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
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
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
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
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
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