During Bible Study a few weeks ago, a simple but honest question was asked: Why didn’t Jesus’ family recognize Him as the Messiah? I’m sure it’s something many have wondered. For those who believe, Jesus’ ministry clearly established Him as the Son of God, the promised Messiah. How could anyone not believe, especially his own family? In fact, his family didn’t only disbelieve, they were offended by him and called him crazy, eventually chasing him out of his hometown (Matt 13:53-58, Mark 3:21).
This isn’t an easy question to answer without making a lot of assumptions. And if we’re honest, we ask this question for more personal reasons. Behind the curiosity about this first century family, we are wondering about our own hearts and families. Why didn’t I believe in Jesus the first time I heard about him? Why doesn’t my family member, who has certainly heard the Gospel, believe?
A Time for Jesus
I’m sure there are many theories out there regarding the family’s unbelief, but I want to look at an often-overlooked aspect of Jesus’ ministry – the timing. And I’m going to preface this with a disclaimer; I don’t know why Jesus came when He did. I don’t know why He was born so many thousands of years ago, I don’t know why God didn’t bring Jesus on scene immediate after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. But I do know there was a specific time designated for Jesus to begin His ministry and a time for Him to die on the cross. Before He started teaching, preaching and healing, Jesus had to be baptized by John the Baptist (Mark 1:14-15), tempted in the desert by Satan, and John the Baptist had to be arrested. God, in His sovereign plan, set a time for Jesus to come as the Redeemer (Galatians 4:4-5, 1 Timothy 5:5-6, Titus 1:2-3). As his teaching ministry progressed, he began nearing a different appointed time in his life- the time of his crucifixion. The course of His ministry took Him places other than Judea until the appropriate time, as the Jewish leaders there wanted Him dead (John 7:1-9). The apostle Paul makes it most clear, “for while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6, NASB). We start to see in these verses that God’s plan is not random; it is intentional. There was a right time for Jesus.
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Galatians 4:4-5, NASB
Moment of Salvation
Perhaps we also need to consider that there is a right time for us to believe. If we believe God is sovereign in His plan for mankind, not just “seeing” how things play out, but actually authoring the story, we must accept that, just like Jesus fulfilling the role of sacrificial lamb, our own salvation was not a random act. In fact, He “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). This doesn’t mean He looked ahead and saw that we would choose Him and then so chose us as I often hear it explained. No, this is an acknowledgement of God’s total sovereignty over every aspect of His creation, including their salvation. We were selectively, intentionally given life, pulled out of the deadness of our sins by a merciful God (Ephesians 2:4-5). Our eyes are opened, we are able to understand the message of Jesus, according to God’s sovereignty. Some of us are granted this grace, and others are still hidden behind the veil, blind to the Truth (John 6:65, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
So this is where I believe we can understand a little more clearly the situation of belief and unbelief in Jesus’ family. If we are believers, we can all point to what we call a “moment of salvation” – the specific time where we realized we believed and were changed. For me, that came at the age of 14. For others, maybe it was earlier in life or much later. At least two of Jesus’ brothers (James and Jude) came to saving faith after the resurrection (Acts 1:14). For the Apostle Paul, it came after he’d lived many years persecuting Christians, yet he says that God set him apart in his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:13-16). God certainly could have made us all believe while we were tiny children, but I believe these examples show us that He has a reason for His timing, even if we don’t understand. Paul’s history as an oppressor of the early Christians gave Him a deep humility in the face of his own sin, which he passionately preached to other believers. James and Jude were able to speak with great conviction about living out our faith and of the dangers of being led astray by false teachers. What did your life before Christ do to prepare you for your life as a believer? As for Jesus’ family, maybe the question isn’t “why didn’t they recognize Jesus as the Messiah,” but “how did they glorify God once they did?”
Hopefully, these things can give you some rest in regard to your own lost friends and family. We don’t know the right time of their salvation; keep praying for them and sharing the good news of Jesus!