When Jesus Speaks Harshly

Since I preach grace, I am often hit with the accusation that I have not read the harsh words of Jesus. The argument seems to be that because Jesus spoke harshly to the Laodiceans, Sardians, etc., he’s not as gracious and loving as I make him out to be.

Like the Hulk, Jesus has an angry side that grace peeps seem to miss.

It’s true that Jesus rebukes the Laodiceans (“You are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”) and some of the Sardians (“You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead”). But it’s important to ask why?

Jesus does not rebuke them because they are under-performing Christians failing to meet their outreach quotas.

Nor does he rebuke them because the church finances are low and his job is in peril.

So why does Jesus speak bluntly to the Laodiceans, et al.? Because they are lost and he loves them.

Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked (Rev 3:17)

Look carefully at Jesus’ words. “You do not know.” The Laodiceans had no idea they were spiritually destitute.

Like the rich man with his barns (Luke 12:18), they were stockpiling their good works, but they were not rich toward God. They had not taken hold of the Lord’s righteousness because they were full of their own.

Stinky self-righteousness

Self-righteousness is the hardest sin to dislodge. God help us, but we trust ourselves like we trust the laws of nature, and success only serves to cement our deception.

“I did it. I made it. I came, I saw, I conquered.” To be disabused of such a powerful lie, we need a stronger truth. Enter the Faithful and True Witness: “You are wretched.”

Why does Jesus say they are wretched? Because only the wretched cry out for rescue. And why does Jesus say they are naked? Because none but the naked will ever go to him for clothing.

Some say Jesus spoke harshly because he hates the Laodiceans. In truth, he loves them.

Others say his words connote anger and condemnation. But Jesus cares for the Laodiceans and wants them to turn around.

Jesus didn’t speak to condemn them but to save them. If his words sound harsh to us, maybe it’s because the truth is sometimes hard to hear. It takes a hard truth to dislodge a deep deception.

In speaking bluntly to the Laodiceans, the faithful and true Witness reveals their true condition. He lets them know that they have fallen short and lost their way.

Of the seven churches Jesus addresses in Revelation 2 and 3, the Laodicean church is the only one where he has nothing positive to say. This highlights the seriousness of the Laodiceans’ problem.

They are not told to remember, like the Ephesians, because there is nothing to remember.

Nor are they exhorted to hold fast, like the Philadelphians, because they haven’t taken hold. Trusting in their own performance, they are truly lost.

I advise you to buy from me… (Rev. 3:18a)

Why does Jesus advise? The law drives us, but Jesus draws us. The law whips, but the Lord woos. The law commands, but Christ counsels us like the true friend he is.

The Ruler of all does not demand obedience from the Laodiceans. He does not threaten them with hellfire or damnation. Instead, he draws them aside like a trader in the marketplace with the deal of a lifetime. With unexpected generosity, he makes them an offer that’s too good to pass up.

“Buy from me”

Why is Jesus talking like a businessman? Perhaps it is because this was a church of merchants and business people. They understood the art of the deal. “You want to do business?” Jesus said. “Then do business with me.”

Is Jesus saying we can buy our salvation? In a manner of speaking, yes.

To buy something is to exchange something we have for something we value more. You might say we buy salvation by exchanging our sins for his forgiveness, but the real exchange is Jesus for us. Christianity is a divine exchange, our life for his. It’s the best deal you’ll ever make.

But Jesus said they were poor. How can the poor buy anything? Because grace pays for all.

A Jewish listener hearing this invitation to buy from Jesus would have been reminded of an old prophecy:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. (Isaiah 55:1)

The true riches that Christ offers come without cost, or rather, they come with a great cost that he has paid on our behalf. This deal makes no economic sense. We come to him poor and empty-handed, and receive everything in return.

We come naked and are clothed.

We come hungry and are filled.

We come thirsty and are satisfied.


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20 Comments on When Jesus Speaks Harshly

  1. O.M.G!That pic.with screaming boy reminds me the “street preacher’s”who yells:”You all going to hell,you filthy sinners”and thats it…This article is full of wisdom!Thanks Paul i felt also like needle blowed my self-righteous air-balloon to the pieces!

