Where the world comes to study the Bible

Q. Why Did Israel Reject Jesus As The Messiah? What Is Israel’s Future Hope?

Let me begin by affirming, from the Scriptures, that Israel, as a nation, not only rejected Jesus as their Messiah; they continue to reject Jesus as their Messiah to this day.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own [the Jews], and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:10-14, NAS).

16 However, they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. 18 But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.” 19 But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? At the first Moses says, “I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, By a nation without understanding will I anger you.” 20 And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.” 21 But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Romans 10:16-21).[1]

Having said this, Paul is very careful to teach that Jews and Gentiles are equally lost:[2]

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:21-23).[3]

No one, Jew or Gentile, is predisposed to trust in Jesus as Messiah, and thus the salvation of both is the result of God’s grace, manifested in Jesus Christ.

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10).

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

Having said this, let us press on to our questions. FIRST, WHY DID ISRAEL REJECT CHRIST AS MESSIAH? Let’s begin with Israel’s leaders, who played a prominent role in turning the crowds against Jesus, and in pressuring Rome to execute Jesus, without cause.

Why Did Israel’s Leaders Reject Jesus?

Israel’s leadership lived, for the most part, in Jerusalem, which was their headquarters. Jesus, on the other hand, spent more of His time in Galilee. Matthew is the one who describes the distress of Israel’s leaders, and all Jerusalem, when the Magi arrive, seeking to know the whereabouts of the newborn “King of the Jews.”

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” 3 And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2:1-3).

It is not just Herod who was threatened by the announcement that Jesus, the “King of the Jews,” was born. It was all of those who were a part of the religious and political establishment who were distressed, because a new “King” would mean a new administration, and thus they would be out of a job, and out of power. This becomes very evident later, when the popularity of Jesus was growing, turning public sentiment and support towards Jesus:

43 And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done. 47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” . . . 53 So from that day on they planned together to kill Him. . . 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him (John 11:43-48, 53, 57).

The Pharisees therefore said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19).

Even Herod understood what motivated the Jewish religious leaders:

16 And they were holding at that time a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that because of envy they had delivered Him up (Matthew 27:16-18).

On top of this, Jesus publicly exposed the hypocrisy and wickedness of the scribes and Pharisees, and warned of the judgment that awaited them:

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20; see Luke 18:9-14).

1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them. 4 “And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 “And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi.” . . .13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation. 15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ 17 “You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.’ 19 “You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 “Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 “And he who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 “And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 “Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? (Matthew 23:1-7,13-33; see also Matthew 21:33-46)

Very early in Jesus’ ministry, the Jewish religious leaders determined that Jesus was a serious threat to their position and power, and thus they were determined to destroy Him:

1 And He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they might accuse Him. 3 And He said to the man with the withered hand, “Rise and come forward!” 4 And He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5 And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him (Mark 3:1-6).

To sum it up, the Jewish religious leaders had many grievances with Jesus. Among these, were the following:

  • Jesus associated with sinners, and not them, so much (Matthew 9:10-13).
  • Jesus did not submit to their authority, but rather undermined it with His own authority (Matthew 7:28-29).
  • Jesus declared that a person would have to be more righteous than the Pharisees to get into heaven (Matthew 5:20).
  • The scribes and Pharisees considered themselves to experts in the Law, and yet Jesus challenged, and corrected their interpretations of the Law (Matthew 5:17-48; Mark 7:5-23; Luke 11:37-54).
  • When the Jewish religious leaders asked questions of Jesus with the purpose of discrediting Him, they ended up looking foolish (Matthew 22:35-46; Mark 12:35-40).
  • Jesus spoke kindly of the Gentiles, and made it clear that His salvation was available to them, as well as to Jews (see Luke 4:15-30).

Why Did The People Of Israel (The Crowds) Reject Jesus?

It wasn’t just Israel’s religious leaders who rejected Jesus; it was the crowds as well, who had no reservations, it seems, about following the directives given them by their leaders.[4] But in the end, when Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and crucified, the majority of Jews willingly went along with their elders in rejecting Jesus and calling for the release of Barabbas, and our Lord’s execution.

It Was Israel, All Israel, That Rejected Jesus As Messiah

It was not just Israel’s leaders who rejected Jesus as Messiah; it was the nation of Israel as a whole:

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him (John 1:11).[5]

At the outset of our Lord’s public ministry, Jesus was widely sought and embraced by the people, particularly those who were in great need:

And great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan (Matthew 4:25; see also 5:1; 7:28; 8:1)

As time went on, and Jesus was openly opposed by the Jewish religious leaders, the crowds came to hold different opinions as to who Jesus was, with some believing in Jesus, and others rejecting Him.

