For a few years, my brother and a few friends decided to ride bareback broncos in local rodeos. He asked me to braid him the rigging he needed. I used twine to make this rope-like piece of rodeo equipment with a doubled section that served as a handhold. This assignment took several days and I think of that each time I read this New Testament passage . . .
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:13–22)
Jesus was not protesting the sacrificial system but the way the money-changers had moved into the temple. He would later accuse them of making the temple area “a den of robbers” — a direct quote from the Old Testament:
“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:46)“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 7:11)
It seems that Jesus cleansed the temple twice. John puts it near the beginning of His ministry while the other Gospels describe it happening closer to His crucifixion. Either way, these descriptions give the impression that Jesus was angry and acting impulsively. However, I have a good idea how long it takes to braid a whip of cords. This gives me a clue that this was not a furious outburst but moral indignation.
I’ve heard people say their anger is indignation yet this response is not common. It is far more under control than an angry outburst, more like a burden that starts out small and slowly builds. Aside from how it rises, it is also a righteous anger, like the anger describing the wrath of God against sin. There is no selfishness in it, no “you make me mad.”
One example might be the indignation that rises when seeing a stranger abusing a child that is not mine. This is wrong. I also feel it when people pretend to be something they are not for personal gain. This is also wrong.
Jesus became indignant when He saw the money-changers doing their thing. He was zealous for the purity of the temple, but He did not immediately overturn the tables and drive them out. Even with holy zeal driving Him, making a whip does not happen suddenly. He thought about it. He likely prayed for the best response.
If I am angry because someone offended me, making a whip would likely make my anger simmer then boil up into an unreasonable rage. Righteous anger is not like that. It isn’t about me. Instead, it is the response of a righteous person to sin against God and sin against others.
Sometimes I feel this indignation that Jesus felt but more often any anger is more about me than it is about anything else and my response is either blasting off or griping and grumbling. However, being like Jesus requires no griping or blowing my stack but praying and taking the right kind of action. What does that look like? Jesus demonstrates. He stood up for righteousness, not for Himself.
Moral Indignation means being motivated to do something against whatever is causing it, listening to the leading of the Lord. I cannot fly off the handle. I need to remember the braided whip and take my time. That pause is a strong symbol for waiting on the Lord. The zeal for righteousness should stay with me just like the zeal of the Lord continued with Christ. If I rely on Him, He will show me what to do. But if my reaction to something is just me being mad, then He will show me my error and I will need to deal with my own sinful anger.
Jesus, I’m usually not an angry person. Being angry takes a lot of energy and I don’t have much. However, there are times of righteous anger. Grant me discernment to know the difference. You say, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26–27) That is a good advice and another way of telling me to take time before acting, to think about what is driving me, and if You say so, braid a whip while I wait for Your instructions.