How do the Israelis consider the message of Jesus Today?

By: David Zadok

Presented in Hong Kong, December 2018.

 

© David Zadok

 

 

God is doing something unique and amazing in Israel. However, to understand its greatness we need to look back briefly to the development of the history of Mission to Israel.

 

A Challenging Beginning

For almost 17 centuries Jewish evangelism was practically non-existent in the churches.  Yet there have always been Jewish people and even prominent Rabbis’ who believed in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We the Jews were often accused of being Christ killers, and were targeted by so-called Christians. The so-called “Blood Libel” was particularly widespread in the Christendom. This was the claim that the Jews kidnapped Christian children and offered them in ritual sacrifice and were used in preparing Matzah (unleavened bread) for Passover. In fact, literary attacks on Jews and Judaism can be found already from the end of the first century and beginning of the second century as Judaism and Christianity parted. Furthermore, as more and more Gentiles adopted the God of Israel and the Messiah of Israel, they rejected the Jewish roots of their faith. We can still see the result of it as Easter is not celebrated in Passover – after all the Gospels clearly tell us that Jesus was crucified on Passover.  In the dark ages, even when a Jew will come to faith, he will often be forced to eat pork to make sure that he is converted. Worse than that the church often believed that the gospel has come to Jews first and since they rejected it, now it is the time for the Gentiles.

 

Nevertheless, man’s way is not God’s way! Therefore, in the 17th century, there was an awakening in regard to a mission to the Jews. In 1795 a Jewish man by the name of Joseph Levi was converted, and upon his baptism, he received a new name Joseph Samuel Christian Frederick Frey. The change of his name was the impact of the Anti-Semitism which permeated through the Church at that time. Then in 1809 he and others founded the “London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. That Organization was later changed to ‘Church’s Ministry amongst Jewish people’ (CMJ), which still exists and reaches to the Jews all over the world. I have the privilege of being on the international board of CMJ.

 

Another important development was in Scotland. In 1842 the free church of Scotland started the “Society for Propagation of the Christian Faith Among the Jewish people”. A Scottish minister by the name Robert Murray McCheyene, who believed in the restoration of Israel, was the instrument in God’s hand to see the need for Jewish Mission. That society today is called the Christian Witness to Israel (CWI), which you are familiar with it!

 

At the same time in the late 19 century, Jews began to immigrate to Israel, which was called Palestine at the time. Till 1948 when Israel was established as a state there were five major immigration waves of Jews to the land. The first was from Yemen in 1881 and onwards, and they started to settle and build agriculture villages and towns. The town that we live in, Gedera, was established in that wave of immigration in 1884. The second wave was from 1904 till 1914, when it was stopped by the first World War. This immigration was mainly from East Europe and was resulted due to the economic situation that was getting worse but also the Pogroms and the anti-Semitism. Then came the third wave of immigration where some 35,000 Jews immigrated from Europe, between the years 1919 and 1924. In the fourth wave of immigration, another 70,000 Jews arrived at the shores of Israel. This time the wave was from 1924 to 1931. And the last wave lasted from the early ’30s till the II World War. In this last wave, 180,000 Jews arrived to the promised land and one-third of them came from Germany. In these waves of immigration, the Jewish population grew from 28,000 to 650,000.

 

However, one cannot forget the Second World War where six million Jews were brutally murdered. According to some researches, It is estimated that as many as ten percents of the Jews in Nazi Germany believed in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. And they suffered and went to their deaths along with their fellow Jews. God alone knows the exact number, but it is clear that there was a large number of Jews who indeed believed in Jesus, whether from conviction or pragmatic reasons. And we will never know what would have been the situation of the Church among the Jewish people if they would have survived. May be today the Israelis would have considered the message of the Gospel in a different way!

 

A Better Beginning

In 1948 when Israel was reestablished as a State, with 716,000 Jews, the number of Jewish believers was roughly about two dozen. Thankfully the newly established state allowed those Mission organizations who were functioning in the land before 1948 to remain and be active in their ministry. However, life for the Jewish believers was hard and challenging as they were often seen as traitors and therefore were often discriminated. As a result there was not much missionary activity, though individually people were growing in their faith. The additional challenge was that there was almost no Hebrew Literature available for these Israeli believers. Their small community was also struggling to define their identity as well as their place and role in their home state of Israel.

 

History shows us that often wars and other political and social revolutions are tools in the hand of the Almighty God to advance His kingdom. The six-day war that took place in 1967 resulted in the unification of Jerusalem and once again after 2,000 years the temple mount and other Jewish holy places were in the hand of Jewish people. Around the same time in the early seventies, the “Jesus Movement” brought revival in North America, and around a million people came to faith. Many of these converted were also Jewish, and quite a few of them immigrated to Israel and some for the first time came to visit the land of Israel.

