I noticed that Bill O’Reilly of Fox News is writing a book titled “Killing Jesus.” I trust he will write a fair and balanced account, but I wondered to myself if Bill—or most Christians for that matter—realize how many Jews did believe in Yeshua. In 2004 I wrote an article on this subject and I have decided to reprint it in the Maoz Israel Report this month because it is such a wonderful—and important—subject, especially in this age of intensifying anti-Semitism. And we have illustrated the article with Israeli Jews who believe in Yeshua TODAY!
We all know how Yeshua mourned over Jerusalem, cursed Capernaum over its indifference, was chased out of His hometown of Nazareth and unceremoniously asked to leave the Gadarenes.
From day one, the religious rulers of Israel were on his case. They abhorred his healing on the Sabbath day. They resented the fact that his disciples did not always carry out ceremonial washings before eating. Most of all they were intensely jealous of Yeshua’s popularity. And they found insufferable the possibility that their nation might turn to Him.
Yeshua, on the other hand, grieved over the behavior of many of the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. He condemned their love of fame and privilege, their desire to be venerated, adulated and adored. He found their self-righteousness and their ambition to keep power and position in their hands intolerable. He abhorred their love of money, their stealing from the poor among the Jewish people and their disregard of justice and true love of God.
But have we ever considered just how many Jewish citizens of Israel did love and follow him during those three short years that he ministered in Israel, healing the sick and preaching repentance from sin?
The Gospels tell us that as soon as Yeshua began his full-scale ministry, He was immediately surrounded by literally thousands of Jewish people. The New Testament records some of the events that occurred while great multitudes listened, watched and followed Him. They came from every part of Israel and walked days to see Him. Clearly, the multitudes were needy and spiritually hungry for the things of God.
As he taught and healed, the throngs grew and “there was a great multitude of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon [Lebanon]… and all the multitude were trying to touch Him….”
How can we imagine the feelings of the poor and the hopeless among the Jewish people who wanted to hear Him, but couldn’t get close enough to do so—with no microphones, speakers or auditoriums? Yet the multitudes continued to come. They saw the sick healed and they said, “Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel.”
Because of the crowds, men of faith climbed on a roof, tore it apart, and let down a cot with a paralyzed man.
Because of the great crowds, Yeshua taught the people on the shore from a boat so that more could hear His voice.
His own family, totally bewildered by the mammoth crowds, did not know what to make of Him.
And so the crowds continued, and the healings and teachings drew them to God: “Great multitudes came to Him,…the multitude marveled” at the healings and miracles that the Lord performed, “and they glorified the God of Israel.”
But just how big were these crowds? One of the two times we are given an actual number, we are told that a multitude followed Yeshua around for three whole days in a desolate place—without food. Surely, then, this would have been one of his smaller crowds. Yet we are told that there were 4,000 men—anywhere from 8,000–12,000 people following Yeshua.
At times, Yeshua tried to get away from the crowd to be by Himself, but the multitudes wouldn’t let Him. They followed Him everywhere. On another occasion, His disciples advised Yeshua to send a mass of people home. Again, they were in a desolate place with no food. How many were in this crowd that Yeshua Himself fed? The record says 5,000 plus women and children—at least 10,000–15,000.
Luke 12:1 says that “so many thousands of the multitude gathered together they were stepping on each other.” Another time, when Yeshua reached the land by boat, “the multitude welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him.” (Luke 8:40)
Imagine, waiting for a preacher or prophet to show up, not knowing when he would arrive—with no McDonald’s, no Pampers, no public bathrooms, no hotels nor motels. No water fountains, no paid vacation time. Nothing.
YESHUA LOVED THESE CROWDS
When Yeshua faced these huge, desperate crowds, compassion would well up inside Him, because He knew that these people “were distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.” They were without true spiritual leaders. It was in response to such a scene that He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
Before we continue, there is an important point to be made. The Southern Baptist scholar, Robert Lindsay, who spent much of his life in Israel, clarified that in the Gospels, many, if not most of the words translated “Jews” should be translated “Judeans.” That is, the Jews living in Jerusalem and its surroundings vs. the Galileans from Northern Israel.
This is an important point because this clarification takes out much of the anti-Jewish understanding people have of the Gospels. Of course, the term “Jew” covered all of the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Galileans were also Jews. And for those outside of Israel, they usually used the word Jews for the whole ethnic group. But for the locals, the word “Jew” mainly referred to the Judeans living in Judea.
“Many therefore of the Jews [read Judeans] who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him.”In fact, so many Judeans became His followers that the chief priests and the Pharisees “convened a council, and were saying, ‘What are we doing?… If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him.’” (John 11:47-48)
Among these throngs of Judeans and Galileans were religious leaders who did accept Yeshua. Like Jairus, a synagogue official in Capernaum, who received his daughter back from the grave. Like Nicodemus in Jerusalem, who came at night to ask how to be born again.
Then there were others who believed, but didn’t act, just like today wherever the Gospel is preached: “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”
As Yeshua’s ministry grew towards its close, Yeshua left Galilee for Judea and crossed the Jordan River. Again, great crowds followed Him. The multitude caused the blind man in Jericho to wonder what was going on. When he heard, he instantly cried out, “Son of David [i.e. Messiah] have mercy on me.” The commotion caused a hungry man, Zaccheus, to climb a tree to see just who this Man was.
THE PEOPLE LOVED YESHUA
As He neared Jerusalem, Yeshua stayed at different Jewish homes in Bethany—Simon the (former) Leper, Lazarus the former dead man along with his sisters Mary and Martha. Everywhere Yeshua went, there were Jewish people who loved Him.
Can you just imagine how hysterical the Sadducees became when Lazarus was raised from the dead? The Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection. And when people are steeped in their ideology or false theology, the truth or reality just makes them furious. That’s why Yeshua told the story about the rich man who after his death begged Abraham to send witnesses from the dead to his brothers. Yeshua confirmed that even raising the dead would not convince the deceived or deluded.
But the masses wanted to follow him. “And as the multitude followed Yeshua up to Jerusalem, they spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. And the multitude going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!’”
Calling Him the Son of David meant they were calling Him the Messiah, Root of Jessie, the Inheritor of the Throne of David.
The Bible says that when Yeshua entered Jerusalem for the last time, the city was stirred as the multitude told everyone, “This is the prophet Yeshua from Nazareth in Galilee.” As Yeshua continued to preach and teach, the multitudes stayed with Him – in the Temple and everywhere He went. The chief priests, the scribes and the leading men among the people tried to humiliate him by catching him with some spiritual question that He couldn’t answer. “They could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging upon His words.”
To make matters more intense, Yeshua strongly warned the people of the corruptness and hypocrisy of these same religious rulers. Finally, they had had enough and were determined to get rid of the Man who threatened to put them out of business. But they had a problem.
“When they sought to seize Him, they feared the multitude, because they held Him to be a prophet.”
“Then the chief priest and the elders of the people were gathered…and they plotted together to seize Yeshua by stealth and kill him. And they were saying, ‘Not during the festival, lest a riot occur among the people.’”
WHY THEY CAME AT NIGHT
When the time came for His death, a great multitude with swords and clubs from the chief priests and elders of the people came and arrested Him. Yeshua asked them why they came secretly at night to take Him. “Everyday I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.”The reason, of course, was that there were huge crowds of Jewish visitors during the Passover season, and many of them believed He was sent from God—so much so, that the religious leaders were afraid to arrest Him in daylight.
The multitude that clamored for Barabbas is described as a multitude that was rounded up by the chief priests and the elders, not your average man on the street. Not the people who had laid the branches and clothes on the street and welcomed Him to Jerusalem.
What could these simple citizens have done against such determined, evil men in their government? Think of the laws that are passed today against God and His Word in civilized democratic countries, even with the millions of born-again believers praying and working for morality and justice to prevail.
Hear the hopelessness in the voices of two Jewish disciples on the way to Emmaus as they spoke about these events to Yeshua, not knowing it was He: “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days? The things about Yeshua the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him up to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.”
(Note that the followers of Yeshua had the revelation that He was a prophet, and they hoped that He was the Messiah. Only a few select individuals were actually told that this prophet was the Messiah until after His resurrection.)
We know that a short time after His crucifixion–50 days to be exact—3,000 Jews responded to Peter’s message of the Messiah, and after that the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were saved. Soon after, another 5,000 came to the Lord. In fact, years later, the Apostles told Paul, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed….”
In fact, reading through the Book of Acts, the Gospel spread to such an extent that “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
I remember reading years ago a book written by Abba Eban, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN and a scholar. He stated that at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, the third largest group of Jews in Israel were the followers of Yeshua, after the Pharisees and Sadducees.
In Yeshua’s day, there were an estimated seven to eight million Jews in the world, with one to two million living in Israel—Galileans, Judeans, Sidonians and those residing in the eastern part of Israel. The men and women of Israel who had a chance, wanted to hear Yeshua, and many of them accepted Him.