  2. Beautiful, another lovely piece by Paul Ellis.

  3. Jesus is up against powers wielding deception that have caused people to enslave themselves and not even recognize the bondage of their own creation. This post brings to mind the dark art of advertising – otherwise known as the manipulation of the brain to embrace vanity. Oh how I long to see the day of free people living from and sharing in true love as defined within the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit. We have so much to discover still!

    • Stephen Meek // July 15, 2021 at 7:50 am // Reply

      jason b – How much is your desire for people… manipulation of the brain, influenced by principalities and powers [the cohort of satan]. I concur with you. Example: Can our flesh give us cause to be ‘right’?

      Even some of those who love us, some closest to us, who claim to be delivered-twice [the bible uses born-again] often say to us that you are being this or that thing… unkind, unloving etc; then with deep emotion, turn and also say, what are you going to do to change that? Meaning: I’m holding you to be what I’d rather – other than just loving you for you; with all warts too. Being right, is that utilizing grace for others? Is loving others not about loving them – though they’re imperfect or may be right at times, themselves? The manipulation of the brain__ sad emoji

  4. Consider this. Jesus’ “official” public ministry was about 3 years. If you took all the “days” that are recorded in the New Testament, how many would they add up to?
    Maybe 60? 90?
    What did He do the other 33 months that made them hate Him?

    • Stephen Meek // July 15, 2021 at 7:35 am // Reply

      bluecat57 – One of things that Jesus did [said to the Jewish Leaders] when they asked him who he was… he said, in Chaldean-Aramaic, ‘Bar Enos[h]’ meaning, I AM the GOD of the Torah. He did not simply tell them he was another Ben Adam… that gave them cause to hand him to the Romans__ they were still sons of satan at that point. Hating the Father – Jesus loved that same Father and so, they hated him.

      • bluecat57 // July 16, 2021 at 1:07 am //

        So He said one thing once and they hated Him for 3 years?
        Most people think He only turned over the money changers table once on one place.
        My point is that His ENTIRE ministry, the parts we know and the majority we don’t know, is why they hated Him.
        There are many unknown unkowns.

      • We don’t need to guess because the scriptures plainly tell us why the religious leaders hated Jesus (Matt. 12:14, Mark 11:18, 14:1, Luke 19:47). “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).

    • I think it was the thought of their Job security. No one or a lot less people were going to them, therefore no money coming in as they had coming in Jealousy So they attacked him. He did not start any argument. They did he just answered with such logic they could not reply He loved in truth every day

      • Stephen Meek // July 16, 2021 at 9:06 am //

        homwardbound – Job security, money, jealousy, hatred, attacking others_ reminds me of the pounding GWs Continental Armies took [1763-1783] from British Generals – after most in the 13 Colonies got together and said, this tyranny has to stop. And they collectively took away near half of what Britain was the sole supplier of… the supply-chain is a very delicate thing; money, the invention of Mammon. This halting of trade in-part, came when Gen. Cornwallis was finally beaten and surrendered his forces. But it was the innovated ingenuity of those who were looking to build back better [a turn of phrase only] – who had begun to put their blessing from what they believed was freedom from tyranny… they made a new way to produce & manufacture and thus made a fledgling nation grow.

        Jesus did take the people away from the [the evil in the power of control] Jewish Leaders and they attacked him for trimming down their money tree – go figure; in their pride they turned him over to the Romans. People being led from tyranny to freedom.

  5. Stephen Meek // July 15, 2021 at 6:41 am // Reply

    Does Jesus ever speak harshly? Can our flesh give us cause to be ‘right’? Some often say to us that you are this or that thing… unkind, unloving etc; then turn and say, what are you going to do to change that? Being right, is that utilizing grace for others? Is loving others not about loving someone though they may be imperfect or right themselves?

    In Mt 5, when Jesus said 6 times, making reference to 6 commandments from Torah – after saying, ‘you’ve heard it said’…speaking of Torah – to (his Apostles) men who knew Torah [they were well aware that their GOD is the GOD of Torah], ‘yet, I say to you’… Was Jesus being harsh? Or was he emphasizing with an emphatic tone – showing them that he is the Words in that Torah? Jesus was meeting them @ the place where it mattered most. No Jesus is not harsh when pointing us to live out of himself – the Truth.

