Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (3 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I discussed two reasons the world system hates Jesus. Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God and Jesus Was Not Patriotic.

When you’re a part of the world system that glorifies one worldly kingdom over another, you oppose the transnational Kingdom of God.

Likewise, when you respond to the good news by following Jesus in radical discipleship, you oppose nationalism and the politics of Caesar. You become an enemy of the state. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself hated like Jesus.

As I said in the introduction, I’m using seven provocative statements to summarize the radical life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the NT.

If you’re a skeptic, I hope that you will seriously consider the historical Jesus of the Gospels. If you count yourself among the church, I pray that you will rethink what you thought you already knew about Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, let’s look at another controversial, and oft-neglected, aspect of Jesus’ teaching and example. This specifically involves the religious leaders and the hatred Jesus incited among them for rejecting their religion.

3. Jesus Was Not Religious

The word “religion” derives from the Latin religio, which referred to a binding obligation. In first century Palestine, the word was not used the way we use it today. In the time of Jesus, if someone said something was “religio to me”, it meant that they had a special obligation to it.

This obligation could be anything from a commitment to cults of the gods, to something more “secular” like oaths to family, government, military, etc.

Whatever the oath involved, this special obligation was about life and identity. Therefore, it meant that this “religion” involved a set of rules, regulations, and rituals that provided cultural meaning and purpose.

The danger of religion, in ancient or modern times, is that LIFE is said to be found in a system of behavior and beliefs.

This requires that a person root their identity in the ideas and boundaries set by the religious community. You don’t want to buck the religious system.

For this very reason, second temple Judaism could not contain Jesus. The religious leaders, and guardians of their sacred religion, demanded strict adherence to their own system of correct behavior and beliefs.

Consider some of the ways that Jesus rejected their religion:

  • He healed on the Sabbath, violating their religious code (Matt 12:9).
  • He ate with enemies and sinners (Matt 9:11; Mk 2:16).
  • He touched “unclean” people, they touched him (Lk 5:12, 8:43).
  • He turned over the tables of the Temple (Mk 11:15; Jn 2:15).
  • He challenged religious traditions (Mk 7:3-5).
  • He challenged traditional interpretations (Matt 5:38-48).
  • He despised religious prayers (Matt 6:5-8; Lk 18:11).
  • He rebuked religious authority (Matt 23:13; Lk 12:1).

While Jesus was certainly a good Jew, a true Israelite (Jn 1:47), it can’t be denied that he opposed religion’s threat against the Kingdom of God. And for this act of sedition, the religious leaders wanted him dead (Mk 12:12).

Since religious people get their life from the rightness of their behaviors and beliefs, anyone who challenges them, is a threat to their life. Their response is to stop the threat, violently if necessary. We call them fundamentalists.

Jesus said that religion is merely a self-righteous platform by which a person can judge others who aren’t like them. It’s bad for the soul. It creates obstacles for people, even repelling them from coming into the Kingdom.

Not only did Jesus oppose this club mentality, invariably found within religion, he rebuked the religious leaders, saying that they themselves didn’t live up to their own standards of behavior and belief.

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” Jesus, Matt 23:1-4 NLT

Religious people crush others with their religious demands, and they are a burden as they stand at a distance condemning people that don’t share their beliefs and practices. All the while they’re dirty on the inside.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Jesus, Matt 23:27-28 NLT

The words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 23 has to be the strongest rebuke by Jesus in all of the Gospels. In fact, nothing quite compares to Jesus’ rebuke of religious hypocrites. It’s no wonder they hated him.

“Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” Jesus, Matt 23:33

Jesus taught that if you want to escape the doom of religious people doing religious things, then you must repent of religion. Stop trying to find LIFE in your system of “right” beliefs and behaviors, even in the Bible. And instead root yourself in the One of who is LIFE:  Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Jesus, Jn 5:38-40 NIV

Many evangelicals are convinced that they are getting their LIFE from Jesus, but instead they continue to drink water from a well that has been condemned by Christ. They drink insipid water. And the symptoms of this religious disease is pride, arrogance, intolerance, and a judgmental spirit.

“The Kingdom’s revolt against religion, including the Christian religion, is on a totally different level. It is a revolt against all attempts to get Life from particular beliefs—including true ones. For where God truly reigns over an individual or a community, their only source of Life is God, not the rightness of their beliefs.” Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Religion, pg 60.

