Ever since the first friends of Yeshua, there has always been a remnant of Jewish people who believed in him, even though for most of history they would simply assimilate into Christian churches and become invisible as Jews. Today, things for Messianic Jewish believers are very different, but it was once assumed that one had to choose between being either Jewish or Christian, and many left their Jewish identity at the threshold when they came to church.
At the same time, Christians didn’t have access to the Bible for most of church history, but depended on priests to teach them – often in Latin. Understanding of the Scriptures was limited to only a few. But all that changed after the Reformation and development of the printing press around the sixteenth century, as more Christians were able to read the Bible for themselves. They could finally search the scriptures and see that God was certainly not finished with the people of Israel.
People became excited as they saw that God promised to regather his people back to the land of Israel, and that he would also bring them back to himself in revival. This led to a more determined effort to reach the Jewish people with the gospel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and expectations of Israel’s regathering grew.
The Messianic Movement begins
The idea of “Hebrew Christians” developed, and Count Zinzendorf in Germany and Joseph Rabinowitz in Russia both attempted to initiate Jewish expressions of worshiping Jesus around this time, but neither were particularly successful. The first functioning place of worship for Jewish believers was Christchurch in Jerusalem, which was completed in 1849, with a Jewish believer called Solomon Alexander as the first protestant bishop in Israel. The number of Jewish believers in Israel was small, and even those few were evacuated out of Israel by boat after the Second World War, with Christians fearing what might happen to them once the state of Israel had been created.
This left less than twenty-five Jewish believers in the land when Israel was born as a country in 1948.
A new start for a new state
The State tolerated the believers but generally those bringing the gospel were treated with hostility and abhorrence, since the Holocaust (along with most historical persecution of the Jews) was perceived to be a particularly Christian phenomenon. Early Israel was still in survival mode, and talk of Jesus was seen as a threat. Despite their reviled status, the number of Messianic believers in Israel continued to grow, roughly tripling each decade. Two big waves of revival came in the seventies and later again in the nineties. The first was as a result of the ‘Jesus Movement’ in America (considered by many to have been spiritually precipitated by the events in Jerusalem in 1967), and the second was due to the fast spread of the gospel among Russian Jews (a result of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989). Thanks to the first wave connected with the Jesus movement, Messianic Judaism began to flourish particularly in the US, and Jewish believers began to call themselves “Messianic Jews” rather than “Hebrew Christians”. They took their identity and responsibility as Jews seriously, and lived and worshiped in a more Jewish way. Several of these American Jews emigrated to Israel, and some are pastors of the congregations here to this day. Later, the Russian Jews arrived, bolstering the numbers of believers in Israel. Today, there are over 200 Messianic congregations in Israel, and hundreds more worldwide… and the numbers continue to increase.
The third wave of revival
Dave Brickner of Jews for Jesus believes that we are now entering a third wave of Jewish people coming to faith, except this time, instead of coming from America or Russia, we are at last seeing Israeli-born Jewish people coming to embrace Yeshua for themselves. But what is precipitating this new wave of revival? An important factor affecting twenty-first century Israel is the ubiquity of the internet, and of social networking. Whilst at one time, it was hard to find a copy of the New Testament, today any curious Israeli simply has to type “Yeshua” or “Messiah” into their google search engine, and all the information they could ever want, including the New Testament in Hebrew, is right there! The freedom and safety of seeking in private, of exploring all their questions without being seen or harassed, has meant that a great number are searching for their Messiah on the internet.
In this context, Eitan Bar began constructing a website in Hebrew for Israelis to easily (and anonymously) find out about Yeshua, and to order a New Testament if they wanted one. The site, www.igod.co.il, provides answers to many of the questions that Israelis often have about Jesus and the gospel. He found that in a typical month, over 22,000 searches were made for “Yeshua” on Google, and several similar spiritual searches were made, on a variety of subjects. The need for a range of other websites became clear. The media ministry over time has developed into a complete media center based in our facilities here at Israel College of the Bible; the only Hebrew-speaking seminary in Israel. As well as a variety of different websites presenting gospel truth to different audiences, we also have a video studio to create clips that can be easily shared on the internet. We continue to produce literature that helps Israelis who are seeking answers, and also have a radio station now broadcasting Messianic music and Bible verses around the clock.
One of the benefits of the internet is that it allows Israelis to overcome the shame and sense of betrayal that stops many from investigating the teachings of Jesus. We have ‘question and answer forums’ on each site, and there are always trained believers ready to respond to their questions, and to talk through their thoughts with them. Due to the anonymity, it is possible for the discussions to become quite deep and honest in a short time, in a way that cannot happen so easily in a face to face discussion.
The challenges of new growth
With the ever multiplying numbers of Israeli believers, the need for leadership development, sound theological training and equipping for ministry grows more urgent all the time. We now have almost 150 Jewish and Arab students in our Bible College programs, seeking to be qualified in bachelors and masters degrees in Theology, Biblical Studies, Counselling, and more. We are pleased to host the largest collection of Christian books in the country, and are expanding all the time to cater for other languages and needs. We love to share the treasures of studying the Bible in the land of Israel with others from across the world as well, and have several international students come to spend a year or semester in Israel with us.
Which brings us to you! If you would like to hear more, or to financially support our work reaching Israelis who do not yet know the Lord, and building up believers so that they can lead and serve others, we welcome you to join us!