One of the saddest stories in the Bible is the story of the Jews rejecting their own Messiah. After spending millennia desperately waiting and anticipating His arrival, most Jews didn't recognize Him. The Jews of Jesus' time had studied the Old Testament Scriptures and knew who the Messiah was supposed to be: a political leader that expelled their enemies out of their territory, re-established the Jewish nation, and brought peace and prosperity back to God's chosen people. But that is not what Jesus came for. Although the prophecies of political peace are yet to be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom, Jesus' purpose on earth was to bring personal peace between people and God. Even more shocking, that peace was to be offered to the Gentiles just as freely as to the Jews.
Why do most Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah?
If Jesus the person was incongruous to the Jews' idea of their Messiah, His teaching was more so. For the most part, Jesus taught a rather strict form of Judaism, enforcing narrow divorce laws and emphasizing that He did not come to destroy the law. There were a few teachings, however, that devout Jews found hard to swallow.
The first was that He could forgive sins. Jews believe the forgiveness of sins is a much more involved process than one man's word. They also believe that if sins are forgiven so easily, it will only lead to more sin.
Secondly, Jesus' teaching to love our enemies and pray for them. This is anathema to the long-suffering Jews who have been persecuted so harshly by so many. It also sounds contradictory to laws in the Old Testament, such as Deuteronomy 17:7, which says to purge evil "from your midst." The disconnect was that Jesus was talking about personal relationships (which He had come to restore), not national policy (which the Jews thought He had come to restore). It is good and appropriate for a nation to have and enforce laws, and to go to war for just causes. Jesus taught that our own dealings should be filled with grace and mercy.
Jews also do not accept Jesus' teaching that He is the only way to God. With a religious system based on restitution and sincere repentance, Jews have no need of an intermediary to reach God. They also don't understand the nature of forgiveness and salvation. Since they do not believe mankind has a sin nature, they do not believe any reasonable, attentive person can sin so much they cannot find forgiveness through their own effort.
The Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah because it was absolutely inconceivable to them that God came down as a man and dwelt among them. It was impossible that God should have a physical form, and complete heresy for any man to claim He was God. Their pride in their strict adherence to the law of the Old Testament blinded them to Who Jesus is.
Finally, the Jews rejected Jesus because God blinded them. Since their release from Babylon, the Jews had been faithful worshippers of God. They knew the law and followed it. They waited expectantly for God's Messiah—a military leader who would herald a new age of prosperity. Something about that mindset made it historically imperative that belief in Jesus should not take hold over the Jewish population. Perhaps it would have curtailed the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. Or maybe the in-place religious and political leaders would have influenced the budding Christianity too much. Paul says in Romans 9:30-32:
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone.
Their zeal for the law blinded them to the law-giver, as Romans 10:3 says, "For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness." This is an old theme in the history of Israel, as the Old Testament can attest.
Most Jews today still reject Jesus, taking old habits and justifying them with modern philosophies. If there is no sin nature, there is no need for a sacrifice purer than human effort and intent. "Messiah" no longer means a single person, but a force through history that will revenge the Jewish people and restore Israel as a mighty power. If Jews had followed Jesus' pacifist ways, there would be no more Jews. There is also a great deal of tension regarding Jews and the crucifixion of Jesus. Many from the Christian church have blamed Jews, most viciously, for Jesus' horrible death. This is erroneous, as Jesus voluntarily laid down His life as a sacrifice for the sin of all mankind. But the corporate memory of a persecuted people is long, and violence in the name of "Jesus" has left a mark on Jewish thought.
Still, not all Jews, then or now, reject Jesus. The apostles were Jewish, and it's estimated that there are a quarter-million Messianic Jews in the U.S. today. And Israel as a nation still has a role to play. In the Millennial Kingdom, God will once again look to Jews to be His chosen people. Jews will flock to Israel (Ezekiel 34:11-13). They will come to accept Jesus as their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10). God will restore their relationship with Him (Ezekiel 11:17). And Jesus will rule the world from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:4), bringing peace to the nations (Isaiah 11:6-9). The Jews' rejection of Jesus is only until the "fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (Romans 11:25). May that be soon.
What do Jews believe? What is Judaism?
As God's chosen people, are Jews automatically saved?
Why do the Jews no longer offer animal sacrifices? How do Jewish people today believe they can receive forgiveness from God?
Where is the death and resurrection of Messiah prophesied in Hebrew Scriptures?
Before Jesus died for our sins, could people be saved? How?
Truth about Religion