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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: What Everyone Needs to Know about Jesus

Don Stewart :: If Jesus Was the Messiah, Why Did His People Reject Him?

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If Jesus Was the Messiah, Why Did His People Reject Him?

What Everyone Needs to Know About Jesus – Question 36

When Jesus came to earth His own people rejected Him. The Bible says the following about Jesus’ rejection by the Jews:

Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted. (John 1:11 NLT)

Even John the Baptist, the one who pointed Him out to the world as the Promised Messiah, later asked Jesus if He was truly the Messiah. Why did He do this do? Why do we find people questioning Jesus’ identity as the Messiah?

There Was No Good Reason to Reject Him

While there were many factors that led the Jewish people to reject Jesus as their Messiah, it can be stated simply: they did not believe in Him because they did not want to believe. It is the same reason most people throughout history have rejected Jesus as Messiah. It is not that they could not believe, it is that they would not believe. It is not that people need more evidence, it is that they do not act upon the evidence that they have.

Reasons for His Rejection

We can make a couple of observations from the New Testament as to the reasons why Jesus was rejected as Messiah.

1. The God-Given Religious System Degenerated into a Human-Made System

Originally, the entire religious system which was given to the nation of Israel and recorded in the Old Testament was done so to point people to Jesus Christ. While it was a God-given system it degenerated into empty rituals. In other words, it became a human-made system of religion. The nation of Israel had established a counterfeit religious system. How did this happen?

2. The Oral Law Becomes Equal to the Written Scripture

The corruption of the system which the Lord gave to the people started out with the best of motives. The religious leaders of Israel wanted to preserve God’s truth. Furthermore, they wanted this truth to apply to the daily lives of the people. So far, so good.

Thus, they developed what was called the “oral law.” Basically this was a collection of opinions of various Rabbis. For a long time these opinions were thought to be too sacred to commit to writing.

At Jesus’ time this became known as “the tradition of the elders.” While these were the mere opinions of the religious leaders, over time, these human opinions were given equal authority to the written Scripture. In practice, they were actually given even greater authority.

3. Jesus Spoke Out against the Tradition of the Elders

We find Jesus speaking out against such practices. When the religious leaders complained that Jesus’ disciples did not ceremonially wash their hands before eating, He denounced their traditions in the strongest of terms. Matthew records what He said:

He answered them, “And why do you disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If someone tells his father or mother, “Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God,” he does not need to honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:3-9 NET)

It was against these human traditions which Jesus gave His strongest denunciations. While the people went through the motions, and gave lip-service to God, their hearts were far from it. Indeed, it was these human-made traditions which actually canceled out or nullified God’s Word. The example He gave in this instance was the “corban” issue.

The Religious Leaders Devised Ways of Getting around God’s Laws

Scripture taught that children were to honor their parents. Among other things, they were to take care of their financial and material needs when the situation called for it.

However, the religious leaders had devised a way to get around this commandment. Instead of the people giving to their parents the resources which could help them out, they could claim that the money was dedicated to the Lord. In other words, it was set aside for God’s use. Supposedly, it would be given to Him at some later time. In that way, they could keep the money rather than helping out their needy parents.

This practice was called “corban” which is Hebrew for “a gift for God.” By pronouncing something “corban” the people did not have to live up to their responsibility in assisting their needy parents. Indeed, since it was dedicated to God it was considered too sacred to be used to support their parents. In doing so, they violated God’s commandment of honoring their parents.

Thus, the God-given system was destroyed not from without, but rather from within. Human commandments, which were given greater authority than Scripture, canceled out the Word of God. Jesus detested such human-made additions to God’s truth.

Thus, the religious leaders at the time of Jesus had become corrupt. Their leadership was indicative of the spiritual state of the people. Though the people went through the proper rituals that God had commanded, their hearts were not in them. They were not that interested in the truth of God.

Salvation Became a Matter of Good Works

These additions to the Word of God, as well as their emphasis of the religious leaders on keeping all of these human-made commandments, led to a second problem.

Forgiveness of sin now was seen as something which was earned by keeping this endless list of commandments. Instead of coming to God in faith with a humble spirit and repentant heart, salvation became a system of merit, or good works. Consequently the emphasis was upon what a person did rather than the condition of their heart toward the Lord.

Again, this contradicted what the Lord had revealed to the people. The prophet Micah wrote,

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God. (Micah 6:8 NET)

The reason why the people were to keep the commandments of the Lord was lost. The emphasis became one of doing, not of the motivation behind the act.

4. The Issue That Caused the Break between Jesus and the Religious Rulers: The Sabbath

The human-made traditions which were compiled by the religious leaders found their ultimate hypocrisy in the observance of the Sabbath. These rulers remembered that it was the lack of Sabbath-keeping that caused God to remove the nation from the land for the seventy year Babylonian captivity. We read in Second Chronicles,

This took place to fulfill the Lord’s message delivered through Jeremiah. The land experienced its sabbatical years; it remained desolate for seventy years, as prophesied. (2 Chronicles 36:21 NET)

They were not going to make the same mistake again. However, in attempting to observe the Sabbath the religious leaders added rules were nonsensical. This led to a confrontation between them and Jesus. Indeed, Jesus purposely healed on the Sabbath day. Mark explains what took place:

Then Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. So he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Stand up among all these people.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” But they were silent. After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. So the Pharisees went out immediately and began plotting with the Herodians, as to how they could assassinate him. (Mark 3:1-6 NET)

The plot to assassinate Jesus was based upon their human-made additions to Sabbath observance. Because Jesus did not keep their rules, they could not accept His claims to being the Messiah. Furthermore, because of the great number of people which were following after Him, they plotted to murder Him.

