The Messianic Jewish/Christian Zionist Complex
The Messianic Jewish/Christian Zionist Complex
Over the years, you may have become familiar with Jews for Jesus, the organization that was founded more than forty years ago, and focuses on converting Jews to Christianity. It is less likely, however, that you're acquainted with Messianic Jews, who, although relatively small in numbers, are establishing relationships with Christian Zionists and have the potential to become a more influential political force.In an article posted at christianity.about.com, Jack Zavada defined Messianic Jews as those who "accept Jesus (Yeshua) as the Messiah yet retain a Jewish lifestyle. After conversion, they continue to observe Jewish holidays, rituals, and customs." Here's the kicker, writes Zavada, their "theology tends to vary widely among Messianic Jews." Some critics have maintained that some people calling themselves Messianic Jews were never Jewish in the first place. Other critics see Messianic Jews allying with conservative evangelical Christians to establish a Messianic Jewish/Christian Zionist Complex.
In the U.S., "'There are now tens of thousands of Messianic Jews [with]; some estimate as many as 1.2 million,' according to the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA), [an organization] founded in 1915," Melissa Nordell and Mark Ellis wrote last month at blog.godreports.com. MJAA maintains that "Messianic synagogues [are] springing up in almost every major city across the U.S."
Last year, in a move that stirred controversy within the Jewish community, former President George W. Bush spoke at the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute's (MJBI) annual banquet "to help raise funds for its mission to persuade Jews that Jesus is the messiah," Religion Dispatches' Sarah Posner reported.
This year's banquet, earlier this month in Fort Worth, Texas, featured "Phil and Alan Robertson, the patriarch and eldest son of the Christian reality television show Duck Dynasty."
After his controversial interview with GQ, Phil Robertson has taken on the mantle of mainstream television's number one homophobe. Both Phil and Alan are the executive editors of the forthcoming book, "The Duck Commander Faith and Family Bible."
At cnsnews.com, Michael W. Chapman described MJBI as an organization "dedicated to evangelizing the Jews and convincing them to accept that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah as foretold in the Old Testament and detailed in the New Testament."
"Messianic Jews are Jews who have come to faith in Jesus as their Messiah," states the MJBI website. "They call Him Yeshua, meaning salvation in Hebrew. They retain their Jewish identity, lifestyle and practice but fully embrace the virgin-birth of Yeshua, His death, resurrection and ascension. They accept Him as the Jewish people's long-awaited Messiah and Redeemer of Israel and all nations."
"Even [George W.] Bush's Jewish supporters questioned his support for an organization that teaches evangelistic efforts to provoke `jealousy' in Jews, leading to a lifting of their `blindness' to Jesus as the Messiah, the `restoration' of Israel, and the Second Coming of Christ," Posner reported in Mother Jones.
In Israel, while their numbers appear to be growing, Messianic Jews have also been on the receiving end of anger and occasional violence especially from Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
According to Posner, in Israel there are "real instances of harassment." "Messianic Jews say they are denied religious freedom. For example, under Israeli law they cannot immigrate there even if they are considered Jewish under the Law of Return, if the government determines that they've changed their religion (in essence, to Christianity)."
The rise of Messianic Jews in Israel
Whatever else Messianic Jews may be up to in Israel, they spend a lot of time emphasizing their charitable work. According to Charisma News' Ken Walker, "when Canadian native Wayne Hilsden moved to Israel in 1983 to help establish a fledgling congregation in Jerusalem" there, "a smattering of 15 messianic congregations around Israel. Today, Hisden told Walker, there are perhaps as many as 150 congregations made up of "more than 15,000 Jews who consider themselves followers of Yeshua."
"Those numbers may seem minuscule in a nation of more than 8 million," Walker pointed out. "But leaders who focus on providing humanitarian aid, social assistance and spreading the good news in a nation largely resistant to Christ say what God is doing in Israel rivals the exodus from Egypt."
"God is gathering His people from the four corners of the Earth," says Gary Cristofaro, a former Assemblies of God pastor and director of development for Ezra International, a U.S.-based ministry. "The miracles are greater than when He brought them out of Egypt. Understanding this can make a difference in people's faith. The things we worry about are pretty tame compared to this. It's a very exciting time. A lot of people's hearts will fail, but if more understand where they are in His economy, it will make a difference."
Hilsden and Cristofaro's work represents only a few efforts of Messianic Jewish groups in Israel.
Walker reported that, "Rabbi Shmuel Bowman's Operation Lifeshield has attracted support from diverse quarters. When Jews and Christians come together for a unified purpose, the program saves lives while bringing down long-standing walls, Bowman says."
"The Jewish Federation in Birmingham, Alabama, now has a Christian on staff whose job is to connect to Christian communities and talk to them about Israel and why bridge building is important," says the Torah scribe, who lives just south of Jerusalem. "If people can get together and talk about things we care passionately about, that opens doors to conversations and relationships."
According to onenewsnow.com, a news service of the American Family Association, "Bless Israel Network is a media organization based in Israel. ... [whose] hosts, Daniel and D'vorah Calic, are Messianic believers who live in Israel. They are currently in the production stages of their initial weekly broadcast project titled `Revelation to the Nations.'"
"The environment in Israel over the last several years has changed significantly," Daniel Calic says. "We feel God has called us to present this window of opportunity out to the nations on behalf of the believing Jews inside Israel."
"There are many traditional Jews who are receiving visions and dreams," D'vorah Calic says. "Yeshua is appearing to them and they are accepting him as their Messiah. Though we won't be able to reveal names, we would like to share some of those stories, and we do hear about them firsthand."
In a piece published in Religion Dispatches last November titled, "Conservatives, Messianic Jews, and the Jews," Sarah Posner wrote: "I've said it before and I'll say it again here: the greatest challenge of Messianic Judaism is not to Judaism itself. But Messianic Judaism could radically alter evangelical perceptions of what it means to be Jewish, interfaith relations, and how Americans view Israel." (For more, go here.)
While leaders of Messianic Jews appear to be bullish on their future possibilities in Israel, the rise of Messianic Jews in both the US and Israel raises questions about their alliance with Christian Zionists and the ultimate intentions of those with End Times on their minds.