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” (Isaiah 53:3).

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 traditions.

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” (Mark 7:1-3).

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 Scriptures.

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 brothers.

“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, he died.

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 themselves.

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 things.

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 people today.

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 own. Amen.

Roy Davison

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