The Emotions of Jesus

By Wayne Jackson

In addition to possessing a divine nature, Jesus Christ was also flesh and blood (John 1:14), a human being. He thus shared with us the full range of human emotions. He could be happy or sad. What circumstances of life made our Lord weep? What made him joyful? A study of this theme is both thrilling and rewarding.

The Tears of Jesus

The book of Isaiah prophetically speaks of the Lord Jesus as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (53:3). Three times in the New Testament there is the record of Jesus weeping. Let us consider each of these.

Jesus wept for friends

John 11:35 poignantly states: “Jesus wept.” The Greek term for “wept” is dakruo, used only in this New Testament passage. It literally means “to shed tears.” It suggests a silent, tender weeping. The occasion of this touching scene is in connection with the death of Lazarus.

What precipitated the Master’s tears at this time? It was surely not the grief of hopelessness (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13) for Lazarus was in a better state of being. Nor was it a weeping of loneliness, for the Lord knew that his friend would be back with his family and associates presently.

Some have suggested that Jesus wept because he recognized he would be bringing Lazarus back to a life of hardship (cf. John 12:10). More likely, however, is the view which suggests that Christ wept out of pure sympathy for those whose hearts were breaking at this time. John writes:

“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping who came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, and said, Where have you laid him?” (11:33-34).

How comforting it is to know that our great High Priest really shares our feelings (cf. Hebrews 2:17). If we would be Christ-like, we must learn to truly empathize with others (cf. Romans 12:13).

Jesus wept over his enemies

When the Son of God contemplated the impending fate of his beloved Jerusalem, which was about to crucify him, he audibly wept (for so the Greek word klaio indicates) in genuine anguish (see Luke 19:41).

Without question, the Lord here evidenced great sorrow as he anticipated the horrors which would descend upon the rebellious Jews who were on the verge of murdering their own Messiah.

More tragic even than their physical suffering was the ultimate reception of the wrath of God as a consequence of their disobedience (Matthew 23:34-36; 1 Thessalonians 2:16). Truly, we too must grieve for the lost.

Jesus wept for himself

Though the Gospel accounts do not specifically mention it, another inspired writer indicates that Christ wept bitterly in those dark hours before the crucifixion (Hebrews 5:7). Perhaps his tears were for a lost humanity so oblivious to the tragedy about to be performed.

Likely, however, his weeping also reflected the dread of his holy soul as he contemplated bearing the consequence of sin upon the cursed tree (Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 12:2).

Maybe there was a connection between his tears and that agonizing cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (For a discussion of this passage see the printed Christian Courier, July 1988).

Did Jesus Ever Laugh?

Though the Scriptures nowhere speak of Jesus laughing, one should not adopt an unbalanced view of the Son of God by assuming that he was never happy.
There are several occasions in the Lord’s preaching ministry wherein a touch of humor was tucked away into his illustrations.

The allusion to attempting to remove a splinter from another’s eye, while a beam protrudes from one’s own eye (Matthew 7:4), and the reference to straining out a gnat, yet swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24), are packed with humor.

In point of fact, though, the New Testament indicates that Christ “rejoiced” on several occasions. Let us consider this side of the Lord’s emotions for a moment.

Jesus rejoiced in saving people

In the parable of the lost sheep, when the concerned shepherd found his wayward lamb which had wandered from the flock, he carried it home on his shoulders, rejoicing. Moreover, he called together his friends and said, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost” (Luke 15:5-6).

It is scarcely necessary to emphasize that Jesus is the good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), and that this narrative, therefore, reflects the Savior’s emotions when the lost return to the fold.

There is no greater sense of elation than seeing a doomed soul reclaimed from the eternal curse of sin.

Jesus rejoiced in victory over Satan

When the seventy disciples returned from a preaching mission and reported their success over Satanic forces, the Lord rejoiced (Luke 10:21).

Jesus rejoiced in fortifying the faith of his friends

Christ was glad (rejoiced) that his followers had the opportunity of seeing Lazarus raised from the dead that their faith might be increased (John 11:15).

It is interesting to note that the two references to Jesus’ emotions in John 11, have him both glad and sad on the same occasion—just twenty verses apart (vv. 15,35). Mourning can be transformed into happiness!

Jesus rejoiced in the anticipation of the resurrection

Jesus is represented as prophetically rejoicing in anticipation of his glorious resurrection from the dead (Psalm 16:9; cf. Acts 2:26). Again, we are reminded of Hebrews 12:2. Christ, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.”

In conclusion, it is interesting to note that the things which brought forth sadness or joy to the heart of our blessed Lord were not the mundane matters of this world, to which our emotions are generally tied. Rather, he operated upon a plateau that far transcends that which is characteristic of those who know only this earthly environment.

Perhaps our emotional emphases could stand some refinement.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.