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The Blue Letter Bible

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

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Don Stewart

Though 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.

There Was Corrupt Leadership In Jesus' Day

The religious leaders at the time of Jesus were 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.

The Story Of Lazarus Illustrates Their Lack Of Interest In The Truth

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 Lazarus. In the presence of the religious rulers, Jesus brought back Lazarus from the dead after Lazarus had been dead four days. One would think that such a miracle would at least make them consider believing in Jesus as the Messiah, because from their own testimony they never saw anyone do such miracles. But discussing about what to do with Jesus, they decided to kill Him.

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

Rather than causing belief, 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!

But the chief priests took counsel that they might also put Lazarus to death, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus (John 12:10,11).

Jesus, in speaking to His disciples, summed up the state of the people: "Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matthew 13:13). The basic reason that the majority of the nation Israel rejected Jesus is simply because they did not want to believe.

John The Baptist Acknowledged Jesus As The Messiah

John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, pointed Jesus out as the Messiah.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!' (John 1:29).

John clearly identified Jesus as the Messiah. Yet we have the later account of John being put in prison by King Herod. The Baptist then sent two messengers to Jesus asking Him if He were the Christ or if they should look for another. Jesus answered in such a way that left no doubt He was the Messiah.

Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them (Luke 7:22).

John certainly would have understood this message, for the signs Jesus was performing were the credentials of the Messiah.

Why Did John Ask The Question?

But why did John originally ask the question? Had he been mistaken about Jesus? Had Jesus let Him down? Had John wavered in faith? There is a better answer than assuming John had doubts about Jesus' identity or that he was in some sort of depression while in prison.

The answer would seem to lie in the circumstances of the nation Israel. Jesus came into the world when Rome ruled the Jewish people with an iron hand. There were many in Palestine who were proclaiming that the coming kingdom, predicted in the Old Testament, would come by means of a military overthrow. Jesus came upon the scene and proclaimed God's kingdom was at hand but said it would belong to the meek, not the strong. His ministry was one of mercy, not judgment.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17).

This message of Jesus' was revolutionary. He told the people to go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek, to submit rather than resist.

John Predicted The Messiah Would Judge

John the Baptist, on the other hand, proclaimed the vengeance the Messiah would bring on the unbelievers:

Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say of yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And now even the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:7-10).

John was probably wondering how the kingdom could be established in the manner Jesus prescribed. His question contains the idea that Jesus was not going about it fast enough. Jesus' answer indicates that the program was underway, but according to His schedule and not John's. The day of vengeance is something still awaiting the unbelievers in the future.

It seems best to take John's question as one concerned more with the tactics of Jesus in establishing His kingdom, rather than John questioning Jesus' identity as Messiah.

He Had The Wrong Expectation

There is also the matter of the type of Messiah they were expecting. Matthew made it clear the purpose of Jesus' coming:

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).


Jesus claimed to be the promised Messiah but was rejected by His people. The hearts of the people were hardened to the truth. In addition, there was a corrupt religious leadership who would not receive his claims. Therefore it was the sin of the people that kept them from accepting Jesus as the Promised One.

Although John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Messiah he sent two of his messengers to Jesus to ask if He were indeed the Christ. Jesus was not moving forward with establishing the kingdom like John wanted. Jesus told the messengers that he was indeed the Messiah but not the type most people were expecting. Rather than coming into the world to overthrow the rule of Rome, Jesus came to give his life as a sacrifice for sins.

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