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Question 71.

Dear Father Christopher
Why did most of the Jews not accept Christ as the Messiah as they had waited many many years for him to come, what were the reasons they turned against him?


Many Thanks Nicky.

 

Answer to Question 71.

Dear Nicky.
The Christian faith is based on the fundamental truth and absolute fact that Jesus is God incarnate, that he came into the world as the expected Messiah, that he suffered and died on the Cross and arose from the dead on the third day, fulfilling everything in accordance with the prophecies as written in the Old Testament. Many are the prophecies that were given to Israel for them to recognize the Messiah when he came. For 5000 years a nation had been waiting and anticipating the Messiah. The prophecies came at different times and by different men, slowly but surely, one after the other, each speaking about the same person, each adding new details to fill in the puzzle so that when the time finally came the Messiah could be easily recognized and there would be little room for doubts as to who he was.
From the prophecies it was known that the Messiah would stem from Abraham's son Isaac, from his son Jacob and then from Jacob's son Judah. In later generations he would stem from Jesse and the royal house of David. We are told that he would be born of a virgin who has known no man, that he will have a humble birth in a stable with a manger as his cot, (Isaiah 1:3) and that he would be born in Bethlehem. The prophecies even tell us that he would live and grow up in the region known as the Galilee of the Gentiles of which Nazareth and Capernaum belonged.
It could be argued that the birth of Christ was a very private event involving just a handful of people and that the religious leaders didn't have the opportunity to link the prophecies with the actual event. Certainly in their minds they had preconceived images of how the Messiah would appear. They would not have acknowledged the humble birth because for them the Messiah, the King and God would not condescend to be born in a stable, but in the greatest of kings’ palaces wrapped in royal garments and laying in a golden bed fit for the King of kings.
But even though the birth was very private, word did get to them of a king born in Bethlehem and the news should have aroused their interests to investigate. When King Herod heard that the Magi from the east had come searching for the newborn king of the Jews, he called together the Great Council of the Jews comprising all the chief priests and scribes of the people. St. Matthew tells us that Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled at the news. Understandably, Herod feared that a new king had appeared who would take his throne, but why were the chief priests and scribes troubled? Should they not have rejoiced that possibly the long awaited Messiah had finally appeared? The prophecies at least pointed to this possibility for when Herod asked them where Christ should be born, they answered without any hesitation that he would be born in Bethlehem of Judaea, because in was written: "And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel." (Matt. 2: 5-6)
When later on Herod gave the order to slaughter all the innocent children in the hope that among them he would kill the new King, why didn't the Chief priests and scribes object to this mad and inhumane slaughter, why didn't they try to protect the child so that at least they could investigate further if the child was indeed the Messiah and rightful King of Israel? Why didn't the Chief priests and scribes, who knew the scriptures and prophecies very well, recall the prophecy by the Prophet Jeremiah concerning the slaughter of the innocent children when he said: “In Ramah was there a voice heard, of lamentation, and weeping and mourning; Rachel would not cease weeping for her children, because they are no more.” (Jerem. 38:15) Rama means a high place and was a hill on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The prophecy mentions Rachel weeping for her children and presents her as a mother representing all the mothers who wept and mourned for their children because Bethlehem was given to Benjamin, the youngest son of Israel and Rachael was his mother who was also buried on that high place in Bethlehem. By their non intervention they were just as guilty of these murders as Herod was and as we shall see later, they had their own motives for wanting the death of the Messiah.
The years went by and they probably thought that the Messiah had indeed been killed in the mass slaughter, until Christ, as a grown up, began his preaching and performed miracles that only a man from God could perform. Again the religious leaders must have been troubled. The people were gathering around Jesus believing that he was indeed a man from God, a prophet and why not even the Messiah. The expected Messiah would have been welcomed by the Jewish leaders if his mission was purely political and that he came only to deliver them from Roman bondage and set up a kingdom where they would be the rulers. This is the general understanding of most people today; that the Jews rejected Jesus because He failed, in their eyes, to do what they expected their Messiah to do - to destroy all their enemies and establish an eternal kingdom with Israel as the pre-eminent nation in the world.
At that time, Israel was occupied by Rome and the Jewish hope was for the Messiah to come and free Israel from the Romans. In St. Luke's Gospel account of the Resurrection, when Christ met with the two disciples Cleopas and Luke on the road to Emmaus, the disciples were telling Christ of the events leading up to the Crucifixion and Resurrection and said: "the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel." (Luke 24: 20-21)
Even among the 12 closest disciples of Jesus there were some who still believed that he had come to deliver them from their political enemies. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that after Christ was Risen, but before his Ascension the disciples asked him: "Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) Thus we see that not only the religious leaders and the people in general, but also the closest companions of Jesus, even after all Jesus had taught and done, were still longing for the political deliverer to fulfil the Jewish hopes and dreams of liberation from Rome.