Out of some 80,000 Judeans living in Jerusalem, probably no more than a couple of thousand religious leaders were responsible for leading the nation away from salvation, and into destruction and dispersion.
But through sustained persecution by the religious leaders, they were able to almost eradicate the faith in Israel of the Messianic Jewish believers of the first century. God used it for good and as the disciples fled from the persecution they spread the Gospel throughout the known world.
(Jewish believers were then persecuted, tortured and killed by the Church, but that’s for another story.)
Back to Israel: The Lord knew the outcome all the time. Centuries before, He spoke through Jeremiah: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture, declares the Lord.”A nation must have godly men and women to lead. Just like today. Otherwise, she is lost. Israel was weighed in the balance and found wanting. Just like every other nation in the world then and now.
How critical is this lesson today. When a nation has godly leaders, the people will be free to search for the Lord. When leaders suppress Biblical values and truths—as is happening in so many countries today, sorrow, suffering and finally judgment will surely follow.
Yet there are always people who will stand for truth—some more boldly than others. Nicodemus was a high official of the Pharisees and Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man. They had much to lose. They chose Eternal Life.
NO NATION COULD HAVE PASSED THAT TEST
Many years ago, a teacher gave an example I never forgot. He said that somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia, the residents of a small town all became violently sick. The health authorities rushed to the scene and immediately took test tubes of water from the local well back to their labs. There they confirmed their suspicions; the town’s water supply was polluted. They checked the town well and found that a sow and her piglets had fallen into the well and drowned.
The state authorities did not have to take all the well water to their labs. They were able to check a small specimen and from that declare with certainty that the entire water supply was contaminated.
Israel was God’s test tube. He examined the Jewish nation, found it polluted and from that declared the whole world defiled.
“Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God. For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.”
No other nation would have done any differently.
Yet, because of God’s promises of redemption, after 2000 years, we are now seeing more Israelis saved than since the first century. We are seeing whole families in Israel quite supernaturally return to God—brothers and sisters, parents, uncles and aunts and children.
Sometimes, when I see an unusual number of individuals from the same family receive salvation, I wonder if perhaps their forefathers were some of those many Jews of the first century who believed in Yeshua as Lord and Savior, and who prayed for their children and their children’s children….
Finally, if there had not been many Jewish people who guarded the oracles of God and recorded them in the Old and New Testaments, and who were ready to lay down their lives to traverse the known world and bring the message of salvation to the Gentiles, where would the world be today?
Reprinted from Maoz Israel Report, March 2004
Motti and Anna Cohen, with baby David
“The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
This year I am the director of the Messianic youth camps of Katzir. The Katzir camps are for local youth from all around Israel who share one common and central interest—our faith in Yeshua the Messiah, the Jewish King.
We live in a very significant period of time in the history of Israel. Soon the harvest and a spiritual awakening will be evident to all. Presently the Lord is preparing us as His workers. Indeed, the central vision of the Katzir camps is to prepare this generation to bring forth much fruit.
Last year the summer camp focused on our Jewish and Israeli identity in Yeshua the Messiah. In Israel we face many challenges as Messianic Jews, especially when we bring the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah to our fellow students and friends.
Among Israelis there is an erroneous perception that when a Jew begins to believe in Yeshua, he actually forsakes his Jewish faith and the God of Israel and moves to another religion—to Christianity.
Although we know this is not the case, this lie is very deeply rooted in the Jewish perception and keeps most Jews from even considering that Yeshua is our Messiah.
Thus it is very important to educate the youth of their Jewish identity—that they belong to the Israeli nation, to the God of Israel and to the King of the Jews, Yeshua. We understand it is a great privilege for a Jew to serve the Lord within the nation of Israel.
During recent months we have heard many testimonies of how God has released teenagers to no longer be ashamed of their faith in Yeshua. Many have told their friends, for the first time since they came to faith, that they are believers, and many have changed their status on Facebook to “I am a Messianic Jew!” This is a really big thing for teenagers who are at the age when they are establishing their own identity.
In addition, we have also received testimonies and updates of how the Katzir camps have helped our youth to learn and embrace the spiritual tools to help them follow Yeshua—to overcome temptations and to stand in faith. It naturally follows that they learn how to be a light and a testimony everywhere they go.
This summer, at the end of July, we’re planning our seven-day summer Katzir youth camp in Galilee. The conference will combine teaching, worship, field trips and lots of interaction. Our aim is to follow Yeshua, to learn how thousands of Israelites followed Him two thousand years ago, and to find out how to apply that to our lives today!
Motti Cohen is the youth leader of Tiferet Yeshua Congregation in Tel Aviv, Israel
Eitan and Connie Shishkoff
If you were tasked with reaching an unreached nation as God’s ambassador in Yeshua, how would you proceed? We became Israeli citizens and took up residence in this country over 20 years ago. A few years later, after getting a foundation in our new/old tongue of Hebrew, I faced that very question. I asked myself “How can I best invest my life in order to draw our people to their Messiah?”
Since then I’ve been privileged to establish humanitarian aid efforts and to assist in planting Hebrew-speaking Messianic congregations. These works are certainly relevant, and I’m grateful for them. But in all honesty, Israeli society as a whole has not yet been touched on a large scale by the pioneer ministries that have sprouted up in the past 25-30 years.
It was only when I got involved with teenagers—Messianic youth—that I saw a realistic possibility of influencing this chosen people, destined in Scripture to rediscover our Messiah King, but blocked from knowing Him by history and spiritual blindness.
Back in the 90’s I was invited to a youth event, sponsored by a dedicated ministry from abroad, conducted in English. I saw kids raising their hands high in surrender to the Lord. I saw the broad smiles on their faces, and their tender tears of repentance. I knew that these young people needed this type of gathering in an Israeli, Hebrew-language format.
Naively, what I didn’t yet realize was how long it would take to create such a ministry. Thus was born “Katzir,” the Hebrew word for “harvest.” As a national service based on the volunteered time of young adult counselors and adult advisors, hundreds and hundreds of teens have been inspired and equipped through the fourteen years of Katzir camps.
The vision of “Katzir” is to equip the Messianic youth of Israel to be the workers and leaders in the final harvest, leading to Yeshua’s return. Those who attended our initial equipping times years ago, have already completed their compulsory military service and are entering professional careers, establishing young families and serving in local congregations. They are the future of Israel. They are the key to transforming our society. They have grown up here in the land. They know the language, the culture, the institutions of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). I am convinced that the only way to truly impact this nation with the saving grace and power of Yeshua, is through His young, dedicated Israeli disciples—integrated and developing relationships on the grassroots level.
This summer we will again spend a full week, night and day, with 90 teenagers and 30 volunteers, most of whom were once campers. Via small group interaction, biblical teaching, worship, prayer, outdoor activity, deep conversations and team-building experiences, we’ll watch them change before our eyes. Here are three of their own responses from past gatherings:
“To be real is hard, but it’s worth it. I passed through many things during this summer camp. Many prayed for me. It was really amazing. I don’t want to continue the way I was, but really to be real. I shared something with you that was very private. It was really hard for me. For the next two days many people talked to me and told me things that were helpful and who identified with me. I never had a lot of believing friends. Believing friends are not to be taken for granted. I’m so glad to spend time with you – to speak freely without expecting to be put down. It’s so important.”
“I felt a lot of love from all of you. I really enjoyed it. I know that God did something deep in my life. Now, I can choose, and not be afraid. Before I was afraid. I began to sing yesterday. I feel that you are now my family. I hope we can be together again.”
“Many of you feel alone where you are. As a counselor I am also facing challenges. I felt so bad that I couldn’t give all of you the answers you were seeking. But God told me ‘I want you to direct the kids to Me…and I will give them the answers.’ I yielded to God. I heard some stories about what some of you are going through. To hear that you are persevering—you brought me back to a better place. There is a LIE that you are alone and no one else is going through what you are. Keep on keeping on! I love you so much.”
I hope that with this brief introduction, you can feel some of the awesome sense of reward, challenge and anticipation of our team. Please join us in equipping the youth who will soon become Yeshua’s finest messengers in Israel.
Eitan made aliyah in 1992 and established Tents of Mercy Congregation and Humanitarian Aid Center in 1995. He and Connie have been married 44 years and have four children and nine grandchildren. He is the author of a new book, “What About Us?: the end-calling of Gentiles in Israel’s revival.”
My name is Michel Gutman. I’m 47, born and raised a Jew (both parents Jewish) in Great Neck, NY. My mother is Israeli, from Hod Hasharon in central Israel. She moved back to Israel 25 years ago after my parents split, and she currently resides in Tel Aviv. I spent every summer of my childhood at my grandparent’s house in Hod Hasharon, and I speak fluent Hebrew. There is one thing that I have always known—I was born a Jew, and I will die a Jew.
Because my mother is Israeli, I have always had dual citizenship—an American passport as well as an Israeli one. In 2009, I moved to Israel, where I lived for several months, before coming back to the US. The time just wasn’t right. I moved to Arkansas, but I believe I will eventually come back “home” to Israel.
