On Nov. 20, 1964, the last day of the third session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in Rome, the highest legislative and representative body of the Roman Catholic Church, by the overwhelming vote of 1893 to 99, approved of a document condemning “hatred and persecutions of Jews.” The controversial declaration, which absolved Jews of responsibility for the death of Christ, held that “Christ underwent His Passion and death freely, because of the sins of all men and out of infinite love.”
The declaration, approved by the Council Fathers stood in the most dramatic contrast to a theological tradition which has dominated Catholic thinking about Jews for 1900 years. According to that Catholic tradition, God chose the Jewish people in the time of Abraham to serve as a preparatory stage for the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, His Son, and the establishment of the Catholic Church. Once Christ came, all that was valuable and effective for human salvation was transferred from Judaism to the new Church. The ancient alliance between God and Israel was voided and replaced by the new alliance between the Church and God. The Jews, as the original Chosen People, should have been the first Christians, but they elected instead to repudiate Christ. They did not accept his doctrine; they opposed him during his lifetime; they instigated his arrest; they clamored for his execution; they acquiesced in his crucifixion. For these sins they were punished in three ways by God: they ceased to be the chosen people; they were blinded so that they could not see the truth of Christianity; they were dispersed among the nations, never to be reunited until the end of time when Christ will return to this world to judge the living and the dead. At the end of time, they will be converted as a group, but until that day they will remain blinded, dispersed, and persecuted as a sign that God has entrusted salvation to the Church (Roman Catholic) alone, and that He punishes obduracy.
Roman Catholic believers drew a whole range of practical conclusions from these premises. The Jews as a people—not only the Jews of Christ’s time—were guilty of having killed Christ, the God-man; theologically speaking, they were deicides. Second, because they were cursed by God to remain dispersed among the nations until the end of time, the very existence of a Jewish State must be against God’s will, and Israel must, therefore, be doomed to extinction after a short while. Third, the sufferings of the Jews were to be understood as part of their punishment for the crime of having rejected Christ and their original destiny. Fourth, Judaism was a useless thing, an invalid method of worship, which had been rendered pointless by the advent of Christ. And in the long history of Jewish-Christian relations more conclusions were frequently drawn. The Jews were allied with the devil; they were always entering into conspiracies with freemasons, with communists, with atheists, with secularists, for the sole purpose of destroying the Church and wiping Christianity off the face of the earth.
The adoption by the council and the final signature of the Pope this fall signified the culmination of a bitterly intense struggle which started shortly after the accession of John XXIII to the Papal throne. The Pope and Catholic Church now announce to the world that they have exonerated the Jews of deicide.
The Catholic world now claims it is not the Jew who is now on trial for the crucifixion of Christ but Christians who in vicious bigotry slay the spirit of Christ in their cruel hounding of innocent Jews. Some people have claimed that the Church has officially, by signing the declaration of absolution, begged forgiveness from God and from Christians and from Jews.
And from the declaration signed in the fall it seems as though, by words, the Catholic Church has freed the Jews of guilt for Christ’s death.
Who then kills Christ now? Who stands in judgment for the crucifixion of the Lord? Who is to be condemned? According to the Catholics if the Jewish nation is no longer responsible then surely the Gentile nation cannot be. And if the Gentile nation is free of guilt then we are certainly excluded. And if we are excluded then the only ones left to blame is a handful of wicked people at the time of the crucifixion who were there at the cross and who condoned the crucifying of the Lord.
It is of course not difficult to see the error of the Catholic Church. Their error lies not so much in the fact of freeing the Jewish nation from guilt but it lies more in the way of failure to condemn their own wicked selves. And this is the error so prevalent in the even so-called Reformed Churches of today.
Who kills Christ now? The whole world was represented at Christ’s crucifixion. The apostate Church was at the time of Jesus, represented by the leaders of the Jews, particularly the Jewish council, whose president was the high priest. “And the governor said, why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.” Matt. 27:23. The world-power was represented as it was represented by Pilate, the Roman governor. “And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they desired,” … and “he delivered Jesus to their will.” Luke 23:24, 25. There was the multitude gathered before the Praetorium. They were the acquaintances of Jesus and the men who had witnessed his mighty works. “Then cried they again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.” John 18:40.
Who kills Christ now? He was rejected and killed by all kinds of men. Even one of his disciples betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver. Another swore and cursed rather than be accounted as one of his followers. They all forsook Him. Oh, how men hated Him!
But understand that we cannot view God’s word and God’s history as outsiders or spectators. What was true in history is also true today. This situation always arises wherever and whenever men come into contact with this same Jesus. Whether it is Israel of old, the modern church of today, kings or common people, upright citizens or criminals, as mere men they surely have rejected Him.
Oh yes, the so-called church people and Christian of today will tell you they believe in the Christ and want others to believe on Him too. But just as the Jews of old were looking not for the Christ that came, but for a Christ who would feed them earthly bread, so today the modern man and so-called Reformed churches look for a Christ after their own imagination—not the Christ of the scripture. They want a Christ who loves everybody, or a Christ who would like you to come and accept His free offer, or a Christ who asks for your little part to do something.
You and I, as mere men, also reject Him. By nature we also want to do something toward our salvation. By nature we too reject the Son of God, and crucify Him afresh. Our nature loves darkness rather than light. We want to seek our own righteousness.
Why do we all by nature reject Christ? Why have we all by nature killed Christ? Simply because Christ is the Man of sorrows. He came into the world to suffer for those whom the Father had given Him. He came for our sin. He came to bear our reproaches. He laid himself humbled in dust in order to exalt the righteousness of God as the sole way of salvation. This is why mere man rejects the Christ. For, mere man hates God and His righteousness. They seek salvation through their own power and hate Christ because He gives all the glory of salvation to the God whom they hate.
Then if all men by nature killed the Christ, how can there be any hope of our salvation? Grace. This wonder word changes mere man. Carnal men are changed into spiritual children of God that have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to seek after the living God. With their ears they hear His voice. With their hearts they seek after Him, hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness. With their hearts they feel shame and humiliation because of their sins. But they by Grace turn to the cross with their spiritual eyes to find the way out of sin and death into the glorious fellowship of His resurrection.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10.
Then we too will bear reproach from the world. For by confessing His name in the midst of the world and proclaiming His word, and walking as children of the light we can expect to be rejected. But we can in everything look forward to our final victory when we will glorify God’s name forever for so rich a salvation. We will join all those saints gone before us in the many mansions which are in His Father’s house, for if it were not so He would have told us.