Global Perspectives: The Middle East
In this episode, Darrell Bock and Joel Rosenberg examine Christianity in Israel and how Jews, Christians, and Arabs are taking steps together towards peace.
- Rosenberg’s Background and Connections in Israel and the Middle East
- Current Relations Between Israel and the UAE
- Demographics and Growth of Believers in Israel
- Influx of Immigration into Israel
- Tension in Israel Between Israel and Arab Countries
- Challenges Messianic Jews and Christians Face in Israel
- Theocracy vs Democracy in Israel
- Witnessing to Jews
Welcome to The Table. We discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Darrell Bock, executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary, and our topic today is Israel in the Middle of the Middle East. We have a wonderful expert to discuss this with us, Joel Rosenberg who's actually in Israel. He lives in Israel, and he's been there… Joel, how long, have you been in Israel now?
Well, as we record this, it's been about eight and a half years, Darrell, in fact, that we've actually lived here as citizens, as dual citizens, US and Israel.
Okay. So I guess that makes you a quasi local?
Yeah. Sadly, the first seven years were the seven fat years, so I'm hoping to try to turn that into the seven lean years. It's not going so well. But anyway, yeah. We're becoming local.
Yeah. And getting you used to functioning, et cetera, and dealing with people coming in and out of Israel who are visiting and all that kind… And then of course you globe trot. Let's talk personally for a second and continue this, and that'll set a context for our conversation. So you've been in Israel, but you've been busy helping to connect different groups of evangelicals really to people, not just in Israel, but in the nations around Israel. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sure. Well, we moved to Israel, as I said, about eight and a half years ago, or at least when… It basically was August of 2014. So whenever your podcast airs or whenever people are listening to it, that'll give you some context. August 2014. I was a bestselling author in the United States before this novels mostly, political thrillers and non-fiction books and have continued writing. That's my main gig as an author, also as a journalist, and as a speaker.
But a few years ago, maybe six or seven years ago now, I wrote a series of political thrillers about ISIS. Nobody had really heard of it at the time. You'll recall that President Obama at the time in 2014 was saying what became ISIS. Al-Qaeda and Iraq at the time was really a JV squad, meaning it wasn't really a serious threat. I don't say that as a partisan point, I'm simply saying as context. But several CIA directors that I knew that were reading my books told me, "No, it's a real thing. You should write some political thrillers about the threat that they pose."
The reason I say it, Darrell, is because I decided to write a series about ISIS capturing chemical weapons in Syria, and then preparing to launch a series of genocidal attacks against Israel, against the United States and against Jordan. That's where the series begins against King Abdullah whom ISIS is trying to assassinate in the series of novels. They want to assassinate him, they want to destroy his palace and take over Jordan. That's why the novels called the Third Target, because Iraq was their first target. Syria was their second target. And then what's the third target? Well, in the novel, it's Jordan.
The reason that's interesting is because King Abdullah ended up reading the second novel in the trilogy. One of his advisors had happened to pick it up and Heathrow London was flying to Washington to meet the king and meet President Obama. And the advisor had no idea who I was. He just saw the book in a bookstore in Heathrow Airport. It looked interesting. He bought it. He sits down on the plane heading to Washington, heading to see the king, and oh my gosh, the king is a named character in the book.
So what happened was, the advisor lands in Washington, goes to the hotel room, the suite where the king is staying and says, "Your majesty, you have to read this." "Why?" "Because you're in it." "What do you mean I'm in it? It looks like a political thriller. It's a novel. It's not-"
Yeah, it's fiction.
"… a non-fiction book." He goes, "I know, but you are a character in the book." "What do you mean I'm a character?" "No, you're a named character." "I don't understand that." "Well, neither do I, but you should read this." And the king actually read it. Rather than banning me from the kingdom forever, Darrell, he invited my wife and me, this is now in 2016, to come for five days to Amman and meet with him and his senior leadership. And that was pretty stunning, right?
I'm an Israeli, but I'm also an American. I'm Jewish on my father's side. I'm a follower of Jesus. I'm an outspoken evangelical. What in the world am I doing in the palace? The palace, by the way, that I had fictionally blown up in the novel series. So he certainly had fun poking at me about that. Anyway, it was just such an interesting conversation. He's a direct descendant of Muhammad.
At the end of five days, the last dinner was a private dinner in his private palace. It was two and a half hours. Just fascinating. I said, "Your majesty, I hope you understand that I have great respect for you. I'm writing this as a worst case scenario, not something that I'm predicting or wanting." He said, "No, no, I get it." I said, "But so rarely does an evangelical who loves Israel, but is intrigued with the Arab side. How often do we get a chance to sit with a monarch, the longest serving monarch, by the way in the Arab world, and just get to talk to you and your team for days on end?"
