Within the last decade, we have seen a dramatic change in the spiritual landscape of Israel. The numbers of new believers are shooting up and almost every congregation is growing.
What is going on?
Most of the testimonies of new believers show that at least part of their journey to Jesus involved a search on the internet. About 10 years ago, websites and videos explaining the gospel in Hebrew were created by Israelis. Just over 5 years ago they started really gaining serious traction. Even though there are only 9 million people living in Israel (20% Arab, most of the rest Jewish), these evangelistic videos have been viewed over 25 million times!
Moreover, there have been major breakthroughs in Jewish-Arab relations among the believers, in significant part because Jewish and Arab pastors came to study together at Israel College of the Bible. There is now media outreach in Arabic as well as Hebrew being sent out from Israel College of the Bible, and we are seeing people from all over the Middle East responding, particularly in Gaza. We even have an ex-Al Qaeda member enrolled at Israel College of the Bible in our distance learning programme! The numbers of Israelis coming to faith and the unity between Jews and Arabs in Jesus are extraordinary to see.
For a long time, there has been a real chasm of misunderstanding between the church and Israel, with few Christians understanding much of Jewish history or God’s plans for Israel in the future, and few Jewish people understanding the true message of the Gospel. You can find out more about all these topics at www.oneforisrael.org the website for the Bible College and media outreach centre in Israel. Please join us in prayer as God is moving so powerfully in these days! Please pray for:
Reconciliation between more Jewish people and their Messiah
Reconciliation between more Jewish and Arab believers
MOST ISRAELIS OWN A BIBLE AND REVERE THE WORD OF GOD
A survey recently conducted revealed that nearly all Israeli Jews own a Bible, that most revere it as the Holy Word of God, and that nearly half the Jewish population still reads from the Scriptures at least on occasions. The poll was conducted in the run-up to the “Opening the Tanakh” conference at the Herzog Academic College, which was attended by 7,000 Israelis and foreign visitors who were treated to a wide range of lectures and workshops dealing with the Bible and its place in modern society, especially Israeli Jewish society.
The results, originally published in Israel’s largest daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot, showed that no fewer than 93 percent of all Israeli Jews have a Bible in their home. A full 68 percent of respondents said they revere the Bible as a “Holy Book,” and nearly half (42 percent) said they read the Scriptures at least infrequently. Only 15 percent of Israeli Jews said they never read the Bible, and just 9 percent said they have no connection to the Word of God.
Source: Israel Today
ISRAEL ENCOURAGES CITIZENS TO UNDERTAKE A NATIONAL BIBLE STUDY
Israel is the only Western country that is currently taking positive steps to teach their people God’s Scriptures on a national level. They are shortly to read a chapter that is normally not read in the annual synagogue readings and has therefore remained largely hidden – Isaiah 53. The program called “929 Studying the Bible Together” was launched on Sunday 21st December 2014, during Hanukkah – the festival of Light and re-dedication of the temple after the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes had desecrated God’s house. There are 929 chapters in the Hebrew Bible from Genesis to II Chronicles (the Hebrew Scriptures follow a different order to the English Bibles). 93% of Israelis own a Bible but only a minority have ever read it. It is expected that 1 million Jews will participate making it the largest Bible study ever.
The daily Bible readings run from Sunday to Thursday – the Israeli week, with one chapter per day for three years and seven months and will finish on Israel’s 70th birthday – Independence Day, April 19, 2018. The Bible studies are taking place in schools, private locations and educational institutions, on social media, TV, smart phones, radio and internet. There are a variety of commentaries from different viewpoints to promote discussion. There are also community cultural events associated with the program. The project aims to teach Jewish history and values to the diverse community and unify the nation around the treasure God entrusted to the Jewish people.
The project was initiated by Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman, and Rabbi David Lau, and launched from President Reuven Rivlin’s office. Rivlin claimed that, for him, the Bible represents the identity card of the Jewish people, which is also the identity card for all humanity. By my calculations they will read the wonderful passages of the Messiah in Isaiah 52 and 53 on Sunday June 12 and Monday June 13. This “just happens” to be Shavuot (Pentecost) in the Hebrew calendar! God’s timing is amazing. Can we storm heaven for another outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Pray for the Lord to remove the veil from the eyes of the rabbis and the nation of Israel (2 Cor 3:14-18) so that they recognise the One whom they have pierced (Zech 12:10), repent and embrace their Jewish Messiah – Yeshua HaMashiach (Jn 1:29, Jn 1:49, Acts 3:36-38).
