It seems that hate dominates the world news every time we read the paper or turn on our TV. I recently heard a news commentator suggest that hatred began with the Bible and continues today in extremists that go into a building with a gun and start shooting those they hate. The commentator suggested that New Testament battles between Jesus Christ and the Pharisees are an example of religious hatred similar to the violence in our world today. The truth is that leaders can be wrong, but not Jesus.
The commentator suggested that Matthew 23 is a demonstration of the hatred that Jesus preached. The chapter does present Jesus using strong language to condemn the Pharisees and religious leaders. He called them hypocrites (verses 13,15, 23, 25, 27 and 29) and blind guides (verse 16). He even accused them of murder (verse 35). That commentary is a classic case of “cherry picking” the Bible by taking verses out of context to make a point while ignoring dozens of scriptures which contradict the argument.
If you read Matthew chapters 5-7 you won’t get a picture like the one in Matthew 23. What is the difference? The difference is to whom Jesus is talking. The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day should have understood and accepted what Jesus was teaching. Instead, many of them were blind guides who wanted to murder Jesus. When Nicodemus who was a ruler of the Jews (John 3:1-18) came to Jesus, he didn’t understand what Jesus was teaching. Jesus asked him, “Are you a master of Israel and don’t understand these things?” (John 3:10). Later Nicodemus became a worker for the Lord, even securing Christ’s body after the crucifixion.
When Jesus talked to the common people like you and me, He was kind and patient and full of compassion. When he spoke to the Jewish leaders who should have been understanding and supporting Christ but were advocating violence, Christ was firm and strong. But He still rejected violence and any kind of hatred. It was the leaders who crucified Christ, not the common people.
Leaders can be wrong, but not Jesus. I have never in my 80 plus years seen a president that I felt never made a mistake. When I was in the army, I had superior officers who made dumb mistakes and who were abusive themselves.
The reality of life is that leaders are frequently wrong, and in Christianity that is also true. Denominational and congregational leaders can be wrong, and that is why we must rely on the inspired Word and not on human teachers. Second Timothy 3:16-17 makes it clear that the only way to completeness is by following God’s Word. Christ opposed violence, but some “Christian” leaders have acted contrary to what the Word teaches, and the result has been catastrophic.
We repeat that leaders can be wrong, but not Jesus. We don’t defend what humans do. We follow what Jesus did, what He taught, and what He left for us in His Word.
–John N. Clayton © 2019