HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies (Mar 2014)

That tough guy from Nazareth: A psychological assessment of Jesus

  • J. Harold Ellens

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 70, no. 1
pp. e1 – e8


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Christmas gives us that ’sweet little Jesus Boy’ and Lent follows that with the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild.’ He was neither of those. In point of fact, he was the ‘tough guy from Nazareth.’ He was consistently abrasive, if not abusive, to his mother (Lk 2:49; Jn 2:4; Mt 12:48) and aggressively hard on males, particularly those in authority. In Mark 8 he cursed and damned Peter for failing to get Jesus’ esoteric definition of Messiah correct. Nobody else understood it either. Jesus had made it up himself and not adequately explained it to anybody until then. He called the religious authorities snakes, corrupt tombs, filthy chinaware, fakes, and Mosaic legalists who had forgotten God’s real revelation of universal grace and salvation in the Abraham Covenant. He tore up the temple in the middle of a worship service and cursed those present for turning God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves, when actually they were kind, helping out-of-town tourists obtain the proper sacrifices for the liturgical rituals. Jesus was persistently aggressive, often angry and not infrequently irrational, killing an innocent fig tree with his curse, for example. He constantly attacked the Pharisees and their proposals for renewing the spiritual vitality of the Jewish Community. He abused numerous people by healing them on the Sabbath just to make his political point against the religious leaders. He could just as well have healed them on Tuesday, if he really wanted to heal them. By healing the blind man in John 9 on the Sabbath, for example, he caused the man to be driven out of his synagogue, his family, and his community of faith; isolated and abandoned as if he were a leper. Even when he said surprising things about children, his focus was not on the children but on his disciples, using the children as tools for making an assertive teaching point. Jesus’ life was one of perpetually aggressive claims for his vision of God’s reign. He constantly and intentionally provoked conflict and disruption of the status quo, spiritually and politically. He refused to negotiate, compromise, palliate, or mollify his insistence upon keeping his elbow perpetually in the eye of the people in power. In all this he would not back down. The principle by which Jesus operated was absolute and that is why he did not back down, even though they killed him for this very reason. His principle was simply that the renewal of Jewish spirituality could only come from a return to the Abrahamic Covenant, which declared (Gn 12; Rm 8) that God is gracious and universally forgiving towards all humankind, unconditional to our conduct and behaviour, and radically in that it removes all fear, guilt, and shame from the equation of our relationship with God (Mi 7:18–20). He saw that the Pharisees and Scribes were absolutely wrong in assuming that the Mosaic legal system would renew the Jewish relationship with God. He was not the gentle Jesus, meek and mild. He was that tough guy from Nazareth! He had good reason and he was willing to go the distance for what he stood for, even to death on the cross.