We enter the kingdom of God by faith. We often think those who saw Jesus in person must have had an easier time embracing Him than those of us who came after and must come to Him by faith; not having seen, heard, or touched Him in the flesh. But the faith requirement was just as real for Jesus’ contemporaries as it is for us. We require faith because we did not see Jesus in the flesh. They require faith for the very reason they did see Jesus in the flesh.
Look at this exchange in John chapter 6. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst…For I have come down from heaven…’ The Jews therefore were grumbling about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ And they were saying, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, “I have come down out of heaven”?’ “ (John 6:35,38,41-42).
Their faith requirement was to overcome the fact that they knew Jesus’ beginnings, or so they thought. Jesus is making the basic proclamation, teaching the crowds in John chapters 5 and 6 and announced loudly at the feast in chapter 7, that He is indeed the giver of eternal life, the Messiah come down from heaven. To the Jews this makes no sense. The Messiah will come explosively and with power. “We know where you came from Jesus. You are the child born to Joseph and Mary of Nazareth.” Besides knowing Jesus as a child, they also were sure that “the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?” (John 7:41). They knew where Jesus grew up among the common citizens of Nazareth. In the Jewish mind, to quote the late Keith Green, “Messiahs don’t grow up from little boys.”
The entry on “faith” in The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary sums up well the first century faith requirement. “A principal reason for the word faith appearing so often in the New Testament is the New Testament claim that the promised Messiah had finally come, and to the bewilderment of many, the form of the fulfillment did not obviously correspond to the Messianic promise. It required a real act of faith to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah. It was not long before ‘to believe’ meant to become a Christian. In the New Testament, faith therefore becomes supreme of all human acts and experiences.”
I believe one reason Jesus public appearances following His resurrection were so rare, at least in what we have documented, is because we too have a faith requirement to enter His kingdom just like the first century believers. “To believe” is to enter the kingdom of God by faith. Faith that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, and faith that His finished work on the cross, confirmed by His resurrection, paid the price for our sin. We enter the kingdom of God by faith.