Question: "What does it mean that Christ was despised and rejected of men (Isaiah 53:3)?"
Answer: The fourth Servant Song in Isaiah prophesied that Jesus, as the suffering Servant of the Lord, would be scorned: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3).
Jesus was despised in His time for several reasons. To begin with, He was from Galilee, an area of Israel often disrespected (see John 7:41, 52), and from the town of Nazareth, about which Israelites would ask, “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). He was from a family of meager means (see Luke 2:22–24).
Jesus was despised in that He was hated by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others in the Jewish ruling class. Even though Jesus continually showed Himself to be the Messiah, the Pharisees and Sadducees refused to believe in Him (John 12:37–43), and they actively opposed Him. They even tried to kill or arrest Jesus multiple times during His earthly ministry (Matthew 12:14; 21:46; 26:3–4; John 8:59; 10:30–31). As John said, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10–11). Jesus, the Light, came into the world, but “everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20).
The Jews who despised Jesus eventually got the Romans involved, trumping up charges against Him and demanding He be subjected to a painful, torturous death (Matthew 27:22–25). The callous Romans despised Jesus as a common criminal, mocking, battering, spitting on, and flogging Him (Matthew 27:27–30; John 19:1). Their mockery included dressing Christ in a purple robe, placing a crown of thorns on His head, and making a satirical show of giving Him honor (John 19:2–3).
Jesus is the Cornerstone of the work God is doing in the world, but to those who did not believe, he was “the stone the builders rejected” (1 Peter 2:7; cf. Psalm 118:22 and Matthew 21:42). Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah because He did not fit their preconceived ideas of a warrior king who would deliver them from political oppression. When Pilate offered to release Jesus after the flogging, the people rejected Jesus and shouted their acceptance of a criminal: “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” (John 18:40).
The “rejection” of Christ was not limited to those who did not believe in Him. At times, Jesus had large followings, but most of them eventually turned away (John 6:66). Many others would not publicly announce their belief in Jesus and were thus secret disciples (John 3:1–2; 12:42–43;19:38). He was betrayed by one of His closest associates (Luke 22:21; Psalm 41:9). Even at the end, when Jesus was being arrested, His disciples all forsook Him and fled for their lives (Mark 14:27, 50; cf. Zechariah 13:7; Psalm 38:10).
Many people today still reject Jesus as their Savior and turn down His offer of eternal life (John 3:16). There are people who continue to despise the name of Jesus and seek to discredit what He has done. But in the very rejection He endured, Jesus provided salvation to those who believe, and we seek to follow in His steps (Luke 9:23; 1 Peter 2:21). Our Lord “suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Hebrews 13:12–13).