I said, "Would you ever consider inviting some other evangelical leaders over to meet with you and have a similar experience that Lynn and I have had?" And he said, "Let's put together a delegation." That's what he said. And I said, "I'd be honored." So this set into motion what has now become seven delegations to Jordan, two to Egypt, one of which you were on.
Two to Saudi Arabia to meet the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, the future king, one to the United Arab Emirates, one to Bahrain, and one to Israel. So it's been fascinating and completely unexpected.
What I think it reflects, that's an important value here, it creates an avenue for dialogue and discussion and getting acquainted that generally speaking might not happen otherwise and just as helpful to everyone involved. Fair?
Yeah, very fair. In fact, to be clear, when I say it was unexpected, it was unexpected, but it wasn't unprayed for. When we moved here to Israel, I thought, "Well, Lord, how do I love my neighbors now that these neighbors are actually physically quite close?" Yes, that means the Palestinians. So how do I do that as an Israeli? That means Israeli Arabs, that means Orthodox Jews and all four Orthodox Jews, but it also means the people and the leaders throughout this region. And remember, this is all pre-Abraham Accords.
This is before this new era of peace with breaking out. So I just started praying, and King Abdullah was the one that I started praying for. Lord, you are a prayer hearing and a prayer answering God. You can say, no, I get that, but would you open up a door for me to meet with the king of Jordan? I just find him interesting and I want to get to know him and pray for him, and I'd like to be an ambassador for Jesus, for you, Lord, to him.
It's a crazy prayer. Even one of the guys on my board of our nonprofit ministry, The Joshua Fund told me years later, "I thought you were nuts. And I love you. I'm on your board, but this is not going to happen." So again, I encourage our staff, our team, our board to pray crazy prayers. I call them audacious prayers. The Lord doesn't have to answer them, but the question is sometimes we don't aim high enough and ask the Lord to open doors as Paul prayed. I mean, he wanted to be a witness for Jesus, an ambassador for the Lord to Caesar Nero.
So King Abdullah doesn't seem so difficult by comparison. Most of us are not going to have those opportunities, but it doesn't mean we don't want to lean in and ask the Lord, how can I get to know my neighbors, even though they totally disagree with me on theology and maybe on politics, and various ways? But where is their common ground and how can I love them? How can I understand them? How can I be a blessing to them? And certainly a witness, Lord, if you'd open that door.
Whether that's in a neighborhood in Dallas or anywhere in the United States or around the world, certainly here in Israel, Jesus did command us to do it. So sometimes we're not sure how we have to start in prayer.
Yeah. Well, it's a great story, and of course the trip to Egypt is probably one of the highlights of my own life and experience. What you discover a part as a part of it is the nature of the global church. We were there in Egypt to dedicate a Christian cathedral in, I guess the government district of Egypt just outside of Cairo, which was primarily a Coptic church. And because Coptic is the primary form of Christianity in Egypt, and the whole trip was fascinating.
We actually did a podcast on that visit, but that's a whole nother conversation about what's going on there. Let me do one more question that relates to-
The one thing I just had to say, Darrell, for those who may have missed that other podcast, let's just say, how often is it that two Jewish people get to stand before the leader of Egypt and say, "Let my people come instead of let my people go." God is opening crazy doors. It's a time of we have to be trusting him to think, Lord, what do you want to accomplish that maybe we're thinking too small?
Yeah. Of course one of the things that accompanied that particular event in Egypt was a huge ceremony beforehand dedicating the entire complex because it came with a trip to the church, but also a trip to the mosque and asking the question from a government leader, how can these people live together, non-violently? Which is a basic question.
So a very fascinating trip. Let me put one other piece of background in place and then we can turn our attention to Israel in particular, and that is you mentioned the Abraham Accords, and you've mentioned the way in which actually… The way in which the Arab world is responding to the presence of Israel now at least some portions of it, is very, very different than what used to be. So why don't you quickly sketch that map out for us.
So one of the delegations that I was invited to bring into the region was to the United Arab Emirates. This is a small but incredibly wealthy and dynamic and progressive in the true positive way. I'm not using American politics here, really making enormous progress. I mean, sending rockets to the moon and inviting the first ever evangelical delegation, which I led to the Emirates ever in their history, inviting the Pope to preach in a stadium, buying F-35 fighter jets from the United States and making peace with Israel.
