Why would the Jews experience so many centuries of suffering? And, some might ask, why would many generations of Jews have to suffer for what one generation of Jews had done in killing their Messiah? Actually, not all the Jews had opposed Jesus; his friends Peter, James, John, others of the Twelve, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and many hundreds of other Jews accepted him for who he claimed to be—God’s Son and the Savior of the world. When the scriptures, therefore, speak of “the Jews” doing this or “the Jews” doing that, we understand plainly that the intent is certain Jewish leaders and their followers did this or that.
Given the Latter-day Saint doctrine of personal responsibility for individual sins and not for the sins of others (Articles of Faith 1:2), can anyone rightfully assign direct culpability for the death of Jesus to succeeding generations of Jews long after his mortal life? A specific answer to this provocative question is found in this verse: “As one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities.” In other words, only the Jews who opposed Jesus and killed him are responsible for those actions; later generations are responsible only for their own sins.
If any people oppose or reject God, by that opposition or rejection they bring upon themselves God’s punishment. One generation rejected him and suffered for it. Every succeeding generation that rejected him also suffered for it. Heavenly Father does not want any of his children to suffer, but anyone who continues to reject God will experience the natural consequence of that rejection.
Notice the use of future-perfect tense verbs—seen as completed because the prophet Nephi had already seen this tragic condition of the Jews down through the centuries (for more on the prophetic tense, see commentary at Mosiah 16:6).
The verse concludes, “And never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord.” God always issues plenty of warnings before destroying any people (Amos 3:7). “And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:15–16).
Moses is another example of a messenger of warning. His prophecies clearly describe the future consequences of disobedience and apostasy:
“It shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee… .
“The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto… .
“The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and … with the sword, … and they shall pursue thee until thou perish… .
“The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed alway… .
“Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee: …
“The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth [the eagle was the symbol of Rome]; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;
“A nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor shew favour to the young… .
“And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 20, 22, 33, 45, 49–50, 52).