Why People Do Not Receive Jesus

Scribes and Pharisees

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:11-12).

When Jesus came and preached to the Jews, many “did not receive Him.” What does this mean?

Some today might explain this as receiving Jesus as their Savior and inviting Him into their heart. Certainly, we must see Jesus as our Savior; however, this is about more than that. This is about receiving Jesus as the Son of God and obeying Him as Lord. John said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). To believe in the Son is to accept that Jesus is the Son of God. To obey the Son is to recognize Him as Lord – the one with the right to rule over us and expect us to do His will.

In his gospel account, John recorded certain events in Jesus’ life. The purpose of this record was to produce faith in us (John 20:30-31). Yet today, many are like “His own” who “did not receive Him.” Why? People today will often reject Jesus for the same reasons that people did during His time on earth. We will not be considering an exhaustive list of the reasons why people refuse to accept Jesus, but will notice some of the reasons recorded for us in the gospel of John.

They Love Darkness

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).

Earlier in this chapter, Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus. In this passage Jesus explained why some would come to the light and some would not. Those whose deeds were evil loved darkness. They did not want their deeds to be exposed by the light.

Jesus is described in John’s gospel as the Light of the world (John 1:4; 8:12). Light symbolizes revelation, knowledge, and direction. This is why the psalmist used light to describe the word of God: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). The word of God reveals God’s will to us, instructs us about Him, and directs us in the way we should go. However, in Jesus’ statement, light is also connected with judgment because of how people react to the light.

Our response to the light will depend upon whether we desire to practice the truth or engage in sin. Sin and light are incompatible with one another. John explained: “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). Since “God is Light,” we must put away sin if we want to walk with Him. Sadly, too many people love sin more than the hope offered by Christ despite the final outcome. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

They Have Religious Preconceptions

For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’ For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:16-18).

On this occasion, Jesus had just healed a man on the Sabbath (John 5:8-9). The Jews persecuted Him for this (John 5:16). However, they became even more upset when Jesus declared His equality with the Father.

Their objections to Christ were based upon their religious preconceptions. There was nothing wrong with Jesus healing on the Sabbath. He proved this on another occasion when He healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-10). Even though they objected to Jesus’ implied point about being equal with the Father, He was still equal with Him. Jesus was introduced in the gospel of John as the Word who “was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus said later, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Even though the Jews objected to Jesus and persecuted Him, there was nothing wrong with anything that He said or did.

People today often allow their religious preconceptions to prevent them from receiving Jesus. They believe that all (or at least all good people) will be saved, so they simply try to be a “good” person (however they might define that). Yet salvation is only in Christ. Peter said, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Others believe that one can be saved by faith alone, despite the inspired writer James’ statement that “man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24); so they reject Jesus’ statement about the necessity of baptism: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Peter later wrote, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). Unfortunately, too many people cannot harmonize Peter’s statement with their preconceptions so they fail to do what the Lord expects them to do.

They Find Him to Be Too Demanding

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ […] As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:60, 66).

Jesus just fed five thousand people (John 6:10), leading them to believe that He was “the Prophet” (John 6:14) about which Moses spoke (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18). As a result of this, they were now willing to “take Him by force to make Him king” (John 6:15). Yet at the end of this chapter, they left Him.

Why did they leave Jesus so soon after their initial response? It was because of Jesus’ “difficult statement” (John 6:60, 66). Jesus taught that they needed to be completely devoted to following His word – to be sustained by it and depend on it for their very lives (John 6:48-51, 63). This came with a great reward – eternal life (John 6:68) – but they were unwilling to meet the demands.

Discipleship is demanding. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). We must be willing to devote our entire lives to Him. Before we do this, we need to count the cost. Jesus used the illustrations of a man building a tower and a king taking his army out into battle (Luke 14:28-32). One should not begin building a tower or take his army into battle if he is not able to complete the task. Before anyone would become His disciple, Jesus wanted them to understand what was required of them and then make the decision to follow Him. Some do this and, because of the demanding nature of discipleship, reject Him.

