Why was Jesus despised?
Strange as it may seem, some did not like Jesus. He was a good
man. He healed the sick and helped the weak. Yet, some really despised
Hem. It had been foretold that the Messiah would be despised by the
people (Psalm 22:6). He was despised, and we did not esteem Him
To despise is to regard with contempt, to feel a strong dislike for.
Jesus explained why: This is the condemnation, that the light has
come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because
their deeds were evil (John 3:19).
There were many religious people in Palestine at the time of Christ.
One might expect them to welcome the Son of God with open arms. But
they did not. Jesus was unpopular for several reasons.
He opposed traditions that were contrary to the will of God.
Many people are really attached to their traditions. They often love them more than the word of God.
Jewish religious life at the time of Christ was regulated by the Old
Testament plus the writings of the rabbis. A careful distinction was
made between inspired and uninspired writings. Yet, many of the rituals
and regulations were based, not on the Scriptures, but on human
Jesus was unpopular with the religious leaders because He
condemned traditions that were contrary to the word of God.
Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to
Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His
disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they
found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they
wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders
There is nothing wrong with washing your hands before you eat,
but handwashing - although not commanded in the Old Testament - was
viewed as an obligatory religious rite.
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, ‘Why do Your disciples
not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with
unwashed hands?’ He answered and said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah
prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors Me with
their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the
commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men’ (Mark 7:5-8).
Jesus applied this passage from Isaiah to the people of His time,
and unfortunately, the same is true today. The religious lives of many
are governed, not by the Scriptures, but by traditions that violate the
Unscriptural names are worn that glorify something or someone
other than Christ.
Worship is conducted according to tradition rather than the
Scriptures. Roman Catholics worship images, dead people (Saints) and
the Pope. Protestants celebrate Christmas and Easter according to
Catholic tradition, while neglecting to have the Lord’s supper each week.
People burn candles and incense, and play music instruments, forms of
worship that are not prescribed in the New Testament.
Jesus said that worship based on human doctrine is in vain. To
follow Christ, we must put aside human traditions and be led by the
word of God.
But many love their traditions more than God’s word. With such
people, Christ is not really popular. A man may praise the Lord a
thousand times with his lips, but if he is following the doctrines of men,
his worship is to no avail.
Jesus was unpopular because He emphasized spiritual values and taught the futility of material things.
At first Jesus was popular because of His healings and His
miraculous feeding of nine thousand people. But when He refused to
become a worldly king (John 6:15) and said, I am the bread of life
and It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing (John 6:48,
63), His popularity evaporated.
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with
Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go
away?’ But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You
have the words of eternal life’ (John 6:66-68).
Jesus told a rich young man who kept the ten commandments: ‘If
you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and
you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the
young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great
possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Assuredly, I say to you
that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again
I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 19:21-24).
This man carefully observed the ten commandments, but material
wealth was the focus of his life, and it was hard for him to put his
wealth aside to follow Christ.
Jesus said, No servant can serve two masters; for either he will
hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and
despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Luke 16:13).
Mammon is material wealth. One cannot devote his life both to God and
to material wealth.
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all
these things, and they derided Him (Luke 16:14). The Pharisees
despised Jesus because they were money-lovers. (Lovers of money
is one word in Greek.)
Many people today, even though they are Christians, even though
they attend services regularly, might be lost because their lives are
focused on material things. They are so busy earning money that they
have little time for spiritual endeavors. Their house and car payments
are so high that they have little left for benevolence and the work of the
Lord. They live in luxury but lack treasure in heaven.
The apostle Matthew, also called Levi, left his money to follow
Christ: And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at
the tax office, and said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he arose and followed
Him (Mark 2:14).
One man wanted Jesus to help him get a share of an inheritance.
Notice how Jesus responded: Then one from the crowd said to Him,
‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said
to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’ But He
said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life
does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’ (Luke
12:13-15). Jesus refuses to deal with the validity of the request but
goes to the core of the problem and condemns the covetousness of both
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain
rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying,
What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops? So he said,
I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I
will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul,
you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat,
drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, You fool! This night your
soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you
have provided? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not
rich toward God’ (Luke 12:16-21).
Jesus would not fit in our modern society at all! What a statement!
Heavenly treasure is more important than earthly treasure! Jesus
obviously never watched television!
Many years ago a man in Belgium became a Christen but fell away
after a time. When I visited him he said that he had experienced more
disadvantages than advantages from being a Christian. Through the
years he saved money to buy a cottage in Spain - where the weather is
nice - for his retirement years. But a few years before he could retire,
Jesus spoke the truth about the futility of worldly wealth: For
what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own
soul? (Matthew 16:26).
Also in our time, Jesus is definitely not popular with materially-minded
people. They did not like Him then, and they do not like Him
now. They may pretend to serve Him, but actually they serve
Jesus wants us to dedicate our lives to doing good. We ought to
help others and contribute something worthwhile to society. But many
spend their time mainly taking care of themselves, increasing material
ease, while others are in need. We must repent if we want to be true
followers of Christ.
Jesus was unpopular because He exposed the sinfulness of self-righteous people and called sinners to repentance.
Jesus was most disliked by the so-called religious people of His
time. He embarrassed them because He ate with sinners. When
criticized for this He replied: I did not come to call the righteous, but
sinners, to repentance (Matthew 9:13).
People who realized that they needed forgiveness, liked Jesus
because He encouraged them to leave their sinful ways and live new
lives under His leadership.
People who thought they were righteous, hated Jesus because He
condemned their hypocrisy. Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to
His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’s seat.
Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but
do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For
they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s
shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their
fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men’ (Matthew 23:1-5).
Jesus evaluated people on the basis of their spiritual attitude and
not on the basis of their outward show of religion.
How many churches and people today give an outward show of
religion, but will have nothing to do with those who are lost? They pray
long prayers but do little to help the poor and sinful. They look down on
them and do not want to be seen in their company.
Jesus associated with the lowly. If we want to be followers of Christ
we must do what we can to help the sinful and the poor.
Paul said a time would come when many would have nothing but
an empty shell of religion: But know this, that in the last days perilous
times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money,
boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful,
unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal,
despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure
rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its
power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Jesus was unpopular for various reasons.
He opposed human traditions that are contrary to the will of God.
He emphasized spiritual values and taught the futility of material
He exposed the sinfulness of self-righteous people and called
sinners to repentance.
Jesus was unpopular in His day and He is unpopular with most
But we pray that you will make Him King of your life. Take up your
cross and follow Him. Free yourself from human traditions. Seek the
kingdom of God rather than material gain. Repent of your sins. Go to
Christ for forgiveness and be His messenger to help others find the way.
If you do this, you will no doubt be unpopular with many. But you will
please Christ, and when He comes again, He will recognize you as His
The Scripture quotations in this article are from The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise. Permission for reference use has been granted.
Published in The Old Paths Archive