacceptable people of his day. He went out of his way to connect with Zacchaeus the tax collector and all his tax-collector friends.
In the context of the whole community, Scripture is rather specific: focusing on milk is a failure. We must grow up. We must eat meat, too.
But it’s the less-safe paths that lead to the really interesting destinations anyway.
And of course, some groups, some people, some churches are more abusive and others are far more civilized. And of course, nobody (or perhaps “nobody in their right mind”) aspires to be a prophet or sound guy or children’s pastor or an intercessor for the money or for the respect. They follow that path because they can’t NOT follow that path, lest they shrivel up and die.
Job never knew about the dialog between God and Satan. In fact, Job (and Job’s whole culture) didn’t really know about Satan, so they believed that God did all this bad stuff, when the Book *clearly* says it was Satan. (It’s embarrassing how many Christians believe the same way today.)
Job blamed God for the disasters that had struck him, and called him throughout the book to account for why he’d done such evil to him. The oddest part, from my perspective, was this: God took the blame. (I observe that at no point, did Job ever ask God, “Did you do this?” or even “Who did this?” Maybe that would have been useful.)
At no point during God’s several chapters of response to Job’s accusations did God ever say, “That wasn’t me. That was the devil.” In fact, God’s reply can reasonably be summarized as, “Job, this is above your pay grade. You don’t even have the capacity to understand what went on in this.”
God took the blame for the devil’s destruction, knowing he was innocent.
How many other times does it happen in scripture: the devil wreaks havoc, but we blame God for the destruction.
We have *got* to read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus, who was the “exact representation” of God’s nature. If we don’t see death in destruction in the ministry of Jesus, then death and destruction is not part of God’s character or his job description.
Maybe it would be useful to look at the stories of the Old Testament through the revelation that is Jesus, and ask the question:“Who did this?”
It occurs to me that one reason may be because of God’s followers. Aw, heck: several reasons may be because of God’s followers. Let me explain.
What I AM suggesting is nothing new: let’s not be stupid. Let’s see if we can speak English (or another actual language) instead of religious gibberish. Let’s take the time to figure out what we actually believe, and more importantly for our own growth: why we believe it.
1) Leaders can be flattered and tempted to take the place of the Holy Spirit in a wounded person's life. ("They need me!") This is not an insignificant temptation; it feels good to be needed.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it happen, but you probably have seen it as many times as I have: someone, somewhere – let’s call him Henry – posts an opinion online. Fine. All is well and good.
Then some fundamentalist Christian sees that post! Far too often, the Christian ignores the heart of what they said, but finds some little detail that they don’t agree with, and they tell them why they’re so wrong. Others join in, and soon we have a feeding frenzy, rapid-fire accusations of all kinds of nasty things, all on account of a detail.
• We are on Facebook, not in theology class. The requirement of rigorously defending one's theology is different in a social environment, such as Facebook, than in an educational environment. I will not demand that someone quote chapter and verse, listing supporting papers for their position, while we're sitting at a dinner table among friends who have no idea what we're talking about.
• Some among us are teachers, and as such, they have a standard that we must live up to. Most people online are not teachers, though their post sounds a little like they’re trying to teach. I will not hold him to the same standard that I hold teachers to. The James 3:1 kind of thing. We don’t hold kids just learning to hear God’s voice to the same standard we hold a mature prophet, do we?
• I do not have my theology perfect. I don't know where it's wrong, and I work hard at correcting it where I find errors. But I am aware that I don't completely agree with ANYone's theology, including my own. Let’s quit arguing about insignificant theology. Who cares if it reminds you of some hated heresy of the past? That’s not the point of their post! Get over it! Move on!
• I tend to agree with
• Likewise: I'm far more interested in the fruit that comes from a your life than I am the doctrinal correctness that comes from your teaching. That is NOT to say that good doctrine is unimportant: it IS to say that good doctrine is not preeminent over living out that truth which we already know.
• Authority to teach comes from God. But my authority to teach YOU comes from YOU and nobody else. If
Brothers and sisters, please hear me. Unity isn’t about everybody agreeing with your personal pet doctrines. In fact, unity is not about doctrine at all. Unity is about us all having one father, and a very good heavenly one, and trusting each other to follow Him. Agreeing isn’t part of that equation, and agreeing with YOU is completely off the topic. If I’m following the same Father you are, then eventually, we’ll get to the place where you and I see the main things through His eyes, and we see the peripheral things through our individual assignments. We probably won’t ever agree on the details.
I am not saying that doctrine doesn’t matter. I’m saying people matter more.
- A robe represents righteousness, so Dad is forgiving the boy. The first thing the son is reminded of is that he really is forgiven. It’s easy to miss that, and the boy didn’t even consider it an alternative with Dad.
- A ring speaks of authority: the son has authority within Dad’s realm. Again it’s contrary to his expectations that he is not a servant himself
- The son came back looking for a servant’s position. Dad gives him sandals: only nobility wore sandals, I’m told. “You’re part of the family. You’re nobility here.” At the very least, it’s provision for the sandals he’d lost, presumably in the pig farm.
- And then instead of the recriminations the boy expected, Dad has a party celebrating his son’s return. There was no accusation whatsoever: just joy. And the joyful party is a big one. A fatted calf can feed a whole lot of partygoers. Either they went on for days or they invited the whole neighborhood.
- “Look, I’ve served you for many years!” (implying, “and you haven’t even noticed!”)
- “See how good I am! I always obeyed your commandments (unlike some sons of yours that I could mention).”
- “You’re cheap! You never offered me a party (not even a little one for my friends. Without you, Dad).”
- “It’s not fair! Your favored son hasn’t been anywhere nearly as righteous as I have, but you treat him like royalty!”
- Relationship w/ God: “You’re always with me.” Don’t lose perspective: we’re just welcoming him back into what you have always had. It’s hard to have a great party celebrating our return when we haven’t run off & done stupid things.
- Authority: “All that I have is yours.” This boy whined that Dad didn’t offer an animal for a party with his friends. Dad says, “Look, it’s all yours. Do with it as you like.” We older brothers forget that we don’t need to ask someone else to give us what is already ours. It’s Dad’s kingdom, but it’s our inheritance.
- Relationship with the Family: “It was right that we should make merry….” It’s easy to lose track that we need to celebrate what God is doing in others, and sometimes that’s more important than working in the fields.
- This isn’t about you. It’s about your younger brother.