14 And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him.” 15 But others were saying, “He is Elijah.” And others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, “John, whom I beheaded, has risen!” (Mark 6:14-16; see also Luke 9:7-8)

But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as it were, in secret. 11 The Jews therefore were seeking Him at the feast, and were saying, “Where is He?” 12 And there was much grumbling among the multitudes concerning Him; some were saying, “He is a good man”; others were saying, “No, on the contrary, He leads the multitude astray.” 13 Yet no one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews (John 7:10-13).

39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 40 Some of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” 41 Others were saying, “This is the Christ.” Still others were saying, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? 42 “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there arose a division in the multitude because of Him (John 7:39-43; see also Luke 7:12-17; John 10:20-21).

Jesus was enthusiastically welcomed by many at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, shortly before His death:

6 And the disciples went and did just as Jesus had directed them, 7 and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, on which He sat. 8 And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. 9 And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the multitudes were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21:6-11).

37 And as He was now approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37-38)

The rejection of Jesus by the masses was prompted by His trial and execution. Just a few days after Jesus was welcomed as Israel’s hero, He was emphatically rejected by this same crowd at His trial and crucifixion:

20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death. 21 But the governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let Him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:20-23)

And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. 32 “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” And those who were crucified with Him were casting the same insult at Him (Mark 15:29-32).

How is it that the same crowds, who once welcomed Jesus, and even sought to make Him their king (John 6:15), suddenly turned against Him, demanding that Pilot release Barabbas, and crucify Jesus?

Reason One: Misinterpreting The Scriptures Led To Wrong Expectations Of Messiah

Then (back in ancient times), and now, men twist the Scriptures in an effort to make them say what they want (Acts 20:28-30; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 2 Peter 3:14-16).[6] Thus, the promise that God made to Abraham (the Abrahamic Covenant, Genesis 12:1-3) was distorted so that it became a promise of blessings for Jews, and cursing for Gentiles. Likewise, the “Day of the Lord” was wrongly interpreted to be a promise of blessing for Israel (Amos 5:18-20), rather than one of judgment (see Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14).

God’s promise of a Savior, given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15), would be fulfilled in two parts. The first part would be the sacrificial death of a sinless offspring of Eve (Jesus), who would suffer and die in the sinner’s place, bearing the punishment he or she deserved. The second part would be fulfilled by the second coming of Messiah to earth, to subdue His enemies and establish His kingdom.

We therefore find two different streams of prophecy in the Old Testament, both looking ahead to the coming of the Promised Messiah. The first stream was the promise of His coming to suffer and die in the sinner’s place:

But you will not go out in haste, Nor will you go as fugitives; For the LORD will go before you, And the God of Israel will be your rear guard. 13 Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted. 14 Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men. 15 Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand.

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors (Isaiah 52:12-53:12; see also Psalm 22).

The second stream of prophecy foretold the second coming of Messiah to subdue His enemies and to reign as King on the earth:

1 Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed: 3 “Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury: 6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” 7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. 8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. 9 ‘Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware.’” 10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. 11 Worship the LORD with reverence, And rejoice with trembling. 12 Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:1-12)

1 A Psalm of David . The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.” 2 The LORD will stretch forth Thy strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Thine enemies.” 3 Thy people will volunteer freely in the day of Thy power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Thy youth are to Thee as the dew (Psalm 110:1-3; see also Daniel 2:36-45).

Even John the Baptist struggled to clearly differentiate between the two appearances of Jesus on the earth. He spoke of Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world:”

26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 “It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 “This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31 “And I did not recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 And John bore witness saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 “And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 “And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:26-34).

On the other hand, John spoke of Jesus as the coming King, who would defeat His enemies, judge sinners, and establish His kingdom on earth:

“And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 “And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:10-12).

Expectations ran high for the coming of Messiah, and it was wrongly assumed that this would soon come to pass:

And while they were listening to these things, He went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately (Luke 19:11).

But it was also widely assumed that our Lord would establish His kingdom through violence:

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. 13 “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 “And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come. 15 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Matthew 11:11-15).

It is hardly surprising, then, that the crowds would attempt to make Jesus their king, by force, expecting Him to likewise establish His kingdom by force:

13 And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. 16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum. And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them (John 6:13-17).

When Jesus refused to resort to violence when the soldiers and the crowds came to arrest Him, the crowds (rightly) concluded that Jesus was not going to violently overthrow Rome, but would Himself be killed by Rome. This thought was not only unacceptable to our Lord’s disciples, it was abhorrent to the crowds. It is now much easier to see why the crowds would call for the release of Barabbas, instead of Jesus. Barabbas was just the kind of “Messiah” they had hoped for, and Jesus was not:

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death. 21 But the governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let Him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” 24 And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified (Matthew 27:20-26).

Reason Two: Law-Keeping, Rather Than Faith

If working hard at being righteous were the basis for salvation, then the Jews would be at the top of the list of likely candidates for salvation. But while the Jews did work hard at being righteous by law-keeping, it ends up being the reason why many Jews (not to exclude others) failed to trust in Jesus. They chose to trust in their works, rather than in Jesus’ saving work at Calvary. Listen to Paul’s assessment, contrasting Gentile faith with Jewish law-keeping:

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 9:30-10:4).

No one grasped better than Paul the contrast between faith and works of law-keeping. Listen to what he says regarding his own experience:

. . . If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:4b-11).

God’s work of saving Paul was not done for Paul’s glory, but rather it was done in order to bring greater glory to God:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

There are a number of other reasons why the Jews rejected Jesus, and these would be the same for anyone, Jew or Gentile. I will only briefly mention some of these reasons for unbelief:

  • Human inability to grasp the things of God apart from dependence on the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2).
  • False teachers (Galatians 1; 2 Corinthians 11)
  • Satan’s opposition (Mark 4:3-4, 15)
  • Blindness to the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:12-17; 4:3-4)

What Is Israel’s Hope For The Future?

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah” (Romans 9:27-29).

The first thing we must note, is that while the majority of Jews may be in unbelief, God has always guaranteed Israel’s hope of blessing by preserving a godly remnant of believing Jews. This was declared in the Old Testament, and highlighted by Paul in the New.

And now, in Romans chapter 11, Paul gives a much more detailed explanation of God’s purposes for Israel, as well as the Gentiles:

1 I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have torn down Thine altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. 7 What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8 just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.” 9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them. 10 “Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.” 11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! 13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? 25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “And this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 10:16-11:36 NAS)

In short, God made a covenant with Abraham, promising to bless his offspring, so that they might, in turn, be a blessing to the Gentiles.[7] God has always preserved a believing remnant of Jewish people who believe in Jesus.[8] As a nation, however, Israel has not trusted in Messiah, but this opened the door for the evangelization (blessing) of Gentiles. Their salvation is intended to provoke the Jews to jealousy, and thus ultimately to bring Israel to faith in Jesus, along with believing Gentiles. All of God’s covenant promises to the Jews (Israel) will thus be fulfilled, because God always keeps His promises. And those Jews who will be saved will be saved the same way that Gentiles are saved, by trusting in Jesus as Messiah, and embracing His sacrifice at Calvary and resurrection on their behalf. THERE IS HOPE FOR ISRAEL, THROUGH JESUS, THE MESSIAH!

[1] Paul was broken-hearted over the rejection of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah (Romans 9:1-6).

[2] It should probably be noted that in Romans 1-3, Paul does indicate that greater knowledge of the Scriptures and the gospel does make one more guilty than someone who has very little knowledge of God. Greater guilt deserves greater punishment (see Luke 12:43-48; 20:45-47).

[3] I believe that Paul is saying two things here. There is no distinction between those who are believers in Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:25-29), and there is no distinction between those who are lost, apart from Christ (Romans 3:21-23).

[4] This is probably the place to call attention to the incredible authority the religious leaders had. The parents of the man born blind certainly feared these leaders (John 9:17-23), and so did others (John 7:12-13) – even Nicodemus (John 7:44-53), as well as other leaders (John 12:42-43).

[5] In reading through the Gospel of John, I find it particularly noteworthy that John chose to use the expression, “the Jews,” when the context makes it quite clear that the Jewish religious leaders are prominent in the context. See, for example, John 1:19; 2:18, 20; 5:10, 15-18; 7:1, 13.

[6] Not all misinterpretation of Scripture is deliberate. We all fail to fully comprehend certain portions of Scripture, and thus end up with wrong conclusions. But sometimes it is deliberate, such as we see in Matthew 2:1-8, or Romans 5:20—6:2ff.

[7] Ultimately, we know that this “seed” or “offspring” of Abraham would be Jesus Himself (see Genesis 3:16).

[8] For Old Testament saints it would be a belief in the Messiah who was yet to come, and since the coming of our Lord, those who believe in the saving work of Jesus at Calvary.

Related Topics: Character of God, Ecclesiology (The Church), Election, Eschatology (Things to Come), Soteriology (Salvation)

Report Inappropriate Ad