Would You Have Recognized the Messiah?
JESUS CHRIST spent three and a half years preaching God’s Word among the Israelites. But by the time his earthly ministry came to a close, the majority of his contemporaries had rejected him as the Messiah, or God’s promised “Anointed One.” Why?
The Bible helps us to identify several reasons why first-century Jews did not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Three of these reasons hold many back from acknowledging Jesus’ present-day position as the ruling Messianic King.
“We Want to See a Sign”
One reason why the first-century Jews did not recognize the Messiah was their refusal to accept Scriptural signs pointing to his Messiahship. On occasion, people listening to Jesus demanded that he perform a sign to prove that he was from God. For instance, Matthew 12:38 reports that some of the scribes and Pharisees said: “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” Had Jesus not already shown them signs? Of course he had.
By that time Jesus had already performed a number of miracles. He had turned water into wine, had healed a dying boy, had cured Peter’s sick mother-in-law, had made a leprous man clean, had enabled a paralyzed man to walk, had restored the health of a man who had been sick for 38 years, had returned a man’s withered hand to normal, had relieved many people of their grievous diseases, had healed the slave of an army officer, had brought a widow’s son back from the dead, and had cured a blind and speechless man. These miracles had occurred in Cana, Capernaum, Jerusalem, and Nain. Moreover, news about such miracles spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.—John 2:1-12; 4:46-54; Matthew 8:14-17; 8:1-4; 9:1-8; John 5:1-9; Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:7-12; Luke 7:1-10; 7:11-17; Matthew 12:22.
Clearly, there was no shortage of signs proving that Jesus was the Messiah. Though he performed so many signs before the people, they did not put faith in him. Those who saw the proof that Jesus was sent by God but did not acknowledge him as the Messiah were spiritually blind. Their hearts were hard and impervious to the truth.—John 12:37-41.
What about our day? Some people proclaim, “I believe only what I see with my own eyes.” But is that really a wise course to take? Bible prophecy indicates that Jesus has already been enthroned as heavenly King in the Messianic Kingdom. Since he is invisible, we need a sign to help us discern his rulership, which marked the start of the last days of this wicked system of things. Do you recognize the sign?—Matthew 24:3.
According to the Bible, the start of Christ’s rulership as Messianic King would be marked by warfare, earthquakes, food shortages, and pestilences on an unprecedented scale. In “the last days,” human relations would be characterized by selfishness, greed, and lack of restraint. (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Matthew 24:6, 7; Luke 21:10, 11) Apart from chronological proof, more than 20 different features of the last days pinpoint the beginning of the Messiah’s reign in 1914.—See The Watchtower of March 1, 1993, page 5.
Materialism was another reason why the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Attaching too much importance to wealth hindered many from following Jesus. For instance, the Pharisees were known to be “money lovers.” (Luke 16:14) Consider the case of a wealthy young ruler who approached Jesus and asked how to gain everlasting life. “Observe the commandments continually,” was Jesus’ reply. “I have kept all these; what yet am I lacking?” asked the young man, apparently sensing that more was needed than keeping certain laws. “Sell your belongings and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come be my follower,” Jesus told him. What an opportunity—to be a disciple of the Messiah! Yet the ruler turned away, grieved. Why? Because treasure on earth was more important to him than treasure in heaven.—Matthew 19:16-22.
The situation has not changed. Becoming a genuine follower of the Messianic King means putting spiritual interests before everything else, including earthly belongings. For any who have a materialistic outlook, this is a challenge. For example, a missionary couple in one Eastern land talked to a woman about the Bible. Believing that she would like to learn more about Jehovah God and his Son, Jesus Christ, the couple offered her The Watchtower and Awake! How did she react? “Will these magazines help me to earn more money?” she asked. The woman was more interested in material things than in spiritual matters.
