Jesus was brought up in the small town of Nazareth in Judea. His (earthly) father Joseph was a carpenter 1. He had several siblings: four named brothers (James, Joseph, Simon, Judas) and plural unnamed “sisters” (Matthew 13:54-56). It was an unremarkable, lower-to-middle-class upbringing.
As a rabbi, He traveled from place to place while He preached about the “kingdom of God“. He didn’t ask for or receive a lot of money; He didn’t incite violence; He didn’t run for political office or any other kind of powerful position. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and showed love to those were willing to accept it from Him.
So why did the Jewish leadership hate Him? Why did they coerce the Roman authorities to kill Him, and why did Rome go along with it?
One reason was politics. Israel was a conquered nation, one of many under Roman control. Rome had to keep up with unwilling subjects all around the Mediterranean, from North Africa…through Egypt, Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey…on to Austria, France, Spain, and Britain (See this map). The Empire allowed its subject peoples to live in relative peace, as long as they kept some conditions: Pay lots of taxes, and don’t start trouble. They even allowed a bit of local autonomy, such as letting the Jewish religious leaders continue to “lead” (with oversight from Roman governors who held the real power), again, as long as there were no rebellions or other unruliness.
Under those conditions, any un-authorized figure who developed a following was suspect. Was this guy amassing an army to lead a revolt? Others had. Jewish expectation was high for their promised Messiah: the timing was right per Daniel’s prophecy 2 and the people were desperate for a deliverer to lead them to escape Roman oppression. Other rebel leaders had already claimed to be that Messiah in order to attract followers 3. Jesus was an unknown rabbi, not trained by any of the current leadership, and had thousands of the common people swarming to Him wherever He went (Matthew 12:15-16, Matthew 14:13-14, Matthew 19:1-2, Matthew 20:29, Matthew 21:8-9). That looked very dangerous to the status quo!
Another reason that Jesus raised the ire of the Jewish religious leaders was that He claimed to be more than simply a rabbi. He repeatedly spoke with more than human authority. He referred to Himself as the “Son of Man”, a Messianic figure from Daniel 7:13-14. He used “I am” statements that harked back to the most holy name of God, “I AM”, from Exodus 3:13-14:
- “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
- “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)
- “I am from above.” (John 8:23)
- “…before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58)
- “I am the door of the sheep…I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:7-18)
- “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
With claims like that, if Jesus were NOT divine, then He would be an imposter and a blasphemer who truly deserved to die. To people dedicated to God and determined to enforce the law of Moses — but equally determined not to see how Jesus was fulfilling that law — the things that Jesus said and did would be infuriating.
Challenge to Power
When I mentioned to my husband that I was writing on the topic of “Why did Jesus’ enemies hate Him?”, his response was “Duh, that’s easy. It’s because He challenged their power!” I think he is right. Whether it was their political power or their religious power, Jesus didn’t answer to it. He didn’t defer to them. He vastly out-ranked them. He was absolute Truth, overruling everything that they thought (or wished) was true. If they would not acknowledge or submit to that, their only other option was to try to get rid of Him.
Nothing Has Changed
Hmmm…That sounds a little familiar. Today, Christians around the world are more persecuted than they have ever been 4. More Christians have been martyred for their faith in the past century than during all centuries prior, including when being fed to the lions in ancient Rome. In the United States, Christians aren’t being martyred. But they are being ridiculed, mocked, taken to court, and shouted out of public discourse.
Why? Anyone following Christ accurately is harming no one. They are working to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and show love to anyone who will accept it. Why are they hated?
“Duh, it’s easy. It’s because they challenge power.” Christians follow God above all other authorities 5. They know that He out-ranks popular opinion and common belief, even if those are preferred by government. They know that He is absolute Truth, overruling what Hollywood or the media thinks (or wishes) was true. That flies in the face of a world that prefers to think that each person can have their own truth, their own morals, and their own control over their lives.
God has provided abundant evidence that He exists, and that He is in charge. When someone, for whatever reason, refuses to acknowledge that, they try to get rid of Christians, or at least of their influence.
That reaction is sad, but predictable. It’s exactly like the pharisees of Jesus’ time. And it has the same result: Keeping someone whom God dearly loves alienated from Him.
Seeing Jesus for Who He really is, and accepting Him, is the way to be reconciled and end that alienation. That Gospel — that Good News — is how God turns enemies into beloved children!
Footnotes and Scripture References
- Or possibly a stonemason or other kind of builder/laborer. The word used refers to any kind of craftsman.
- 69 “weeks” of seven years each, or 483 years, since the decree to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity (Daniel 9:24-27), which was issued in 445 B.C.
- In Acts 5:34-39, the respected pharisee Gamaliel referred to two of them, “Theudas” and “Judas the Galilean” (not the disciple). In Acts 21:37-38, the Roman officer questioning Paul asks if he isn’t “the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago”.
- See more at the websites for Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.
- At God’s command, they obey the laws of the government…as long as they can while still honoring God. But in the case of conflict, God wins.