Question: Was the Holocaust God’s way of punishing the Jews for not accepting Jesus?

Answer: This is certainly an interesting question — one that reaches across time! But I do not think that the holocaust matches the sin of rejecting Jesus, and that mismatch makes it a poor candidate for being a cause-and-effect kind of punishment. Let me walk you through why I believe this is so.

“The Jews” — that is, the nation as a whole (and especially its religious establishment) — reject the idea that Jesus was their prophesied Messiah. But they also reject the idea that the New Testament is just as much God’s revelation as the Old Testament. Therefore, they have no reason to believe that the torch of salvation has been taken from them and passed to the Church — to Christians… but it has… and that’s the punishment. In fact, transferring Israel’s primacy to the Body of Christ is the perfect punishment for rejecting the Christ! … don’t you think?

My main problem with the Holocaust is that it’s not at all matched to the crime of rejection. First of all, the holocaust was arbitrary. Many people groups have been targeted for extinction throughout the ages… it’s just that the Jewish holocaust is the “go to” example of a sin against humanity in our age — especially in the USA.

But second, there is no logical “handshake” between Jesus’ rejection by the Jews and the Holocaust (which is not the same thing as saying that this proves that there was no cause-and-effect relationship) … but here’s the thing: the Holocaust did not address the Jews’ rejection of Jesus specifically whereas taking away their status as God’s torch bearers did. Besides, this is the result Jesus predicted.

Jesus understood that the Jews were rejecting him, and he addressed this in three parables: the parable of the wedding guests (Matthew 22:1-14), the parable of the banquet (Luke 14:15-24) and in the parable of the tenants (Luke 20:9-19). All these stories contain two main elements: an existing group of people that was falling short in some way, and a newer group that was brought in to replace them.

Now, please understand that we have the nation in view and not individuals. In fact, every one of Jesus’ followers was an individual Jew! (The gentiles would come later.) So, just like today, it was up to the individual to cut through the fog and find the Savior… and this is why I want to mention the other type of rejection that Jesus taught about — blaspheme against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29). This is the unforgivable sin — and it’s the only unforgivable sin.

You see, individuals reject Christ all the time. But most people do so as part of the process of learning about Jesus. It is only when that rejection becomes intractable that a person cannot be forgiven… and this makes perfect sense. The opposite of rejecting Christ is receiving Christ… and all those who have received him are God’s children (John 1:12). These people are eternally secure in Christ (Romans 8:1).

But there are only two possibilities when it comes to Jesus: reception or rejection… and when people reject Jesus all throughout their lives, that’s when they’ve committed the unforgivable sin. I bring this up to emphasize that personal rejection is different than the national rejection… and your question has national rejection in view.

It wasn’t just Jesus who knew he was being rejected, though. Peter understood that he was following a rejected Messiah. In fact, he called the Jews out on their rejection by quoting Psalm 118:22 — giving Jesus the glory for healing that lame man who used to beg at the temple gate.

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”
(Acts 4:11, ESV)

Paul, too, taught that Israel had lost its primacy at Jesus’ death. Where the Jewish nation was once God’s chosen people — the only body sanctioned to bring the law, birth the Messiah and act as his witness to the world — there was now no difference between Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:22, 10:12) — either for salvation or for going forward as God’s people… and again… there’s the “punishment.” Every believer is among “God’s people” now… just as it was before the Jews were even invented!

Enoch, Noah, Job… and even Abraham and Isaac were not members of the nation Israel, but they were definitely God’s people… as are both Jewish and non-Jewish believers today — and this is a blessing! But missing out on that blessing — and everything that blessing entails (including eternal life) — is the logical punishment for the sin of rejection whereas the Holocaust was different by type of event; it punished the Jews, certainly, but it was a purposeful horror. It was not the result of people “missing out” on anything.

Now, our omniscient God was certainly aware that the Jews were going to suffer under Hitler… just like he was aware that they’d be conquered, killed and absorbed by Assyria and Babylon. But other people groups suffered in this way, too… it’s just the Jews have a comparatively detailed historical record that millions of us have studied… and this is what I mean by the holocaust being arbitrary.

What I am not doing here is diminishing the Holocaust's horror or its importance. I am saying that it is only one among a range of horrors, the type of which does not fit the sin of rejection. That being said, we cannot know every effect of every cause as they propagate through the centuries, but in my opinion, God gave us enough of data in Scripture to make a judgment on this matter.

Thanks for asking.