The same couple studied the Bible with a young man who started to attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall. “You are wasting your time,” his parents told him. “You should get a second job in the evening and earn more money.” How sad it is when parents encourage their children to put material things ahead of learning about the Messianic King! “For all his wealth the ruler cannot buy ten thousand years of life,” says a Chinese proverb.
Many have come to realize that learning about and following the Messianic King leaves no room for a love of money. A Witness of Jehovah who used to have her own business with high earnings, said: “Having a lot of money is very pleasant but not necessary. Money is not what makes a person happy.” She is now a member of the Bethel family at a European branch of the Watch Tower Society.
“Fear of the Jews”
Fear of man was yet another reason why the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Publicly acknowledging his Messiahship meant putting their reputation at risk. For some that price was too high. Consider Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish high court called the Sanhedrin. Impressed by Jesus’ signs and teachings, he admitted: “Rabbi, we know that you as a teacher have come from God; for no one can perform these signs that you perform unless God is with him.” Yet Nicodemus called on Jesus under cover of darkness, probably to avoid being recognized by other Jews.—John 3:1, 2.
For many who heard Jesus speak, the approval of men was more important than that of God. (John 5:44) When Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths in 32 C.E., “there was a lot of subdued talk about him among the crowds.” No one spoke about Jesus openly “because of the fear of the Jews.” (John 7:10-13) Even the parents of a man whom Jesus cured of blindness could not bring themselves to acknowledge the miracle as coming from God’s representative. They too were “in fear of the Jews.”—John 9:13-23.
Today, some realize that Jesus is now reigning as Messianic King in heaven, but they are afraid to acknowledge this openly. For them the price of losing their standing with others is too high. In Germany, for instance, a Witness of Jehovah had a Bible discussion with a man who admitted: “What you Witnesses preach about the Bible is true. But if I became a Witness today, by tomorrow everyone would know about it. What would they think at work, in the neighborhood, and at the club my family and I belong to? I could not put up with that.”
What causes fear of man? Pride, love of popularity among family and friends, dread of ridicule and humiliation, anxiety over being different from the majority. Such feelings prove to be a test particularly for those who start to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, one young woman was thrilled to learn about the Paradise that the Messianic Kingdom will establish on earth under the rulership of Jesus Christ. But she was an ardent disco fan, and fear of man hindered her from talking to others about this hope. Finally, she mustered up courage to talk freely about the Bible. Her disco friends cast her off, but her husband and her parents showed interest. The woman and her mother were eventually baptized, and her husband and her father began to study the Bible. What a reward for overcoming fear of man!
Do You Really Recognize the Messiah?
When Jesus was dying on the torture stake, some of his disciples were present. They had recognized him as the foretold Messiah. Also present were Jewish rulers, who, as it were, still demanded a sign. “Let him save himself, if this one is the Christ [or Messiah] of God, the Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35) Would they never cease asking for a sign? Jesus had performed dozens of miracles. Additionally, his birth, ministry, trial, execution, and resurrection fulfilled many Hebrew Scripture prophecies.—See “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., pages 343-4.
Passersby reproached Jesus, having rejected evidence of his Messiahship. (Matthew 27:39, 40) Soldiers materialistically apportioned Jesus’ clothing among themselves, casting lots for his inner garment. (John 19:23, 24) Fear of man played a role in some cases. For instance, consider Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin. He “was a disciple of Jesus but a secret one out of his fear of the Jews.” After the Messiah’s death, Joseph and Nicodemus cared for Jesus’ body. Joseph thus overcame his fear of man.—John 19:38-40.
If you had been living in the first century, would you have recognized Jesus as the Messiah? Doing so would have required that you accept Scriptural evidence, reject materialistic thinking, and not succumb to the fear of man. In these last days, each of us should ask himself, ‘Do I recognize Jesus now as the heavenly Messianic King?’ Soon he will take over earth’s affairs. When that happens, will you be among those who really recognize Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah?
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Never turn your back on the evidence that Jesus is the Messianic King
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Learning about the Messiah often means overcoming fear of what others might say