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Chapter 11—The Emotional Life of Christ

Key passage

Having said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”
As soon as Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw that Mary got up quickly and went out. They followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to cry there.
As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and told him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked.
“Lord,” they told him, “come and see.”
Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?”

John 11:28–37

Quotes from Chapter 11

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 11:33

The Son of God clothed himself with humanity and will never unclothe himself. He became a man and always will be. This is the significance of the doctrine of Christ’s ascension: he went into heaven with the very body, reflecting his full humanity, that was raised out of the tomb. He is and always has been divine as well. But his humanity, once taken on, will never end.

When we see the feeling and passions and affections of the incarnate Christ toward sinners and sufferers as given to us in the four Gospels, we are seeing who Jesus is for us today.

That flesh that the Son took on was true, full, complete humanity. Indeed, Jesus was the most truly human person who has ever lived.

Whatever it means to be human (and to be human without sin), Jesus was and is. And emotions are an essential part of being human. Our emotions are diseased by the fall, just as every part of fallen humanity is affected by the fall. But emotions are not themselves a result of the fall. Jesus experienced the full range of emotions that we do.1

Therefore, he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.

Hebrews 2:17

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

The Son of God having clothed himself with our flesh, of his own accord clothed himself also with human feelings, so that he did not differ at all from his brethren, sin only excepted.2

John Calvin

What we see in the Gospels of the emotional life of Jesus is an inner life of perfect balance, proportion, and control; but also of extensive depth of feeling.

Jesus did not simply operate in deeds of compassion but actually felt the inner turmoils and roiling emotions of pity toward the unfortunate. “His compassion fulfilled itself in the outward act; but what is emphasized by the term employed to express our Lord’s response is… the profound internal movement of his emotional nature.”3

There were two blind men sitting by the road. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd demanded that they keep quiet, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”… Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they could see, and they followed him.

Matthew 20:30-31, 34

Then a man with leprosy came to him and, on his knees, begged him: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he told him. “Be made clean.”

Mark 1:40-41

Just as he neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was also with her. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said, “Don’t weep.”

Luke 7:12-13

Christ’s emotions outstrip our own in depth of feeling, because he was truly human and because he was a perfect human.

Fallen emotions not only sinfully overreact; they also sinfully underreact.

Jesus felt perfect, unfiltered compassion. Jesus is still a human, now in heaven, and looks at each of us spiritual lepers with unfiltered compassion, an outflowing affection not limited by the sinful self-absorption that restricts our own compassion.

It would be impossible, therefore, for a moral being to stand in the presence of perceived wrong indifferent and unmoved. Precisely what we mean by a moral being is a being perceptive of the difference between right and wrong and reacting appropriately to right and wrong perceived as such. The emotions of indignation and anger belong therefore to the very self-expression of a moral being as such and cannot be lacking to him in the presence of wrong.4


A morally perfect human such as Christ would be a contradiction if he didn’t get angry.

Consider Jesus’ anger through the following logical syllogism:

  • Premise #1: Moral goodness revolts with indignant anger against evil.
  • Premise #2: Jesus was the epitome of moral goodness; he was morally perfect.
  • Conclusion: Jesus revolted against evil with indignant anger more deeply than anyone.

Jesus pronounced searing denunciations on those who cause children to sin.

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.

Matthew 18:6

It is his heart of love, not a gleeful exacting of justice, that rises up from his soul to elicit such a fearsome pronouncement of woe.

Christ got angry and still gets angry, for he is the perfect human, who loves too much to remain indifferent. And this righteous anger reflects his heart, his tender compassion. But because his deepest heart is tender compassion, he is the quickest to get angry and feels anger most furiously—and all without a hint of sin tainting that anger.

What John does for us… is to uncover for us the heart of Jesus, as he wins for us our salvation. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against the foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression, and under the impulse of these feelings has wrought out our redemption.5


While Christ is a lion to the impenitent, he is a lamb to the penitent—the reduced, the open, the hungry, the desiring, the confessing, the self-effacing. He hates with righteous hatred all that plagues you. Remember that Isaiah 53 speaks of Christ bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows (v. 4). He wasn’t only punished in our place, experiencing something we never will (condemnation); he also suffered with us, experiencing what we ourselves do (mistreatment). In your grief, he is grieved. In your distress, he is distressed.

The Bible positively orders us to be angry when occasion calls for it.

Be angry and do not sin;
on your bed, reflect in your heart and be still.

Psalm 4:4

Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.

Ephesians 4:26

Let Christ’s heart for you not only wash you in his compassion but also assure you of his solidarity in rage against all that distresses you, most centrally death and hell.

  1. B. B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ (Oxford, UK: Benediction Classics, 2015), 137-38.
  2. John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, vol. 1, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 440.
  3. Warfield, Person and Work of Christ, 97-98.
  4. Warfield, Person and Work of Christ, 107.
  5. Warfield, Person and Work of Christ, 117.


  1. What is the significance of the doctrine of Christ’s ascension?
  2. Is Jesus a human right now? What is the implication of this for how we are to understand Christ’s heart?
  3. How is Christ both human and divine?
  4. What does this mean for how he expresses emotions?
  5. Are Christ’s emotions the exact same as our emotions?
  6. What is the significance of emotions being impacted by the fall?
  7. What do we see in the Gospels of the emotional life of Jesus? Cite examples of Christ’s emotions.
  8. Is it always wrong to get angry or are there right times and ways to be angry?
  9. How does Christ show us this?
  10. What is the connection between Christ’s compassion and his anger? Are these two at odds? Why or why not?
  11. What does Christ’s righteous anger reflect?
  12. What might it mean for Jesus to be angry with you?
  13. What is Christ to the impenitent? What is he to the penitent? What does this mean?
  14. How do Christ’s emotions impact His relationship with you and your trust of Him?

This article is adapted from: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund and Gentle and Lowly Study Guide by Robert Zink.


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