The picture painted in the Gospels is clearly one of Jesus displaying righteous anger at the way in which the temple was being polluted and commercially used, and at least one modern portrayal of the story depicts Jesus as seeing the situation and flying into a sudden and furious anger. It may be easy to imagine it that way, but the Gospels actually show that nothing could be further from the truth. Mark’s account is particularly interesting in that it gives us extra information which shows that Jesus did not just act with natural impulsive anger, but with a controlled anger based on prior thought.
Alone of the Gospels, Mark adds this fascinating detail to the temple cleansing narrative. After his humble but triumphant entry into Jerusalem, as recorded by the other Gospel writers, Mark tells us that “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve” (Mark 11:11). Then Mark continues, “The next day … On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there” (Mark 11:12-15). It is clear from Mark’s addition that Jesus must have already seen the sellers and money changers in the Temple courts, but He chose to return to Bethany for the night – doubtless thinking and praying about what He had seen – before returning the following day to cleanse the temple.
Jesus’ driving out of the animals and the money changers and salesmen was clearly the opposite of hasty, impulsive anger, and John’s Gospel adds yet a further detail that also shows this. “In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts…” (John 2:14-15). The Greek indicates that the “whip” used by Jesus was made from the rushes used as the bedding for the animals and also indicates that he “plaited” the whip – combining multiple rushes into a serviceable whip – something that would have taken some time. Once again we see that unlike the common picture of Jesus seeing the money changers and instantly driving them out in great anger, when He did return to the temple He actually took time to plait or weave the whip he used.
So Christ’s behavior in this circumstance was the opposite of rushing to anger and provides a clear lesson for us. Even in the most justifiable instances of provocation, we need to think and pray about how we should respond (James 1:19-20). Rather than rushing to anger, we too need to take the time to figuratively plait the rushes.