JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – As upwards of 17 million Jews worldwide mark Yom Kippur – the biblical holiday known as the “Day of Atonement” – they are fasting, praying, attending synagogue, and pleading with the God of Israel to forgive all of the sins they have committed this past year.
In the ten “Days of Awe” leading from Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Teruah (the “Day of Trumpets”) to Yom Kippur, Jews all over the world say to each other in Hebrew, “Ketivah v’chatima tovah.”
They are essentially saying, “May you have a good inscription and sealing [in the Book of Life].”
That is, they are hoping that God writes the names of their family and friends in the Book of Life so that they will truly be forgiven of all their sins and able to go to heaven for eternity when they die.
Then, on Yom Kippur itself, Jews don’t wish each other a “Happy Day of Atonement” because that doesn’t strike the somber, solemn tone of seeking God’s forgiveness, holiness, spiritual cleanliness, and the promise of eternal life.
Rather, Jews typically greet each other by saying in Hebrew, “G’mar Chatimah Tovah.”
Precisely translated, this means they are wishing each other “a good final sealing.”
But given the context of the High Holiday season, they are saying to the ones they love most, “May your name be inscribed and truly sealed in the Book of Life” for one more year.
NEARLY ALL JEWS MARK YOM KIPPUR – BUT HOW DO THEY GET ATONEMENT?
As you can imagine, all Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews take this season of prayer, fasting, repentance, and seeking God’s forgiveness and redemption most seriously.
That said, even many – perhaps most – Jews who are not so serious about their religion will fast and pray and go to synagogue on Yom Kippur.
They may not take everything that the Lord God of Israel and his great prophet Moses said seriously, but the Day of Atonement – described in Leviticus chapter 23 – is one of them.
26“The Lord said to Moses, 27 “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the Lord. 28 Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. 29 Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. 30 I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. 31 You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. 32 It is a day of sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening, you are to observe your sabbath.”
But without a Temple system anymore, how can Jews worldwide be certain of atonement today?
IS FAITH IN JESUS THE ONLY WAY TO RECEIVE ATONEMENT?
Specifically, there are about 871,000 people of Jewish descent that are followers of Jesus in the United States alone.
Some 30,000 “Messianic Jews” live in Israel.
Another 100,000 Jewish believers in Yeshua Hamashiach live in Europe, South America, and elsewhere.
These are Jewish people who believe that Yeshua – Jesus, who lived in the first century – fulfilled the ancient Messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew scriptures.
Thus, they believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that His death on the cross provides the only possible atonement for their sins.
What’s more, they believe that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the third day is the final and ultimate proof that Jesus is the Messiah and that forgiveness and eternal salvation can only be found in Him, that Jesus ushered in the era of the “New Covenant” of which the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah said was coming.
They don’t believe that atonement can be found in the Temple anymore, especially because there is no Temple and there hasn’t been for nearly 2,000 years.
They don’t believe that sacrificing lambs or any other perfect animals can atone for their sins anymore.
What’s more, they don’t believe that prayer and fasting alone can bring about the forgiveness of sin or guarantee that their names will be written in the Book of Life.
Rather, they believe what is written in the New Testament.
John 1:29 – “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’”
I Corinthians 15:3 – “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
Ephesians 1:7 – “In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”
Revelation 3:4-6 – And Jesus said, “They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the Book of Life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.”
A GREAT SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
As I’ve reported before on ALL ISRAEL NEWS, a great spiritual awakening is underway in the Jewish community worldwide, particularly in the United States.
It’s not being reported in the Jewish press.
Nor is much of the Christian media aware of it, or reporting on it.
Indeed, in many ways, this is the biggest untold story in the Jewish world.
But it’s a story for which I’m profoundly thankful to God.
THE IMPACT OF THE “JESUS REVOLUTION”
In the early part of the 20th century, the number of Jewish people in Europe who became followers of Jesus as Messiah surged to upwards of 230,000. On the program, I share how many Jewish believers there were country by country.
Tragically, most of these believers were killed during World War II, the Holocaust, and the subsequent Soviet cruelty. By the 1950s, there were only a few thousand Jewish believers in Jesus left.
Yet, as I explain on the program, the Six Day War of 1967 – including the miraculous reunification of Jerusalem – marked a dramatic turning point.
The Holy Spirit began to move in great power across the United States in what became known by some as the “Jesus Movement” and by others as the “Jesus Revolution.”
Tens of millions of secular, even pagan, and spiritually confused Americans began coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
They began experiencing what the New Testament calls the supernatural act of becoming “born again” (see John, chapter 3).
Then they began reading the Bible – both Old and New Testaments – voraciously, going to Bible churches regularly and telling their family and friends the “Good News” of how Jesus Christ was healing and transforming their broken lives.
On June 21, 1971, the phenomenon had become so profound and widespread that Time magazine published a cover story on the “Jesus Revolution.”
“Jesus is alive and well and living in the radical spiritual fervor of a growing number of young Americans who have proclaimed an extraordinary religious revolution in his name,” Time reported. “Their message: the Bible is true, miracles happen, God really did so love the world that he gave it his only begotten son….“If any one mark clearly identifies them it is their total belief in an awesome, supernatural Jesus Christ, not just a marvelous man who lived 2,000 years ago but a living God who is both Savior and Judge, the ruler of their destinies.”
And it was here that Jewish Americans started coming to faith in Jesus, as well.
MORE JEWISH FOLLOWERS OF JESUS TODAY THAN EVER BEFORE
A half-century later, there are now approximately one million Jews in the world today who believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the Son of God, and the only way of forgiveness and salvation, and have chosen to follow Him.
This is the largest number of Jewish believers in Jesus at any time since Jesus was born in Bethlehem, preached and performed miracles in the land of Israel, died on the cross and rose from the dead on the third day some 2,000 years ago.
The vast majority of these believers live in the United States.
A landmark study by LifeWay, the research branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that there are 871,000 Jewish Americans who hold the same theological beliefs as Evangelical Christians.
The study was commissioned by the Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem, a coalition of Christian and Messianic Jewish scholars, professors, and ministry leaders.
It was partly financed by Chosen People Ministries, led by Dr. Mitch Glaser, who is featured in the story, and by The Joshua Fund.
On the program, I explain how the LifeWay study was designed and conducted, and why at first we didn’t actually believe the numbers – they just seemed too high, but the methodology turned out to be sound.
A separate study conducted by Dr. Erez Soref, president of the Israel College of the Bible, found that the number of Jewish Israelis who believe in Yeshua – the original Hebrew name for Jesus – has grown to approximately 30,000.
In 1948, when the modern State of Israel was miraculously and prophetically reborn, there were only 23 known Jewish believers in Yeshua, according to Soref’s research.
When you add in Evangelical and Messianic Jewish believers in other parts of the world, including South America, the numbers approach one million.
Experts debate exactly how many Jews there are in the world.
Some say 15 million, while others believe the numbers are closer to 17 or 18 million.
It all depends on how you define, “Who is a Jew?”
While that debate will continue to rage, the surge over the last half century in the number of people with Jewish roots – and the percentage of the overall Jewish community worldwide – who believe that Jesus is the Messiah is an extraordinary and historic development.
JEWISH INTEREST IN THE GOSPEL IS ALSO SURGING
Perhaps just as dramatic and historic is the fact that Jewish people are showing a greater interest in listening to the Messianic prophecies, reading the New Testament accounts, and trying to process the Gospel message for themselves than ever before.
On the program, I describe how the ministry, led by Soref and his team at the Israel College of the Bible, has been producing and posting online short-form videos of Israeli Jews explaining in Hebrew why they have come to believe that Yeshua is the Messiah and how faith in Him has transformed their lives.
These Hebrew-language testimony videos, each lasting on average about five to seven minutes, as well as other Hebrew-language videos explaining the Gospel message and answering objections made by rabbis, have become immensely popular.
They have now been seen more than 40 million times.
Other ministries are producing similar testimony videos in English.
A joint project between Soref and Dr. Mitch Glaser has created dozens of such videos that have now been seen more than 200 million times.
Several years ago, I was asked to share my own personal story of how I came to faith in Jesus.
To illustrate what these videos are like, we ran mine on the program.
Combined, the videos of just these two ministries have been seen more than 240 million times.
And this does not even take into account the impact of the work of other ministries.
It used to be that Jewish people who were curious to learn more about Jesus and whether He fulfills the prophecies written by the ancient Hebrew prophets would feel uncomfortable visiting a church to get their questions answered.
Many still are uncomfortable.
But with the advent of the Internet – and more importantly, smartphones – Jews are able to search out answers to their questions in privacy and anonymity.
No one is forcing them to search.
Nor is anyone forcing them to believe in Jesus.
Such ministries are simply making the answers available to anyone interested in exercising their God-given freedom of religion, conscience and exploration.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS SPIRITUAL MOVEMENT?
It’s amazing to me how few Evangelical pastors, ministry leaders, or lay people are aware of the great spiritual awakening underway in the Jewish community.
As they learn what’s happening, I know that many will be excited and encouraged and eager to pray that the Lord will continue to open the eyes of my people to the Messiah we have long awaited.
That said, it’s not surprising at all that most of the Jewish community is unaware of these trend lines.
Many will be upset.
Some will be angry.
Yet others will be curious to ask, “Why are so many Jewish people coming to the conclusion that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah?”
In the New Testament, we see all of these reactions.
In the Book of Acts, of course, we first meet Saul as a highly-trained religious Pharisee who is deeply enraged by the thousands of Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere who were coming to faith in Yeshua as Messiah.
Then we dramatically see Saul’s encounter with Yeshua Himself on the road to Damascus.
We see his eyes miraculously opened – Saul becomes Paul, a devout follower of Yeshua, and one of the most passionate and effective preachers of the Gospel in the ancient world.
Indeed, the Apostle Paul writes to Gentile Christians in the Book of Romans, prophesying a day when a Jewish “great awakening” will occur in the “last days.”
Paul even prophecies that just before the Second Coming of Christ, “all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26)
How and when exactly will this happen?
That we cannot say.
But it’s important that the Church be aware of what is happening right now, embrace it, and seek the scriptures to know how Gentile believers should respond to these encouraging trends.
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Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.