The pain of misunderstanding

March 6, 2012

Have your words or actions ever been misconstrued? Have you ever felt the pain of rejection from close friends or family? Though sin and the curse have made these things a common human experience, God Himself has felt the pain of misunderstanding.

Throughout Jesus' life and ministry, there were several groups of people who interacted frequently with Him:

  • His own family (His mother Mary, His four brothers and His sisters) - Matthew 13:55-56
  • The women who attended to Him and cared for His needs (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna) - Luke 8:2-3
  • His disciples (the "three" - Peter, James, and John and the rest of the Twelve, plus the larger group that followed Him around) - Luke 16:14-16
  • The Pharisees (the gospels often reference those from Jerusalem) - Matthew 9:11, Matthew 12:14, Matthew 15:1, Matthew 19:3, and many passages

No matter how much time they had spent with Him hearing His teaching or watching Him interact with others, Jesus was met with misunderstanding. At one point during His life (and probably not the only time), those in His family thought Him "out of His mind" (Mark 3:21). The Pharisees and His own people accused Him of having a demon (John 8:48-52). At the height of His popularity in Galilee, the crowds who followed Him openly rejected Him when He revealed Himself as "the bread come down from heaven" (John 6:41-42). Peter - the "leader" of the Twelve and one of the three in whom Jesus entrusted many secrets untold to His other disciples - rebuked Jesus after He professed His coming suffering and death at Jerusalem (Matthew 16:21-23). In each stage of His life, Jesus experienced rejection, misunderstanding, and mistreatment in varying degrees from each of these groups.

We cannot forget who we are looking at in this small selection of scenes from the gospels. Jesus is none other than the glorious LORD made flesh, in whom there is no falsehood. The disparity between who He truly was and who these groups perceived Him to be has never been like any other individual who has walked the earth. By the end of His two years of ministry, Jesus had no followers. The Majestic One who deserved all attention and adoration hung on a Roman cross alone, rejected, despised, and completely misunderstood by everyone.

In perhaps two of the most shocking verses in the Bible, John gives us a little bit of perspective on the depths of how Jesus was misunderstood:

“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”
(John 1:10-11 NKJV)

As God, Jesus could have completely shielded himself from the human experience of emotional pain, but He did not (Philippians 2:6). Though some began to believe in Him for who He really was (mainly after His resurrection), Jesus lived and died experiencing the pain of misunderstanding.

There has never been anyone in history who has been more misunderstood than Jesus of Nazareth. Though He feels an inconceivable amount of pain from being misunderstood, the root of the pain He feels is very different from the root of our pain. We feel pain when we are misunderstood because we are trying to draw our identity from what others think about us. Jesus' pain was not because He felt rejected or didn't know who He was. There was never a moment of doubt in Him concerning who He was (John 8:14), and He never drew His identity from what others thought about Him.

Jesus felt pain in being misunderstood because He deeply loved the people around Him and wanted them to have fellowship with Him. He wanted them to know who He was (John 17:3, John 17:24) that they might be full of joy. Jesus felt real emotional pain because He was misunderstood. We must not be so swift to sanitize Jesus' words in John 17 and strip them of genuine human emotion and divine desire:

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me;”
(John 17:24 NKJV)

Jesus was not only misunderstood in His lifetime. For the past 2000 years He has been profoundly misunderstood, but a Day is coming when everyone will completely understand who He is (Hebrews 8:11, Habakkuk 2:14, Revelation 5:13). The severity of our sin necessitates the severity of the end of the age to ensure that Jesus is seen for who He is in truth. The Father will fulfill Jesus' desire. Scripture tells us that history will culminate with every eye seeing, every knee bowing, and every tongue confessing the very truth of who He is (Philippians 2:5-11). Before that great Day, may we be ones who find fellowship with Him in His pain by seeking to know Him rightly and calling others to behold His glory and hear the precious words that come from His lips.

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About the author

Joshua Hawkins is a pastor, Bible teacher, and content creator for disciples of Jesus from College Station, Texas. He co-hosts The Apocalyptic Gospel Podcast, a weekly audio show exploring how a first century Jew would have understood the Gospel. He's also an all-around tech nerd and enjoys road cycling.

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