This article will be a disturbing study to many Seventh-day Adventists because of what it reveals. The subject is the rejection by the Jews of Jesus when He came to this earth as a babe. I want to be sure that we understand its application to the last days.
We are going to study history, but we are not just studying history. We are studying history that prophecy has told us is going to be repeated. I have learned that God’s people are very poor at understanding prophecy when they see it being fulfilled. We are not too bad at understanding prophecy that has been fulfilled in the past, because we can read a history book and compare history with the prophecy. We can go back and forth and see that the history book confirms what a prophet said 2,500 years before.
Such a comparison can be done with the history of the Messiah. We can look at the history and the prophecies and ask why the Jews rejected Jesus. They had been expecting the Messiah to come for over 1,000 years. They were preaching about it every week in the synagogue. They were all expecting it to happen. They were talking about it, they had been studying about it, and every Jewish boy, ever since he could remember, had been told about the wonderful things that were going to happen when the Messiah came. Yet, when He came, they rejected Him.
The Jewish people did not recognize that they were rejecting the Messiah. They said, “The Messiah has not yet come. We are expecting the Messiah to come, and we want the Messiah to come, but that event is in the future; it is not right now.” One of the great dangers of God’s people today is that when prophecy is fulfilled right in front of our eyes, we will not recognize it. We will say, “No, that is not it. It is coming in the future.”
I get telephone calls and letters from people all of the time who agree that the Lord is going to purify the church, but they are talking about the future. Friends, that is a terrible mistake. God is purifying His church right now, in front of us. While they are looking for something to start, it is going to all be over, and they will not even know it. Ellen White indicated that it had started in her day, and that was over 100 years ago. We need to ask the Lord to open our eyes so that we will be able to understand what is happening in the spiritual world right in front of us.
Devil in Control
Ellen White writes, “We want to understand the time in which we live. We do not half understand it. We do not half take it in. My heart trembles in me when I think of what a foe we have to meet, and how poorly we are prepared to meet him. The trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the second coming of Christ—how the enemy sought every occasion to take control of the minds of the Jews, and today he is seeking to blind the minds of God’s servants, that they may not be able to discern the precious truth.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 406.
She said that the devil had been trying to take control of the minds of the Jews. Was he very successful? Yes, he was. Then let me ask you another question: Those Jews, of whom the devil was able to take control of their minds, did they know that the devil was in control? No, they did not. And she said, to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the Second Coming, the Lord showed her over and over that the devil would try to do the same thing again.
By What Authority
Why did the Jews reject Jesus? In John 2:13–22 we read about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It is at the Passover time, 28 A.D. Jesus began His ministry as the Messiah by cleansing the temple. Verse 18 reads, “So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ ”
In Matthew we see some of the reasons they were asking for a sign. Let us see if this sounds familiar to anybody. “Now when He came into the temple [this is the time after He had just cleansed the temple the second time, at the close of His ministry], the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?’ ” Matthew 21:23.
To understand the significance of the question they were asking, you have to understand the system with which they were working. These people believed that they were God’s people, God’s church, His children. They had a worldwide representative body that they called the Sanhedrin. It is equivalent to what we call the General Conference today. This was a group of 70 individuals which, they said, had been duly appointed by God. They could prove it by the Scriptures.
“So the Lord said to Moses: ‘Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and will talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that [is] upon you and will put [the same] upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear [it] yourself alone.’ ” Numbers 11:16, 17.
The Lord directed Moses to choose 70 of the elders of the people. He said He would put His spirit on these people. Now, obviously the time came when those people died, right? And after they died they selected other elders. And then after they died, they selected other elders, and they kept doing that. In Christ’s day they still had this group of 70. They said:
- This group of 70, the Sanhedrin, is the group that is duly appointed. God directed us through Moses to have this group of people as the elders of His people.
- These are the duly appointed leaders of God’s people.
- These men are representatives from all parts of the field.
- These men have been ordained since the days of Moses that they should represent the Lord to His people and that they should have divine authority. It is the responsibility of these men to plan for the prosperity and the advancement of God’s work.
- This is the highest authority God has on earth and this authority must be respected.
In the days of Christ, before you could be a teacher or a preacher and talk to God’s people and be known as an instructor, you needed to have authorization from this group. We have a modern name for it; today we call it credentials.
