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It is sometimes said that Jesus was killed on account of his inclusion and tolerance, that the Jews hated him for hanging out with sinners and tax collectors. This is the sort of sentiment which has a bit of truth to it, but only a tiny bit. No doubt, Jesus upset many of the Jewish leaders because he extended fellowship and mercy beyond their constricted boundaries. But it is misleading to suggest that Jesus was hated for simply being too doggone loving, as if his inspiring tolerance were the cause of his enemies’ implacable intolerance.

Take Mark’s Gospel, for example (because it’s the one Gospel I’ve preached all the way through). By my reckoning, Jesus is opposed once for eating with sinners (2:16), once for upsetting stereotypes about him in his hometown (6:3), a few times for violating Jewish scruples about the law (2:24; 3:6; 7:5); and several times for “blaspheming” or for claiming too much authority for himself (2:7; 3:22; 11:27-28; 14:53-64; 15:29-32, 39). As Mark’s Gospel unfolds, we see the Jewish leaders increasingly hostile toward Jesus. Although the fear of the crowds stays their hand for awhile, they still try to trap Jesus and plot his destruction (8:11; 11:18; 12:12; 12:13; 14:1: 15:3, 11). There is a lot the Jewish leaders don’t like about Jesus, but their most intense, murderous fury is directed toward him because he believes “I am [the Christ, the Son of the Blessed], and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:62).

The four Gospels, as we might expect, emphasize different aspects of the Jewish opposition. Luke, for instance, makes more of Jesus’ identification with the society’s cast-offs as an issue for the Jewish leaders, while John makes more of Jesus’ unique status as God’s equal. But the basic outline is consistent in all four accounts. As Jesus’s reputation as a healer and miracle worker spreads, the crowds come to him in larger and larger numbers, prompting the elites to despise him more and more.  As a general rule, Jesus was popular with the masses (the exception being in his hometown of Nazareth), and as his popularity increased with the crowds, so did the opposition from the Jewish leaders.

The Jewish leaders disliked, and eventually grew to hate, Jesus for many reasons. Mark 15:3 says the chief priests “accused him of many things.” They were angry with him for upsetting their traditions and some of their scruples about the law. They looked down on him for eating with sinners and associating with those deemed unclean or unworthy. But most of all, they hated Jesus because he claimed to be from God, and as time went on, dared to make himself equal to God.

That’s why they hated him; that’s why the crowds turn on him; that’s why Jesus was put to death. The Jewish leaders could not recognize Christ’s divine authority and identity. Jealousy was no doubt part of it (Matt. 27:18). But deeper than that, they simply did not have the eyes to see or the faith to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. That’s why in all four gospels, when the opposition against him reaches its climax, Jesus is not charged with being too welcoming to outsiders, but with being a false king, a false prophet, and a false Messiah (Matt. 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71; and less clearly in John 18:9-24). They killed Jesus because they thought he was a blasphemer.

In the end, it was the implicit and explicit claims Jesus made to authority, Messiahship, and God-ness, not his expansive love, that ultimately did him in. This is not an excuse for our own hard-heartedness or a reason to distance ourselves from today’s “sinners and tax collectors.” We need Jesus’s example to set us straight. But we must put to rest the half-truth (more like a one-eighth truth, really) that Jesus was killed for being too inclusive and too nice. The Jewish leaders may have objected to Jesus’s far-reaching compassion, but they wanted him dead because he thought himself the Christ, the Son of the living God. If Jesus simply loved people too much he might have been ridiculed by some. But without his claims to deity, authority, and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, he likely would not have been executed.

So as we approach another Holy Week, let’s certainly talk about the compassion and love of Jesus (how could we not!). But if we don’t talk about his unique identity as the Son of God, we have not explained the reason for his death, and we have not given people reason enough to worship.


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19 thoughts on “Why Did They Hate Jesus?”

  1. WoundedEgo says:

    Jesus never claimed to be God, though he was accused of claiming to be equal to God:

    Joh_5:18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

    There is a *huge* difference between claiming to be equal to someone/something and claiming to be that someone/something. In fact, claiming to be equal to someone/something is antithetical to claiming to *be* that one/thing.

    I like to use the example/type of Joseph.

    Joseph was nee the son of Jakob, a son of man. He had a dream in which the sun, moon and stars bowed down to him. These symbolized Jakob, Rachel and his eleven bros. For this he was “murdered” by his brothers. But God “raised him from among the dead” and exalted him to Pharaoh’s right hand, making him equal to Pharaoh. In fact, Pharaoh’s only role in Egypt was to decide what he himself had for lunch.

    But Joseph never crossed the line to become Pharaoh.

    So while Joseph’s authority was equal to Pharaoh’s in relation to the people he himself remained a loyal subject to the Pharaoh. So also Jesus is currently (temporarily) equal to God he has not crossed the line to become God himself but remains his loyal subject:

    Joh_14:28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.

