One of the most well-known stories of the Bible is also one of the most misquoted and taken out of context. The story involves Jesus flipping a table, and it’s often used in an attempt to justify anger and rage.
Matthew 21:12-13 (ESV) says, “And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you make it a den of robbers.’”
Why did Jesus flip tables?
It may seem like Jesus’ anger in Matthew 21 is out of His character. Normally we see Jesus Christ portrayed as someone full of grace and love for others, not someone who goes around flipping tables. While grace and love are part of Jesus’ character, so is righteous anger.
We often assume that Jesus flipped tables purely out of rage. This is only partially true — Jesus did flip tables out of anger, but it was out of righteous anger.
Righteous anger is much, much different than our typical everyday anger. This type of anger occurs when we see an offense against God or the Bible. Instead of it being based in rage, it’s based in the love of Christ.
Righteous anger happens when we see someone try to defame or speak out against the Word of God. It occurs when someone is constantly sinning against the Lord. It isn’t even close to comparable to our everyday anger.
Jesus flipped tables because the holy temple was being turned into a “den of robbers.” People were ripping each other off and stealing from one another in a place built for worshipping Christ. Even those who claimed to be religious leaders were getting involved in the stealing, hence Jesus’ righteous anger.
Can we flip tables because Jesus did?
In short, no, we cannot go around flipping tables out of anger. Jesus’ anger was righteous; often, ours is not. Here are a few things that the Bible says about anger:
- Anger in itself is not a sin.
While anger isn’t always healthy or productive, it is not necessarily a sin.
Ephesians 4:26 (ESV) says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
- We should be slow to anger.
Even if anger isn’t a sin, we shouldn’t resort to it quickly. We should be patient with one another because human anger cannot produce righteousness.
James 1:19-20 (ESV) says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
- We should aim for gentleness in our words.
Even if our anger is righteous, we still have the ability to speak softly and gently to one another instead of going around flipping tables that don’t deserve it. We can still speak the truth but choose to say it in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Proverbs 15:1 (ESV) says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
- Jesus did flip tables, but He also taught about patience and forgiveness.
Even if our anger is righteous, it shouldn’t be our first resort. Jesus’ ministry was focused much more on the importance of patience and forgiveness.
Matthew 5:38-40 (ESV) says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”
Of course, this passage doesn’t mean that we should let people mistreat us over and over again. Instead, it simply emphasizes the importance of being quick to forgive those who trespass or sin against us.
- Often, it isn’t our place to be angry.
A lot of the time, we claim that our anger is righteous in a vain attempt to play God’s role. We are not God. We don’t have the final say.
All of us will have to answer to God’s judgment. Our discernment as humans isn’t 100% foolproof, and we can’t take on God’s job of judging.