Why didn't the Jews believe Jesus?
It is a curious thing, is it not, that the Son of God came to live among men (John 1:14), and yet he is rejected by the very people who had been expecting his arrival for thousands of years. "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:10-11). Jesus Christ was born among the Israelites, a people chosen by God to know His Laws and to whom God foretold the coming of His Son. Yet these same Israelites rejected the Messiah while he was in the world. How can this be?
Jesus stated that one reason was the fact that the Jews did not belong to God. "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you" (John 10:26). The Jews laid claim to God, but the truth was they had not submitted to the will of God. "Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone," and "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense." They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed" (I Peter 2:6-8). Peter states that the reason the Jews stumbled over Jesus was because they were not first obedient to God.
In the Bible, the idea of obedience and belief are interwoven topics. Only in the denominational world are the two presented as separate ideas. But in the Bible, it is clear that you cannot have one without the other. For example, consider these verses from Hebrews:
"And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:18-19).
"Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it" (Hebrews 4:1-2).
"Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:6).
"Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:11).
The writer of Hebrews smoothly shifts from blaming unbelief to blaming disobedience for the reason of not entering God's rest. It is obvious that the writer views the two ideas as interchangeable.
If you think for a moment, the reason is clear. Have you ever heard a person claim to be a faithful Christian, but then notice that their life says otherwise? They don't attend services regularly, and perhaps they do things that Christians ought to know are wrong. How can a person lay claim on faith when they are unwilling to surrender their will to the will of God? They behave as if they do not trust God, and so they put sin ahead of God. "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John 3:18-21). When a person is disobedient, they prefer to live a fantasy that God accepts them. Jesus taught the truth to the Jews and that truth exposed their self-delusion. Rather than causing repentance, the Jews turned away from the truth. Hence, God's word found no place in their hearts. "And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life" (John 5:37-40).
A second reason the Jews refused to believe Jesus was because of their stubbornness. "Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe" (Acts 28:24). As we mentioned earlier, the Jews lived a delusion that they had God's will figured out. Even back in Isaiah's time, we read, "I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, 'Here I am, here I am,' to a nation that was not called by My name. I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts; a people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face; who sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves, and spend the night in the tombs; who eat swine's flesh, and the broth of abominable things is in their vessels; who say, 'Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you!' These are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day. "Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence, but will repay - even repay into their bosom - your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together," Says the LORD, "Who have burned incense on the mountains and blasphemed Me on the hills; therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom" (Isaiah 65:1-7). Because they were righteous in their own sight, they rejected anyone teaching them differently. "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:1-4).
The Israelites rejected the facts and preferred to follow their own course. "But My people would not heed My voice, and Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels. "Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, but their fate would endure forever. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you" (Psalms 81:11-16). Israel missed many opportunities to enjoy the blessings of God because of their stubborn ways. "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.' But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts" (Zechariah 7:9-12).
This stubbornness kept the Jews from seeing the evidence of God working before their own eyes. ""But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said to Him, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him"" (Matthew 21:28-32). Seeing the transforming power of God's word in the lives of the most desperate sinners made no impact on some of the Jews. They kept their hearts as stone.
In a related way, the Jews did not believe because they refused to understand God's teachings. Isaiah once mocked the Israelites concerning the silliness of idolatry. "They do not know nor understand; for He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. And no one considers in his heart, nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire, yes, I have also baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it; and shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?" " (Isaiah 44:18-20). That same lack of understanding caused the Jews to miss the evidence that God was among them. "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (I Corinthians 1:21-24).
The Jews were looking for signs from God and those signs were done in their presence (John 20:30-31). But, they closed their eyes to the very signs for which they claimed to be looking. "But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them."" (John 12:37-40). They were unable to recognize the blessing they had among them. "For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him" (Acts 13:27).
Another reason the Jews did not believe Jesus was because God wasn't meeting their expectations. "And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him" (Luke 7:29-30). They did not understand God's purpose. A strong example of this is their rejection of the message of God when it became clear that God meant to save the Gentiles. There was a long history of animosity between the Jews and the Gentiles. The very thought that God would be willing to receive Gentiles as his people drove away many Jews. "But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report?" So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: "Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world." But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: "I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation." But Isaiah is very bold and says: "I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me." But to Israel he says: "All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people" (Romans 10:16-21). Examples of this misbehavior can be found in Acts 13:43-50 and Acts 17:2-5.
To put it simply, Jesus was not behaving as they expected their Messiah to act, so they dismissed him (John 6:14-15, 26-27, 66).
Then too, some of the Jews rejected Jesus because they feared their fellow Jews. "Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:41-43).
Such a rejection of Christ continues today. People will reject the message of God for the same reasons the Jews rejected Jesus when he walked among them.