But before all that, I was sitting there in the palace in Abu Dhabi, the capitol of the UAE with this group of evangelical leaders. Unfortunately, you weren't on that particular trip, but we had this opportunity to sit for two hours with the top leader in the UAE. We asked them a range of questions, but one of them was, "Listen, we love Israel and we pray for the peace of Jerusalem. You're not going to change us on that, but I don't think you want to."
But we also love Arabs, we love Muslims. But one of the things we're curious about is who's going to be the next Arab leader to make peace with Israel? Because at that point, 2018, we haven't seen an Arab leader since King Hussein of Jordan in 1994. So there'd only been two piece treaties. Egypt in '79, Jordan in '94. We said, who's going to be the next Arab leader to make peace?
Now, this was just almost a boilerplate point just to say it because there we were. And Mohammed bin Zayed, the sheik who's the head of the country, leans forward and said, "Joel, it's going to be me." We were shocked and we said, "Why?" And he began to explain that he's ready, that he decided it's in the national interest of the UAE to make peace with Israel, to have trade, technology, tourism, foreign direct investment.
Yes, there are still political disagreements with Israel, but he said, "We're going to move forward anyway." Unfortunately that was off the record, so we couldn't walk out of the palace with the biggest story in Arab-Israeli peacemaking in a generation and say it, and we didn't. We kept that confidence, but we prayed and two years later it was MBZ who made the first move to make peace with Israel in August of 2020. I wrote a non-fiction book that came out about a year and a half ago called Enemies and Allies where that is a story that I take everybody inside each of those rooms with each of the delegations that I led. So you can see it, you can hear the conversations.
Those conversations were off the record then, but they're on the record now because it's already done. It's a fascinating way for people to get a sense as a Jewish follower of Jesus, what would it be like to sit with all these leaders? What are they saying about religious freedom, about the Saudis allowing churches in Saudi Arabia when they don't have them?
Of course, we sat with top Israeli leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as well. So I think people will find Enemies and Allies a way of taking this conversation you and I are having and expanding it out and getting much more details.
There are also some conversations I think, happening between religious leaders in the country at the Evangelical Theological Society. Not this year, but a couple of years ago we had a meeting with a group that's focused on Christian and evangelical relationships with Muslims, and we brought in some Muslim leaders to interact within that event and have a conversation. We're working our way towards a joint event that's going to be sponsored in the Northeast.
So there are these conversations that happen. They're very rare, but they exist and the potential for them is significant. So that sets the plate of what's around Israel, what's surrounding Israel. Of course, everyone's familiar with the region in general and the tensions that are a part of it, but let's talk about Israel in particular now. I'm going to ask some general demographic questions and then we'll dive in to particular challenges of what is going on with the church and the Messianic movement in Israel. So let's start in general, first of all, how large a country is Israel? I guess the second question is, and how quickly is it growing?
Sure. Well, geographically, we're only about the size of New Jersey where my wife is from. I'm a New Yorker, so when I met her at Syracuse University, which is in New York, I had to get rid of all my Jersey jokes.
… our relationship. But it's about the size of New Jersey. Now you have to think if you lived in New Jersey, fine, wonderful, you'd have the seashore, but maybe New York would hate you and Pennsylvania would want to annihilate you, but maybe a piece with Delaware. So that's the geographic space. It's not that much space. That's the one. In terms of size, we're just coming up close to 10 million citizens now.
About 80% of that roughly is Jewish, and about 20% is Arab. Most of the Arab citizens are Muslims, but there is a significant Christian Arab population. Not all born again, mostly maybe from a more nominal or historic background, let's say, to be fair, Roman Catholic, to be sure, but range of Coptic faiths or denominations as well. So that's about 10 million people roughly.
And then the believing community, if you ask the Israeli government, they'll say there's about 125,000 Christians in the country that would cover everybody of any type of denomination whether they're born again or not. If you look at the Messianic community, particularly the Jewish believers of Jesus, that's what you're asking. And that number is roughly 25 to 30,000. There was a pretty good study done by the Israel College of the Bible, the main Bible Institute here, the Dallas Theological Seminary of Israel.
Their study was that in 1948 when Israel was miraculously and prophetically reborn, according to the scriptures, there were only 23 known Jewish followers of Jesus in the entire land of Israel at the time.
That's just a two digit number.
That's a two digit number. Amazing because some of them are still alive. We know them. For an American, it'd be like knowing a Christian that stepped off the Mayflower, to know some of the original people in the country that love Jesus. It's really extraordinary. Today, there are about 25 to 30,000 believers. So that's encouraging. Some of that is natural growth people having kids and raising them to know the Lord. And some of that is immigration. But most of it is… Or let's say a significant portion, are people, Jews coming to faith in Jesus.
