Jews Before Time of Jesus [Late Addition]
As Stephen concludes his last sermon in Acts 7 prior to being martyred, he cites the Jewish history of continually rejecting and persecuting the prophets of God:
"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always
resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the
prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who
announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have
now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by
angels and did not keep it." Acts 7:51-53
Earlier in his sermon, Stephen mentions the Jews' rebellion against Moses, which happened quite a few times, including 1) after Moses initially tells Pharaoh to let the people go, 2) before crossing the Red sea, 3) at Marah where the water was bitter, 4) when they made the golden calf, 5) when they refused to enter the Promised Land and return to Egypt instead--only 2 of the 12 spies were faithful to God, 6) to 100) and on and on and on.
Psalm 78 retells the pattern of continual rejection of God until the time of David, but it continues on after that.
So, the Old Testament reveals a history replete with the Jews rejecting God and His prophets. Therefore, the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah actually fits extremely well into their history. In fact, this probably should have been expected. It was certainly prophesied (Isaiah 53). Indeed, if the Jewish people had immediately embraced Jesus as their Messiah and had been faithful to Him from that moment on, it would really be completely out of character.
Jews at the Time of Jesus
It's important, however, to note that a lot of Jews do and did accept Jesus as the Messiah. The first Christians were Messianic Jews who included the original apostles, the apostle Paul, the 3,000 Jewish people who became believers on the Day of Pentecost. The disciples' directive was to be witnesses in 1) Jerusalem, 2) Judea and Samaria, and 3) to the ends of the earth.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and
you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:8 ESV
For the first 7 chapters of Acts, the believers remained in Jerusalem. After the stoningh of Stephen, the believers were scattered into Judea and Samaria.
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a
great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all
scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the
apostles. Acts 8:1 ESV
The Samaritans (half-Jews) weren't preached to until Acts 8, but full Gentiles weren't included until Acts 10 with Cornelius.
So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows
no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does
what is right is acceptable to him. Acts 10:34 ESV
Even after this, however, the original apostles continued to focus on the Jews. Paul was the one who went to the Gentiles.
On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the
gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the
gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his
apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine
to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be
pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right
hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the
Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Galatians 2:7-9 ESV
Still, Paul still numbered many Jews among his converts.
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and
spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks
believed. Acts 14:1 ESV
Those who have denied Jesus as their Messiah over the centuries have pointed to unfulfilled prophecies. It was recognized that there were prophecies for both a conquering Messiah and a suffering Messiah. One Jewish rabbi proposed a two Messiah theory--a Messiah ben Joseph (who suffered prior to becoming as king) and a Messiah ben David (who would reign as king). One has to admire this proposition from the two different types of prophecies. It was a great guess, indeed. However, instead of there being two different Messiahs, there was two different appearances of the same Messiah.
It is true that many Jews still reject Jesus as their Messiah. However, there seems to be a growing number of Jews who are coming to recognize Jesus as their true Messiah. This article indicates that around 1998, there were about 3500 Jewish believers in about 80 congregations in Israel. Ten years later, the number was between 10,000 and 15,000 in 120 congregations. In the U.S., this site estimates that there are over 175,000 Jewish believers and over one million worldwide. That is a very significant number.
It should be noted that the history of the Jewish people, especially as recalled in Psalm 78, shows continued rejection of God throughout time. God continually shows his patience with Israel time and time again as He continually holds out His hands to them.
I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready
to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here am I, here am
I," to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my
hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is
not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my
face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on
bricks; who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who
eat pig’s flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels; who
say, "Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for
you." These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day.
Isaiah 65:1-5 ESV
Still, God continues to draw them to Himself and there are many Jews today who are now returning to their God and their Messiah.