Why have the Jewish people been so hated and persecuted through the centuries, e.g., in the time of Esther, and the Holocaust?
God chose a special nation in order that in Abraham’s seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. Notwithstanding their general rejection of Christ, they remain special, for God’s commitments are irrevocable, Rom. 11. 1, 2, 29.
One consequence of being God’s special people is that He may discipline them using other nations. However, His chosen instruments have had a tendency to overstep their remit in their zeal and gratuitous cruelties, Amos 3. 2; Isa. 10. 5-18. Yet God will never allow the nation to be exterminated, Jer. 31. 35-37.
To be central to the purposes of God is an enormous privilege, but it also attracts satanic opposition. Satan is always seeking to thwart the purposes of God, and we can trace his cruel and unrelenting opposition throughout Jewish history, whether we think of Pharaoh’s Egypt, Queen Athaliah’s murder of the royal princes, Nebuchadnezzar’s idolatrous image and fiery furnace, Haman’s empire-wide edict of genocide, Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his desecration of the Temple, 167 BC, or indeed the Holocaust. Today the scourge of anti-Semitism remains a live issue in Europe and far beyond.
At the same time, one of the wonders of history has been the way that Jewry has maintained its unique witness to the one true God. The Jewish people have shown remarkable resilience in the face of the disasters that have befallen them, not only surviving, but in fact prospering and flourishing. Jews in their dispersion have attained disproportionately to positions of great leadership, power, wealth, and influence across diverse fields of human endeavour. This has attracted widespread jealousy and hatred, especially since 1948 and the establishment of the State of Israel. In a fallen world, to be successful, to be different, to be distinctive, can result in being blamed unjustly for all manner of evils, especially when unscrupulous rulers seek convenient scapegoats. Adolf Hitler’s vilification of Jews in Nazi Germany leading to the systematic genocide of the Holocaust is a dreadful case in point.
Given that Israel’s crowning glory was the coming of Messiah, Rom. 9. 5, and that untold numbers of Gentiles have come to trust in Him - ‘salvation is of the Jews’, John 4. 22 – one might think that Christians would owe a major debt of gratitude towards the Jewish people. Yet it is in the Christian era especially, that the Jews have come to be persecuted more widely and systematically than at any other time. Is it not a tragic irony that from the days of Emperor Constantine, when Christianity came to be in the ascendant, they have been hated and persecuted, whereas under pagan Rome they had enjoyed protected status? All too often the guilt of the crucifixion of Christ has been laid at the door of the Jewish people in general, rather than its 1st-century leaders. If, as happened, the nation reaped the bitter consequences of its rejection of their Messiah, Rom. 11. 8-10, that in no way legitimizes general hatred of Jewish people, least of all on the part of Gentiles whose sins Messiah bore. All who persecute Jewish people should beware that ‘he who touches you touches the apple of God’s eye’, Zech. 2. 8.
This pattern continued through the Middle Ages and beyond. Only in recent decades has the Roman Catholic Church publicly revoked its longstanding antagonism towards the Jewish people. Sadly also, in spite of the recovery of much biblical truth at the Reformation, Jews continued to be discriminated against and persecuted even at the hands of Protestants. Failure to understand the nuanced usage of the term ‘Jew’ in the New Testament has led to many texts (including John’s Gospel!) being wrongly construed as anti-Jewish. Not infrequently when John uses the term Jew, he is denoting the ruling elite of Judaea who plotted to destroy Jesus. Bad biblical interpretation quite literally has cost many innocent lives.
Consequently, Christendom has much to live down in order to witness credibly to Jewish people today. Praise God, there is still a ‘remnant according to the election of grace’, and we should keep in mind that the gospel of salvation was to ‘the Jew first, and also to the Greek’, Rom. 11. 5; 1. 16.