It doesn't happen as much here in Israel as it does in the United States for a number of reasons. The main reason is in the United States there are so many followers of Jesus who love their Jewish neighbors and dentists and lawyers and doctors and whatever, that there's just so much more witness possible. We're a very small community in a very large country, but there is growth and it is exciting. And then there's roughly four to 5,000 actual evangelical Israeli Arabs. So that's the short version.
Okay. Let me go back to the 10 million for a second because the other question that's in the back of my head is what kind of immigration is going on in Israel and how is that population growing? In other words, I seem to remember a time not too long ago where if I had asked you that question, the answer would've been 8 million. I guess underneath that question is with Israel absorbing people, primarily Jewish people, obviously from around the world who come to Israel make Aliyah is the phrase that you also get a very interesting ethnic mix of people whose national backgrounds are quite diverse and probably most people aren't even aware of that being part of the equation in Israel. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Sure. So let me break that down in a couple pieces. First, yes, the immigration issue. We've got the highest degree of immigration into Israel of any OECD industrialized country. You have a steady flow, 20 to 40,000 Jews a year are coming in and most of them historically are from maybe the eastern block, the former Soviet Union. And then of course from Europe and very few from the United States. We're learning where some of the few that have come and actually become citizens because most Jews who decide to leave their country and come to actually live as a citizen, not just by an apartment or send their kids to summer camp here or come for high holidays, they're coming because they're afraid, because they're leaving a country that either is actively anti-Semitic or anti-Semitism is spiking and they're nervous and they decide to come here.
Americans, I mean, think that's changing. That's a separate issue and we may want to talk about that. I think antisemitism is spiking and we're going to see more of that in the United States and we're going to start to see more Americans coming. But right now most Americans think, "Why would I go to Israel? I got a great life in the United States." But prophetically God is going to pull people, Jews from all countries. And he says in Jeremiah, "First I'll send the fishermen. So I'll draw you in, and then I'm going to send the hunters. If you won't come in voluntarily, you're not going to thwart my plan, so I'll force you to come back to Israel just like he forced us out at the beginning. So that's significant. Right now you're seeing a lot of course Ukrainian and Russian Jews coming in, but French-
Yup. That's where we'll go next. Go ahead.
The French Jews are coming up now. That's the first time I think we're seeing a western European country since the World War II in the end of the Holocaust where we're seeing a European Jewry start to come in and say… It's challenging for them, but it's good for us. We're the getting good food out of this equation. But that is a dynamic. And of course, Jews have come from Arab world over the last 50 or 60 years, 75 years, but we're not seeing much of that now because there aren't many Jews left in the Arab speaking world.
That takes us then to two other points. One is that we also have a high birth rate here higher than any other ACD, industrialized country. Arabs are having more kids. Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox are having a lot of kids, but even Israelis generally have more than West Europeans, let's say. So that's causing the population to grow as well. Now, the one other thing is the multicultural diversity. We've got Jews literally coming from all over the world because God dispersed us to all over the world. And one of the things that does is create a very interesting cultural mix.
It also creates fascinating ranges of food and culture and language. It's also great for, I'll say, Darrell, for our intelligence services, because you don't just have people who seem like they know a little bit about China, they're Jews who are Chinese. So they come back here and over the years they look Chinese. They sound Chinese. They know the language. They know the culture. Or Iranian Jews have been great for our intelligence services.
Ultimately, I believe setting the intelligence services aside, it's great for the church. In time, it's taking some time, but in time you're going to have believers, Jewish believers in Yeshua from all over the world who live here, but they know the language, they know the culture. They know how to be a witness to their other cultures and their countries.
We don't see much of a heart and a mindset yet in the believers here to be in short-term or long-term missions outside the country, unfortunately. But I believe that's part of our calling to be a light to the nation. So I believe that will come in time, but we're not seeing much of it yet.
So let's think about this mix… So someone comes from say the Ukraine or out of Russia or Poland or whatever, wherever they may be coming from in the Eastern block, they come generally not knowing Hebrew? I mean, they are starting their lives again from scratch?
Yeah. And especially when we saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the soviet flag literally came down over the Kremlin on Christmas day of all times in 1991. Once the doors fully opened and Jews trapped inside the Soviet Empire were suddenly free to go wherever they wanted, a million Jews came here to Israel. This in the early years of the 1990s.
Now, it was incredibly disruptive in one sense, right? Economically and in terms of how do you build housing for them all and create jobs, and not just government makeshift job, but real work. What do you do when somebody comes and they're a nuclear physicist or a chemical engineer, but they don't speak Hebrew and therefore they have to get a job as a street sweeper or a janitor? It's humiliating.
