“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.