The Religious Leaders Were Not Interested in the Truth

All of this demonstrates that the religious leaders were not interested in discovering the truth of God. Indeed, they believed that they alone had the truth.

In fact, the New Testament provides many such examples of the religious leaders attempting to suppress the truth of God. A case in point is that of the raising from the dead of the man Lazarus. In the presence of the religious rulers, Jesus brought back Lazarus to life after he had been dead for some four days. One would think that such a miracle would at least make them consider believing in Jesus as the Messiah. Indeed, from their own testimony they never saw anyone do such miracles. But after discussing what to do with Jesus, they decided to kill Him. The Bible records what occurred as follows:

Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death. (John 11:53 NKJV)

Rather than causing belief in Jesus as the Messiah, it made them want to get rid of Him. But it was not only Jesus that they wanted to kill. Lazarus was walking around alive, a living testimony to the power and credentials of Jesus. Therefore, the religious leaders wanted to kill Lazarus also! We read about this in John’s gospel. It says,

Therefore the chief priests decided to also kill Lazarus, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus. (John 12:10, 11 HCSB)

Lazarus was living proof of the power of Jesus. These corrupt religious leaders wanted to destroy the evidence.

Jesus, in speaking to His disciples, summed up the state of the people:

I use stories when I speak to them because when they look, they cannot see, and when they listen, they cannot hear or understand. (Matthew 13:13 CEV)

The basic reason that the majority of the nation Israel rejected Jesus is simply because they did not want to believe.

They Did Not Want To Believe in Him

In sum, the reason Jesus was rejected as the Messiah had nothing to do with facts or evidence. The people in His day were so far away from the Lord in their hearts that they refused to believe the truth. Paul would later write about such people:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness... (Romans 1:18 NET)

Notice that these people are spoken of suppressing the truth. This is something which they knowingly and willingly do. In other words, they are consciously making themselves ignorant with respect to God’s truth.

Therefore, the rejection of Jesus is not so much a matter of “cannot believe” as much as it is “will not believe.” Simply stated, they do not want to believe.

Summary – Question 36
If Jesus Was the Messiah, Why Did His People Reject Him?

Jesus Christ came to the people of Israel and claimed to be their promised Messiah. He miraculously fulfilled the prophecies concerning the Promised One. Furthermore, He performed miracles which were to be the visible signs of the Messiahs’ coming. In every possible way, He showed the people that He was the One they were waiting for.

Yet Jesus of Nazareth was rejected by His people. There are a number of reasons why this was so. Two stand out.

First, the hearts of the leadership were hardened to the truth. They were so corrupt, so far from the Lord in their hearts, that they were incapable of accepting the truth of God. This is how far they had degenerated.

This did not happen overnight. In fact, it started out harmless enough. At the beginning, the religious leaders wanted the people to obey the commandments of the Lord. To help them implement these commandments in their daily lives, the religious leaders began to add certain rules and regulations to the written Word of God. These opinions of the religious teachers were passed down from generation to generation. Furthermore, new commandments were constantly being added to the older traditions. These human-made rules were eventually given greater authority than the Word of God itself; the “tradition of the elders” became the final standard concerning how one should behave.

Thus, these human-made traditions replaced the written Word of God as the final authority for the people. It was against this “tradition of the elders” which Jesus denounced in the strongest of terms.

This led to a second problem; the way of salvation became perverted. Instead of the emphasis of coming to God in faith with a humble and repentant heart, the emphasis was upon what the people did. Indeed, their obedience to these human-made commandments was how they believed they received favor in the eyes of the Lord. Therefore, they kept these rules with utmost strictness. This missed the entire reason as to why God gave these commandments in the first place.

The main issue that caused the break between Jesus and the religious rulers was the Sabbath. These leaders had added on so many commandments as to how the Sabbath was to be observed that they missed the purpose for God giving it. Jesus deliberately healed on the Sabbath to confront their hypocrisy. This act of disobedience to their human-made commandments caused them to plot His assassination.

Thus, the leaders, as well as their system, had gotten to the place where they would no longer listen to God’s truth. No matter what the evidence, they could not hear it. This is illustrated for us in the gospel account of the raising of Lazarus. This man, who had been dead for four days, was miraculously brought back to life by Jesus Christ. The fact of Lazarus coming back from the dead caused many people to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. However, the religious leaders had already rejected the idea that Jesus could be the Messiah which God had promised to send to the people.

Consequently, when they saw that Lazarus had been raised, they wanted all the more to kill Jesus. But we are also told that they desired to kill Lazarus also! They wanted to get rid of the evidence.

The Apostle Paul would later write of people such as this. He said they were actively suppressing or holding back, the truth of God. In other words, they were willingly ignorant of God’s truth.

Unhappily this sums up the attitude of many people today. They do not believe in Jesus because they do not want to believe.

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