I often wake up to text messages with questions about the Bible or theology. Here is my most recent example: “The Bible says Jesus was upset when he talked about Judas betraying him. Do you think Jesus was ever disappointed in Judas?” This question alone is fascinating to me, but I also recognize that these kinds of questions usually have deeper, more personal questions behind them. After a brief back-and-forth, I received this follow-up text: “Is Jesus disappointed in me when I sin, and if so, what’s stopping Jesus from being disappointed in me all the time when I mess up? I would feel like I need to re-earn his favor.” What follows is my long-winded answer to both of those questions.
Peering into the emotional life of Jesus is not necessarily an easy task, for at least two reasons. First, you have to recognize the unimaginable extremes of Jesus’ experience, unparalleled by any human life in history. When Jesus weeps over Lazarus’ death in John 11, he’s not merely weeping as a man who lost one of his closest friends. He’s weeping as the Man who is responsible for killing death itself. When Jesus delights in the little children who run to him and sit on his lap, he’s not just delighting in cute kids and the joy of youth. He’s looking into the eyes and hearing the giggles of ones he knit together with his own hand, whom he had dreamed of creating since the foundation of the world and had named before their own parents named them. Every emotional experience Jesus had is ramped up to unimaginable levels.
Second, there’s the added component of Jesus’ messianic consciousness. Jesus knows exactly who he is—he’s the long prophesied savior of Israel, and indeed, the Son of God and God himself. The interplay of the divine with a fully human, ordinary mind is something I won’t pretend to understand comprehensively. Does Jesus know the future? Would that emotionally prepare him for what unfolded in his life? With respect to his divine nature, he does. He knows all things because he’s the author of all things. With respect to his human nature, he seems to know some future things but perhaps not all future things, and there is still a sense in which Jesus grows in knowledge and learns new things like any other normal human. So there might be a distinction we need to make when talking about Jesus’ feelings between his divine nature and his human nature.
With all that being said, there’s at least two reasons why we can understand the emotional life of Jesus. The first is the flip side of the second reason above: Jesus was fully human, meaning he experienced and felt all the same sorts of feelings you and I experience. Given, his emotional life was never tainted by sin. When Jesus feels angry, it’s always righteous anger. When he feels zealous, it’s a zeal for the Lord. When he feels heartbroken, it’s not because he’s cast his heart onto an idol that failed him. And we see Jesus feeling all these things—when he’s threatening anyone who leads children into sin (Matt 18:1-6) or he’s flipping tables in the temple (Matt 21:12-17) or weeping over Jerusalem (Matt 23). Those are all things we can empathize with, and we shouldn’t assume that Jesus is so holy and divine that he’s just putting on a show.
The second reason we can understand how Jesus felt is because we’re given the full language of emotional expression Jesus was so intimately familiar with: the Old Testament. If we want to know how Jesus feels, all we have to do is read the stories he was raised on (the lives of Abraham or Joseph or David) or watch is favorite dramas (the Book of Job) or listen to his angsty playlists (the Psalms). And what we see when we come to the Psalms might be alarming to associate with the Lamb of God. Consider Psalm 58. Take some time to read the whole thing, but here’s just a sampler.
O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD…
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
like the stillborn child who never sees the sun…
The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
surely there is a God who judges on earth.”
Jesus’ emotional life is rooted in the language and moods of the Psalms. We shouldn’t be surprised when he calls the pharisees a brood of vipers (perhaps drawing from this very psalm) or when he eagerly awaits the destruction of his enemies (Revelation 19). Read the prophets’ description of God anticipating the judgement he will pour out on all the wicked. Ezekiel 16 might be the most visceral expression of anger and sorrow in the whole Bible, spoken by God about unfaithful Israel. Psalm 69 is especially pertinent because Jesus quotes it and lives it out leading up to his death. Again, I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but here’s a snippet:
You know my reproach,
and my shame and my dishonor;
my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.
