What is God's Purpose in the Jewish Rejection of Jesus?
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean - Romans 11:11-12, ESV
All of a sudden, my daughter was excited about Sunday school! She had just been promoted from the little kid class to the big kid class at our church, and she was nervous. She wasn't sure she could keep up with the big kids. She wasn't sure she would be able to read all of the materials. Then, in the blink of an eye, she went from nervous to excited for one reason: candy! Her Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Lori, had a clear purpose for the candy, to help motivate attendance and participation. Kathryn had a different and simple perspective: This was awesome!
Whenever we look at human actions in the world, we always need to ask two questions and keep them clearly distinct: Why did this person do this thing? and What is God's purpose in this? Of course, we can't know the answer to either of these questions for sure, but keeping them distinct helps us to realize that human responsibility and divine sovereignty are always both at work. Joseph is a great example for us in this, because when he forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery, he said, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Gen, 50:20)
We can keep these two questions clear in our mind when we consider the fact that the vast majority of Jewish people have rejected Jesus as Messiah. Jesus came to His own, and His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). Why? Well, on a human level, we can talk about the corrupt religious leaders who were jealous of Jesus. We can look at the false expectations the Jewish people had of the Messiah. These are helpful to examine, and the Gospels help us consider the human responsibility involved. But what was God's purpose?
Paul explores this perspective in Romans 11. God hardened the hearts of Jewish people so they rejected their Messiah. Why? It was to open the door to the Gospel for the Gentiles. The early church was centered in Jerusalem under Peter, James, John and the other apostles. Yet once the religious leaders who had killed Jesus began violently persecuting the apostles, the church was scattered and the Gospel spread. Out of this rejection, persecution and spread of the church, God opened the doors for many non-Jewish people (Gentiles) to hear the Gospel and come to believe in Jesus.
Why would God do this? Part of His purpose was to provoke Israel to jealousy. If Jewish people saw Gentiles embracing their Messiah and finding salvation and forgiveness in Him, this would stir up inside them a longing for the Messiah and for salvation. Ultimately, in the end, God will bring many Jews back into the fold. The natural olive branches will be grafted back in, alongside the wild, alien ones.
We need to know that God is always at work in His world. His world is not spinning out of control. People make their choices for their own reasons, but they are never outside of God's overarching plan. This gives us great peace!