The burdens of Rome and the local sectarian religious hierarchy made life difficult for Israel. There had been no word from the Lord, no prophet, and no miracles for more than four hundred years.
The Maccabean rebellion two centuries earlier delivered Israel from the Greek empire, but it didn’t provide permanent freedom for God’s people, primarily because such was never God’s intent. Subsequent rebellions were squashed with the insurrectionists reduced to memories of failure (Mark 15:7; Acts 5:36-37).
But when John the Baptizer splashed onto the scene with his message of the quickly approaching kingdom (Matt 3:2), the common people flocked to him and gladly received his message. However, the freedom foretold by John was of a different nature. It was not the freedom they envisioned, for they looked for a physical king (cf John 6:15) who would restore the nation of Israel to her former secular and military glory. The freedom preached by John had nothing to do with Rome. It required repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is why Jesus said they were willing to rejoice in John’s light for a short time (v 35). So long as they believed that political freedom and restoration was imminent, they were willing to listen. But once they discovered it wasn’t the freedom and restoration they were expecting, they lacked both the foresight and the fortitude to follow through to Christ (v 40).
Their rejection of John’s true message and their rejection of Jesus Himself revealed a hardness of heart of incredible magnitude. They were willing to listen to and follow John, even though John did not perform a single miracle (John 10:41). Conversely, Jesus came with a multitude of miracles (v 36; Matt 4:23-24; John 7:31). Despite the mountain of evidence, the people loved their vision of freedom more than that offered by the Messiah.
Their rejection of Jesus also revealed a gross misunderstanding of the Scriptures they purported to believe. Said Jesus of them, “You search the Scriptures, in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (vv 39-40).
Be careful that you don’t love your preconceived notions or what you’ve been taught more than the truth right in front of you.