JILL CURRY, Jewish Prayer Focus Coordinator
Source: Jewish Prayer Focus
“Yeshu = Yeshua = Yeshuah” banner includes the phone number of the Jews for Jesus office
ISRAEL’S MESSIANIC SOLDIERS SHARE THEIR FAITH
All Israelis, men aged 18 to 21 and women aged 18 to 20, are required to do some form of military or community service. This means that thousands of Messianic Israelis—Jewish and non-Jewish, men and women—have shared in the Israeli army experience at one time or another. Israel is especially proud of their soldiers who are facing the challenges of today, which are more complex than ever before. From the survey results, it is clear that openness about Yeshua (Jesus) in the Israeli army is indeed the new “normal.”
Of those Messianic soldiers asked by Kehila News, a remarkable 96 percent say that their fellow soldiers know of their belief in Yeshua as the Messiah. Possibly even more remarkable is that 78 percent of their commanders or officers know of their belief in Yeshua. This is certainly a generation that is bolder than ever in sharing and living their faith. Equally encouraging feedback from the survey results is a largely supportive and pluralistic reaction from their fellow soldiers and officers with 64 percent of them having a “positive” response, 22 percent having an “indifferent” response and only 14 percent expressing a “negative” response upon hearing about faith in Yeshua.
“I have never before seen what we’re seeing now,” said Tuvya Zaretsky, chairman of the Israel branch of Jews for Jesus. “We’re seeing a steady stream of particularly young Israelis who are coming to Jesus from all walks of life. There seems to be a greater openness to spiritual input.”
The First Wave of Jews coming to Jesus hit in the 1970s in America. The Second Wave were Russian Jews in the 1990s. And now – in a Third Wave – Jews in Israel are coming to faith in increasing numbers.
In the 1990s, there were about 3,000 Messianic Jews in Israel; today there are as many as 20,000 (still less than 1% of the population), said Simon Stout, executive assistant of Jews for Jesus. There is estimated to be 150 congregations of like-minded believers in Israel. Of Israel’s 84 cities and towns, 81 have at least one messianic Bible study.
“There is a very unusual turning in Israel,” said Zaretsky. “The community of believers there has solidified. They’ve found their voice. There’s less antagonism. The situation is changing.” When Jews for Jesus launched its Israel branch in 2000, its banners were torn down and workers beaten up by ultra-orthodox Jews who associated Christianity with the Holocaust. Now, Jews for Jesus has a staff of 31 and the world political situation has sparked greater interest in Jesus, Zaretsky said. After World War II’s Holocaust killed 6 million Jews, Israel was created by decree of the United Nations as a safe place for Jews. But now many Israelis feel more imperilled than ever. Iran, which is feared to be close to producing nuclear weapons, is constantly threatening Israel’s destruction. On the streets of Israel, terrorism is a constant.
“Young people generally feel very little hope for the future and are therefore more open to the gospel,” said Zaretsky. With half the country’s population, Tel Aviv is where Jews for Jesus runs a 3-story discipleship centre which hosts coffee house activities, art shows and other events to bring in neighbours in the trendy Florentine neighbourhood. A brief presentation of the gospel is always given; literature is on hand, and messianic Jews are present for anyone curious. In 2008, research showed that most Israelis had very little concept of who Yeshua was. They knew him by the name Yeshu, a corruption of his name imposed by the rabbis to expunge Christianity from Judaism. Yeshua is related to Yeshuah, which means “salvation”.
So Jews for Jesus took to the streets with banners to educate Israelis about Yeshua. The placards read: “Yeshu = Yeshua = Yeshuah” and included the phone number of the Jews for Jesus office. They took out ads in the newspaper with this motto and placed it on billboards and buses. The ultra-orthodox tore the signs down. Now workers hold up banners along streets and highways at different times. Jews for Jesus have also staged yearly region-wide campaigns, called “Israel, Behold Your God,” that included months of concentrated evangelism.
Ben, an 18-year-old high school student from northern Israel, contacted Jews for Jesus personnel through its website two months ago.
Igal, a missionary intern, talked to Ben via Skype and found out that his mother was a believer. Igal shared with him his personal testimony about how God set him free from drugs and brought him peace, encouraging Ben to believe that Yeshua would do the same for him, Stout said. Ben agreed to study more about Yeshua and actually stated that he wanted to give Yeshua a chance to work in his life. Igal prayed daily for Ben and talked to him once a week. Just this month, Ben prayed with Igal to accept Yeshua as his Messiah, Stout said. “People are receiving Christ at a fairly constant rate,” Stout said. “They’re coming in ones or twos each month. It’s not a speedy process. There are cultural barriers for Jews to accept Jesus Christ.”
Simon Stout’s Story
Stout was himself a non-believing, reformed Jew from Indianapolis who visited Israel on a government-subsidized tour in 2001. First he saw the horrors of concentration camps in Poland, where Jews were imprisoned and killed wholesale as part of Hitler’s anti-Semitism during World War 2. Leaving behind the dreary memorials and the cold weather, Stout landed in Israel when it was warm and lovely. “The first time I saw Jerusalem, there was a rainbow over part of the city,” he said. “There was something inside me that told me that there was a reason for me to be in Israel. I had this feeling that there was a God and He had a purpose for Israel.
