Tract 14a
Why the Jews Rejected Jesus as the Messiah
- Supplement to Lesson 14

Frederick Carnes Gilbert (1861-1946) was born of Hebrew parentage in London, England. Emigrating to America, he accepted the Advent Message in Boston in 1889 and was baptized that year.

After attending the South Lancaster Academy (1890-1894),  he was married to Ella M. Graham in 1896, and two years later was ordained to the ministry. For the next thirteen years he labored in the Atlantic Union Conference, and in 1911 he began work for the Jews under the aegis of the North American Division office. In 1918 he transferred to the General Conference, where he continued this work. From 1922 onward, he traveled all over the world in evangelistic work--that took him to Europe, Asia, Central and South America.

His books were unusual. If you can obtain copies, you will be blessed. Unfortunately they are now out-of-print. His published works include "Messiah in His Sanctuary," "Judaism and Christianity," "Divine Predictions of Mrs. Ellen G. White Fulfilled," and two autobiographies, "From Judaism to Christianity," and "Gospel Work Among the Hebrews." The first of these is of special significance.

Elder F.C. Gilbert was an expert in both the Hebrew language, and in ancient and modern Jewish culture. The following article is abridged from an essay published in the December 1933 issue of "Ministry" magazine. The abridgement was reprinted in the December 15, 1983 issue of the "Adventist Review."

Come see how the scholarship of the world destroyed the Jews:

Why did the Jews fail to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, when the Old Testament Scriptures were filled with prediction, type, and prophecy regarding His advent into our world? The refusal of the Sanhedrin to acclaim Him is especially difficult to understand, since the apostles repeatedly state that, had these people known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Their sacrificing of His life was done through ignorance. It seems well nigh inexplicable for some to harmonize the rejection of Jesus by the Pharisees while they were recognized as the leaders who sat in Moses' seat.

The Scriptures present the Jewish people as honest, zealous, and sincere. Paul says of them: "I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." (Rom. 10:2). And of his own training and education, even before he accepted the Saviour, he adds: "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward man" (Acts 24:16). "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Tim. 1:12,13).

Because of the bitter experience through which the seed of Abraham passed in the captivity of Babylon for seventy years, after their deliverance from Babylonian exile the leaders determined never again to reject the counsel of God's word. Influential men of Israel feared the serious consequences that might overtake them if they were again led away from the true God. The following statement from Ezra is to the point: "Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? Shouldst not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?" (Ezra 9:14).

In a Jewish treatise entitled Ethics of the Fathers, written about the second century before Christ, we read, "Be deliberate in judgment; train up many disciples; and make a fence for the law." The sages of Israel put forth their best effort to fence in the law. They multiplied comments, explanations, treaties, targums, and other religious helps in order that the people might better understand the teaching of the word of God. Unfortunately, in their endeavor to familiarize the people with the requirements contained in Scripture for following God, they stumbled over a great stumblingstone.

According to the Jewish historian Josephus, after Alexander the Great worshiped in the Temple at Jerusalem following his reception by Juddua the high priest, a spirit of friendliness developed between the Greeks and the Jews. Alexander's generals found it difficult to understand why their chief should embrace the high priest when they met on Mount Scopus, instead of putting him to death. Alexander told his officials that what occurred that day was shown to him in a vision when he was in Macedonia, and he wanted the privilege of entering the Temple and worshiping the God of Juddua (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 11. 8. 5).

The Greeks assured the Jews that they desired to be their true friends and benefactors. They desired to learn more of the God of the Hebrews. An arrangement was entered into that allowed a large number of rabbis from Jerusalem to go to Alexandria in Egypt and translate the writings of the Jewish Scriptures into the Greek language. Greek scholarship and learning was seeking in every way possible to enhance the value of its own culture and refinement. It was also suggested by the Greeks that the Jews send their talented young men to Alexandria for training and instruction in the philosophies, sciences, and learning of the Greeks.

Many of the elders of Israel feared the results of such a course, the sages remembering the sorrows of their ancestors who came into contact with heathen manners and customs. They counseled the younger men against such a procedure. These, in turn, argued that it would be an advantage for strong, thoughtful, vigorous young men to enter the schools of Greece, as they might influence the philosophers and Greek scholars to see the value and beauty of the Jewish religion, and some of the learned Greeks might embrace Judaism. Still, the aged men of Israel advised against it. They maintained that should the younger men come into contact with the learning of the heathen, it might be ruinous to the future of the Jewish race.

The Greeks assured the fathers in Israel that they could hold to their own standards of religion. They were encouraged to believe that the synagogues where the children were taught their religion would not be interfered with; their Beth Hamedrosh (house of learning, their high schools), where their young people received preparatory training, would continue as heretofore; the Talmud Torah (their colleges where advanced studies were conducted) would be strengthened if the teachers of the law could draw from the wisdom and learning of the scholars of Greece; and by receiving recognition from Greece, at that time the world's greatest nation, the graduates of Jewish schools would be greatly advantaged.