It showed Zionism at its strength, I would say, in the modern era where a country decided to open its doors to a quarter. Imagine the United States opening its door, I guess it has opened its doors, but not officially to bring an extra 25% of the population into the country. For the United States, that'd be like 75 or 80 million people in two or three years. Even with what's going on in the US southern border, that's, its not that much.
It's not even close.
Well, over time, about 25 or 30 million, but over 25 or 30 years.
Here it was about 25% of the population, about a million people coming in about a three or four or five year period, and it changed everything. So you still have Russian-speaking Jews. Now, we have to be careful not to call them Russians because the Ukrainian Jews don't want to be called Russians. And this is attention in the country, it's attention in the Kehillot, the congregations, the believing congregations here. So there's a whole new dynamic because of what Vladimir Putin has done in invading, and raping, and pillaging Ukraine.
But it's also, he's one of the hunters. I mean, he's intending it for evil, but God is using it for good, both to bring Jews into the kingdom, but also bring them into the country. So he's driving Jews out of Ukraine and even Russia here. But it takes time. In a fairly short period of time though, one of the interesting dynamics or nuances is often it's the kids who learn the Hebrew first. They're going to school. They're learning it so they can make friends.
So then there becomes a new tension inside the family. Mom and dad, grandma and Grandpa, sava and safta, they don't know Hebrew or they don't know it well. The kids know it and they want to be part of the society. They don't want to be ghettoized as, "Well, we're Russians." I'll say it, even myself, although it's not exactly the same, my boys, all four of them, they know Hebrew and I'm incredibly proud of them. I'm terrible at it, partly because I came in, at the time I was 47 with a full career, and a husband, and a father of four.
As you said, my time is spent in the States. So my wife would tease me sometimes mercifully and sometimes not like, "Joel, did you make Aliyah to Israel or to flight 90, 91 on United back and forth to Newark. Because that's where my business is, that's where my books are mostly sold. So that made it hard for me to learn Hebrew. I'm not good at it. The good news is English is the business language here and Jerusalem particularly, you can get by. You don't have to go too far outside of Jerusalem to really, really need Hebrew.
I'm one of those classic immigrant fathers, Darrell, where one of my sons has to go with me and I'm like, "What did they say?" I'm grateful that they've got it. Fortunately, they are honoring their mother and father and helping us through this, but it's not easy and it's not easy for these immigrant issues.
That's not unlike the kind of immigration experience that particularly Asians had coming from China, et cetera, in the United States where the second generation child is the bridge and then the third generation child is actually in some ways totally assimilated to the culture and that kind of thing. It produces its own set of interesting. I have one more general question for we turn to Messianism in particular. And that is… So you've got this wonderful range and mix in the country and it seems to have produced within the Jewish community real different approaches to how to handle Israel's position in the world.
We've got a segment that is… If I can say it this way, classically Zionist and keep Israel great again. And then you've got another group that is concerned about how Israel interacts with its unique position as a nation surrounded by all these Arabs and Palestinians. Talk about that a little bit because it looks like it's about a 50/50 proposition in the country.
Well, it's a huge challenge right now and we certainly have very deep political divisions which evidenced by the fact that we had five elections in the last four years.
Neither side could really figure it out. It's not exactly a left right divide to be clear. There isn't much of the political left here anymore. The country was founded by atheist, agnostics, leftist and quasi-communist socialist. That's how the country was founded. But over time, the country has rejected those ideas almost entirely. So you've seen a collapse of the political left. It's become a very free market, very robust free market society, and it's become a very… In terms of security and religious identity, respect for faith in God, even if it's a number of different shades of that.
The country has moved from the left to the center, from the center to the right, from the right, in some cases to the far right and sometimes crazy in some areas. So it is a center right country politically and religiously. The number of religious Jews is rising significantly here. And that's not just immigration. Part of that of course is birth rates, but it's really that Jews who are secular are actually feeling like that's not working for them.
They're actively searching for faith in God. But some are very turned off by ultra-Orthodox and even Orthodox Judaism. So they're looking in other places. That's one of the reasons they're looking at is Yeshua actually the Messiah. So there there's a number of things going on there. Now, in terms of relationships to the outside world, there's a general desire by most Israelis, not all, but most. We want to have peace with our neighbors. We are not trying to take over more territory or start wars.
