If there’s anything that “everyone knows,” it’s that the Jews rejected Jesus of Nazareth (Hebrew name: Yeshua). In fact, it would be hard to find anyone – Jew, Christian, or other – to deny this. And yet, believe it or not, the Gospel texts that give the story of this man’s life tell us exactly the opposite: that Yeshua/Jesus was wildly popular among the Jews of his day, so much so that even the government was afraid to take any action against him!
People may disagree, of course, about whether the Gospels are fact, fiction, or something in between. Yet any reader of these historical texts should at the very least try to understand what story they are telling. Somehow, for almost 2,000 years, that story has been grossly distorted beyond recognition. Since people are still reading (and misreading) the Gospels, maybe we should try to set the record straight, as best we can.
The first-century accounts of the life of Yeshua/Jesus state in dozens of places that large crowds of Jews sought him out and followed him. We read that in Galilee, Judea, and elsewhere, “the crowds were amazed by his teaching” (Matt. 7:28); “they kept coming to him from everywhere” (Mark 1:45); “again crowds of people came to him” (Mark 10:1); “news about him spread through the whole countryside” (Luke 4:14); “great crowds were traveling with him” (Luke 14:25); “even many of the rulers believed in him” (John 12:42); and so forth. These are just examples; similar statements keep appearing continuously all throughout the Gospels.
Naturally, not everyone in Israel liked Yeshua/Jesus, especially some within the Roman-sponsored government. Matthew says about these ruling officials that “they wanted to seize him but feared the crowds, which viewed him as a prophet” (21:46). Later “they plotted to seize and kill him by trickery but said, ‘Not during the [Passover] feast, lest the people riot’” (26:4-5). These verses about opponents emphasize even further the extraordinary popularity of Yeshua/Jesus among the general Jewish population. Parallel reports in Mark (11:18, 12:12, 14:1-2) and Luke (19:47-48, 20:19, 21:37-22:2) say the same thing.
The group of conspirators did carry out its “plot by trickery,” arresting the teacher in the middle of the night and quickly prevailing on the Roman authorities to sentence him to crucifixion. When the Jews of Jerusalem heard what was going on, “the crowds gathered to see… and returned home beating their breasts” in misery (Luke 23:48). Luke goes on to say that the whole Jewish population of the city was devastated by what had befallen this “prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (24:18-21). So even though the supposed Jewish rejection of Jesus has long played a major role in antisemitism, the Gospels actually report that most of the Jewish people loved Yeshua/Jesus!