“I felt God must be real because only He could have taken the horrors of World War II and birthed a nation and bring us back after 2,000 years,” he said. But it wasn’t until years later that Stout accepted Jesus when he came to Israel to study for a master’s in education. A friend from a messianic congregation invited him to visit. In Indianapolis, his only exposure to Christianity were school kids telling him he would burn in Hell for being a Jew; he also saw Jewish houses get egged, he said. Despite the bad first impression with Christianity, he wasn’t completely closed to hearing about Jesus. For two months, he attended Bible studies and fellowship groups. Then one night he had a dream about a flood in New York and a flood in China.
When he attended a Bible study about prophetic dreams, he hoped to find an interpretation. Instead the lady speaker prophesied over him: “God hears your prayers. Yeshua is real, and He has great plans for you.” Stout broke down crying. He accepted Yeshua and was baptized in the Mediterranean Sea. He decided to remain in Israel, where he has married and had two children. Originally, he taught English literature but two years ago started working with Jews for Jesus.
Another ministry of Jews for Jesus is its “Massah” outreach in India. Surprisingly, the Himalayas are a favourite hiking mecca for Israelis after they complete their mandatory military service at about age 20. Secular Jews, in particular, use the getaway to take drugs and forget the stressful experience of constant war threat in Israel, Zaretsky said.
For 5-6 weeks during the summer, there are so many Israelis in the Himalayas that entire restaurants and coffee houses are filled with Jews. There are even Hebrew-speaking waiters and Hebrew menus to cater to the sub-culture diaspora. There’s something about the mystique of India, with its varied spirituality, that seems to open Jewish youth to talk about alternatives. It’s the perfect spot to strike up a conversation about Yeshua. So yearly, the Israeli branch of Jews for Jesus forms a team that travels to India for ministry. “India is a relevant place to talk about spirituality and belief,” said one Messianic Jewish believer on a YouTube video about Massah. Another recounted about sharing the gospel with a Jew who, intrigued, told her: “This whole talk we’ve had would not have happened if we were in Israel.”
The parents of Shmuel Salway immigrated with his family from India and now the 42-year-old is associate pastor of the Adonai Roi congregation, which has functioned in Tel Aviv for 19 years. It’s now a church of 100 members. “We just had five baptisms last month,” Salway said. “The Jews are coming back to the land, and they’re coming to know the Messiah. We’re living in prophetic times. I believe Yeshua will come back in our lifetime. He’ll come back when many more Jews come to Messiah and cry out ‘Baruch Haba B’Shem Adonai’ – Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Looking to Jesus: Journey into Renewal and Revival
Part 2: Journal
Reproduced from Our Trip,
Handwritten Journal, December-January,1981-1982
Our family of five visited Israel in December-January of 1981-1982, with our friends Di Reynoldson, Diane Farmer, Paul Varendorf and David Baker. This book combines two resources to tell that story.
Part 1: Journey, from page 5, I reproduced from pages 103-109 of my autobiography, Looking to Jesus: Journey into Renewal and Revival (2009, BookSurge) with an overview of our trip and my impressions.
Part 2: Journal, from page 17, I reproduced and expanded from Our Trip, my handwritten journal of entries made during the visit with daily notes of events and my thoughts at that time.
Israel is unique. This land of the Bible, the land of Jesus, grabs you. My memories remain vivid, strong and transforming. Being there brings the Bible alive in new ways. Scripture leaps from Bible picture books into the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch of living, breathing people today, saturated with yesterday’s events.
Walk around the present Crusader walls of the old city of Jerusalem and you literally walk around the land and ruins of the smaller city of Jesus’ day.
Wander on the pebbled shore of Galilee at Capernaum and you literally walk where Jesus walked. Or you can sit in a boat on the lake as he did.
Everywhere you go there, names of Bible places jump at you off large, modern road signs pointing to yet another biblical location, full of history’s blood, sweat, toil and tears. The hundreds of signs in Hebrew and English remind you of events from 4,000 years of history there and the astounding miracles seen in those places.
I pray that these brief memoirs will bless you and inspire you.
As you look through my eyes and our family’s experiences with our friends I hope that you too may glimpse something more of the wonder of God’s mighty purposes for us all, demonstrated in the long history of Israel and especially in the life of Jesus who lived there, died there, rose again there, and ascended in glory and authority there.
To God be the glory, great things he has done – especially in Israel. There he revealed himself in and through his one and only Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of kings and the Lord of lords who reigns forever.