“Reproaches have broken my heart.” What a poignant expression of grief! I don’t imagine it’s too far a stretch to apply this to Jesus’ heart toward Judas. Imagine how you would feel in his shoes. Jesus had spent the better part of three years sharing his whole life with this man. Of the thousands of followers and hundreds of disciples, Judas was one of twelve who got to walk and eat and sleep with Jesus everywhere he went. They were closer than most people are today with their closest friends. As Psalm 41:9 says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” Judas had seen the miracles. He had even worked some himself (Matt 10). He had been there for the sermon on the mount. He knew exactly who Jesus was and what he was about, and he still freely chose to murder his friend for a pathetically small bribe. Would you be disappointed? I’d imagine that doesn’t begin to express the pain and anger.
Again, there’s the added complication of Jesus knowing Judas would do this. As he prays in John 17:12, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” So in one sense, I imagine there was a zeal to complete the task his Father had set before him—to go to the cross because of this betrayal. But that doesn’t negate the feelings of anger and heartbreak at being betrayed by one of his closest friends. I think it’s safe to say without any uncertainty that Jesus was disappointed in Judas. Even still, he treats him with tenderness. As Judas leads the mob to seize Jesus in the garden, he says, “Friend, do what you came to do.”
So what does that mean for us? Is Jesus disappointed in us when we sin, and if so, what would stop Jesus from being disappointed in us all the time when we mess up? Before we go into all those, it is first important to see why Judas is a poor reference for us. Judas was the “son of destruction,” not a “son of God.” Judas was never intended to put his faith in Christ. His name was not written in the book of life. He never delighted in the Lord, and the Lord never delighted in him. In other words, he was not a Christian. Despite all the trappings, all the appearance of genuine faith—who could have possibly accused him of apostasy while he worked miracles?—he was not one of Jesus’ sheep. As Ephesians 2:1-3 would describe him, he was a child of wrath and a servant of his shepherd Satan. God’s emotional disposition toward Judas was one of long-suffering until his iniquity was complete (to borrow language from Genesis 15).
That’s not at all the position we find ourselves in. If you have sincere faith in Jesus, if you cling to him for salvation, you are not a “son of destruction.” You are a “son of God,” and a “child of promise.” That relationship distinction makes all the difference. A much better example for us than Judas is Peter. Peter may not have betrayed Jesus to death, but no one talked a bigger game than Peter in following Jesus to the very end. All it took to dissuade him from that mission was a servant girl asking him where he was from. Imagine what Jesus must have been feeling when he looked right into the eyes of Peter as the rooster crowed (Luke 22:61). Disappointment, grief, betrayal, and heartbreak would not be overstatements.
Yet, Peter is not left to sit in that heartbreak. See how desperate he is to run (or swim) back to the feet of Jesus in John 21. See how careful and kind Jesus is in restoring him. Was he heartbroken by Peter? Absolutely. Does Jesus still love him? Even more certainly. Two passages here can help explain the dynamic at play here. The first is Ephesians 4:17-32. Paul has spent the first half of his letter explaining the immeasurable riches of God’s grace poured out on sinners who had no business receiving anything other than wrath. God’s love is guaranteed by the work of Christ on the cross, and that grace changes everything. Starting in chapter 4, Paul begins to outline what that change looks like in the practical life of the believer. It’s a stark contrast to the former way they lived as gentile pagans. See 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Implicit in that summary command is that one can grieve the Holy Spirit by living in accordance with old passions—indeed, one does grieve him as often as one sins.
I know for some of us who are motivated by people-pleasing and terrified of disappointing others, this might be a horrific thought. As George Whitefield so artfully describes, every breath I breathe is riddled with sin. Is God really in a constant state of disappointment toward me? If we keep reading in Ephesians, we find our reason for hope. Ephesians 5:1 states, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Remember who we are in Christ. Our sinful actions do not determine our new identity. This verse doesn’t read “Therefore be imitators of God, so that God might want to adopt you.” We’ve already been adopted. God delighted in you while you were still a sinner, before you came to faith. Nothing can change that. Whitefield, just as artfully, describes how God sees you later in that same sermon.
Have ye closed with Christ? Is God your friend? Is Christ your friend? Then look up with comfort; all is yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. Everything shall work together for your good, the very hairs on your head are numbered. “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of God’s eye.”