    So looking at the incident in John 5.

    * Jesus offended by “working” on the seventh day of the week:

    Joh 5:15 The man went off and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
    Joh 5:16 So the Jews began persecuting Jesus, because he kept doing such things on the Sabbath.

    * the Jews wanted to kill him even more because he claimed to be above the Sabbath as God was:

    Joh 5:17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I, too, am working.”
    Joh 5:18 So the Jews were trying all the harder to kill him, because he was not only breaking the Sabbath but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

    * in a similar situation Jesus argues that had he claimed to be a god it would have been justified because all of the recipients of God’s law were called “gods”, yet he claimed only to be the “son of” God (a royal title of the Christ):

    Joh 10:31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
    Joh 10:32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
    Joh 10:33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
    Joh 10:34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
    Joh 10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
    Joh 10:36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

    * he explained that he did not claim any intrinsic equality with God, only effective equality with God because God had invested him with divine authority:

    Joh 5:19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
    Joh 5:20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
    Joh 5:21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
    Joh 5:22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
    Joh 5:23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

    So this all runs completely parallel to the experience of Joseph who was made equal to God but never was made to be God himself. So I must disagree with the OP because his claim to be equal to God was, scripturally speaking the claim for which the Jews tried to kill him, not any non-existent claim to be God himself, C. S. Lewis’ misguided proverb notwithstanding.

    “Eternally co-equal” is a dogma not taught in scripture, though an effective equality with God, ala Joseph with Pharaoh is.

    It is amazing and bizarre that this “Shibboleth” is the acid test of “Orthodoxy” and constant theme of Christendom.

  2. Neville Briggs says:

    WE. Denying the divinity of Christ is a heresy that the apostle John called ” the antichrist ”
    To be equal with God is to be God. It cannot mean anything else. The beginning of John’s gospel makes that clear.

    On the matter of Jesus being hated. Jesus Himself addressed that issue. He said that the hatred against Him was to fulfil what was written in the Law ” They hated me without cause ”
    I think that Jesus enemies might have claimed reasons to oppose Him but they had no reason to hate Him.
    Whenever some dreadful deed is done in our society there is a clamour for reasons or explanation. Why should we expect explanations for evil. The Bible doesn’t give any. The Bible calls evil, a mystery.
    It is God the creator who is rational, reasonable and understandable. The evil of hatred towards God is unreasonable, inexplicable and illogical, it has to be.

  3. Ali says:

    give people reason to worship.

    Amen. Every knee WILL bow, one way or the other, to the lonely True God.

    So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. John 18: 6

    Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33 )

  4. Ali says:

    sorry for the typo – ONLY True God

    Father , Son, Spirit

  5. LWesterlund says:

    Wasn’t it also because he exposed their sin? He denounced their hypocrisy. They were the religious elite and he called them white-washed graves.. And He did so publicly and repeatedly. It was intolerable. The Light of the World had entered the world and, as John tells us, “men loved darkness rather than light.” The only solution is to silence the Truth-teller. And who of us can say we would have responded any differently, apart from God’s opening our hearts to Him, by grace alone?

  6. The Jewish leaders knew Who Jesus was, but rejected the Word of God. The knew what the wise men said, when they were looking for Jesus as an infant. They were in the temple, so knew what Anna and Simeon said, and heard Jesus say at the age of 12 that all the scriptures were about Him. They knew that every time Jesus made an “I am” statement, He was claiming to be the same God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. They saw the miracles – signs of Who Jesus was, since no one could do those things except God. But they didn’t want to worship Him. Therefore, the cross.

  7. Dean says:

    At Bible study last night we were looking into the life of Phillip in Acts 6-8. The great persecution after pentecost & how that caused the gospel to advance. After Stephen was set up & stoned you could be dragged off to prison for just being a believer in the Messiah.

    Not such a great incentive to believe in the one who was sent yet many came to hear the gospel & believe, even Jewish leadership. Jesus is God & He saves us from the deadly grip of sin which darkens our judgement & being. I think Neville hit the nail on the head when he relays “they hated me without cause” which is just as terrible as an apathetic response like “whatever” when it comes to when & why Jesus came at great cost, sacrifice & humility.

  8. Eric says:

    Jesus is a light and he offends the conscience of men. A guilty conscience is easy to offend. You simply say “it is all your fault” to that person. So mankind is guilty of adultery toward God (loving the world) and of murder (hating their brothers). Men do not by nature love God or their neighbor. So they are covering up that they are guilty of those things (and many more things) by observing the law. Now Jesus’ message is that you are a murderer. Admit that you are doing evil even while you think you are keeping the law. You that are well liked and established with great ministries should bow down and admit that you are doing evil. In fact you are continually doing evil. Your only hope is to trust God and give up your effort to please him on your own. Now Jesus’ behavior, his message, his life all convey blame on our flesh for wrong doing. There are men on street corners claiming to be God and they offend no one. But if someone were walking in a way that proved they were evil, then people will be angry and upset. This is why the pharisees were upset. This message was being preached to them in the Spirit constantly, but they did not want to yield.

