The Apostle Paul called Jesus a rock of offence. Romans 9:33. So did Peter. I Peter 2:8. They based this on the prophecy of Isaiah 8:14, which refers to the Lord as “a stone of stumbling” and “a rock of offence.” Also, in Psalm 118:22, Jesus is called the stone that the builders refused. In fact, Jesus knew that He was a rock of offence. See Matthew 21:42-44.
But why was Jesus such an offence to the religious people of His day? Why was the meek and lowly Jesus, as harmless as a lamb, the object of such hatred and scorn? Why was He “despised and rejected of men?” Isaiah 53:3. In the first century, Jesus’ enemies pursued Him with unremitting evil purpose, and were not satisfied until His dead body hung limp on a cross.
They hated Him with a cruel and vindictive hatred. They were blind to all reason, deaf to all logic, and hardened until they were past feeling. Their hatred did not stop when He breathed His last breath, but followed His innocent, inoffensive and humble disciples.
They, too, were persecuted. Those who refused to recant their belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead were hailed into prison, tortured and slain. It did not matter that both Jesus and His followers were innocent, meek and lowly. No goodness, benevolence, gentleness, virtue, moral excellence, holiness, godliness, piety, purity, or attainment from their part could assuage the bitter hatred directed their way. Innocent people were hunted 2,000 years ago, pursued and put to death, when charged with no crime, except that they were a Christian. Why this persecution? Why were Jesus and His followers “everywhere spoken against?” Acts 28:22.
Who were their enemies, and what motivated them to hate these people so? Someone inspired the people to hate Jesus and His disciples. The masses loved Jesus. When He gave them bread and fishes, and healed their sick, they followed Him in droves. Only a few had a true revelation of who He was, but the crowds cheered Him as a great prophet. Yet there was a small group of people, men with power and influence, that did not like Jesus.
They were the religious leaders of the day. They hated Him because Jesus did not fit the mold. Jesus did not pander to them. He did not glory in the things they gloried in. He did not associate with the priests, scribes and doctors. In the 23rd chapter of Matthew, Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. They acted so religious; but Jesus showed that they were hypocrites. They had their priorities all wrong.
They were more interested in the process of worship than the object of that worship. The teachings of Jesus insulted their dignity, offended them, and filled them with hatred. Religious leaders cannot take it when the sincerity of their religious beliefs and practices are criticized. Jesus was critical of them for oppressing the poor, for being hypocritical in their worship and reverence of the prior prophets and the holy things. Jesus even criticized their prayers. He never failed to point out their error.
They took insult from Jesus’ teaching. They were terribly offended in Jesus. The same religion is as unpopular today as it was 2,000 years ago. The gospel of Christ, as found on the pages of scripture, is still offensive. Anywhere where truth becomes a threat to established religious, economic or political order, it will be attacked. The true church of the Lord Jesus Christ is utterly uncompromising in its message, exclusive in its gospel, and distinct from every other force in society.
We fully expect religious hatred and even persecution. Indeed, religious hatred exists in large areas of the world. Martyrdom is occurring now, and will increase around the world as we approach the time of the end. It will be the religious leaders that are offended, and who will inspire the people to hate the true church. Despite any hatred, we must be true to our mission. We have a message that cannot be compromised. We recognize the Body of Christ as an exclusive and distinct fellowship. God has called us to stand with it, to live for it, and if necessary, to die for it.