Why Did They Reject the Messiah?
WHEN Jesus was on earth, the crowds were enthralled by the things he said and amazed by the miracles he performed. As a result, many “put faith in him” and accepted him as the foretold Messiah, or Christ. They reasoned: “When the Christ arrives, he will not perform more signs than this man has performed, will he?”—John 7:31.
Despite the overwhelming evidence in support of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the majority of those who saw and heard Jesus did not become believers. Sadly, even some who initially believed turned away later. Why did so many reject Jesus as the Messiah in spite of the powerful evidence? Let us consider the reasons, and as we do, ask yourself, ‘Could I be in danger of making a similar mistake today?’
At the time of Jesus’ birth, many Jews were expecting the appearance of the Messiah. When Jesus was brought as an infant to the temple, he was met by those “waiting for Jerusalem’s deliverance” by the promised Messiah. (Luke 2:38) Later, many who observed the works of John the Baptizer wondered: “May he perhaps be the Christ?” (Luke 3:15) What, though, were the Jews in the first century expecting the Messiah to do?
The common belief among the Jews in those days was that the Messiah would come and liberate them from the oppressive Roman yoke and restore the earthly kingdom of Israel. Before Jesus began his ministry, a number of charismatic leaders arose and advocated violent resistance to the existing political rule. What these men did likely influenced the people’s expectations of the Messiah.
Jesus stood in stark contrast to such false Messiahs. He did not promote violence but taught his listeners to love their enemies and to be submissive to the authorities. (Matthew 5:41-44) He rejected the people’s efforts to make him a king. Instead, he taught that his kingdom was to be “no part of this world.” (John 6:15; 18:36) Still, preconceived ideas about the Messiah exerted a very strong influence on the people.
John the Baptizer personally saw and heard miraculous evidence establishing Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Yet, when John was imprisoned, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the Coming One, or are we to expect a different one?” (Matthew 11:3) Perhaps John wondered if Jesus was indeed the promised Deliverer, who would fulfill the Jews’ expectations.
Jesus’ apostles found it difficult to understand that he would be killed and then resurrected. On one occasion when Jesus explained that it would be necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die, Peter “took him aside and started rebuking him.” (Mark 8:31, 32) Peter was not yet able to see how Jesus’ death could fit in with his role as the Messiah.
Upon entering Jerusalem shortly before Passover 33 C.E., Jesus was welcomed by enthusiastic crowds hailing him as King. (John 12:12, 13) How quickly the situation changed! Within the week, Jesus was arrested and executed. After Jesus’ death, two of his disciples lamented: “We were hoping that this man was the one destined to deliver Israel.” (Luke 24:21) Even when the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples, the idea that the Messiah would establish an earthly kingdom still lingered. They asked: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” Clearly, mistaken expectations about the Messiah were deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of Jesus’ listeners.—Acts 1:6.
After Jesus’ ascension to heaven and the outpouring of the holy spirit, his disciples came to understand clearly that the Messiah would rule as a heavenly King. (Acts 2:1-4, 32-36) The apostles Peter and John boldly preached about Jesus’ resurrection and gave evidence of God’s backing by performing miracles themselves. (Acts 3:1-9, 13-15) Thousands in Jerusalem responded and became believers. This, however, did not sit well with the Jewish authorities. Just as they had opposed Jesus, they now opposed his apostles and disciples. Why did the Jewish religious leaders so fiercely reject Jesus?
Rejected by Religious Leaders
By the time Jesus came to earth, Jewish religious thinking and practices had strayed far from what was taught in the inspired Scriptures. The religious leaders of the day—the Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes—upheld man-made traditions, putting them ahead of God’s written Word. Time and again they accused Jesus of breaking the Law because he performed miraculous cures on the Sabbath. By forcefully refuting their unscriptural teachings, Jesus challenged both their authority and their claims of having an approved standing with God. By contrast, Jesus came from a humble background and lacked their formal religious education. No wonder it was so difficult for such proud men to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah! Such confrontations so enraged them that they “took counsel against [Jesus] that they might destroy him.”—Matthew 12:1-8, 14; 15:1-9.
How, though, could the religious leaders explain away Jesus’ ability to perform miracles? They did not deny that the miracles occurred. Instead, they blasphemously tried to undermine faith in Jesus by attributing his power to Satan, saying: “This fellow does not expel the demons except by means of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”—Matthew 12:24.
There was another deep-seated reason for their adamant refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. After Jesus resurrected Lazarus, leaders of the various religious factions consulted together and said: “What are we to do, because this man performs many signs? If we let him alone this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” For fear of losing their power and position, the religious leaders conspired to kill both Jesus and Lazarus!—John 11:45-53; 12:9-11.
Community Prejudice and Persecution
The attitude of first-century Jewish religious leaders created a social climate that was hostile to anyone accepting Jesus as the Messiah. Taking pride in their prominent positions, they belittled anyone showing faith in Jesus, saying: “Not one of the rulers or of the Pharisees has put faith in him, has he?” (John 7:13, 48) Some Jewish leaders, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, did become disciples of Jesus, but they kept their faith secret out of fear. (John 3:1, 2; 12:42; 19:38, 39) The Jewish leaders had decreed that “if anyone confessed [Jesus] as Christ, he should get expelled from the synagogue.” (John 9:22) Such a person would be shunned and scorned as a social outcast.
Opposition to Jesus’ apostles and disciples eventually ignited violent persecution. Because of their bold preaching, the apostles suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court. (Acts 5:40) Opposers framed false charges of blasphemy against the disciple Stephen. He was condemned by the Sanhedrin and stoned to death. Then, “great persecution arose against the congregation that was in Jerusalem; all except the apostles were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 6:8-14; 7:54–8:1) Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, shared in a campaign of persecution that was officially supported by the high priest and “the assembly of older men.”—Acts 9:1, 2; 22:4, 5.
Even under such difficult circumstances, Christianity grew rapidly in the years after Jesus’ death. Although thousands became believers, however, Christians remained a minority in first-century Palestine. Publicly identifying oneself as a follower of Christ meant risking ostracism and even violence.
Learn From Those Who Rejected Jesus
As we have seen, misconceptions, community pressure, and persecution prevented many in the first century from putting faith in Jesus. Today, erroneous ideas about Jesus and his teachings can have a similar effect. For example, many have been taught that God’s Kingdom is in their heart or will come about by human efforts. Others are persuaded to look to science or technology for solutions to mankind’s problems, thus doing away with the need to put faith in the Messiah. Many modern critics assert that the events of Jesus’ ministry recorded in the Bible are not historical facts; these men thus undermine faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
The result of such ideas and theories is that many have either been confused as to the role of the Messiah or see no need to consider the matter. However, for those who are willing to examine the evidence, there is actually more proof today that Jesus is the Messiah than there was in the first century. We have the entire Hebrew Scriptures containing numerous prophecies about what the Messiah would do and the record in the four Biblical Gospels of what Jesus did in fulfillment of those prophecies. *
There is really no lack of evidence by which each one of us can make an informed choice or decision in this matter. And that decision is urgent. Why? Because the Bible reveals that as the Messianic King of God’s Kingdom, Jesus will soon take action to remove all those who are ruining the earth and bring about righteous rule that will allow all obedient subjects to live forever on earth in paradisaic conditions. (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 11:15, 18; 21:3-5) This marvelous future can be yours if you make the effort to learn about Jesus and demonstrate faith in him now. Take to heart Jesus’ own words: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.
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Would you have recognized the Messiah if you had lived in Jesus’ day?
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Do not let preconceived ideas prevent you from learning the truth about Jesus