What does it mean that Christ was despised and rejected of men (Isaiah 53:3)?

"He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3)
This verse is part of a prophetic section about Jesus that is often called the Suffering Servant Song. We learn that Jesus' mission on earth was not to be popular or to establish an earthly kingdom but to be crushed, wounded, afflicted, grieved, despised, and rejected (Isaiah 52:13—53:12).

Jesus was despised and rejected on many levels, not just when He was crucified by the Romans at the instigation of the Jews. First, where He was raised—Nazareth of Galilee—was looked down on by many Jews. In fact, when Philip told Nathanael that they'd found the Messiah and He was Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael replied, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). This was a first strike against Jesus, but then even His own hometown rejected Him (Luke 4:16–30).

For about a year, large crowds followed Jesus everywhere, partly in faith, partly in fascination. People were really starting to wonder if He was the long-awaited Messiah. This didn't last. Jesus started saying things the Jewish authorities didn't like, especially His "I am" statements: "I am the bread of life" (John 6:48); "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30); "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Jesus unashamedly equaled Himself with God the Father, and the Jewish authorities saw this as heresy. They were also concerned about their place with the Romans. They started plotting His death (John 11:45–53). Some of His own disciples found His words difficult, especially when after He said "I am the bread of life," He said they would need to feed on this bread (John 6:48–71).

Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, certainly despised and rejected Him when he took money from the Pharisees to lead them right to Him in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:14–16; Luke 22:21; John 18:2–3; Psalm 41:9). Not long after, those disciples still with Him ran for their lives when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:27, 50; cf. Zechariah 13:7; Psalm 38:11). Peter outright denied knowing Jesus three times but was later forgiven and reunited with Christ (Matthew 26:34, 69–75; John 21:15–19).

Largely, the nation of Israel, His chosen people, rejected Jesus' claim as the Messiah. This is what Psalm 118:22 is referring to when it says, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (cf. 1 Peter 2:7; Matthew 21:42). They had already decided what the Messiah should be like, and Jesus did not fit their expectations.

Today, people reject and despise Jesus Christ every day by not believing and accepting the gift of salvation available only through Him (John 3:16–18; Jude 1:24–25). The decision to reject Jesus and despise His message of salvation and eternal life will result in eternal damnation in hell away from the presence of God (John 3:36).

Jesus' earthly ministry was never meant to be showy or politically expedient. In fact, Paul explains in a letter to the Corinthian church, "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'" (1 Corinthians 1:27–31).

The world has one way of displaying power. God has another. Ultimately, it was Jesus' joy to be the Suffering Servant so that we might be reconciled through Him to God, forgiven for our sins and given eternal life (John 10:18; Hebrews 12:2).

Related Truth:

Is the 'Suffering Servant' of Isaiah 53 a prophecy about Jesus?

What was the historical Jesus like? Who was Jesus as a person?

Where are the death and resurrection of Messiah prophesied in Hebrew Scriptures?

What makes Jesus different from other religious leaders?

What did Jesus look like?

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