(Rom. 11:1-21) Why did the Jews reject Jesus, if he was their Promised Messiah?

CLAIM: Paul has already stated that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures (1:3-4), and he has quoted these Hebrew Scriptures countless times in his letter to the Romans. And yet, many of the Jews in Paul’s day rejected Jesus as their King. This would appear to be a gross contradiction in God’s plan. This is why Paul addresses this subject in Romans 11:1 (“God has not rejected His people, has He?”). How do we account for so many Jews rejecting Jesus, if he was in fact the Jewish Messiah?

RESPONSE: There are a number of points to consider.

First, rebellion against God’s plan is not a NT pattern, but an OT one. When we survey the OT, we see that God’s people frequently rejected his plan. For instance, God called his people a “stubborn people” immediately before they entered the Promised Land (Deut. 9:6). Jeremiah wrote, “And the Lord has sent to you all His servants the prophets again and again, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear” (Jer. 25:4). 2 Chronicles records, “They continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people” (2 Chron. 36:16). In Numbers, we read, “But all the congregation said to stone them [Moses and Aaron] with stones” (Num. 14:10), because they disagreed with their leadership so much. It’s remarkable that the Jews were close to stoning Moses –their faithful and anointed leader –but the Bible clearly records this (compare with Matthew 27:22). In the Psalms, we read, “Therefore the Lord heard and was full of wrath; and a fire was kindled against Jacob and anger also mounted against Israel, 22 because they did not believe in God and did not trust in His salvation… In spite of all this they still sinned and did not believe in His wonderful works” (Ps. 78:21-22, 32).

Second, 90% of Jews today are not practicing orthodox Judaism. Obviously, an orthodox Jew would not say that God’s Torah had failed! Instead, God’s people had merely failed to obey what the Torah teaches. The same is true for explaining why the Jews rejected Jesus. It isn’t that God failed; instead, his people rejected him of their own freewill.

Third, in Romans 11, Paul argues that God usually worked through a faithful Jewish remnant in the OT. Colin Brown finds that the word “remnant” (Hebrew leimma; pronounced LIME-uh) occurs 120 times in the Septuagint. While there are many cases of a faithful remnant in the OT, let’s consider just a few:

(Genesis 7:23) The word “remnant” is used of Noah and his family, who remained after the Flood. Here, most of the people on Earth were in rebellion. However, God worked through a remnant of eight faithful people.

(Genesis 18) In Abraham’s day, most of the people were unfaithful to God, but God spared a remnant of faithful Jews in Abraham’s family.

(1 Kings 19:18) In Elijah’s day, most of the people had abandoned God in favor of idol worship. However, God told Elijah that there was a 7,000 person “remnant” of faithful men, who hadn’t bowed to Baal.[1] Paul cites this passage in verse 4.

(Zechariah 8:6, 12) After the Exile, God gathered a remnant of faithful Jews, while most had fallen into apostasy.

(Ezra 9:8, 13, 15) Here, most of the men had taken Pagan wives after the regathering. However, the term “remnant” is used of those among the many who hadn’t disobeyed God.

Fourth, this rejection of God’s plan was predicted in the OT. Paul quotes Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22-23, which both demonstrate how the Jews were judged for having hardened hearts, regarding God’s plan.

(Isaiah 29) The context for Isaiah 29 is the judgment of God upon those who are hardened. This entire chapter is a warning to Jerusalem for continuing in unbelief. The NT authors quote from Isaiah 29 a multitude of times (Rom. 11:8; Mk. 7:6-7; 1 Cor. 1:19; Rom. 9:19-21). This passage predicts the hardening of Israel (Is. 29:1-16) before her final redemption (Is. 29:17-24).

(Psalm 69) Paul uses this passage to connect the Jewish hardening with the crucifixion of Jesus. Verse 21 is quoted in all four gospels (Mt. 27:34, 48; Mk. 15:23, 36; Lk. 23:36; John 19:28-30). During his crucifixion, Jesus was given gall and vinegar to drink, as this passage predicts. In Romans 11, Paul quotes from the two verses immediately after Psalm 69:21, which predict the hardening of the Jews, after crucifying their Messiah.

Fifth, Paul argues that God is bringing salvation to the Gentiles for the purpose of reaching the Jews. In the OT, God chose the Jews to reach the Gentiles (Gen. 12:2-3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). Now, Paul hoped that the Jews would become “jealous” of the Gentiles (11:11, 14), and thus, they would come to faith in Jesus. Paul hoped that the Jews would see the Spirit of God moving in the lives of Gentiles, and they would recognize that God was moving in a new direction through Christ (“How could so many Gentiles come to faith in the God of Israel, if Jesus was a false prophet?”).


[1] Brown, Colin. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Corporation, 1978. 248.