This hope of a political deliverer is overwhelmingly clear in Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Christ had been to Jerusalem before, but now he enters the city officially proclaiming that he is the Messiah. Many people were at this time in Jerusalem as the feast of the Passover was approaching and they had come to make preparations for the feast. They had heard that Jesus had raised Lazarus who had been dead for four days and because of this many came to believe that he was the descendant of King David, the expected Messiah; the Christ who would deliver them from the yoke of the Romans.
Christ enters the Holy City on a young donkey. Not the most glorious of entries for a king who would be expected to enter with glory on horseback, but nevertheless the image of a victorious king is still present even in its humble version. He comes humbly because he doesn’t come as the national saviour whom the people expected, but as the saviour of souls. But this very humble entry is what proclaimed him as the Messiah. Those who knew the scriptures would have instantly recalled the Prophecy by the Prophet Zachariah which said: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zach. 9:9) Those who believed or were curious to see if Lazarus was with him, run to meet him and laid their clothes on the ground as he passed by while others cut branches from the trees and threw them before him or waved them as a sign of victory. The Palm branches were used as a visual sign of victory in the Old Testament.

In spiritual terms Christ is the victor over death, but the people received him as the hoped for victor over their enemies. Their cry of "Hosanna to the son of David" affirms that at that moment at least, they acknowledged him as the expected Messiah. They treated Him like a conquering king. Then when He allowed Himself to be arrested, tried and crucified on the cross, the people suddenly stopped believing that he was the promised Messiah; they rejected their Christ because if he was dying on the Cross how could he deliver them from their enemies? He no longer fitted in with their understanding or expectation of a political deliverer. He didn’t free them from the rule of Rome, he never lead them to political or economic freedom from their enemies. For most Jews this was the ultimate test of the true Messiah and if he wasn't able to deliver then he just wasn't the one.
For most Jews, even today, this is just confirmation to them that their ancient ancestors of the 1st Century were correct in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. History has been harsh with the Jewish people and today they have many more reasons to continue rejecting Christ as the Messiah: it was his followers, the Christians, who for centuries persecuted the Jews, from the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the pogroms in Russia and Europe, to Hitler’s holocaust. Jews ultimately believe that they are being held responsible for the death of Jesus Christ and are being persecuted for that reason.
Many say that it was not the Jews that crucified Christ, but the Romans. This is not altogether true. The Romans carried out the crucifixion, but it was the Jews who demanded that Christ be put to death. When Pontius Pilate wanted to release Jesus the Jewish people insisted on his death and seeing that he could not change their minds he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. (Matth. 27: 24-25) Thus by their own confession they were guilty of murder and cursed their own children.
But if the people rejected Christ because he didn't live up to their expectations as the Messiah who would deliver them from the Roman occupation, this is almost understandable considering the fact that the masses were not spiritually minded, but rather were spiritually blinded by their zeal and hopes of freedom. For them the Messiah represented a political deliverer and not a spiritual deliverer. But what about the religious leaders, the Chief priests, the Scribes and the Pharisees; surely with their education and knowledge of the Scriptures they must have understood that the Messiah was far more than a political deliverer, surely they knew that the Messiah was also God incarnate. Isaiah prophesied to this saying: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7: 14) Emmanuel means God with us. Again Isaiah said: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) Isaiah clearly says that a child will be born who is the mighty God and everlasting Father. Thus the spiritual leaders must have understood that the expected Messiah was not just a political deliverer, but God himself in the flesh. It is because they understood this of the Messiah that they sought to kill him. Their motives for wanting Christ dead were very different from the masses. We saw that from the moment Christ was born they were in agreement with Herod to have him killed. They were troubled at the thought that they would come face to face with God who would demand of them to give account for their spiritual leadership of the people.
