Gentle Jesus, Meek and … Tough!

The popular image of Jesus is of some stained-glass window figure who blesses children and animals. It fits in with modern Christianity which all too often has rejected the idea of God as Judge. 

This “Jesus” wouldn’t offend anyone. He has appeared more and more irrelevant to many people – he can safely be ignored.  The Christian Church is ruled by a very unbalanced idea of love which in practice means not upsetting people, being nice, and being easy going on sinners. 

We must never forget that he expressed his love for his disciples. They must have sensed his deep love. After all, he was the incarnation of God who is love.

  • He healed the sick and set demonised people free (Matt 4:23-24).
  • He said: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth … Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matt 5:5, 7) (see A discovery of mercy).
  • He warned against selfish anger (Matt 5:21-22).
  • He urged reconciliation (Matt 5:23).
  • He challenged us to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-47).
  • He warned us not to be judgmental (Matt 7:1-5).
  • He said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28).
  • He gently welcomes a despised Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:22-28).
  • He affirmed his disciples, for example, telling Peter that he was a rock (Matt 16:13-20).
  • He honoured the despised sinful woman who anointed him (Luke 7:36-50).
  • He honours a sinful Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26).
  • He welcomed little children (Matt 18:1-5).
  • He stressed continual forgiveness (Matt 18:21-35; 19:13-15).
  • He commanded us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matt 22:36-39).
  • He comforted his disciples when they were terrified seeing him walk on the water, thinking he was a ghost (Mark 6:47-50).
  • He teaches how we can overcome anxiety (Luke 12:22-31).
  • He washed his disciples feet (John 13:1-17).
  • He called his disciples friends rather than servants (John 15:15).
  • He endured the most sacrificial expression of love on the cross for us.
  • He prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified him (Luke 23:33-34).

All Christians agree that everything Jesus did was perfectly loving – but was he really so exclusively “gentle, meek and mild”? 

Actually the picture of Jesus who was always gentle and inoffensive is not the real thing. But that image is such a powerful influence from our background that we don’t even notice how tough the real Jesus was on his disciples. The real Jesus realised his disciples had a battle to fight against evil and unbelief. So, like a good military commander, he sought to toughen them up. In particular he set out to strengthen their faith.

This article is an attempt to correct the imbalance by concentrating on the neglected side of the love of Christ.  Here are some other ways Jesus showed his love (but all of which we could imitate in a selfish, unspiritual way):-

He Rebuked Hypocrisy

He publicly called the clergy (Pharisees) a “brood of vipers” who were “evil” and therefore couldn’t say anything good (Matt. 12:34). He publicly called them “hypocrites” (Matt, 22:18) “sons of Hell”, “blind guides”, “blind fools”, “whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23: 13-17, 19? 23-32). He said, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matt. 23:33). He was angry at their hardness of heart (Mark 3:1-6).

On another occasion he said to them, “You are of your father the Devil and do as your father desires … He who is of God hears the words of God the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God …. If I said, I do not know (God), I should be a liar like you” (John 8:44, 47, 55).

Then there was the famous occasion when in love he drove the moneychangers out of the temple courts, scattering their coins (John 2:l4-l6).

He Demanded Commitment

Jesus never soft pedalled his message or the cost of discipleship in order to win superficial converts. “Now great multitudes accompanied him and he turned and said to them, “If any man comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own life he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” …. “so therefore whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple”. (Luke 14:25-33). When his mother and brothers tried to restrain him he replied by saying – “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” He continued that those who obeyed God were his mother and brothers (Matt. 12:46-50).

In John 6;66-67, many disciples found His teaching too difficult to accept:  “From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (v.66). Jesus also let the rich young ruler go away sorrowfully because his money was an idol preventing him becoming totally committed to God.

He Rebuked unbelief

After Peter had taken the courageous and miraculous step of faith to walk on the water then began to sink Jesus didn’t say, “Never mind, you did very well to get so far. After all you’re called to be faithful not successful”. No – He said, “Oh man of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31).

When the disciples thought they were about to lose their lives in the terrible storm on the lake Jesus didn’t ooze human sympathy. Rather He said, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mark 4:40). When the disciples couldn’t deliver a demon-possessed boy Jesus said, “O faithless and perverse generation. How long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (Luke 9:41).  The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were grieving at the death of Jesus. He appeared and said to them: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25) He also appeared to the disciples and rebuked them “for their unbelief and hardness of heart” in not believing He has risen (Mark l6;l4).

He Advised Urgency

If someone was not prepared to receive the message and ministry of the Gospel Jesus did not advise wasting hours and hours on them out of misguided human compassion. Rather He said, “If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town” (Matt.10:13-15).

He Urged Discipline

Jesus said very little about the church but what He did say was that Church discipline was vital (Matt. 18:15-17).  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you, If he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector”.


Of course, it is possible to take firm action with someone in the wrong way and for selfish motives.  Nevertheless Jesus clearly shows us it is loving to rebuke hypocrites (including religious leaders) with honest but strong language; to challenge would-be disciples so deeply that some are put off; to rebuke lack of faith even in people who are doing quite well in the circumstances; to tell a person his faults, and to take them seriously; and not to waste time trying to help those not ready and willing to go forward with Christ, All this must, of course, be done with prayer and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit

Why was Jesus so tough at times with his disciples?  Because, as I said, he was training them to be spiritual soldiers.  He didn’t just see them sympathetically as individuals with needs; he saw the needs of a world without God and without hope. And he knew that if he didn’t toughen the disciples up they would fail in their mission to the world.

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ . Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction