It is a documented fact that Jewish people around the world have been coming to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) in unprecedented numbers in the past few decades. Those who love the Lord instinctively rejoice over this move of His Spirit. But what is the biblically prophetic context of this recent phenomenon? And what does it mean for the Church?
Most readers’ acquaintance with the Messianic Jewish movement will likely connect to an American expression of faith. However, the prophet Jeremiah foresaw a time of Israel’s restoration in which God released multitudes of Jews from a place called “the land of the north:”
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when men will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their forefathers.” (Jeremiah 16:14-15, NIV, emphasis added)
In the Bible, “the land of the north” refers to lands located north of Israel—including, in particular, the former Soviet Union. It was precisely in this land of the north, in the late 19th century, and just as Jeremiah foretold, that a two-pronged prophetic movement arose. Zionism and Messianic Judaism together comprise the prophetic process of Israel’s restoration. Zionism relates to Israel’s natural or physical restoration, through the return of the Jewish people to their covenant Land. Messianic Judaism relates to Israel’s supernatural or spiritual restoration, through the return of the Jewish people to their covenant Lord. The Zionist movement resulted in the birth of the State of Israel in the mid-20th century. The Messianic Jewish movement took a decided turn when, fifty years later, “out of the land of the north,” multitudes of Jews began flocking in droves not only to the State, but to the Savior, of Israel. The Church would forever be changed.
White Night for Jewish Evangelism: The Former Soviet Union in the 1990’s
Modern-day Messianic Jewish faith originated in the former Soviet Union in the late 1800’s. However, up until the early 1990’s, most Jewish believers hailed from the West. Then, as the former Soviet Union collapsed, our friend Jonathan Bernis of Jewish Voice Ministries went scouting behind the formidable Iron Curtain. There he found many Russian Jews “white unto harvest.” (see John 4:35) In response, he conceived of stadium Gospel outreaches in cities with large Jewish populations. These would later become known as Messianic Jewish Festivals. My husband and I joined Jonathan in the 90’s as he organized festivals across the former USSR. As a result, we were privileged to participate in an historic, unprecedented move of the Holy Spirit on the Jewish people. It is estimated that perhaps a staggering 50,000 Russian-speaking Jews professed first-time faith in Yeshua at these festivals. The prophetic “white night” 1 for Jewish evangelism in the land of the north had come.
The divine drama of it all was dizzying. Like most of Jonathan’s team, I’d prayed and wept for the salvation of the Jewish people for many years. I’d grieved long and hard at Israel’s collective resistance to God’s redeeming love. His heart for His ancient covenant people burned in my bones. However, those who sow in tears reap in joy. Like others on the outreach team, sheer joy overwhelmed me to feel God’s joy when throngs of Jewish people entered His Kingdom at festival altar calls—and quickly formed thriving Messianic congregations.
A bit of historical context highlights God’s sovereign set-up and the shift of spiritual season. Under Soviet rule, most Russian Jews (as well as Gentiles) had been forced to adhere to atheism. Widespread spiritual famine resulted. So by the 1990’s, Jews in Russia, Ukraine, and other republics carved out of the defunct USSR hungered for biblical truth. Unlike Western Jews, they’d not been subject to the mistruth that Jews can not believe in Jesus, or that He is a Savior for Gentile use only. They were not Gospel-resistant. Unspoiled by false religious doctrine from the West, they passionately embraced Yeshua as their Messiah when at long last they heard about Him. (Other dedicated missionaries besides Jonathan Bernis and his team sowed and reaped, but overall, the laborers were few for this suddenly ripe Jewish harvest.)
The Day of Israel’s Salvation
The revival in Russia says to the world that now is the day of salvation—for Jews as well as Gentiles (see 2 Corinthians 6:2). In recent years, multitudes of Jews have responded to the Gospel not only in the former Soviet Union, but in the Americas and elsewhere. As Jeremiah prophesied, from the land of the north—and all other countries—God is restoring the Jewish nation.
By the year 2000, doors to large-scale ministry to ex-Soviet Jews were mostly closed. However, waves of Russian Jews had by then immigrated to Israel ablaze with faith in Yeshua. They have changed the spiritual climate of the Jewish State. In 1999, The Jerusalem Post ran a story entitled, “Russian Olim [new immigrants] Swell Ranks of Messianic Jews.” 2 The article described a groundswell Messianic Jewish revival, estimating a total of five thousand Israeli Jewish believers. Today that number has possibly doubled.
With as many as perhaps a half million Jewish believers worldwide at this writing in 2008, can we truthfully say the Jews are too hardened or blinded to reach spiritually? Or that they remain set aside for a future, strictly sovereign work of God?
Key to Jewish Evangelism: Quantity or Quality of Christianity?
The Scriptures indicate that “blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25, NKJV). Two points are key to understanding this passage. First, the blindness is only in part. Some Jews are blinded to the Gospel to varying degrees, but others are not. Bear in mind that God has preserved for Himself a remnant of Jews that has faithfully followed Yeshua (see Romans 11:1-5).
Second, and rather sadly, most modern translations of the New Covenant have replaced the word “fullness” in Romans 11:25 with the phrase “full number.” The difference in meaning between full number and fullness of the Gentiles is critical. Here’s why: If Israel is blind to the Gospel until the full number of Gentiles comes to faith, there’s no point sharing the Lord with them today, or tomorrow, or the day after that. Not until the last Gentile way over, let’s say on the island of Tuvalu, finally gets saved, is it time to turn to the Jewish people.
However, if Israel’s blindness is removed when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, the situation is different. In that case, Israel will be saved when a certain characteristic or condition, namely fullness, is achieved by the Gentiles. We can think of fullness, quite simply, as Spirit-fullness. From a practical perspective, fullness is that quality of mature Christ-likeness, or sanctification in love, that provokes Jewish people to godly envy for their Messiah. Recall that Romans 11:11 says, “salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” Fullness describes the full regenerate life to which you and I are called as followers of Yeshua. Our fullness will cause Israel to want to know the same Messiah we know. 3
“Fullness” or “full number” is translated from the Greek word pleroma. Pleroma appears 17 times in the New Covenant. The traditional King James Version translates it “fullness” all 17 times. The New International Version, together with more contemporary translations, does the same—except in Romans 11:25. Nowhere else in the NIV is pleroma given the meaning “full number.” In fact, only a few verses earlier, in the same chapter of the same letter to the same Roman Church, on the same topic, these translations interpret the same pleroma as “fullness” and not “full number” (see Romans 11:12).
With all due respect to modern Bible translators, their sole exceptional use of “full number” for pleroma in Romans 11:25 appears not to be the most accurate. As one New Covenant scholar points out, “There is certainly no linguistic reason why ‘fullness’ [pleroma] should take on a numeric quality, as it has to do with ‘that which is brought to fullness or completion.” 4 It is the quality of Christianity that Jewish people encounter which will impact them, not the quantity of Christians they meet or who exist in the world.
Times of the Gentiles, Jews, or Both?
Why spend so much time and space on one little word? The concept significantly shapes our (mis)interpretation of the time in which we live—our appointed watch—and whether we focus ministry on the Gentiles, the Jews, or both. The Bible says God is wiling that none perish, but that all come to everlasting life. Now is the day of salvation, with the Gospel going to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. Not only is it time now for Jewish evangelism, but Israel’s salvation facilitates evangelization of all other nations. In fact, right after we are told the Gentiles’ fullness will cause Israel to be saved, the very next verse reminds us that upon her salvation, “the deliverer will come from Zion” (Romans 11:26). Yeshua literally returns—and comes from Zion—at a time related to the salvation of the Jewish people.
The extent to which Jews are saved bears upon the extent to which Gentiles will be saved, with the nations’ climactic salvation occurring after Yeshua returns. Meanwhile, if Israel’s spurning of Yeshua has meant riches for the world, and their loss has blessed the Gentiles, “how much greater riches will their fullness bring?” (Romans 11:12) Israel’s rejection of Messiah has meant the Gospel has been taken to the nations of the world. Her rebellion has caused blessing to the Church. But her restoration will cause much greater blessing, even “life from the dead” (Romans 11:15). This restoration is a process that has already begun, as perhaps 50,000 Russian Messianic Jews can testify.
We are in a prophetic shift of history that has been heralded by Israel’s restoration. The earth is experiencing global “birth pains” (see Matthew 24:8) destined to usher in the Lord’s return. Our planet is in a type of spiritual transition. Some have referred to the period out of which we are transitioning as the “times of the Gentiles” (see Luke 21:24). The period into which we are ultimately transitioning is the Messianic Kingdom Age—the glorious rule and reign of our Messianic Jewish King from Mount Zion over all the earth. But first, according to the Scriptures, that transition births a bountiful harvest of Jewish souls. Yeshua must be welcomed back by Jewish believers before He returns (see for example, Matthew 23:37-39). Gentile believers are critical to that process. Together in Messiah, Jew and Gentile (see Ephesians 2:14-16) will prepare the way of the Lord. So let us labor while it is still day; Kingdom transition, as we know, is not without opposition. Let us sow and reap according to Romans 1:16—first in Jewish, then in Gentile, harvest fields. And stay encouraged; heaven is coming to earth; it’s about time.
1. During the seasonal phenomenon of Russia’s so-called white nights, the sun never completely sets, therefore dispelling darkness.
2. Haim Shapiro, October 1, 1999, p.32.
3. A popular but erroneous new teaching in the Church mistakenly concludes that because Arab Christians have been called to share the Gospel with Israel, Christians are to fulfill their biblical mandate to bless the Jews not by supporting Jewish evangelism, but instead, by supporting Muslim evangelism.
4. Mark D. Nanos, The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letter (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 265-66.