By Tamar Afriat
Jewish believers often ask each other, “So, how did you come to faith?” knowing that there’s bound to be an interesting story. For some, it was a dramatic visitation, a vision, or even the audible voice of the Lord. For others, it came as a challenge to read the Word, to see for themselves, and the Word itself convicted them. For every Jewish believer in Yeshua, it seems there is a fascinating and often dramatic story of how they came to faith. But why fascinating and dramatic? The answer is fairly simple. More than any other culture or people group, Jews must overcome perhaps the greatest obstacle in accepting the truth of Messiah.
A Tragic History
The one thing that nearly assures that belief in Yeshua would be one of the last options that any Jew in his or her right mind would ever consider is the fact that, throughout the history of anti-Semitism, Jews suffered almost exclusively at the hands of Christians; early Church fathers sanctioned and encouraged it and even later respected Protestant theologians such as Martin Luther encouraged violent forms of anti-Semitism. The “Final Solution” proposed by the Nazis against the Jews was firmly rooted in nearly 2,000 years of Church anti-Semitism. And, though no one would call Nazi war criminals or any other anti-Semite, for that matter, “Christians” in the sense of being true God-fearing believers, Jews see Nazis and all others who persecuted the Jewish people throughout history as Christian; that is, being members of a “Christian” society, baptized in their denominations, and perhaps even church-attending. So total is the aversion to Christianity and Christian symbols for Jews that Israeli school books use an inverted T instead of a cross for the addition symbol.
“The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.”
Then He said to me, “Son of man, these are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!'” -Ezekiel 37:1, 11
The modern state of Israel was born out of the ashes of the Holocaust. In the collective memory of this people is a very real valley of dry bones; it is a black and white image of men and women of all ages, literally skin on bones, and, for many Jews around the world today, they are actual mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, vast extended families extinguished within few short years. This, however, is not meant to be an article about anti-Semitism. Quite the contrary, this is an article about hope. This is about God’s enduring love and faithfulness to His promises. How often do we read God’s word, read His promises to us, and think to ourselves, “He can’t really mean that. He won’t do that for me. My pain is too great. The obstacles I face are impossible to overcome.” But God loves to do the impossible for us. He promises for us in Isaiah 61 to literally give us “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” He takes our sorrow, our suffering, our pain, and gives us something marvelous in its place. Yeshua himself says in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” What a promise! Life from the dead and life more abundantly?
A Body without Breath
“Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.” -Ezekiel 37:8
And what other nation can be the picture of pain and suffering like the Jewish nation? God is trying to make a point to all of us through what He is doing for the Jewish nation. God took a literal valley of dry bones, “the whole house of Israel”, and brought them back to life in our time, in direct accordance to His promise: “I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.” (Ezekiel 11:10). However, as the Lord showed the prophet Ezekiel, there was a body of flesh and blood, but there was no breath in it, which means, it was no yet fully alive. Though many Christians throughout the world have recognized the re-establishment of the state of Israel as a prophetic “super-sign” to signal an end times generation and enthusiastically support Israel, sometimes an important factor gets overlooked: God was by no means done when He re-established the house of Jacob in the land of Israel. Something even greater was in store.
“Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.”
“I will put my Spirit in you, and you shall live…” -Ezekiel 37:12, 14
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he stated that, though the religious Jewish establishment of the day had rejected Yeshua as the Messiah, there was still “a remnant according to the grace of election.” Indeed, it was Jewish believers in the Messiah who carried the gospel forth from Jerusalem to the Gentiles. However, little more than ten years after Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in 313, Church leaders began passing edicts forbidding the observance of Jewish holidays and systematically vilifying, marginalizing, and persecuting Jews. Jewish believers in the Messiah very quickly found themselves between a rock and a hard place; rejected and persecuted by their own brethren for their faith in Yeshua and expected to give up their Jewish identity by Gentile Christians or be persecuted. It is no small wonder that a group that was actively persecuted from both sides quickly disappeared. Through most of Church history there was a small number of Jews who came to faith in Yeshua, but almost all of them “converted” to Christianity and completely assimilated into the Gentile world. Some even joined in the general spirit of anti-Semitism that pervaded the Church at that time and became avid anti-Semites themselves.