  9. Jojo Ruba says:

    I generally agree with this post – people are too hung up on a Jesus who was so tolerant of everybody that we lose sight of His proclamation to divinity and His right to judge sin.

    What I have to point out is that you are using the world’s definition of “love” not the biblical one. Biblical love has little to do with “being too inclusive and too nice.” To paraphrase CS Lewis, real love accepts us for who we are but then seeks to make us our best—in fact it seeks to make us like Christ.

    We can’t forget that Jesus overturned tables, proclaimed His divinity and yes even died for the sins of humanity because of genuine love. The John 3:16 kind of love reminds us that God loves us so much He cannot tolerate our sin and would rather send His Son to die than allow it to remain. This Easter story shows us in fact what real love, the kind that God extends to us, really is. It is the reason why Christ came to earth to proclaim His deity and authority. We encourage a worldly definition of love when we juxtapose Christ’s proclamation of deity with the biblical love that fueled that work in the first place. Only a perfectly loving God would be able to do and say what Jesus did.

  10. Neville strikes a very important point. “Denying the divinity of Christ is a heresy that the apostle John called ” the antichrist ” Lets not forget Islam denies the divinity of Christ, they say he is just a prophet. Lets also not forget antichrist arises out of the demonic kingdom. The Jews definitely wanted Christ killed because of his claims of being I am….but dont underestimate the influence of Satan and his minions had on whipping up peoples hate for Him. Today nothing has changed that hate is still there and it blinds the eyes of those who are perishing. Thank God the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the blind to the Glory and Forgiveness of Christ.

  11. WoundedEgo says:

    GS, when did John say anything about “denying the divinity of Christ”? What he did write about, and call “antichrist” (no “the” – “there are many antichrists”) are those breaths/spirits that denied his *humanity*.

  12. WoundedEgo says:

    Why do some hate Jesus?

    Recently I’ve been pondering why it is that our government hates and persecutes marijuana. The plant is harmless, makes one smile, eases pain, prevents epileptic episodes, relieves stress…

    Why hate the beautiful, generous herb that snuck out of Eden?

    I think there may be an analogy there.

    Also, Hitler despising the Jews because they identified as sheep. He consider this self-identification as weak, shameful and disgusting. He preferred the wolf. But of course, why didn’t he go after Christians?

  13. Paul Carter says:

    Hey Kevin, great post as usual. One verse you might want to use if you rework this material would be John 7:7: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil”. Blessings

  14. Julia Barrett’s World

  15. Kim says:

    You know, I recently conversed with several women who deny the deity of Jesus Christ, that He was indeed Immanuel, God with us. So, if Jesus wasn’t God on earth and only equal to God, then what did that make Him? Did that make him only man or did that make him semi-god or some kind of divine being? If Jesus was not God in the flesh, then was he born with a sin nature meaning at his birth he was a sinner? For all who are born after Adam are born sinners. But only God is without sin – no man is without sin. So, how could it have been that Jesus was without in? For sin is not a deed or action or behavior only, but a condition of the heart and therefore needs cleansing. Did Jesus need that cleansing? We need to look at the whole of Scripture and all that is described of Jesus and all that He is and all that He has done. Have you read this verse from 2 Corinthians 8:9–>”For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” At what point was Jesus rich? Not at his birth, for we know he was born to poor parents. So there was a time in which Jesus existed and was rich (in more ways than simply monetarily speaking) and then there was a point in which he became poor. If this is not when he co-existed with His Father before His incarnation, then at what point was it? And I’m always confused on why people think it’s impossible or improbable that Jesus was God in the flesh. For the Lord has said that nothing is impossible for Him so why would Jesus’ deity not be included? Is it possible for two things to be equal and be the same while at the same time sharing different qualities? If we use the word ‘equal’ in mathematical terms, an example could be 3+3 = 2+4 which both are the same answer of 6. While both equations equal the same sum, they share differences. So it is with Christ and God – God the Son is both God and Man but inhabited humanity while God the Father remained spirit. Different, but similar and still equal and one in the same. If Jesus wasn’t God in the flesh then what/who was he?

  16. WoundedEgo says:

    Kim, Jesus claimed to be *anointed* king by God, the *son of* God. The fourth canonical gospel (“John”) refers to him as a “god”. This also fits into the Joseph type, where Moses is made a god to Pharaoh:

    Exo_7:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.

  17. neville briggs says:

    The fourth gospel does not refer to Jesus as ” a god “. The opening of John’s gospel says that The Word was God. The late Richmond Lattimore who was a world renowned translator of ancient Greek , translates ” kai Theos en ho logos ” as ” and the word was God “.
    Both Charles Taze Russell and Wounded Ego are wrong.

    For unto us a child is born
    Unto us a son is given
    And the government shall be upon His shoulder
    And His name shall be called;
    Wonderful Counsellor
    The Mighty God
    The Everlasting Father
    The Prince of Peace.

    Isaiah.

  18. historicvs says:

    Ancient Jewish culture was shaken to its core by the sophistication of the larger Mediterranean world. To those descendants of desert-dwelling nomadic primitves, mankind’s first great urbanized civilizations were frightening and evil. To Jews used to being ruled absolutely by a hereditary priestly caste within a bewildering maze of regulations and unnatural sexual prohibitions, the new freedoms of Hellenism were as terrifying as the liberation of the Nineteen Sixties was to traditionalists in our era. By Jesus’ time Jews had long since spread throughout this world, embracing new opportunities and new freedoms in tolerant pagan society, even enriching their simple tribal religion with distinctive elements of Persian, Egyptian, and Greek theology.

    Jesus was a faith healer with a following among the naïve rustics of the Galilee. It is likely that he journeyed annually at Passover to sophisticated urban Jerusalem to deliver his odd message of the imminence of the restoration of Yahweh’s earthly kingdom. His final personal break with reality came when he was encouraged by his mock-salutation as Messiah and the crowds imploring him in jest to “save us!” His fate was sealed by his actions at the temple that have come to us in the garbled account of his attack on the “moneychangers.” His final agonized lament, “father, why have you abandoned me?” is as moving a testament to the tragedy of religious fanaticism as you will find anywhere in literature.

    In the ancient world, great temples functioned as state central banks, where the nation’s wealth was stored. A 2,000 man Jewish police force and a full cohort of the Roman Third Legion guarded the Jerusalem temple complex. Jesus’ quixotic actions there were a symbolic assault on the very core of national power and prestige, but it was a one-man show, no followers, no armed co-revolutionaries, no one else for the Romans to eliminate.

    The rest of the Jesus story is the stuff of vivid imagination, first a dream kept alive by his heartbroken friends, then a faith told and retold in countless voices over the centuries. Divine paternity, virgin birth, three days’ sojourn in the underworld and rebirth as mankind’s savior- these are classical pagan archetypes that would have been abominable heresies to the pious Jew who Jesus actually was.

  19. Susan Moore says:

    It’s a bit of an overgeneralization to report that Jewish people hated Jesus: Jesus was Jewish, as were the 12 men He called to Apostleship, as was Paul. Jesus taught in the Jewish temple, as did some of His disciples after His ascension until Emperor Titus destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70AD. The last supper prior to Jesus’ arrest was actually the Passover Supper, which is a Jewish tradition that marks their freedom by God from their Egyptian bondage (Ex. Chpt.12; Luke 22:7-20). Jesus’ worshippers celebrate that same tradition, but with a new meaning: The Eucharistic supper is a celebration of our freedom by God the Father, mediated through the blood of His Son Jesus, from sin and death: through the blood of Christ we have ‘passovered’ sin and death into a new eternal life with Jesus in heaven.

    But it is true that today there are many false prophets. To describe the false prophets Jesus uses the analogy of wolves in sheep clothing and thieves who come to steal from Jesus (Matt. 7:15; John 10:9-13).

    Perhaps a more practical way of seeing what the words and works of false prophets look like can be found in the beatitudes of Matt. 5:3-12. False prophets oppose Jesus’ teaching, so they look like the opposite of what the beatitudes teach. This means that a false prophet, like Satan at the temptation of Jesus, and like Satan in the Garden of Eden, will tempt a person with wealth, pleasure, honor and power.

    What did the religious leaders who persecuted Jesus look like? They were wealthy and did not give to the poor, they ate choice foods in the best accommodations while their widows and orphans suffered miserably, they expected to sit in places of honor, and they oppressed others with their power. Because, by their own choosing, they idolized these false gods of wealth, pleasure, honor and power, in spite of being religious leaders, they lived disconnected from God; and thus they did not recognize Him when He walked in their midst.

    If one wants to know what the opposite of a false prophet looks like, then look at the naked Jesus hanging bleeding and bruised from the cross, being mocked by the crowd casually walking by.
    We are to portray Him to the world, as His light to the world.

    That is why many of the saints lived an ascetic life, and why the nuns and brothers do so today. To more fully live in Christ, who emptied Himself of His glory, by ridding themselves of these worldly desires. In doing so they learn that in all things His grace is sufficient.

    As we each continue in our faith walks and learn that His grace is sufficient, our hearts become softer and softer, and open to being obedient to His word.
    “you must lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth” (Eph. 4:22-24).

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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