In 1973 the Jews for Jesus organization was established and other Jewish mission organizations started to spring.

 

But this new movement was different and, in some ways, more encouraging. The Jewish believers were bolder in sharing their faith with other Jewish people and a new wave of missionary activity began among the Jews. The Jewish mission has become once again on the forefront, but not only by Gentiles but now by the Jewish people as well. This trend also impacted the life in Israel. By 1980 there were already some 30 congregations in Israel, though many of them still used the English language, as their main language of worship.

 

In early 1990 the wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union changed totally the face of the congregations in Israel. In ten years some million Russian Speaking Jews and non-Jews immigrated to Israel. This was not only a huge boost to the economy and the population but also the body of Christ. Some of these immigrants were already Christians, and others who lived for so many years under the communist regime that depressed anything spiritual, had a great hunger. Initially many of these Jewish Believers were not asked if they believed in Jesus or were baptized, and therefore could immigrate according to the Law of Return.[1] Later, the questionnaire was changed to include if the person believes in Jesus or has been baptized, and if so then they are not allowed to immigrate according to the Law of Return.

 

But with the Russian immigrants not only the number of the congregations in Israel grow, but also the existing congregations grow in numbers. Our own congregation, Grace and Truth, in those years grow from 40 members to almost 350, and most were baptized in the church. The Russian immigration had an important influence on the Israeli society, and on the church that is seen until today. Indeed it was yet a new chapter in that great history of the return of the Jews to their land and more importantly to their God and Messiah.

 

According to an in-depth study done in 1999 there where 81 congregations in Israel but only 20% of them were led by local Israelis, and the other 80% came from outside of Israel. However, already there was a trend of becoming more Israeli. Later as we entered into the 21st century, more Hebrew songs were written and sung in the churches, and the Israeli local believers were taking a more active part in the life of the church. In addition, there were more and more expressions of the Jewishness of faith. Publishing books in Hebrew became more important and that is where also HaGefen, one of the first publishing houses, started to produce more books in Hebrew than before.

 

Today, the situation of the church is much different and certainly in a better place. In 2017, the Israel College of the Bible did yet another survey of the Messianic Believers in Israel. The survey was answered by some 300 adult Messianic Jews. According to the survey there are about 300 congregations in Israel with some 30,000 believers. The growth of the congregations and the number of believers has grown exponentially. And that I believe is a first fruit of what is to come in the future. The promise of God and his covenant with Israel has not been nullified. God has not rejected his people of Old and there will come a day where all Israel shall be saved.

 

More than you know and have heard me saying, Israel today is making a great contribution to the welfare of the world. This can be seen not only in the number of the Nobel Prize winners, but mainly in the contribution of Israel to agriculture, medicine, technology, desalination, and of course solar systems. But while these are very important and needful, yet I think that a day will come that Israel will make also a great contribution to the world in the spiritual realm.

 

A New and Recent Wave  

There have been many waves both of immigration as well as return of the Jews to their Messiah. But in recent years we are experiencing yet another and very important wave in Israel. And that is the openness of the younger generation Israelis, or as is often called the Millennials. This Millennials are very open-minded and don’t carry the baggage of the previous generation. Unfortunately, they don’t know much of the history, and as the result, the atrocities of the Holocaust are not as familiar to them as the previous generations who either experienced it first hand or they experienced it through their parents or grandparents.

 

In recent years we have seen not only a great openness among this younger generation, but also a few of them have come to faith. Some of these have been raised in a Christian home, and they are in fact second or third-generation believers, just like my wife Eti. Others have come to faith through direct evangelism, or through social media and various YouTube videos. Israel College of the Bible, that I have the privilege of being part of its board, have produced a great many videos for evangelism. Some of these videos have gone viral and been seen by millions of people all over the world – one such example is the testimony of Mottel – (https://www.oneforisrael.org/evangelistic-projects/i-met-messiah-jewish-testimonies-videos/) seen by more than  14 million people.

 

Many of this younger generation who are connected widely and deeply to the internet and social media, often come across these videos and watch it and in some cases contact someone on the web and enter into a discussion. God is not limited in using means to call his people, and we have seen people come to faith through these methods as well. Often, they get connected to an established church but unfortunately not always. These discussions in the open media have helped the wider society and certainly the younger generation to be more positive about the Jews believing in Jesus as their Messiah. There is far less antagonism towards those who come to faith. My own family disowned me when they realized that my faith was not going away.

 

The Young Israelis Attitude

To understand better how Israelis consider the message of Jesus today, we have to recognize that the Israeli society is very diverse, complied of secular and religious Jews. The religious Jews are also very diverse – there is a large spectrum of religiosity from observant to Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who live in their own neighborhoods. There are also shifts in the religious circles, as they are exposed to the media and to the liberal world. According to a recent study every year some 1,200 ultra-Orthodox Jews leave their communities for a secular live. A vast majority of these are those between the ages of 18 -25.