  6. Brandon Petrowski // July 15, 2021 at 2:19 pm // Reply

    Extremely well said.
    This might be one of my favorite posts from you the past 9 years.

  7. When I think of Jesus speaking harshly, I remember him saying to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ (If I were Peter, I would have concluded: ‘Jesus hates me as he hates the Devil, he wants to be rid of me, therefore I should kill myself.’) Or saying to the woman who asked him to heal her daughter, ‘It is not right to give bread from the children and throw it to the dogs.’ (If I had been her, I would have thought, ‘Okay, we’re just subhuman vermin in his eyes; I did something wrong in bothering him.’) Or saying to the whole crowd of people at the Sermon on the Mount ‘If you, though you are evil, know how to give your children good gifts…’ – where he isn’t even judging them as individuals, but condemning the whole human race as evil.

    I believe that Jesus is God, but I can’t believe that he loves us or came to redeem us, when he repeatedly says that he will judge us on what we have done (not our faith in him) to separate the righteous from the wicked and send the wicked to hell – and, as he has said that we are all evil (Matthew 7:11) because no-one is good except God (Mark 10:18), in practice this must mean we are all going to hell.

    I know this isn’t how most people think of Jesus, but to me, the thought of Jesus robs me of joy and hope. Can you help?

    • Always judge a man by his actions before his words. There is no greater love than the sacrificial love of Jesus. He died for you. That should cause you to fall to your knees in gratitude. I am blown away by his love.

      I think you have misread a bunch of scriptures there. I don’t have space to respond to them all but I have written about the “rewarded for what we’ve done” passage here.

    • Keep in mind that tone is as important as the words themselves. We know Jesus is love, so we know His tone is loving and to find the true meaning we have to look for the motive of love. The woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter saw her daughter healed that day, which is contrary to Jesus seeing them as subhuman. He was actually challenging an idea of the time that they were dogs. When her response shows that she is seeking healing based on the character and nature of Jesus, not her worldly status as a “dog”, Jesus says she has “great faith”.

      When Jesus said “get behind me Satan”, He was speaking to Satan who was influencing Peter at that moment.

      We have to get past the idea that God judges our value based on our behavior. He sees inherent value in us, even equal to the value He sees in Jesus. There was nothing we “did” to deserve Christ dying for us.

    • Stephen Meek // July 16, 2021 at 9:28 am // Reply

      Temple Cloud – Would it not be helpful when we hear ourselves saying, I must be the bad guy – to turn to the Father and ask him to help us [in Jesus Name] to know where that is coming from? He was faithful to forgive us one time – hanging there, on a rotten tree near Jerusalem. Be it he spilled his blood that we might live Everlasting with him and not die separated from him as the Eternal One – that Father does not see anyone he has delivered-twice as having continually done wrong at that point… did he not simply frame evil [show a wider picture] as a condition humanity suffered in his day? With those statements you recognized in your comment?

  8. Thank you escspereality for the articles. Pastor Paul I hear you but pls can you shed more light on Jesus anger when he made a whip and chased the people buying and shell ng in the temple. Thanks

    • I hope Paul responds as his insight is always helpful, but I’ve been thinking about this lately and would like to share my thoughts on Jesus clearing out the temple if I may. So for what it’s worth, I see the temple basically representing our minds – in other words you and I are God’s address. The story is told very early in John’s gospel right after the Wedding at Cana (water to wine) and just before the Nicodemus conversation (“For God so loved the world…”) where John is laying the groundwork to help future readers of his gospel see why Jesus is here. After he drove out those marketing religion and profiting from it, John writes in John 2:17 that the disciples remembered Ps 69:9 as prophecy “Passion for God’s house (our mind) will consume me”. John wants us to see that Jesus is here to heal our perception of his Father. To replace our religious thinking with a clean unmanipulated relationship with God. The whip and turning over tables and running people out reflects how the Father, Son and Spirit are passionate about our liberation. Jesus is not a little wimpy man and I think this story is shared to make that point.

  9. Ben Dailey // July 21, 2021 at 8:49 am // Reply

    Wonderful!

  10. Stella Emmanuel // July 25, 2021 at 8:06 am // Reply

    Lovely Paul.

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