Jesus and John the Baptist did not have these credentials. You see, in order to get these credentials, you had to go through their school system and neither Jesus nor John the Baptist had done this. That is why, in Matthew 21:23 and in John 2, the question is being asked, Who gave you authority to do this? The Sanhedrin had not given authority, and the people thought that if the Sanhedrin had not given authority, then you were like what we would call an offshoot. So they accused both Jesus and John the Baptist of taking something upon their own individual responsibility.
Have you ever heard that you are not supposed to work on your own individual responsibility? that you are to be appointed and directed by the church? The Jews rejected both John the Baptist and Jesus; because they had not gone through their school system; they had not received the proper theological training, and therefore, they did not have any credentials. They were taking upon their individual responsibility when they should have not done anything except as they were directed through the Sanhedrin. They had a total misconception in those days about who the church was. That is what led to that kind of thinking.
John the Baptist talked very plain and straight to them. “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.’ ” Matthew 3:7.
Harmony With the Law
We know that the Judgment is not based on profession but on character. The Judgment is not based on who your father is or to what organization or group you belong. Oh, no. In the Judgment the question is not going to be, Did you belong to this church organization or that organization? Ellen White says that God is only going to ask one question on the Day of Judgment: Did this person keep My law or not? That is it, because that reveals the character. (See The Signs of the Times, May 19, 1887.)
The Jews did not understand this. They said, “We are God’s people.” How did they know that they were God’s people? Because, they said, “We are Abraham’s children.” They had all been circumcised. They were all Abraham’s children, but notice what John the Baptist had to say about this. He does not call them Abraham’s children. He calls them a brood of poisonous snakes, and in verse 8 he says, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” In other words, your life, your character has to be in harmony with what you say you are doing. You say you are repenting of your sins, well, your life has to be in harmony with that repentance. “And do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as [our] father.’ ” Matthew 3:9. That is what they were saying: “We are God’s people because Abraham is our father; we are the children of Israel; we are God’s chosen people.” John the Baptist told them that profession was worthless. He told them that unless their lives were in harmony with the Law of God, they were not God’s people. (See The Desire of Ages, 107.)
That was pretty strong, because they had been taught ever since they were little children that they were God’s chosen people because they were Abraham’s children. You know, you tend to believe something if you have been taught it ever since you were a little child, if you learned it from your mother’s knee.
You can see why John the Baptist was not very popular with the leaders. It was not just because he called them a bunch of poisonous snakes; it was because He was attacking something that they had cherished as a belief ever since they could remember. He was attacking one of their most fundamental beliefs—that they were Abraham’s children, God’s people.
John the Baptist said, No, that is not true. Profession is worthless unless your character backs up your profession. Unless your character is in harmony with God’s Law, you are not His people. It was a shock! They knew they were not obeying the Law of God. They knew that there was a prophecy, but they said, “We are God’s people because we are Abraham’s children.” They believed that, when the Messiah came, He would purify the church. He would straighten out the Sanhedrin. So they said, “Even though things are bad, we are just praying, hoping, and waiting. The Messiah is coming, and when the Messiah comes, He will purify the church.” Now let me ask you something. When the Messiah came, did He purify the church?
Whether you believe He purified the church or not depends upon who the church is in your thinking.
You see, if you believe that the church is those people who are Abraham’s children—the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas and company, and all of those in that whole group,—if that is who you believe the church is, then it did not get purified. The question is, Is that really the church?
Did the true church actually get purified? Yes, it did. Who is the church? That is not difficult. The Bible tells us in Colossians 1 who and what the church is. It says that the church is the body of Christ. How many heads does the body have? One! The Bible is very clear about that in Ephesians 1. The church has one head. There are beasts in the Bible that have seven heads, four heads, and all sorts of things, but the church has just one head.
When Jesus was here in the flesh, who was the head of the church? He was! There are many people who believe that Caiaphas was the head of the church when Jesus was here. Who you believe to be the head of the church has all kinds of implications. Because of the Jew’s belief about who and what the church is, they believed that Jesus and John the Baptist were tearing down the church.
Ellen White says, “Though He was the Prince of Peace, His coming must be as the unsheathing of a sword. The kingdom He had come to establish was the opposite of that which the Jews desired. He who was the foundation of the ritual and economy of Israel would be looked upon as its enemy and destroyer. He who had proclaimed the law upon Sinai would be condemned as a transgressor. He who had come to break the power of Satan would be denounced as Beelzebub.” The Desire of Ages, 111.