 

The new generation in Israel is very curious. Open to new ideas, more tolerant and more liberal. The secular Israeli is very liberal to subjects like gay marriage, soft drugs like Marijuana and Weeds. This liberal worldview makes them open also to the message of the gospel. They are willing to listen and engage in conversations. As this young men and woman serve in the military they carry with them this liberal view, and therefore it has become prevalent in the Israeli army. The Messianic believers get time for prayer and reading of the scripture while they are in the boot camp or in courses, and they are recognized as a distinct religious group. The believing soldiers who are open about their faith are often invited by their commanding officers to share their faith in their units. Our two daughters were given public opportunities to speak in front of hundreds of commanders and soldiers. In the last few years, the largest evangelistic outreach in our country has been soldiers sharing their faith. Thousands of young Israelis are hearing the message of the gospel, and this is a new phenomenon.

 

In order to equip our soldiers to be good witnesses of Christ, there is a ministry targeted for them. Netivah ministry organizes conferences and meetings for believing soldiers throughout the year.  Two training venues are open to those who will be joining the military. In these pre-military programs, that one is for 10 days, and the other 11 weeks, the youngsters are taught apologetics, theology, identity in Christ and other subjects that prepare them for the spiritual warfare that they face in the military. In addition, in these training courses, they visit various churches and ministries and do many volunteer works in both Christian and secular places.

 

We at Grace and Truth congregation, have also a ministry for the soldiers. Once a year before the feast of Purim, from the book of Esther, we prepare care packages for every Messianic soldier. It is a large project, which requires logistics and involves a lot of work, including communicating with all the churches in the land. This February we packed 250 packages, which shows that there are at least this many Messianic believers who are serving on active duty. The recipients are very thankful and express how meaningful it is to get a package from people that care and pray for them. It has also encouraged some of them to be a better witness in their military service.

 

The official Reaction to Faith in Jesus

While there is freedom of religion in Israel and the courts uphold our rights as Jewish believers, yet often the challenge is with the Anti-missionary Orthodox organizations. In recent years we see positive changes in the attitude of some government officials towards our community. In 2016 the Israeli Parliament awarded the Messianic Jewish Pro-life organization a certificate of recognition for women’s health. What is interesting is that they recognize the messianic organization, but the fact that there are also Jewish pro-life organizations, that could have been chosen as well. Another positive issue is that one of the many of the Prime Minister Netanyahu’s media advisor is a Messianic believer named Hananya Naftali. He has a very active Youtube channel and it is worth visiting it at:

https://www.youtube.com/user/HananyaNaftali/videos

 

Another change that we see is the fact that HaGefen Publishing, has been already twice invited and allowed to set a table and offer our books during the book fair event. Another one is the Jerusalem Institute of Justice: www.JIJ.org which fights against injustice in the land, promoting the cause of the Christian minorities in the land as well as promoting human rights. The organization is often featured in the secular printed media.

 

The believing soldiers are often asked to speak about what we as Messianic Jews believe to their troops or pre-military courses. This is yet another sign of the times and attitudes of the officials towards us.

 

However, I want to be careful not to paint too positive pictures, as there are challenges as well. And yet we are certainly seeing a positive change in the attitude of the officials and that is indeed encouraging and a sure sign of God’s Hand.

 

The Challenges

Together with the openness, there are also persecutions and hardships that some of our congregation’s face. The small congregation in Arad has been harassed for the past 15 years by the local Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Just recently, religious people vandalized a congregation in the city of Ashdod and the city is considering closing their facilities under the false accusation that the place is functioning illegally. Persecution is part of our call, as Jesus said in John 16:33 “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” With blessings and growth come along also persecutions and hardships. Yet none of these can stop the word of God to spread and the churches to grow and flourish. This is the promise of God, He will build His church and even the gates of the hell cannot prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

 

Conclusions

The short survey of the mission to the Jews and what is happening today in Israel is certainly a cause for praising God. To understand where the Jewish mission was in the past centuries, and how Israelis consider today the message of Jesus is nothing less that miracle.

But I think that it is more important than a miracle, it is the result of who God is and what he has promised to the Jewish people.

 

We know the past, and we know a little bit about the present. Understanding them and comprehending the promises of God in the scriptures, gives us great hope. A hope that one day soon, all Israel shall be saved. And I hope that you will take part in this mission of God.

[1] An Israeli law, passed on 5 July 1950, which gives the right for every Jew to immigrate to Israel and to gain Israeli citizenship. In 1970, the right of entry was extended also to people with one Jewish grandparent and a person who is married to a Jew.

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[1] An Israeli law, passed on 5 July 1950, which gives the right for every Jew to immigrate to Israel and to gain Israeli citizenship. In 1970, the right of entry was extended also to people with one Jewish grandparent and a person who is married to a Jew.