The country was mostly let's give land and if we'll get peace. But the reason they moved rightward on security and political issues was because every time a center and left politician gave land for peace, they didn't get peace. We got rockets and terrorists and suicide bombers. So that shifted the population from, look, we want peace, but we are not going to be suckers. The worst thing to be called in Israel is a friar, like a sucker, like such an idiot that you'd get tricked-
Friars, not a monk.
Exactly right. It's a Hebrew probably term. But it means you've just been duped. So having given southern Lebanon back to Lebanon and then Iranian back, Hezbollah terrorist moved in and fired 4,000 missiles at us, people are like, "Well, that was a dumb idea." And then Israel gave the Gaza strip to the Palestinians without asking for a peace treaty in 2005. But what do we get? 15 or 20,000 rockets and missiles fired at us? Israelis are not willing to do that anymore. So do they want to make peace with the Arabs? Absolutely. Do they want to just give things away? Sort of like whatever, I'm sure it'll work. No.
That's why they're so excited most Israelis about the Abraham Accords because how can you make peace with other Arab countries that are aren't going to fire missiles at us? And it's real peace. It's real trade. It's real tourism. 600,000 Israelis, Darrell, 600,000 have traveled to the United Arab Emirates just in the last two years since the Abraham Accords were signed.
Just to see it. You get to go to an Arab country that's economically growing and loves Israel and has kosher food now and wants to be peaceful with us? That seems so insane. It's exciting. I've been on that flight many times there. These are 787 jumbo jets packed, completely packed, mostly with Israelis. Emirates aren't coming yet because that's a big cultural divide if you're an Arab. But anyway, there's a lot of… I hope that answers some of your question. You have a lot of nuances, that question. A doctoral dissertation. I should get some sort of degree for that question.
Well, a piece of paper is in the mail, but I'm not sure it has anything behind it. So let's turn the Messianic community. We don't have as much time as I'd hope, but so the Messianic community is in an interesting place because they are a religious minority in a country that has very Jewish origins and is committed to a Jewish way of life, not just ethnically but religiously. So at least with a significant portion of its population. And with that religious element, having at least currently having an important political and social role in the country. So talk about that and I guess what I have in mind here is in part the tension that Messianics live with as Christians in Israel. So you can parse that out however you want.
How many more hours did you say we have to cover that topic? Okay. So let's break that down a few ways. First of all, let's start with the good news. Israel is a very robust democracy, but it is a democracy. I mean, the fact that I was able to make Aliyah with my family, I'm googleable. Is that a word?
Professor Googleable. I'm googleable on the topic of do Jewish people need Jesus to get saved, to go to heaven, to have their sins forgiven? Absolutely. I've spoken at chosen people, ministry events and all kinds of conferences and churches all over the world. I'm not hiding that. I also believe Muslims need Jesus. They really believe all people need Jesus. But I'm not hiding that, and I'm not saying that other Jews are, I'm just saying that may not be their calling. And some other line of work, but this is what I do.
It's amazing that they let me become a citizen of Israel and didn't have a big legal battle over it. So that's just a small but personal example to me. I will say 15, 20 years ago, maybe even less Jewish believers in Jesus, Messianic Jews, they couldn't get in intelligence units or high level advanced elite military units. Why? Because they were considered traitors or undependables.
But over time, that has changed. The Israeli defense forces has discovered, "Hey, these Jews who believe in Jesus, they're strong Zionists. They believe in the country. They get it and they want to help." They're actually pretty good at whatever they do. So I had two sons who've served in the Israeli defense forces. One of them in an intelligence unit and another one in an elite combat unit. So that's not normal historically, but it's becoming more normal in recent years.
Those are the good news. I think there's such openness. I would say that the whole region is experiencing a spirit of tolerance. Now normally, and it's certainly an American evangelical ear, the word tolerance sounds like you're basically tolerating things that are wrong. That's certainly true. Israel is tolerating… Actually, it's embracing gay pride parades in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the speaker of the house.
The parliament here whom I've met is an open homosexual. It's very interesting how this country has embraced homosexuality. So that's tolerance. Not a good thing. I mean to be kind to people even if you disagree with them, that's a good thing. But Israel is not processing the biblical risks of not helping people understand what God's plan and purpose is for marriage and sexuality. So that's a problem. But that spirit of tolerance of anything goes, it's okay, whatever you think. Mostly that's bad, but it is creating the environment for two things. One, people are tolerating, Messianic Jews.
They're kind of curious. What do you believe? I don't believe that, but I'm curious, what do you believe. That is happening not just with our family, but all over this country, and that's a good thing. There's an openness, a curiosity. Maybe we ruled out Yeshua as the Messiah too quickly. Make the case, tell me what you think. The other piece of that I think is… Well, and then we could go in along. That's actually a long road, but I'm just saying there's an openness and there's a willingness not to beat you up or slash your tires or punch you in the face or whatever that there was a few years ago.
