A Brief History of the Modern Messianic Movement

Shalom, dear friend!

You might remember the iconic evil shark, Bruce, from the film Jaws. The movie terrorized many of us and made us think twice about spending a lovely day at the beach! Perhaps this is why the sequel coined one of the most memorable tag lines ever attached to a movie, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water….” Which one of us does not hear the two-tone Jaws theme and experience a brief moment of fear and anxiety in the pit of our stomach as we try to get back to some type of post-pandemic normal?

Most of us are trying to figure out  if it is once again “safe to go back into the waters” of normal life. We hope and pray this will be true and that the threat we have lived with for so many months will dissipate.

Is it safe to send our kids to in-person school every day, enjoy a dinner party with friends and family, return to the office, or take that long-overdue vacation? As believers, we trust the Lord and remain hopeful because we know He never loses control of our circumstances.

A mentor of mine once prayed for me before I faced a challenging set of ministry circumstances that could have led to severe physical harm. He said, “Teach Mitch that safety is not the absence of danger, but the presence of the Lord.” I have never forgotten that prayer. We can—and should—do all we need to do to keep ourselves and our families safe, but we know that, ultimately, only the Lord can protect us from harm.

I love what the psalmist wrote, “He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.…He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:3). We are in His capable, loving, all-powerful, nail-pierced hands, and He will protect us on the journey from this life to the next! He never fails. We should not avoid getting back into the water because, as always, He is awake in the boat!

Looking Backward to Move Forward

Knowing that we can trust the Lord enables us to look forward to better days and a brighter future. We can grab onto hope as a child grasps for the brass ring on the merry-go-round. To seize the future, we need to reflect upon the past. When it comes to Chosen People Ministries, this could take a while, as we are 127 years old! So, let us travel back a few decades to remember what God has done in these recent years in turning the hearts of so many Jewish people to Jesus the Messiah.

A Brief History of the Modern Messianic Movement

We can trace the modern Messianic Jewish movement1 back to the remarkable work of the Holy Spirit among young people in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I experienced it first-hand as I was one of them! I am a child of the Jesus movement—spiritually-speaking.

The modern Messianic movement began during a season of unrest and uncertainty. Those with a more romantic view of the “end times” might identify 1967, the year Jerusalem was reunited, as the beginning point for the modern movement. Undoubtedly, the birth of the modern Messianic movement is evidence of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Many view it as a sign of the Second Coming, which is why I and many others believe the modern Messianic movement is indicative of our living in the last days.

Yet, we also recognize that there were other reasons why the number of Jewish believers in Jesus increased during the late 1960s and why young people like me desired a deeper connection to God and our Jewish heritage.

In the 1950s and 60s, the Jewish world was beginning to recover from the Holocaust, and Jewish social and religious organizations were gaining new strength. Meanwhile, the modern State of Israel was rapidly becoming the global glue holding Jewish communities together.

The shift of the center of Jewish life from Europe to the United States and Israel, post-Holocaust, also significantly impacted the dynamic growth of the modern Messianic movement. The number of Jewish believers living in Europe before the Holocaust was in the hundreds of thousands, but most were either killed or moved to other parts of the globe. This change created a twenty-plus-year decline in the Messianic movement.

The geographic change in the center of Jewish life and culture also caused the movement to take on a uniquely North American and non-European character.2 The Messianic movement in America did not express its faith in Yiddish as it did in Eastern Europe. Instead, the modern movement primarily communicated in English and, in the last couple of decades, in both Russian and Hebrew as the Lord brought thousands of Russian Jews and Israelis to Himself.

Trends within the broader church also had a profound impact on the modern Messianic movement. The growth of many churches and Christian ministries, such as Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, and the Evangelical Missions movements, was reflected in organizations like Operation Mobilization and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism (LCWE), which would later become the Lausanne Movement. The growth of the Charismatic movement, Calvary Chapels, Vineyards, and various new styles of churches during the last forty years have helped shape the development, theology, worship style, and culture of the modern Messianic community. These swirling trends within the Christian and Jewish communities and the yearning for a more profound Jewish experience would all become part of the new landscape that we call the modern-day Messianic community!

Revival was in the air. It created new institutions and breathed new life into older ones, including the Messianic movement. The two older and most influential organizations changed their names. The American Hebrew Christian Alliance became the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America in 1975, and its international umbrella, the International Hebrew Christian Alliance, eventually changed to the International Messianic Jewish Alliance.

This renewal deeply impacted Chosen People Ministries and the heroic efforts of great missionaries to the Jewish people serving with Your Mission to the Jewish People. Pioneers such as Eliezer Urbach, Ruth Wardell, and others who led many Jewish people to the Lord were responsible for training many of the leaders of the modern Messianic community.

The Jewish missions agencies had extensive roles in rescue and relief during the Holocaust and post-Holocaust period. They also grew, expanding vision, and reaching out to the Jewish people living in North and South America, the former Soviet Union and ultimately to Israel.

New ministries emerged during this post-Holocaust period and included Messianic congregations and associations of congregations, new mission agencies, publishing houses, media-based ministries, and much more! The expansion of the Messianic community reflects the growth of the post-Holocaust Messianic movement and continues to do so today. Simply put, thousands upon thousands of Jewish people started believing in Jesus from the late 1960s until our present day…and the movement continues to grow!

The number of Jewish believers, congregations, properties owned, funds raised, trained ministry leaders, books produced, academic programs and institutions, conferences, and the prominence of Messianic Jewish leaders are all telltale signs of the growth of the community.

Today, we find ourselves amidst a flourishing and dynamic Messianic Jewish community that accounts for hundreds of thousands of Jewish believers in Jesus across the globe. Congregations, ministries, and missions like Chosen People Ministries are thriving and seeing fruit from their labor.

But this is just the beginning, as we know the Lord has great plans for His chosen people in the days ahead. As my good friend Joel Rosenberg says, “We are headed toward a Romans 11:25–29 future.” I agree and believe that more and more Jewish people around the world will come to the Lord as we draw closer to His Second Coming! As Paul wrote,

“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25–26).

Thanks for your support and prayers!

Your brother in the Messiah,

Mitch

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