The wrath of Jesus

Christ cleansing the temple. Wrath of Jesus

Christ Cleansing the Temple / Luca Giordano, mid 1670s

We like to think of Jesus as gentle and loving.

Some people even teach that the love of God means there can’t be a hell.

They’re reading selectively and ignoring passages that describe the wrath of Jesus.

In fact, most of what the Bible teaches about hell comes from the lips of an angry Jesus. In one outburst he consigned the entire town where he lived to hell!

And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.  — Matthew 11:23 (NASB)

“Hades” is the name of the Greek god of the dead. Whenever Jesus wanted to talk about the hell of fire, he used “gehenna,” the Greek transliteration of Jerusalem’s garbage dump. His denunciation of Capernaum wasn’t that strong. But what had Capernaum done to incur his wrath and strong denunciation?

What a “friend” Capernaum had in Jesus

Christ Preaching at Capernaum. Wrath of Jesus

Christ preaching at Capernaum / Maurycy Gottlieb, 1878-1879

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, but early in his ministry he used Capernaum as his headquarters.

Mark’s gospel describes two times when Jesus taught in the synagogue in Jerusalem.

The first time around (Mark 1:21-28), the people were amazed at his teaching. He taught with more authority than the other teachers they had heard.

In modern churches, people line up after service to tell the preacher how much they liked the sermon. Then, to all appearances, forget all about it.

Did the amazement of the people of Capernaum amount to any more than that?

After a few supernatural healings and exorcisms, Jesus became so popular he had to leave town for a while until the excitement subsided (Mark 1:45).

Of course they considered him a friend. He was the most popular man in town. He may have been a little odd, but that’s no problem. After all, he was very nice and healed everyone who came to him. The whole town benefitted from having him live there.

A people without love

Cymbals. Wrath of Jesus

Without love . . .

One of those healings took place in the synagogue. A demon-possessed man interrupted the lesson and shouted out.

Now maybe he was a first-time visitor. But more likely he lived in town and attended the synagogue regularly.

In that case, the other people had to have noticed his odd behavior. Did they show any compassion? In too many modern churches, people tend to ignore or ostracize troubled members of the congregation.

That healing is the earliest one recorded in the gospels. Others soon followed while Jesus was still in Capernaum.

By the second time he preached in their synagogue (Mark 3:1-6), he had begun to attract the opposition of the teachers of the law. He had claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. They went to the synagogue to find some way to accuse him. A man with a withered hand was there—perhaps their special guest. They as much as dared Jesus to heal on the Sabbath so they could find fault.

Mark 3:5 says that Jesus looked around in anger. The people’s stubborn hearts deeply distressed him. And it’s not the last time he displayed his wrath. He cleansed the temple in acts of premeditated violence.

Some reasons for Jesus’ wrath

Jesus with sword

Church wall in Auning, Denmark. c.1510. Choir, east arch. Christ in judgment, with cross nimbus, lilies left, sword right from mouth, hands outstretched, showing wounds, wound in side bleeding, robe covers shoulders and lap, feet extend into space below rainbow.

These two visits paint an unflattering picture of Capernaum.

Unfortunately, too many modern church people exhibit the same sins.

  • Lovelessness makes Jesus angry.
  • Complacency in the presence of suffering makes Jesus angry.
  • Pride and judgmentalism make Jesus angry.
  • Indifference to real sin, like one’s own hardness of heart, make Jesus angry.
  • Godless thoughts and actions masquerading as religion make Jesus angry.

The fine people of Capernaum must have been stunned when Jesus condemned the whole town.

Just like people from that day to this who claim to like Jesus and then refuse to take his message seriously.

Jesus’ wrath—God’s wrath—is revealed against all unrighteousness. In no way does it contradict his love and mercy.

Photo credits:
Christ cleansing the temple. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Christ preaching at Capernaum. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Cymbals. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Jesus with sword. Mills-Kronborg Collection of Danish Church Wall Paintings, M-K 03-019

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