On Being Troubled

We will be troubled at times – as was our Lord:

If you happen to read through chapters 11-14 of John’s gospel in one sitting, and you are a bit observant, you might notice that one word is used five different times. That word is “troubled”. In the first three instances the term is used about how Jesus was feeling, while in the final two he says it to calm and comfort his disciples. Here are the five passages:

John 11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

John 12:27 Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

John 13:21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

John 14:1-4 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”

John 14:26-28 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

Let me speak to these in a bit more detail. First, all up we have five gospel passages speaking about Jesus being troubled. In addition to the three listed above, we also have these two:

Matthew 26:36-38 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

Mark 13:32-34 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”

We see that of the five texts that speak of Jesus being troubled (at least in the ESV), four of them have to do with his approaching death on the cross, while one has to do with his reaction to the death of Lazarus in John 11. He was greatly bothered by his passing, knowing that sin and death were not the norm.

Being fully man as well as fully God, Jesus did have an emotional side to his life. I have discussed this elsewhere as it relates to John 11. I mentioned that the word used before the word ‘troubled’ really expresses well the emotions of Christ. As I said then:

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.” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/03/01/jesus-meek-and-mild-or-conquering-king/

A second thing that can be mentioned is this: some folks might think it is contradictory for Jesus to be troubled, while at the same time telling his disciples not to be troubled. But there is a place for legitimate concern about things. Jesus was rightly concerned about his coming crucifixion. And the disciples were rightly concerned about Jesus leaving them.

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So Jesus had to offer them some words of comfort and encouragement. We all need that at times. Let me close by offering one longish quote from an expository commentary on John by R. Kent Hughes. He says this about John 14:1-6:

The disciples were now troubled men. After the euphoria of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem had come his confusing words about imminent betrayal and denial by some of the Twelve. They were dismayed, and the trouble of their hearts was only a shadow of the darkness that lurked nearby.


Knowing their anguish, Jesus spoke to the issue in the opening words of chapter 14: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” In the original Greek, this carries the firmness, resolve, and conviction of a command, though from the context we understand these words most likely to have been spoken very gently. Our Lord’s statement was not just for his disciples, but for all who would ever follow him. Rightly understood and applied, John 14:1-6 is good medicine for our hearts, for we too live in an age of anxiety.


A good title for our times would be “The Cardiac Age.” Many of us have troubled hearts today. Rising crime rates, rising costs of living, international crises, political corruption, escalating violence not only in Third-World countries but in our own neighborhoods—all this and much more brings deep concern to our hearts.


And if that is not bad enough, we also all have the tendency to borrow trouble, to imagine things to be worse than they are. Keats said, “Imaginary grievances have always been my torment more than real ones.” Which is worse—the actual hypodermic injection in the dentist’s chair or the anticipation as you walk into an antiseptic-smelling office, sign your name, and walk down a long hallway to the dentist’s chair surrounded by ominous instruments? Imagined fears can be far worse than reality! Even Christians are not immune from troubled hearts as we struggle with an imperfect faith and seek to help others bear their burdens….


When Jesus said, “Let not your heats be troubled” he used a picturesque word. The idea is, “Don’t let your heart shudder.” In the preceding chapter, in verse 21, the same word was used to describe Jesus’ emotion as Judas went astray. It is a strong word, and he was saying specifically to the disciples (especially in light of the imminent cross), “It may look like your world is falling in and all is lost and the darkness is going to engulf you, but don’t let your heart be troubled.”


Then he explained how to do this: “Believe in God; believe also in me.” The way to have an untroubled heart is to believe in God and believe in Jesus. That is all there is to it. The tenses tell us, “Keep on believing in God. Keep on believing in me.” If we would keep in mind the attributes of God—his sovereignty, his omniscience, his omnipotence—our hearts would not be troubled like they often are. The Lord knew we would need a further explanation of what is involved, so he went on to specifically instruct us on the nature of the belief that will deliver our troubled hearts.

We as believers will often feel troubled about things. That is to be expected. But knowing that the God of the universe is fully aware of what we are going through, and has also known fully about suffering and hardships means that we can endure whatever it is we are going through.

That is good news indeed.

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5 Replies to “On Being Troubled”

  1. Remember always that we are in the arms and under the eyes of our caring Lord and Saviour and that in times of affliction and hardship, He will always be there to provide us with comfort and solace, for He is our firm and steadfast and will never fail us.

  2. Thanks Bill. Great article. Reminds me of the encouragement I have found through the book “Gentle and Lowly” by Dane Ortlund.

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