“Read through enough Facebook comment threads involving Christians,” writes Jesse Carey, “and you will likely run across it: An angry post-writer using the story of Jesus’ cleansing the temple as an excuse for their unnecessarily strong language.” Carey points that while Jesus did indeed display righteous anger when he cleansed the temple, it seems odd to rely so heavily on this account when the New Testament overwhelmingly emphasizes sacrifice, love, and self-denial.
For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ statements include, “Blessed are the meek,” “Blessed are the merciful,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit makes no mention of “righteous anger,” but rather includes the qualities of “peace, forbearance, kindness,” as well as “gentleness and self-control.”
It should go without saying that the ultimate example of what it means to follow Jesus is to emulate the self-denial he displayed through dying on the cross. This is something he himself said in Matthew 16:24-25: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
Vischer noted that the early church could have chosen any number of symbols to represent what it means to be a follower of Jesus. They could have chosen a whip or an overturned table; instead, they chose a cross.
Some pushed back on Vischer’s comments. “Had Jesus not flipped tables he wouldn’t have been executed,” said one user. “Flipping tables is part of the Luke 4 message he said he came to preach and practice.” Another said, “The table-turning Jesus sounds a lot like the Jesus described by John in Rev 19.”
However, many thanked Vischer for his observations. One Twitter user suggested we should also consider the fact that Jesus’ anger was not directed at the government of his day—but at what was being done in a house of worship.
Jesus flipped the tables of religion not of Rome or empire. This is why our focus is on the powerless not on gaining power. At his parade he chose a donkey to ride on, not a war horse like Pilate. And, in Revelation we see a wounded Lamb on the throne in the end. Tablesflip<Cross
— Rich Kirkpatrick (@rkweblog) April 18, 2021
Vischer’s overall point was not that there is no place for righteous anger, but that we should never lose sight of the broader context of who Jesus is. He said, “Every day when I walk out the door, or log onto social media, I need to remember the plot. ‘Christian’ doesn’t mean ‘little Rambo.’ It means ‘little Christ.’ I’m on the cross w/Christ. I die w/Christ. I have the power to love my enemies w/Christ. Remember the plot.”