Without question there is no more beautiful, loving and wonderful person to have walked the earth than Jesus Christ. He is known even by his critics as a loving, forgiving and gracious person. It was even difficult for his enemies to find fault with him when he was present with us.
Millions of words have been penned about this altogether lovely person. Yet if we are not careful, we can get a distorted picture of who this Jesus really is. Is he everything I have just described? Absolutely. But he is much more as well.
Indeed, one expects nonbelievers to have a distorted or unbalanced picture of who Jesus is, but sadly many believers also seem to have an understanding of Jesus which does not do full justice to the complete Biblical picture.
Too often many people have a mental image of Jesus which in fact is at odds with the totality of the Scriptural presentation. For many, Jesus is viewed as some sort of wimpy hippie who went around flashing the peace sign. Or he is seen as a tree-hugging greenie. Or he is seen as a devout pacifist who wouldn’t harm a fly.
The portrait of a meek and mild Jesus rocking in a cradle seems to be as far as some people go with Jesus. They forget other aspects of his character and ignore other features of his personality. The truth is, Jesus wasn’t some laid back guru who was never moved by anything.
He in fact could become quite agitated about things and deeply moved. We don’t often think about Jesus as being an emotional person. Yet he quite clearly was and is. Certain things profoundly moved him and things could produce quite strong reactions in him.
Far from being a meek and mild doormat who never let anything move him, he very much displayed a wide range of emotional reactions. Jesus in fact did get outraged at things. Sin and death for example clearly outraged him.
We see this many places, especially in the reaction of Jesus to the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:1-44). His death, and the causes of it, greatly troubled Jesus. We read that Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” concerning his death (John 11:33; see also v. 38). Yet the English versions can be a bit weak here. The actual Greek offers the sense of “he bristled”.
As Craig Keener remarks in his commentary on John, the term here “depicts his emotion in the strongest possible terms: he was ‘moved’ (embrimaomi, 11:33, 38), an unusually strong term, usually denoting anger, agitation, and typically some physical expression accompanying it”.
Various commentators prefer to render the term, “To snort with anger like a horse”. As one remarked, “It was used by Greek playwrights to describe stallions before battle, rearing up on their hind legs, pawing at the air and snorting before they charged.”
This is something B.B. Warfield wrote about one hundred years ago in his wonderful essay, “The Emotional Life of Our Lord,” which today can be found as chapter four of The Person and Work of Christ (P&R, 1970). In this penetrating essay he said:
“The margin of our Revised Version at Jno. xi. 33, 38, therefore, very properly proposes that we should for ‘groaned’ in these passages, substitute ‘moved with indignation,’ although that phrase too is scarcely strong enough. What John tells us, in point of fact, is that Jesus approached the grave of Lazarus, in a state, not of uncontrollable grief, but of irrepressible anger.”
And this is not the only time we find some strong emotional outbursts coming out of Jesus. He was certainly outraged at the activities going on in the temple, as evidenced by his quite fierce cleansing and denunciation. And he is certainly provoked big time as we read in the book of Revelation when he comes back to administer judgment with sword in hand.
For example, we read about his coming in fierce judgment in places such as Rev. 14:6-20 and Rev. 19:11-16. These accounts alone should persuade us to abandon any wishy-washy and sentimental notions of who this man Jesus is.
Thomas Torrance, in one of his sermons on the Apocalypse, offers these powerful words about what we find in Rev. 19: “There are always people who are ready to eliminate the offence, to dilute the faith, to water down the Gospel, to whittle away the stupendous claims and assertions of Jesus Christ.
“The world likes a complacent, reasonable religion, and so it is always ready to revere some pale Galilean image of Jesus, some meagre anaemic Messiah, and to give Him a moderate rational homage. That is why Christianity has so often been diluted into vague idealism, and why the modern Church is so drugged with the anodyne of a mild Christianity and debauched with a warm religious humanism or an unthinking sentimental faith.”
Exactly right. But if those words seem a bit hard to grasp, perhaps I can illustrate things in such a way that no one should remain in the dark. Many years ago I was in an open air market in Amsterdam. One booth was selling T-shirts, and one in particular really grabbed my attention.
It happens to be a bit crude (so forgive me here), but it is both humorous and really quite accurate. This is the slogan that was emblazoned on the T-shirt: “Jesus is coming back, and boy is he pissed”. That pretty well sums up what we read about in the book of Revelation.
The meek and mild baby Jesus is here presented as a conquering king, dishing out severe judgment on all those who have refused to bow the knee and admit that a creator God exists who we all owe allegiance to, and if we will not receive him as saviour now, we will one day be forced to face him as judge.
Thus the answer to the question posed in my title is: both. Throughout Scripture we see both the love of God and the wrath of God held side by side. Indeed, they are two aspect of the divine character. As Paul could say in Romans 11:22, we are to “consider the kindness and severity of God”.
Or as D. A. Carson expresses it, “both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new, from the Old Testament to the New. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax – the cross.
“Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross.” Quite so. The cross is the place where we find the world’s greatest demonstration of God’s love, but it is also the place where we witness the greatest demonstration of God’s holiness and his judgment on sin.
The good news is, Jesus took the punishment we justly deserved so that we do not have to face it ourselves. But if we reject his offer of forgiveness and reconciliation, then future judgment is coming, and no one should look forward to that.