The Lord, however, would again begin gathering a righteous remnant from among the Jewish nation. In the 1800’s, a group of Jews who had come to faith in Yeshua in Britain banded together and established a congregation called Beni Abraham (Sons of Abraham). They called themselves Hebrew Christians; it was the first time since the time of the first apostles that so many Jews were coming to faith at once and who wanted to maintain their Jewish identity as believers. In 1866, this early Messianic Jewish community in England founded the Hebrew-Christian Alliance of Great Britain which had branches in several other European countries and the United States. Over the next hundred years, the number of Jewish believers in the Yeshua slowly grew. Then something interesting began happening in 1967; Israel captured Jerusalem from Jordan in the Six Day War, marking the first time in two thousand years that Jerusalem was in Jewish hands. That year also stands out for many as the height of the hippy counter-culture youth movement of the sixties in the United States and “the summer of love” that year in San Francisco. At the same time, however, thousands of young people were being saved in America, so many, in fact, that it was dubbed the “Jesus Movement”. And among those being saved were countless Jews. Even Bob Dylan, the iconic voice taken up by the counter-culture movement of the sixties, himself Jewish, had a vision of Yeshua and openly shared his spiritual experience in his music. It was in these years that many Jews had dramatic encounters with the Lord revealing Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah.
Life from the Dead
“I say then, have they (Israel) stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! ÖNow if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” -Romans 11:11, 12, & 15
Since the late sixties, Jewish believers in Israel now number as many as 14,000*, whereas before the sixties there was barely a handful. In the past, with so few Jewish believers and more widespread anti-Semitism in Church culture, it was more difficult if not impossible for Jewish believers to embrace and live out their Jewish identity in the Messiah as we are able to today. God has given many in the Church today a revelation and a heart for His people who have loved, discipled, accepted, and encouraged us on our path. It is with joy and a clear conviction that most Jewish believers today realize that they do not have to cut themselves off from their culture and traditions to believe in Yeshua. In fact, Jewish believers discover very quickly how it flows naturally to maintain their Jewish identity because Yeshua himself, the disciples, and the Jewish apostles set the example. It is with joy we continue observing biblical holidays and law in freedom as Yeshua taught and even observed Himself, knowing that it is only His righteousness and salvation that can justify us before God. Also, many secular, non-observant Jews have re-discovered their heritage as a result of becoming a believer of Yeshua.
The work of grace in the lives of Jewish believers allows them to reach a place of freedom in forgiveness for those whom they have seen as enemies of the Jewish people. The sacrifice of Yeshua also allows us to stand together with the Gentile body of Messiah as one new man, the enmity and dividing wall removed, full of comfort and forgiveness, each standing in the dignity and beauty of his calling in the same Messiah and working together to further the same cause of salvation. God is faithful to finish the good work He started in us! Our Messiah is returning for a “pure and spotless bride.” As the Church emerges from and comes to terms with a long dark past of anti-Semitism, as Gentile and Jewish believers stand together in love, mutual respect, and unity as one body committed to growing in righteousness and sharing the Gospel in love, we see a bride who is completing the beauty preparations for her wedding. As Romans 11 highlights the blessing that results for the whole world when Jews return to their Messiah, we firmly believe that even greater spiritual revival is coming to the earth as more Jews return to their promised Messiah. It is our sincerest prayer that He would continue to raise up more whole-hearted followers of Him, Jew and Gentile alike, with eyes full of love gazing upon Him, not distracted or deceived by the world and its turmoil, who will stand humble, holy, and blameless on that day!
*This number is only an estimate. It is difficult to know just how many Jewish believers there are since the body of believers in Israel is a vibrant community of both Gentile and Jewish believers. However we do know that the numbers of Jewish Believers in the Land is growing.
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