So I think that's good and I would just say one more thing. The Chosen People Ministry and Israel College of the Bible Partnership one for Israel is that brand creating these short videos that of Jews, yourself, myself, my father, others, explaining why we believe that Jesus actually is the Messiah. And then Israelis doing that in Hebrew. The Israeli videos have been watched more than 50 million times. They're not 50 million Hebrew speakers on the planet. So that means people are watching multiple videos.
They're like Pringles, you can't eat just one. This is impossible. And then on the English language videos that you know and I have been part of, that's over 200 million views. So this shows that there's a curiosity and openness, and that's good, but I don't think that's going to last forever. I think we're heading towards a period of new persecution. It hasn't happened yet mostly, but because Israel is becoming much more a segment of us becoming much more militant, ultra-orthodox and sort of demanding that sort of Halakhah, sort of the Jewish legal system from the scriptures imposed on modern Israel.
That's what they want. And most Israelis don't. So there's a civil war tension brewing. I'm not saying it's going to become violent yet, but this is a serious problem here right now, Darrell. There's a huge tension between secular and traditional and militant ultra orthodoxy that's coming out on the political sphere. I'm afraid it might burst out into the streets, but I believe that prophetically, we should expect more and more Jews to be open to other things, including Yeshua, but also more and more hardening.
I think the middle is dropping out. People are breaking. They're going to break in time for Yeshua, or at least open this to him or harshly against. Right now you have a large middle, but I don't think that's going to last for forever.
So all the ultra-orthodox that you're talking about really want a… I'm going to use this figure and I think you'll get it. I hope the listeners get it. Almost a kind of dominion approach to the role of Judaism in the country, and in such a way that it defines what takes place. When you lose that, you lose the openness of the way western democracies have generally been formed.
Well, that's right because we haven't really seen a theocracy except in Iran. You have Muslim countries and that's where secular and traditional Israelis are saying, "Look here, ultra-orthodox, you're trying to impose almost a Sharia law on us. And we didn't sign up for this. You're a minority. Now, you are a steadily growing minority, but you're still a minority. How can you impose this on us? We don't believe what you believe."
And this is a challenge because in the Old Testament Torah law, that is a theocracy. That's exactly what it is. It didn't work then. It's not going to work now. And most people don't want it. The only answer to it is the New Testament. The only answer to this question is, yes, there are principles we can learn from the Jewish scriptures, the Hebrew scriptures, but if you apply them in a New Testament perspective, then you don't have to be kosher if you don't want to be, but you can be.
You're not going to stone your neighbor because they're committing adultery. You're not going to murder them. But you have to in the Torah system. So you cannot impose the Torah in modern Israel. And ironically, it's the Messianic believers who have the actual theological and social principles to govern. They're not going to look to us to do that, so don't hold your breath.
That's a great transition because one of the points that I like to make even talking about the situation here is that we've had the experiment where our laws align with God's desires and that gets imposed on people. And that experiment was Old Testament Israel. And it failed. It failed to such a degree that God said, "I'm going to provide a new covenant. And the new covenant is going to not do this from external law, it's going to do it from an internal heart change."
I like to refer the Old Testament is the story of a heart transplant only you don't change hearts. God takes the heart of stone and turns it into a heart that's open to him. You can keep the same heart. It just gets changed. So in the midst of that transfer, which Jesus is in the middle of, Yeshua is in the middle of, you get the internal clock that you need to make a healthy society.
We saw that in Europe. When we saw Protestantism begin to rise, it was because people were rebelling against a Roman Catholic legal and political, and social system that forced people to do things, and yet was riddled with all kinds of hypocrisy and legalism and corruption. I'm not saying Protestantism can't become that. It obviously has in many ways, but there was this sense that if people are people of faith, or at least of Judeo-Christian ethic, you don't have to impose such draconian rules upon them.
You can give them the freedom to make decisions in their family life, in their businesses, in their culture, and they can choose their leaders because they're probably going to pick people that are fairly decent. That's the dynamic that created Western democracy. I mean obviously it comes from the Greeks, but I don't think it really took off until Protestant Christianity laid the moral groundwork and framework by which you could have self-governing people that didn't need a heavy, heavy hand, a draconian, authoritarian hand of government because they were basically following Judeo-Christian ethics in their personal lives, therefore, you could trust them not to run rampant and go crazy.
