What might the Jews rightly demand of Jesus as the Messiah, as to His teaching, and as to His work? They could expect that He would keep the law and would enforce its universal observance and that He would fulfill the words of the prophets as to the Messianic kingdom. These were in themselves just demands, but they implied two things: first, that they themselves knew the meaning of the law, and kept it without adding to it or taking from it; second, that their Messianic beliefs were in conformity to the prophets. But in both these respects they failed. They had added to the law many traditions and made it in some points void and in many others burdensome. Therefore, when they came to judge Jesus' teachings and acts by it, they made Him a transgressor when He was not; He kept the law in letter and in spirit, but they condemned Him for not keeping it.
Their expectations, also, of the Messianic kingdom were not according to the prophets. They did not understand that the people must be keeping all God's ordinances, must be obedient, righteous, holy, or they were not ready for the Messiah. The prophets always spoke of their captivity and subjection to the nations around them as a punishment of their sins, and demanded repentance and humble confession as a preliminary to their restoration. The Jews in this day were in sore bondage under the Roman yoke, but there was no consciousness of guilt on their part, no true sense of God's anger with them, no humiliation, no confession. Therefore, the first step on God's part was to call them to repentance; without this His promises of restoration could not be fulfilled. But they did not hear John the Baptist calling them to repentance.
They believed that the Messiah would take them in their then condition, organize them, overthrow the Romans, and make them a great nation. It was these beliefs and expectations by which they tested the Lord, and He did not fulfill them. On the contrary, He began by trying to awake in them a sense of sin. He did not accept their traditions, but showed them plainly what God demanded of them; He did not even assume the title of the Messiah, lest He should be understood as confirming their unfounded hopes.
Adapted from The Life of Our Lord upon the Earth by Samuel James Andrews.