This, of course, is because of the gospel. In a very real sense, Christ became a disappointment on our behalf, in the same way he became a curse for us (Genesis 3:13). Christ took upon himself all the shame, all the reasons for disappointment, all the causes of grief we are responsible for. As he died on the cross sucking sour wine from a sponge, he breathed out those most comforting words “It is finished.” What was finished? God’s disposition of wrath and judgement against us. All that God sees when he looks upon us is the spotless beauty and the total worthiness of Jesus. “No guilt in life, no fear in death; This is the power of Christ in me.”
Where does that leave us? The second passage I want to draw our attention to speaks well to our current situation. Consider Hebrews 12:3-17. The author writes to an audience who is growing discouraged in the face of new trials. As they live according to the new life they’ve received in Christ (however imperfectly) the world around them is starting put up resistance. The author reassures them that the trials they face are not an act of judgement. God is not punishing them because he’s disappointed in them. Rather, he is teaching them to trust him “as [true] sons.” I know I often feel tempted to wonder when I face any kind of suffering if I somehow deserved it because I made God angry. To be oddly specific, whenever I feel nauseous my first instinct is to wonder, “God, what did I do to deserve this? I’m so sorry, please have mercy on me.” What are the things in your life that trigger fears of God’s judgement?
Our hearts are hardwired to associate suffering with punishment. The author of Hebrews dispels that notion. Suffering is not God acting upon disappointment in us. It is an opportunity for us to trust our Father as true children. It is in fact a way for us to grow deeper in our knowledge and experience of God’s love, approval, and delight in us. To this end, the author of Hebrews encourages his readers: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees.” Take heart, God loves you.
One lingering question is, if God doesn’t punish us because he’s disappointed in us, what do we do with the grief we cause him when we sin? How do we respond to knowing we cause God sorrow? I’d recommend two things. First, a change of perspective: see God the way Peter does, not the way Judas does. Both these disciples realize the gravity of their betrayal. They both know who Jesus is, and they know how horribly they’ve hurt him. Judas decides there’s no hope, that God couldn’t possibly love or forgive him for what he had done. His last offense against God was denying the reach of his mercy. Peter, on the other hand, desperately runs back to Jesus. He brings his guilt and fear to his Lord and throws himself upon his mercy. Jesus responds with love and reconciliation. What do you do when you realize the weight of your sin? Where do you run?
Second, a change of behavior: do your best to flee from sin. Again, it matters why we do this. God is our Father and we are his children. The reality of our adoption is one of the most important grounding principles in our pursuit of righteousness. Look to Hebrews 12:7-12. Implicit behind the direction here is that we have a Father who has already adopted us. There is no fear in our being sent away. This is not a circumstance in which, if we disobey God, he will disown us. At the same time, the guarantee of our adoption does not excuse us to licentiousness. Consider Romans 6:1-14. We have died to sin. It is now our greatest joy to live as Christ lived and to see the delight of our Father. It is love that drives us toward righteousness, and it is love that drives us away from sin—for it is out of love for him that we grieve causing him grief. It really is that simple, at the end of the day. We want to make our Father happy.
In summary, I think it is fair to say that we disappoint God when we sin. Does that mean he is continuously disappointed and heartbroken? In one sense, yes. He’s freed us from sin, and yet we constantly, willfully run back to it (and even more often ignorantly stumble into it) like Hosea’s unfaithful wife. How could he not be heartbroken? But in another sense, he’s not at all shocked, worried, or angry with us and he holds none of this against us. God is not disappointed in the same way we are. Jesus is not surprised at our sin—not just the sins of our past, but our ongoing struggle and constant failures. He recognizes how deep sin runs in each of us. It grieves his heart when we’re disobedient, but we are not held in judgement so long as we repent and grieve our sin with him—and this is something we can only do if we are united to Christ. God is our loving Father, and Christ is our precious identity. When God sees us, he sees no occasion for disappointment in who we are. He sees the perfect obedience of Jesus.
Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
“Grieving the Holy Spirit” from Ligonier – A short article on Eph 4:30
“The Emotional Life of Jesus” by B.B. Warfield – An essay on Jesus’ sinless emotions
“The Method of Grace” by George Whitefield – A sermon by the great preacher of the Great Awakening
“Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers” by Dane C. Ortlund – A wonderful, new book on the love of God