(Originally written for Spanish-language Christian newspaper in Guatemala)
What is God doing in Israel? What is the spiritual state of the State of Israel as she celebrates 70 years as a sovereign nation among the nations of the world? Her successes in many fields far surpass the normal expectation of other nations. By the long list of numerous innovations and developments that Israel is known for, God is drawing attention to Himself through His miracle nation! (Is 11:11-12) But how do we assess the whole of Israel by the Word of God? There are many perspectives on Israel and many opinions by believers concerning the current spiritual situation here in the land. One thing is for sure: Israel as a nation is still resistant to the good news of Jesus (Yeshua) being the Messiah.
The Apostle Paul wrote that Israel is the enemy of the gospel for the Gentiles’ sake, and beloved for the Fathers’ sake. (Rom 11:28) The fathers are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel, with whom YHVH cut/made a covenant, promising them with an oath to give their descendants an inheritance and everlasting possession of the land of Canaan. He promises that a faithful remnant of their physical descendants would become His holy people, and He would become their God. These promises still remain to be fulfilled, and the LORD is faithfully fulfilling them until the day of salvation. (Is 14:24-27; Ezek 36:22-28; Rom 9:11) Fear the LORD, and give Him glory!
What does it mean to be an enemy of the gospel? It does not just mean that most Jewish people do not believe in Jesus. Nor does it mean that we are not free to evangelize here, even though it is not socially approved of. It means that the Jewish religion (and all other religions) requires its adherents to earn their righteousness through works of the law of that religion. Whatever hope of reward in this world or in the world to come is dependent upon having earned your future life. . . . if there is one. The faith which was once-for-all delivered to the saints is that the good news (the gospel) of God is that salvation and eternal life are a gift from the Father to all who genuinely believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who paid the penalty and ransom for each of us and our sin through His sacrificial death on the cross. We are then justified by faith in His resurrection from the dead. Rabbinic Judaism does not and can not accept Jesus for who He is; if it did, it would no longer be the religion that it is. Most Messianic Jews today in Israel agree that we are not under the authority of the rabbis or of the Oral Law. In other words, we are not practicing Rabbinic/Talmudic/ Pharisaic Judaism. So then, under traditional Jewish law, we are not accepted as kosher Jews. (Jn 9: 16-41)
In this year of celebrating Israel’s 70th Independence Day, 43% of world Jewry, or close to 7 million Jews, are living in Israel. More than half of the Jewish people who do live in Israel have been born in Israel. The reality is that more than 99% of the Jews in Israel are not currently believers in Yeshua/Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. They (and all of the other unbelieving Jewish people around the world) are in spiritual exile – separated from their God because of their sin of unbelief in the Father and His Son. (Jn 15:23-25; 1Jn 2:23) Jesus told His disciples to take the gospel of salvation and the Kingdom of God to the Jews first, and to all people groups in all the world. Israel and the Jewish people were the first to be told how to be saved, and through them that same way went out to the Gentiles. This way of salvation – being born-again by the Holy Spirit through repentance and faith in the gospel — is still the only way for both Jewish and Gentile people to be saved, and is still being resisted. Even so, it is the only way for Israel as a nation to be saved. (Zech 12:10; Rom 11:25-27)
My wife and I first immigrated to Israel in 1981. At that time there were estimated to be about 200 believers in the country. We got to know each other through national music conferences and annual national Passover conferences. Today, there are estimates ranging from about 14,000 – 30,000 believers in Israel (these figures are difficult to verify). We have seen the development of Messianic groups and congregations throughout the land. Today, immigration of Jewish believers is becoming increasingly difficult due to what was said above: Israel is the enemy of the gospel. This does not prevent, though, many Jewish believers from successfully immigrating, according to the will of God. Evangelism occurs most commonly through personal witness and testimony. A new development is internet evangelism in Hebrew which is reaching large numbers of Hebrew-speaking Israelis wherever they may live. Occasionally there are larger evangelism campaigns conducted by different groups. The same things are happening among the Arabs, who also have only a tiny percentage of born-again believers amongst them.
Most of the Jewish believers in Israel speak Russian as their mother-tongue, and many of the congregations throughout Israel are Russian-speaking. In our congregation, Yeshua’s Inheritance, we use Hebrew as a unifying language, with a significant number of Russian speakers, and several other languages, and we offer translation to these languages from Hebrew. Delightfully, we have seen nearly two generations grow up as Israeli believers. This means that they speak Israeli Hebrew to each other and are able to understand each other in a natural way. This is a dynamic development that has come out of the believing veterans remaining here and raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is a real testimony that so many young believers serve in the IDF and have brought a good name to the believing community.
Despite the abiding tension in Israel, a sense of family is a predominant characteristic in congregations, and also throughout the land among Israelis. I believe it is a reflection of the truth that YHVH is a Father to Israel, and He has chosen a family to be His people: the children of Jacob/Israel. The 12 tribes were actually one large family. Similarly, the Body of Christ is a family on a much grander scale. So, too, the believers in Israel — a small country with a small percentage of believers – have a sense of being a family: we are brothers and sisters in the Messiah, with God as our Father. This certainly helps us to put up with each other over a longer period than if we did not feel that bond of brotherhood.
Being brothers and sisters in Christ also includes our Arab brothers and sisters. We all desire to express that love and unity which Jesus prayed for. Jesus taught His disciples that manifesting love and unity was a necessary reality to prove that we are His disciples, loved by the Father as He is. It shows that He was sent from the Father to Israel and to the world. (Jn 17:20-23) Israel is a land of constant conflict; however, we know that the answer is Jesus. It is imperative that we proclaim and express love and unity to our peoples in good times and bad. For our prayers and our worship to be acceptable, we must truly forgive one another in obedience to our one Father and one Lord. Forgiveness is a great challenge for all believers.
Until the fullness of Gentiles comes into the Kingdom through repentance and faith in the gospel, Israel will remain partially hardened and blinded to the truth of the gospel. The Bible says that this is the wisdom of God. That being so, more Arabs will be saved before we will see large numbers of Jewish people being saved. Many Muslims of whatever nationality will be saved and forgiven (since virtually all Muslims are Gentiles) before many Jews will be! And God will give them a new heart and a new spirit – His Spirit – and cause them to provoke Israel to jealousy while also showing mercy to them, rather than displaying their everlasting hatred and seeking her destruction.
Jacob (unbelieving Israel) is still trying to establish his own righteousness, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and therefore not submitting to it. Israel is proud of all of their amazing accomplishments, and attribute them to their own power and skills, rather than thanking and praising God, who has made it all possible.
So stand and understand that God’s plan of redemption is patiently being fulfilled in His long-suffering to break the rebellion in His chosen people and family, so that His name will be sanctified in them, and in their enemies, when all will know that YHVH is the one true and most high God, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, and the seas, and all that is in them, and the Redeemer of His universe that He created and made. At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and tongue confess that He is LORD/YHVH, to the glory of the Father!
As you humbly pray for Israel, remember this word to them and to us: “’Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom; let not the mighty man boast in his might; nor let the rich man boast in his riches. But let him who boasts boast in this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am YEHOVAH, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the Earth. For in these I delight,’ says YEHOVAH.” (Jer 9:23-24; 1Cor 1:31; Gal 6:14)