Here in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I met a wonderful woman, and we were married. She was not Jewish, but that didn’t matter. We began to attend a church called River of Life. As it turns out, they go on frequent mission trips to Israel, and have a great love for Israel. They knew that I was Jewish but have always shown me incredible love. I found it to be very fascinating, but I was quite confident that they’d never “convert” me.
I began to learn about Yeshua, but I refused to believe, mostly out of a concern for my family’s feelings. My (now deceased) grandparents lost their entire families in the Holocaust. They would’ve been devastated at the notion of me becoming a “Christian”.
Two years ago, my son, living with me in Arkansas, came to faith in Yeshua. He was scared to tell me, because he thought I would be hurt. But I actually felt proud that he made this decision. His convictions were genuine, as was his faith.
Yet, I continued to resist. But I kept attending church. I didn’t know this at the time, but my wife was praying for my salvation. My church friends prayed for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the church experience. I wanted to sit up front, and I wanted to learn more. This was not the first church I’d ever been to, but it was the first time I’d ever heard a pastor who was intent on his congregation understanding the Jewish roots of the faith.
Last year, a sequence of events occurred that would change my life forever. My fascination with Christianity’s Jewish roots led me to discover Maoz Israel, and a book called Identity Theft: How Jesus was Robbed of His Jewishness by Ron Cantor. I was fascinated by the title, so I ordered it.
Right around the same time, a man named Dr. Jack Sternberg, a retired oncologist and a local resident who serves on the National Board of Jews for Jesus, held an eight week lecture series at my church, called “Christianity—Its Jewish Roots.” I found these classes to be very interesting and informative, and I really soaked up everything, and began to open up to the possibility that I didn’t necessarily have all the answers.
A couple of weeks into the lecture, I received Identity Theft. This book instantly grabbed my attention. Just like Dr. Sternberg, Ron Cantor was a Jew, and he was a believer in Jesus! That was two encounters within a couple of weeks! In my 47 years, I’d never met a single Messianic Jew, and suddenly I found two! God certainly orchestrated this, from right here in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
I couldn’t put Identity Theft down. I always resisted Christianity because I couldn’t understand why Christians seemed to ignore the laws of the Old Testament. I couldn’t understand why Christians “changed” the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. It didn’t make sense to me that Christians didn’t celebrate Jewish holidays like Passover. I couldn’t understand why Christians didn’t follow Kosher dietary laws. There was so much that didn’t make sense to me, and no one ever seemed to be able to answer my questions. Until I picked up Identity Theft. Every question I ever asked was answered, with actual Biblical and historical facts. And I found all the answers in the Old Testament, my Bible!
I could no longer resist. And I didn’t want to. Why resist the truth?
Because my pastor, Ben Wiles, embraces his roots, he decided to talk about Rosh Hashanah on September 16, 2012. He talked about the New Year, and new beginnings, and he called for anyone who hadn’t yet fully committed to Jesus to come up to him and make the commitment. I grabbed my wife’s hand, and practically ran up to him. He and I embraced for several minutes, with tears flowing down both our faces. This glorious moment disrupted the entire service. Overcome with emotion, he was not able to preach the sermon he had planned. I suddenly found myself surrounded by every member of the church, with hugs, tears, congratulations and a lot of love. Everyone was so excited. I was born anew!
You can’t make this stuff up. A New York Jew, with roots in Israel, ending up in Arkansas, and discovering Yeshua because of three men I didn’t even know. This is how God works.
But here’s the best part. I am still a Jew! Until I read Identity Theft, I never thought it would be possible to believe in Jesus and still be Jewish. Now I realize that I’m more Jewish than ever before!
I owe thanks to these three men. My pastor, Ben Wiles, is a genuine man of God, who patiently and lovingly helped guide me in this journey. Dr. Jack Sternberg meticulously dissected the parts of the Old Testament that pointed to Yeshua.
And last, but certainly not least, Ron Cantor, who wrote Identity Theft. From the introduction until the very end, I felt as though the book had been written for me, by someone just like me. Mr. Cantor was able to relate to me because he understood exactly where I came from. Identity Theft played such a huge role in lifting the veil from my eyes and showing me what I’ve been missing my whole life.
I love this book with all my heart, because it changed my life. I have since purchased multiple copies, because I feel like I must share it with others. I recently gave it to an Israeli friend who lives in California, and I’m so excited for the day when he knows what I now know—that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah, and that through Him (and only Him), we can all have Eternal Life.