In Matthew 11 Jesus pronounces judgment on some of the cities of the Jews. These cities, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum probably saw more miracles than any other city while Jesus was on earth and yet as a whole rejected Jesus as their Messiah. What is interesting is that Jesus says that if his miracles had been done in three other cities, Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, some of the most pagan and notoriously sinful cities there were, they would have immediately seen their significance and repented. This raises some interesting thoughts.
Jesus is not saying that there was something innately different about these two groups of people; that the Gentile sinners were smart enough to put two and two together and repent of their sins while these Jews were too stupid to get it. Jesus will refute that in the next few verses that speak of the sovereign election of God and that he alone enables man to know God. We think of Joh 1:12-13, But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. What then is the difference Jesus is pointing out between these two peoples?
First of all, I think he is telling us that those who have more light will be judged more severely; I guess this much is obvious. But next, instead of teaching that some sinners on their own repent while others do not, I believe Jesus is pointing out the deliberate sin of Israel of rejecting their Messiah. They had seen the miracles of Jesus so that they knew full well who Jesus was. They knew the OT scriptures and could plainly see that Jesus fulfilled them all. But their greater guilt was that they willfully refused this kind of King and this type of Kingdom. They wanted a kingdom that exalted them as Jews and as soon as they realized this wasn't what Jesus was offering they turned away from him.
I think the same thing is pointed out by John in his gospel in chapter 11. Joh 11:46 "But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Joh 11:47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. Joh 11:48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." Remember this is related in the context of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave. Plenty of the leading Jews were present to see this happen and when they told Caiaphas and the rest of the Jewish rulers what Jesus had done they didn't do what the normal sinner would do which would have been to realize that Jesus had been given power from God and we had better listen to what he said. They didn't put two and two together by examining all the OT scriptures that they knew by heart so that they could see that Jesus had to be the promised Messiah.
They didn't do these things because they didn't have to, they knew who he was. But there was a big problem with who Jesus was that bothered the Jewish leaders and the populace of these three cities; it is referred to in the verses from John 11. If Jesus is king we will lose our place (as king). This has always been the reason behind unbelief. It isn't that there is no evidence that there is a God or that we are sinners, etc. The problem is that sinners are by nature unwilling to repent of everything they are and trust in Jesus as both Savior and Lord. They will accept God on their terms but not God's terms.
But there is a point I want to make with this in mind back in Matthew 11. Jesus is telling us that the Last Judgment will not hinge on how awful your sins were but on what you did with Christ; on whether you believed or not. In other words, with all of Sodom's immorality; you know, all those awful sins that revolt us and we are sure we are not guilty of and so God must be pleased with us more than them; all those sins will bring less condemnation than sitting in church week after week and still rejecting Christ. The worst of all sins are not those committed by Hitler but are committed by us in the Western, modern world when we don't take Jesus seriously when we have been given more light than most in human history and yet ignore it so that we can have this world.
So lastly, I speak specifically to Christians sitting in the pews year after year. Even though our sins are forgiven, what should we think of an attitude that cares little for the Word preached to us so that we continue to live our lives the way we want with little concern for what the Lord says to us? Is this not a similar sin to what we find in Matthew 11? Are we not ignoring the light that has been graciously given to us? Is not the Judgment going to be more about how we used the light rather than whether we participated in certain sins? How can we compare the sin of unbelief to what Hitler did or the Sodomites? Because unbelief is rejecting the person of Christ so that you can do your own will. To reject light when it comes to us, even if it is just to treat it as unimportant, is to put our will over God's and this is the epitome of sin.