Many of Israel's influential men yielded to Greek urging. They said that God would help their young men to be true to their religion, and the training schools of Jewry would have a better standing in the eyes of the nations. The men of Israel were made to feel that the advantages of the Jewish scholars would be immeasurable. The young men would gain knowledge, influence, prestige.

Gradually the Jewish schools came to confer degrees upon their graduates. There were the Rav, or rabbi, the Tana, the Gayon, the Sadi, and the Rabbon. It was thought necessary for the graduates of the rabbinical schools to display their rank by wearing different clothing. Little by little an educational aristocracy was formed, which was called the Sanhedrin. This term is of Greek origin, the Hebrew name being Beth din ha-go-dol, Great House of Judgment.

The religious schools continued to operate, but a marked declension in spiritual influence and power was apparent. Year by year the word of God was studied less, as studies based on culture and philosophy increased. Human concerns became exalted and God was less thought of. The rabbi was extolled; the unlearned were depreciated. Piety gradually diminished as form and ceremony increased. Many laws were passed favoring rabbinism and school customs, yet students were encouraged to love and obey God.

In Ethics of the Fathers the rabbis taught "A child of five years should study the Bible, at ten the Mishna, at fifteen the Gemara."

The Mishna is a voluminous commentary on the Bible; the Gemara is the commentary of the Mishna. So as the student advanced in years and developed in mental acumen, he studied God's word less and human writings more.

In order for leaders to be accepted by Jewish assemblies, they must have completed a course in the rabbinical schools. Those who failed to follow the procedure mapped out by the Great Sanhedrin (or by the lesser Sanhedrin located in cities and towns of Palestine outside Jerusalem, headquarters of the Beth din ha-go-dol, The Great House of Judgment) received no recognition by the populace. The graduate rabbi was known by his garb. It was imperative that rabbinical qualifications be met in order for a person to gain a hearing by the children of Abraham.

Such were conditions in the land of Judea at the time John and Jesus appeared.

"By the Babylonish captivity the Israelites were effectually cured of the worship of graven images. During the centuries that followed, they suffered from the oppression of heathen foes until the conviction became fixed that their prosperity depended upon their obedience to the law of God . . . After the return from Babylon, much attention was given to religious instruction. All over the country, synagogues were erected where the law was expounded by the priests and scribes. And schools were established, which, together with the arts and sciences, professed to teach the principles of righteousness. But these agencies became corrupted . . . In many things they conformed to the practices of idolaters.

"As they departed from God, the Jews in a great degree lost sight of the teaching of the ritual service . . . The Jews lost the spiritual life from their ceremonies, and clung to the dead forms . . . In order to supply the place of that which they had lost, the priests and rabbis multiplied requirements of their own; and the more rigid they grew, the less of the love of God was manifested. They measured their holiness by the multitude of their ceremonies, while their hearts were filled with pride and hypocrisy."-- The Desire of Ages, 29.

Since John and Jesus were not the products of rabbinical schools, the people would not recognize their authority as teachers. But God gave these men a message filled with divine power and with the heavenly Spirit. Because the leaders of Israel failed to accept the message of John as coming from God, they were unprepared to receive the message of the Saviour, although He assured them that His life and advent were based on the sacred Scriptures. The rabbis argued: "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" (John 7:15).

Since the members of Jesus' family were loyal to the synagogues, His own brothers did not believe on Him as Messiah (see John 7:4, 5). Because the standards of learning were established by the Sanhedrin and no one who refused to accept the teaching of the rabbis was given recognition, it is not difficult to understand why, when the Saviour came to those who were custodians of the oracles of Gad, they failed to recognize Him as the fulfillment of the types and prophecy spoken of by Moses and the prophets.

By mingling human philosophy with the Word of God, the spiritual force and power of the Scriptures was lacking in the lives of teachers and laymen. They did not have spiritual discernment. Alexandrian and Athenian culture had sapped the spiritual strength of the house of Israel. The influence of worldly religious training unfitted all classes to meet Him when "He came unto His own." "His own received Him not." His claims were heavenly; the people were of the earth, earthly. Heaven and earth did not harmonize.

At the beginning of His work Jesus told the people that the populace would kill Him. The Pharisees accused Him of being a Samaritan and of having a devil. Blinded by sin, influenced and hypnotized by human learning and rabbinical tradition, the masses were lacking in spiritual intuition. In the end they rejected their only hope, their one source of deliverance. No honesty, zeal, or earnestness could deliver or save them from sin. Only Jesus, the light of the world, the Saviour of men, could bring deliverance.

To a great extent the leaders of Israel had yielded to the demands of Greek culture and learning, thereby hoping to gain prestige and influence. They had been led to believe that they would be advantaged by assimilating worldly standards of education more than by clinging tenaciously to the standards bequeathed to them by their godly ancestors. So the Jews lost much of their influence, failed to retain their prestige, and rejected their long-looked-for Messiah and Saviour. 

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