Why Did the Jews Reject Jesus?


The House of Judah rejected Jesus Christ when He first came to them—a fact foretold and indeed fulfilled! Yet, it was from among His countrymen—Jewish men and women—that Jesus first found those who came to believe that He was “‘…the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Mathew 16:16).

There was a sense of expectancy for the appearing of the Messiah in the time of Herod the king. Luke, chapter 2, and Matthew, chapter 2, recount events which occurred in the land of Judea following the birth of Jesus—all pointing to prophecies about the Messiah. These things were known— they were spoken of by many people (compare Luke 2:17).

It was knowledge of the Messianic prophecies which drew the attention of those who did follow Christ:

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’” (John 1:45).

The apostle Paul identified himself as “‘…a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee’” (Acts 23:6). For a time Paul did not believe Jesus to have been anything more than a dangerous cult leader. Note what he says of himself:

“For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:13-14).

However, when Jesus miraculously appeared to Paul, He commissioned him to proclaim the gospel:

“Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’ But Saul (Paul) increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:20-22).

Note how Paul proved what he taught:

“[F]or he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:28).

Some Jews believed what Paul taught:

“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas” (Acts 17:1-4).

Most Jews rejected what Paul taught:

“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles’… But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region” (Acts 13:44-46, 50).

Later in his ministry, being a prisoner, Paul was taken to Rome. Nonetheless, he was still able to teach those who came to him. Among those were leaders of the Jews in Rome (Acts 28:17), and Paul spoke to them:

“So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved” (Acts 28:23-24).

To address the specific question of the Q&A, Paul explained why most of the Jews did reject Jesus, and he used the analogy of the veil that Moses had to place over his face due to the glory of his countenance following his presence before God:

“But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).

Paul made clear that the rulers killed Jesus because they did not understand the wisdom of God:

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7-8).

Christ confirmed this fact, praying to God the Father to forgive His murderers, because “they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

On the other hand, it is true that the Pharisees had some knowledge about the Person of Christ. Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees, came to Christ by night and told Him: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him” (John 3:2).

Still, they rejected Him because they were envious and did not want to lose their positions in the community (Matthew 27:18; John 11:48). They even accused Him of casting out demons through the power of Satan, which caused Christ to give them a stern warning, since they knew better (Matthew 12:22-32).

The apostle Peter boldly preached to the Jews about Christ, showing again that the Jews were “ignorant” as to who Christ was:

“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses… Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:13-15, 17-18).

The people did not really understand who Christ was. Christ asked His disciples: “What do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” The disciples answered: “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or some of the prophets.” When Jesus asked them: “But who do you say that I am?”, Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ responded that this revelation had to come from God the Father; otherwise, he would not have understood this either (compare Matthew 16:13-17).

Because of the healing of a man who had been lame from his birth, Peter and John were arrested and brought before Jewish leaders in Jerusalem:

“And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, ‘By what power or by what name have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the “stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’” (Acts 4:5-12).

Stephen was brought before the council of the Jews for preaching about Jesus (Acts 6:15), and in his address to these leaders of the Jewish nation, he sharply rebuked their obstinate rejection of God:

“’You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it’” (Acts 7:51-53).

What Stephen said so enraged the Jews that they murdered Stephen (compare Acts 7:54-60). The Jewish leaders had also opposed what Jesus said, and they plotted His death—which was agreed to by the Jewish people (compare Acts 2:23, 36) and carried out by the Romans. The New Testament records the fact that Jesus was rejected by the House of Judah:

“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).

In responding to the Jews and their leaders in Jerusalem, Jesus challenged their lack of understanding, for He consistently revealed Himself by referring to prophecy:

“’You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me… Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?’” (John 5:39, 45-47).

Following His resurrection, Jesus proved His own identity by what was written in the Old Testament. Here is what Jesus said to His disciples: “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27); and, “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me’” (Luke 24:44).

In unsparing words, Jesus denounced the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees—the religious leadership in Judea (compare Matthew 23). Even in His blistering rebuke, Jesus also pointed to a future time when “His own” would not reject Him:

“‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”’” (Matthew 23:37-39).

Indeed, the Jewish people who lived under the rule of the Roman Empire looked for a Savior for deliverance, and they applied the Messianic prophecies to their own circumstances instead of what was actually revealed in the Word of God. Also, the religious leaders in Judea were unwilling and unable to turn to God. They failed to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” at the preaching of John the Baptist (compare Matthew 3:7-10). With premeditated evil, they plotted the death of Jesus (compare Matthew 26:3-4) and rejected Him as their King (compare John 19:1-22).

Finally, consider these words from Jesus Christ—directed squarely at the Jews of His time and for all of us:

“‘…Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men–the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do’” (Mark 7:6-9).

Most of the Jewish people and their leaders rejected Christ because of a lack of understanding as to who He was. They were “willfully ignorant” (2 Peter 3:5, Authorized Version).

It is the same today. Most Jews, as well as most people around the world, do not really know God the Father and Jesus Christ, because the true knowledge as to who and what God is has been hidden from them (John 16:3). As a consequence, Christ’s true disciples are rejected by the world and will have to endure persecution (Matthew 24:9; John 15:18-21).

Lead Writers: Dave Harris and Norbert Link

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