It is quite clear from the Gospels that “religion” is part of the world system. When Jesus said the world hated him first, religion is a part of that world.

Those who repent of religion will stand out like Jesus, and be known for their love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness (Matt 23:23; Jn 13:34-35).

Like Jesus who led the way, his followers may be dubbed a liberal, sin-loving, blasphemer by those who are invested in the religious system, but they will be called the greatest in the kingdom of God.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the next post:  4. Jesus Rejected Materialism.


About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 20 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Pennsylvania. View all posts by David D. Flowers

20 responses to “Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (3 of 7)

  • Jeremy Myers

    Right. All true.

    But the real question is where does religion end and life with Jesus begin? Almost no Christian thinks they are religious.

    For example, there are many who would argue that your desire to pastor a church is a religious desire. I doubt you would agree.

    Similarly, those you might point to as being “religious” would probably not accept the label.

    • David D. Flowers

      Jeremy, I’m aware that folks will define “religious” differently. I have made it clear how I’m defining it, and I’ve made the case for how I think Jesus defined it as well.

      Based on what I’ve written, I will admit that I have to keep my own “religious” attitude in check.

      • Jeremy Myers

        Yeah, we all struggle with religious attitudes. I know I do.

        So as the new lead pastor of CMF, how would you respond if a member of CMF came and said, “Pastor, I think I am going to stop attending church altogether. I am not moving to another congregation. A few other people and I are going to seek to be the church by loving others in our neighborhood and community. We’re not planting a church, starting a new church, or anything like that. We’re just going to hang out and seek ways to love and serve others.”

        • David D. Flowers

          Jeremy, I’ll be writing on my return to ministry in the near future. I’d be happy to address that question in that comment thread. Since I’ve defined “religion” in certain terms above, I think that strays too far from the point of this post. Thanks.

        • Jeremy Myers

          David, I think maybe I didn’t explain clearly why I was asking the question.

          The question had nothing to do with the church itself, or your “return to ministry” (which is an odd phrase coming from you), but everything to do with religion, which is why I asked it here.

          Two central symbols and activities of Christianity as a religion are church attendance and paid pastors.

          So I am trying to reconcile your definition of religion (and your stated opposition to it) with your desire to be a paid pastor in a church which will likely encourage church attendance. How can you be against religion, yet encourage the central activities of the Christian religion?

        • David D. Flowers

          Jeremy, it’s clear that you and I are defining religion very differently. I’ll fully address this topic later, since it’s more in connection to your concerns about how I serve in the church through vocational ministry, which is what I meant by “return to ministry.”

          But I’m sure you knew that. 🙂

          For now, since I know exactly where you’re coming from (after perusing your site), I will simply say that “religion” (as I’ve defined it) is a spirit that works in people within all forms of church life, it’s not confined to what is dubbed by some as the “institutional” church. It can be found in every context.

          In the meantime, I hope you will respectfully wait to hear why I left vocational ministry in the first place, now to return seven years later. Thank you for your patience.

        • Bob Demyanovich

          The corruptive actions of individuals, interpretations, isms, methods and crusades are more than repugnant. These wolves destroy the kingdom of God. Our heart must begin with repentance. James 1:27 we are to be lights in the world. In the world not of the world. Preaching the grace, peace and righteousness of Jesus, God. Thank God for those who commit their substance to the Body of Jesus. Those who edify all the other brethren working for the Gospel of the Kingdom, peace with God through His blood. Death does not absolve or erase, pity all who flee to what they hope is the end, the death of this life. The chance to choose God is the brief opportunity that is this life. The grave is no sanctuary, hell is the destination for all who refuse Jesus. Jhn 5:28-29, Rev 20:13

        • Jeremy Myers

          Thanks, David, I will wait patiently and keep reading and thinking.

          Although… I really don’t think you and I are defining religion differently. I have absolutely no objection to anything you wrote in this article. I agree with it 100%.

          I like how you have defined religion, and I completely agree that the spirit of religion is found in every context, and I struggle daily with that spirit in my own heart, mind, and life.