They Are Unwilling to Do His Will

If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17).

On this occasion, people were gathering in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths (John 7:2; cf. Deuteronomy 16:16). Jesus had an exchange with “the Jews” – a description used throughout John’s gospel to refer to the Jewish leaders.

The leaders of the Jews often looked for any excuse they could think of to ignore Jesus’ teaching. Here, they cited His supposed lack of education: “The Jews then were astonished, saying, ‘How has this man become learned, having never been educated?’” (John 7:15). Yet this was not an answer to anything Jesus said, it was only an excuse to dismiss His words. Jesus was certainly not ignorant. The officers sent to arrest Jesus returned without Him because they never heard anyone speak as He did (John 7:32, 45-46). When Jesus taught His Sermon on the Mount, those who heard Him “were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29). However, the Jews rejected Jesus’ teaching because they did not want to obey Him.

To accept Jesus’ teaching, there must first be a willingness to do so. Otherwise, people will find some excuse to not listen. Jesus gave a parable in which He described an invitation to attend a dinner, yet the ones invited made excuses as to why they would not attend (Luke 14:16-20). The point of the parable was to show how people will make excuses for not accepting the invitation to “eat bread in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). We also need to remember that receiving Jesus is not just about receiving His word as true, it is also about doing His will. Jesus is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). He said that those who do “the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” the kingdom (Matthew 7:21).

They Are Comfortable with the Status Quo

Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, ‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation’” (John 11:47-48).

Jesus performed a very obvious and powerful miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43-44). By doing this, He proved that He was “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, many “believed in Him” (John 11:45). Yet this did not sit well with His enemies – the chief priests and Pharisees. They did not deny the miracle – they knew they could not honestly deny what He was doing. Yet they were more concerned with the status quo and their position. Even though Jesus was able to raise the dead, because they saw this as a threat to their position, they “planned together to kill Him” (John 11:53).

Godly people do not seek change for the sake of change. The wise man said, “My son, fear the Lord and the king; do not associate with those who are given to change” (Proverbs 24:21). However, we do need to change when it means conforming our lives to God’s will. We must not be content with the status quo of sin and immaturity. If we have sin in our lives, we need to “repent” so that we will not “perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). If we are not strong in the faith, we are to “press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). As long as we live, we are to strive to “be perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). However, those who are comfortable in the ways of the world or in a state of spiritual mediocrity will reject Jesus.

They Love the Approval of Men

Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42-43).

The time of Jesus’ death was approaching (John 12:23, 27, 32-33). Many were believing in Him (John 12:11-13). His enemies, in exasperation, said, “The world has gone after Him” (John 12:19). Yet as we noticed in the last point, the rulers were committed to having Jesus killed (John 11:53).

However, there were some of the rulers who believed in Jesus; yet they would not confess Him. Merely believing that Jesus is who He is will not save us. As we noticed earlier, James wrote, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Even the demons believe (James 2:19). Yet those who believed in Jesus here would not do any more than that. Why would they not confess Him? John indicated that they feared the Pharisees and loved the approval of men. They would rather be accepted by the enemies of Jesus than rejected by them.

If we love the approval of men, we cannot faithfully serve the Lord. Paul wrote, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Why is this? It is because the way of Christ is contrary to the way of the majority. His way is “narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it”; yet there are “many who enter” the broad way “that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14). Following the way of Christ will bring persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). We could gain the approval of those in the world by being “of the world” (John 15:18-19), but the Lord has called us to be different. Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Rather than being like the world, we are to “overcome the world” through our faithful obedience to the Lord (1 John 5:3-5).


Let us not be like those who refused to receive Jesus.

  • Let us give up the works of darkness to practice what is right.
  • Let us be willing to give up our preconceptions that are not in harmony with His word.
  • Let us take up our cross and follow Christ, no matter what the consequences might be.
  • Let us be willing to do His will, no matter what it might be.
  • Let us be willing to change in order to conform to His word.
  • Let us seek to please Him above all.

Let us receive Jesus by faithfully obeying Him so that we can be the children of God.

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