The rejection of Jesus Christ by the majority of Jewish people in the first century AD was a major apologetic issue in the early church. Why is it that the people best positioned to recognize their Messiah, largely failed to do so?
The Apostle Paul anticipated that question in Romans chapter 11. The argument he made there seems to run as follows:
Has God rejected ethnic Israel forever?
God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. (Romans 11:2 ESV)
In what sense has he not rejected them, given that so few have embraced the Christ sent for their salvation?
Answer: Even now there is a remnant of Jews who follow the Christ.
So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Romans 11:5 ESV)
But why is it that the majority of Jews do not follow the Christ?
Answer 1: They would rather try to earn their own salvation through works of the law; therefore God has given them over to a spirit of stupor for the time being.
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:3 ESV)
Answer: 2: God has given them over to unbelief for an unspecified period of time.
as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” (Romans 11:8 ESV)
Answer 3: In some mysterious way it serves the purpose of speeding the progress of the Gospel among the Gentiles.
through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11 ESV)
Will this state of affaires continue forever?
Answer: No. The conversion and blessing of the Gentiles will eventually make the Jews jealous and will awaken in them an interest in their Messiah.
through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (Romans 11:11 ESV)
I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous (Romans 11:13–14 ESV)
how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Romans 11:24 ESV)
What will be the effect upon the world of the eventual conversion of the Jewish people?
Answer: It will invite a massive flood of Gentiles into the Kingdom of God.
Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (Romans 11:12 ESV)
For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15 ESV)
When will the conversion of the Jewish people take place?
Answer: Sometime near the end of the Gentile mission.
a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25 ESV)
Despite being ordained by God, the failure of the Jewish people to recognize their Messiah was terribly upsetting both to Jesus and the Apostle Paul.
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41–42 ESV)
The Apostle Paul went so far as to say:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9:3 ESV)
Yet somehow, in the mysteries of Providence, their willful rejection of Christ was also foreordained by God as an important part of how the Gospel would take root among the nations. Perhaps if the Gospel had been widely embraced by ethnic Israel it would have been considered by the nations as just a message particular to the Jewish people. Jesus would have been dismissed as just another tribal deity. Perhaps that is the reason – but it is a dangerous thing to try and see into the mind of God. Paul makes it clear that Israel remains outside presently because of willful disbelief:
For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:2–3 ESV)
They did not submit.
Therefore they remain outside.
The good news, however, is that this state of affairs will not continue forever. At some point in the future, perhaps the very near future, the wide embrace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ among the Gentile nations will cause Israel to turn and reconsider that which God has provided for them. In their own Scriptures God speaks of such a day; he says:
I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10 ESV)
They shall look on me, on him whom they have pierced and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child.
O Lord – haste the day!!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.