  • Sean Durity

    Not sure that I agree with your equation of “religious” with “fundamentalists.” Certainly today’s fundamentalists are an easy and oft-used target. Anyone deemed more extreme than oneself is usually labeled such. However, historically, the fundamentalists were the ones that upheld the essentials of the faith against the so-called modern, higher critics. They played a crucial rule in undergirding truth.

    Now, I certainly agree that Jesus was very tough on most of the religious leaders and teachers of his day. They were hypocrites more concerned with externals. This is always a good reminder for us. However, regarding some of the other comments here, I do not think this is aimed at all “institutional” churches. The NT pattern is the establishment, encouragement, and correction of such local groups.

  • Chris Thomas

    This reads like TAS. Well done!

  • Denton

    Jeremy said “Two central symbols and activities of Christianity as a religion are church attendance and paid pastors.”

    I don’t think I could say that. A professional (paid) pastor is a fairly new thing in my Christian tradition. In the recent past, if the church needed a pastor, they would make a list of names from members and cast lots to see who the new pastor would be. The members would harvest crops or make hay together at the pastors farm first, then work their farm. Our last bishop (Glendon) was chosen by lot. By day he is a cattle farmer.

    We are also probably very far behind at being a professional church. Although we will call and pay a pastor. We have never had any other paid church positions…

    • Jeremy Myers


      That is an exciting and interesting thing you are doing at your church. It would be wonderful if more congregations followed that pattern. If I ever return to pastoral ministry, this is the pattern I will try to follow. My personal conviction is that I will never take a salary from a congregation again. I am not saying that every pastor should do this; it is only what I desire to do.

      Regarding my statement, I was using the present tense “are.” I am not talking about the past at all. Although… what do you mean by “recent past”? Paid pastoral positions have been quite common (though not universal) for about 1700 years, and especially for the past 500.

  • Bill

    Well said. It seems to me that distinguishing Jesus from the religious system isn’t just an academic or exegetical exercise.

    It seems to me that it is not an irreligious unpatriotic Jesus that young people are finding to be uninteresting or repellant. It is not that Jesus who is causing them to leave the church in droves these days.

    • Bob Demyanovich

      Eph 1:18
      The eyes of the world are the primary entry point of knowledge. “Seeing is believing”, “could not believe their own eyes”, and other common expressions recognize this manner of human perception. The eyes of our understanding need to be especially awakened and attuned to the crucial component of our salvation.
      Job 23:8-17, Mat 13:13-14, Mar 4:12, Isa 44:18,

      Calloused eyes or those afflicted with cataracts of indifference do not see the love and righteousness of our Father. Eyes of understanding are required to see the kingdom of God.
      John 6:36, Jhn 3:3

      In order to see the kingdom of God we must be like Him.
      Hbr 12:14

      The image of God is righteous and holy and we must be justified by His righteousness, holiness, we must be like Him.
      1Jo 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

      The time that the Lord may be found is a special gift to mankind, it is grace. Too many will not see Jesus.

  • Bob Demyanovich

    Rom 16:17, 1Cr 1:10, 1Cr 3:3, 1Cr 11:18, Tts 3:14, 1Pe 2:9
    People build their churches, Jesus builds His Church.
    There is a necessity of a meeting place. If it is accessible, it is situated nearby. Local government is administered through ordinances and laws that must be complied with. The compulsions of this world come into the assembly and mingle with others at various levels of their walk with Jesus. The world will build an edifice, a name, a denomination with pride and ownership. The church of Jesus is not of this world. Communication of the Gospel in varieties of media are convenient and freely accessible in a large area of the world and prohibited in other areas. So the labor required is evident. The Good News, the Gospel of peace with God must be communicated. Jesus is not a denomination, sect or buildings that are exclusive, that bring requirements and restrictions.
    Eph 1:3-14

    Churches of men miss their purpose. This does not prevent churches yet they are not the purpose.
    Eph 4:10-16

    In all of this the Holy Spirit calls us to repentance and does align our hearts bringing us into the Body of Christ that is His Church. (nephesh, etsem, ekklesia)

    The Holy Spirit circumcises our hearts subjugating sin’s power to the rule of Jesus Christ. This is the work of God not of man, not in the flesh. This is His will according to His purpose not by the will of men.
    Rom 2:28, For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
    Rom 2:29, But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

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