With all of the miracles that Jesus performed, with all of His preaching and teaching, and with the character that He brought, why was it that He could not turn the Jewish nation around? It was because of their understanding of the Scriptures!
Scriptures “Prove” Error
Do you realize that they used the Scriptures to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah? There were hundreds of Scriptures that they used. We will read only two, so you can get a feel for the way they developed Bible studies to prove to the Jewish people that Jesus was not the Messiah. These Bible studies were very effective.
You need to understand, friends, that there is a right way and a wrong way to use inspired writings. You can prove error from the Bible and from the Spirit of Prophecy. It has happened many times, and it will continue to happen. That is one of the reasons Ellen White counsels us that before we ever study the Bible, we should pray. (See The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, 350.) We should say, Lord, help me to understand truth so that the devil does not work on my mind and wrest the Scripture so that the very Word of truth is taken to teach error.
“He [that is the Messiah] shall have dominion also from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.” Psalm 72:8. The Jews would read that Scripture and ask, “Is this Jesus of Nazareth? Does He reign from sea to sea? Does His dominion go to the ends of the earth?” Everybody would see the answer was No. The Romans were ruling the world then. Jesus was not ruling to the ends of the earth. So, they reasoned, that proves that He is not the Messiah.
Another text they used says, “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The Lord of hosts [is] His name): ‘If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the Lord, [Then] the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the Lord.’ ” Jeremiah 31:35–37.
They would read this Scripture and say, “This Jesus and John the Baptist are preaching against the Sanhedrin and against the church organization, and if they get their way, they are going to destroy our nation.” That is what Caiaphas said. (See John 11.) They would ask, “Is the sun still up there? Is the moon still up there? Are the stars still up there?” Well, yes. “Then, Israel is still God’s people.”
Now I want you to see how much different their idea was than Jesus’ ideas. Jesus, just like John the Baptist, showed them that it was character that counted. Character is always what has counted in God’s sight.
In John 8:37, 38 is recorded Jesus’ words: “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.” Jesus tells them, My Father and your father are not the same.
They said, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus immediately denied that in verse 39: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.” In other words, If Abraham were your father, you would manifest the character of Abraham. Jesus denied their allegation. He acknowledged in verse 37 that Abraham was their father according to the flesh, but He denied in verse 39 that Abraham was their father spiritually.
He said, Abraham is not really your father. He proved to them that they were doing something completely contrary to what Abraham would ever do. In verse 41 He said, “You do the deeds of your father.” Your character shows who your spiritual father is. That was too much. They got sarcastic.
All of His life Jesus was accused of being a product of fornication and of being an illegitimate son. The Jews never accepted the fact of the virgin birth, because if they had, they would have had to acknowledge that He was the Messiah. So they said, “We have not been born of fornication. We have one Father, God.” Verse 41. They did have some standards and rules. You could not be born of fornication and be part of the Sanhedrin. Jesus immediately replied, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. . . . Your father is the devil.” Verses 42, 44.
He hit them right between the eyes! My Father is God, but your father is the devil. You say that God is your Father, but it is not true. The devil is your father. How did Jesus know that the devil was their father? “You are of [your] father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and [does not] stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own [resources], for he is a liar and the father of it.” Verse 44. How do you tell who your father is? Your character tells.
Of the Devil
The devil was a liar and a murderer, Jesus says, from the beginning. He told them they were lying and murdering, plotting His murder. That proved that the devil was their father. Or as the same writer says in 1 John 3:8, “He who sins is of the devil.”
Oh, no, we say, we are Christians. That is not what the Bible says. No matter what we profess, if we are living in sin, the Bible says our father, our spiritual father, is the devil. In fact, John is so strong about this in 1 John 3:4–10, that he says, If you really are converted, if you are born again, you will not sin. And if you are sinning, you are of the devil.
So why did the church in Jesus’ day reject Him? Why did they reject the Messiah? Oh, it was because of all these theological theories that they had built up directly from the Old Testament. Even in the face of miracles and everything else, they said, “The miracles have to be from the devil, because He could not be the right one. We can prove it from the Bible.”
The same thing is happening today. People say to me, “We just have to wait. God is going to purify the church someday, and then we will finish the work.” Let me tell you something, God will have the work all finished while these people are waiting for the purifying to happen.
The evidence right now is that God is getting ready to finish His work all over the world. And the most wonderful experience that you and I can have is if we could just be a little part of it.
[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]