Their approach to receiving the Messiah was nothing new. Every prophet sent by God was received in the same way for the same reason. All the prophets without exception addressed and denounced Israel's hardness of heart, their careless spiritual attitude and falling away from God's commandments. God sent Israel many prophets to remind the kings and priests of their obligations, but they showed disregard and contempt for God and his prophets.
They closed their eyes and ears so that they would not see or hear all the things God had done for them and what he commanded them to do in the Law. Through arrogance and self-centeredness they disregarded the Commandments and forgot about God and became as strangers to him. They considered themselves above the Prophets and even above God and were not willing to be preached at with messages of repentance. They wanted a God they could control, who would do things in ways they wanted them to be done. Thus in their minds if they did away with the prophets and messengers of God they would be left to their own devices on how to rule the people. The Spiritual leaders of the people proved to be evil and did nothing of what they should have done. On the one hand they had committed the gravest sin by murdering God's ambassadors and on the other hand they acted as though they had done nothing by going to worship and pray in the temple, which they did only as a formality to appear to the people as good and virtuous men.
Christ verified that the Jews were guilty of killing the Prophets when he said to them: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers." (Matth. 23: 29-32)
They showed no remorse for their wicked actions and even believed that they were righteous because they knew how to interpret the Law. They had outwardly observed the Law and appeared to be obedient to the word of God: so where was the need for them to repent? They were therefore raged with the prophets telling them that they had fallen away from God and the Law and were in need of repentance.
For the spiritual leaders in Christ's time, the appearance of the Messiah must have been more fearful than the appearance of the prophets to their ancestors, but keeping in character with their forefathers they again thought that if they did away with him their troubles would be over.
So did Israel's spiritual leaders know that Christ was the Messiah? Yes, they knew and Christ verified this in the parable of the wicked tenants. (Matth. 21:33-46)
He told them that a certain householder planted a vineyard and let it out to husbandmen. Then when it was time for the harvest he sent his servants to receive the fruits of it. In the parable the householder is God, the vineyard is Israel and the husbandmen are the spiritual leaders. Christ continues saying that the spiritual leaders took the servants, in other words the prophets, and beat one, killed another and stoned another. God then sent more prophets and again they did unto them the same. Lastly God sent his Son to them saying that they will reverence my Son. But when the spiritual leaders saw him they said among themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him." Thus here Christ is clearly telling them what they will soon do to him, how they will take council against him and condemn him to suffer death on the Cross. Notice that they said this is the heir. They recognized that Christ was the Son of God and the rightful King of Israel. They thought that if they did away with him then they would be able to seize his inheritance, in other words they would have complete control and rule over the people of Israel. So they caught him and cast him out of the vineyard and slew him. Christ even foretells them where they would crucify him, out of the vineyard, outside of the city walls.
In conclusion to your question, I will answer that the Spiritual leaders and rulers of the people definitely knew that Christ was the Messiah, but in fear of losing their power and control over the people, in fear of losing their wealth and position in society, they agreed among themselves that they would follow in their fathers footsteps and kill him. The masses rejected him because he didn't live up to their expectations of the Messiah, but the spiritual leaders rejected him because he was God. From the moment they understood who he was they planned on how to put him away. They didn't want to investigate and examine whether or not Jesus was the Messiah, they knew he was, their only concern was how they were going to eliminate him. As long as the people recognized him as the expected Messiah their plans were in danger, but after, with the help of Judas, they had him arrested and brought before Pilate, after the multitudes saw the man in whom they had placed all their hopes on delivering them from the Romans, like a common criminal, beaten with many stripes and standing before them a weak and frail man, their hopes were suddenly lost. How could this weak man be their Messiah? At this moment the chief priests and elders seized the opportunity to influence the people. They persuaded the multitude to ask for the release of a murderer Barrabas and to crucify Christ who had deceived them into believing that he was the Messiah. (Matth. 27: 20)


With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher