Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why Jesus is so hated in our culture? We must remember, hating Jesus has always been a popular position by many different cultures. In fact, any society that rejects God ultimately rejects Jesus. This has been the case from the beginning of time.
As we read through the Bible, we see three main reasons why the people of Jesus’ day hated him. That same hatred continues to compound from generation to generation.
Jesus Confronted Empty Religion
One glance at the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s Gospel will reveal the polemical style of Jesus’ ministry. While Jesus was not always polemical in his approach to preaching and teaching, he certainly did confront the empty religiosity of the scribes and Pharisees. On one chapter alone (Matthew 23), Jesus is recorded as having used the “woe to you” bombshell seven times. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus said:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
It was John Calvin who said, “A pastor needs two voices, one for gathering the sheep and the other for driving away wolves and thieves.”  Jesus certainly possessed both voices. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus called his sheep to him and they heard his voice clearly. As the Prophet greater than Moses, Jesus spoke with authority and defended the truth of God’s Word from the hypocrisy of the legalists and false teachers of his day. For that, Jesus was hated.
Jesus Loved the Outcasts
The religious leaders of the day hated Jesus. He did not spend time with them nor did Jesus show them honor as they were accustomed to receiving from the community at large. Instead, Jesus spent time with the outcasts, the poor, the lowly, the sick, the needy and the helpless. Consider the fact that Jesus called a group of disciples together from the fishing industry and tax collection. Those people were looked down upon greatly—yet Jesus called them to himself, and after discipling them—he sent them out on a mission. Their mission turned the world upside down.
According to Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” The religious establishment did not know what to do with Jesus—he broke their categories and confounded their minds. Since the rabbinical society was the highest ranking class in the Jewish society—for Jesus to be a powerful teacher and to associate with the lowly and sinful was taboo. While it was considered out of bounds by cultural standards, Jesus literally exemplified how the church of Jesus should engage all classes of society. For that, Jesus was hated.
Jesus Forgave Sinners
Out of all of Jesus’ miracles including turning water into wine, walking on water, feeding the 5,000, raising Lazarus from the dead, causing the lame to walk, the dumb to speak and the deaf to hear—the greatest miracle was when Jesus revealed his power and authority to forgive sin.
Luke, in his Gospel, records a story about Jesus healing a paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus on his bed. Because the crowd was so dense, the friends took the man onto the roof and took apart the roof and lowered the man in before the presence of Jesus. Sitting around on the peripheral were scribes and Pharisees watching the whole scene unfold. When Jesus saw their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” Immediately, the scribes and Pharisees protested. They said, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Luke 5:21)” As everyone was intently watching the whole drama-filled scene unfold, Jesus responded to the religious leaders.
Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—he said to the man who was paralyzed—’I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God (Luke 5:22-25).
Jesus was hated for many things, but at the heart of the religious community was an intense hatred for Jesus’ authority to forgive sins—an authority that transcended their own and it caused jealousy. They didn’t believe Jesus looked like the promised Messiah. And when Jesus taught, he did so with authority—unlike the scribes (Mark 1:22). The reason Jesus was eventually nailed to a Roman cross was based on a fundamental rejection and hatred of Jesus’ divine authority.
When Jesus died, they thought their problem was finally gone. When they heard news of the resurrection, they were greatly troubled. Their only response was to lie.
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day (Matthew 28:11-15).
The world continues to find Jesus’ authority troubling. They continue to spread and believe lies about Jesus ignorant of the reality of what will happen before the throne of God in the near future.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).