Yeah. My example here in the Book of Acts' Ephesus, in which you didn't get a law from the Ephesians City Council saying, "We're going to outlaw magic books." What you got were people whose hearts changed who said, "This isn't healthy for us. Were done with it." Which is part of the explanation with why the gospel is so central to what it is we should be about as we go about our daily lives, that the only change that isn't superficial is the one that comes from the inside out and the one that God works from within hearts and within groups of hearts because this isn't just an individual thing, it's a corporate thing as well that changes the ethos of what goes on around us.
And in the midst of doing that, the New Testament is also clear, and some people in the world are going to push back against that. They're not going to like it. So that's part of the dynamic we live in.
And in the Jewish world, this is what's so exciting and fascinating to me, and yet I'm amazed so many Christian media outlets are still not even covering this. The study that you and I got to be part of about five years ago through the alliance for the piece of Jerusalem in which we hired Lifeway Research, the Southern Baptist research arm, to go to a real scientific study of how many Jewish people, or at least people with Jewish roots in America are evangelicals by faith.
Not self-identified. And that turned out to be a number we didn't even believe and therefore we didn't publish for several months going that can't be right. We must have made a mistake. But the number turns out to be 871,000 people with Jewish parents or grandparents in America who have evangelical theological beliefs set aside whether they're living them or not. But the point is, they believe this, that Jesus is the only way, that the Bible is their highest authority so forth, that they have a responsibility to share their faith with others, their faith in Jesus.
That's an extraordinary number, almost 900,000. When you add in Israel and Europe, you're at about a million Jews worldwide now who believe in Jesus. What that's telling us is two things. One, that the gospel does work for Jewish people even though people like Martin Luther and others in their day thought, "This doesn't work."
Right. But it also shows us that Christians mostly in the United States, evangelical primarily are so loving and warm towards Jews that because they believe that they are chosen of God and they have to choose God back, but still, the Jews are part of God's plan and purpose for the world and for Israel. And therefore many Christians honor and love their Jewish neighbors, literally. That has created a climate where Jews could at least consider, could this be true? They weren't able to reject, "Oh, my neighbor is an anti-Semite and he's a Christian, therefore, obviously, Christianity is false."
What I'm saying is this is a moment where Jews are more open than any time in the last 2000 years to at least listen, read, consider, could Jesus really be the Messiah? I say all that because Jews come to Israel and Jews all over the world have all kinds of different political views. Obviously in America, 70% of Jews are Democrats. So I'm not getting into the politics, I'm just saying wide range of views. The question is, "Do they have an openness to consider the claims of Jesus?"
We're not trying to change their politics, we're trying to get them to consider the Messiah that came and died and rose again for us. And that Moses said in Deuteronomy 18, if you don't follow this person, you get cut off from Israel's. We don't want that to happen. So I'm just saying to me, "This is the most exciting point in the history of Jewish society because there's such openness and response that most of us didn't even realize the response was that high because these are not mostly people going to Messianic congregations, they're mostly just attending evangelical congregations, and so they don't get picked up by past surveys and studies."
So that to me is incredibly encouraging. I believe we are now on the road significantly towards Romans 11:26 where eventually all Israel gets saved. I don't want to get into picking that all apart right now. I'm not saying that every Jew-
It's a separate podcast.
It's a separate podcast. But I'm saying if you asked your podcast audience… I don't know when you started it. When did you start it?
It's been a little over 10 years ago.
Okay. So 10 years ago. If you said in 10 years there'll be a million Jews worldwide who believe in Jesus, I think you might have had your tenure revoked. That would be so… Sure, in the distant future.
Well, we didn't believe it when we got the number. I mean, as you said, when we heard that it was this large, and of course, I've always heard very recently that the amount of Messianic presence in Israel is unprecedented as well. I mean, when you start out with 23 and you're now in a multi-thousands, that's a different deal. Joe, I just want to thank you for giving us a glimpse at what's going on. We've actually run over a little bit, which is nice, but it's clear that we've only, I love using this metaphor on the podcast because I use it regularly, we only scrape the top of the iceberg, but you've helped us to get a portrait of what's going on and where Israel fits in the Middle East and the variety of tensions that have to be dealt with. It reminds us to pray for the country and for people in the country and for the Messianic presence in the country, et cetera. So I really thank you for taking the time to be with us today.
Well, it's an honor, Darrell, always, and I look forward to seeing you here in Jerusalem or in Dallas, Lord willing, soon.
And we're headed your way this summer, so we're looking forward to it and with a good visit. It's been several years because of COVID, and so I'm looking forward to going back.
Well, you're always welcome. Bless you.
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About the Contributors
Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) from 2000–2001, served as a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College and Chosen People Ministries. His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.