The growth in the number of Jews in Israel who recognise Jesus as their Messiah represents the beginning of spiritual resurrection in the nation, say pioneering Messianic leaders Benjamin and Reuven Berger. Andre Viljoen interviewed them in Jerusalem last week at the 4th Africa Leadership Summit attended by leaders from African nations and Israel around a theme of building great nations.
Fifty two years ago, in 1967, a young, agnostic American Jewish man working as an architect in Denmark had an unexpected encounter with a loving presence who introduced Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
“And then I just heard the name of Jesus — the Hebrew Name of Jesus, which I did not know at that time. And immediately I knew He is the Messiah, He is the God of Israel, that He is Israel’s Messiah and that was a great moment where my life was just totally changed,” said Pastor Benjamin Berger, 78, in an interview in Jerusalem last week.
Three years later, he had the opportunity to share his faith with his younger brother, Reuven at their parents’ home in New York.
Pastor Reuven, now 74, recalls it was after the family meal on the eve of the Feast of Tabernacles in 1970 that the brothers got to spend some one-on-one time together and Benjamin began to share his testimony.
“It was much more than a share, it was actually kind of passionate. I wouldn’t say an outburst, but it was just something very passionate and God was very present. I just knew that I knew that this was — this was God who was speaking to me.
“That same night, I prayed, I repented, the Lord came into my heart and the next morning when I woke up, I realised I was born again, and I began to passionately read the Bible and go through a real repentance concerning my own life.”
A few days later Reuven said the Lord called him to Israel and he travelled there the next month, not knowing if he would ever return to the United States where his Orthodox Jewish parents had found refuge from the Nazi Holocaust which had cost the lives of a number of their family members. Benjamin joined his brother in Israel a few months later, by which time both of them sensed they had been called permanently to be part of something much bigger than themselves that was connected to the destiny of the nation.
The timing of Benjamin’s salvation in 1967 was notable. It was a year in which a significant number of Jews came to faith in Christ and in which the Messianic Movement was birthed, with Jews starting to believe in Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and following Him while continuing to identify as Jews rather than as converts to Christianity. Also, 1967 was the year in which Jerusalem was reunified under Jewish rule after the 6-Day-War.
When the Bergers arrived in Israel there were “only a few handfuls” of Messianic believers in the country, said Reuven. During their first five years there they focused on sitting before the Lord, worshipping Him, praying and learning from the Word of God.
“It was really like a preparation for the years to come, where the Lord was showing us from His Word, the plan that He had for Israel and also for the Church,” said Reuven.
In subsequent years the brothers became pioneer leaders in the Messianic Movement in Israel and currently they lead the only Messianic congregation in the Old City, the Congregation of the Lamb on Mount Zion (CLMZ), which meets in Christ Church Jerusalem, an Anglican Church that was founded in 1849 by leaders who already had a vision for the restoration of Israel. Services at CMLZ are conducted in Hebrew.
Today, Benjamin and Reuven say there are many Messianic congregations in Israel, with at least 25 in Jerusalem alone and the number of Messianic believers is growing steadily — a development that they interpret as a second phase of the restoration of Israel.
“We look at the prophecy of the dry bones — on God bringing back the bones together and forming a people and a nation and an army. The Spirit hadn’t yet come into them… and so this is the beginning of those chapters, not only in Ezekiel but in other prophetic books where God says I will take out the heart of stone and I will give you a new Spirit and I will put my Spirit in you. This is the beginning of the spiritual resurrection of Israel. We are the first fruit.”
The Bergers say that they have come to understand that as Messianic pioneers they are representatives of the original Church of Israel — part of a divine restoration of ancient foundations that have not been seen in the land since the time of the first apostles and a voice that God is raising up to the people of Israel and using as a connecting point to the universal Church.
“It is a challenge, of course, to the Jewish people, that there are these Jews — and that there is a growing number — in the heart of the nation of Israel, who believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
“And our witness to the Church of the nations is also similar but it is a challenge to the Church of the nations that basically separated itself completely from its original roots,” said Benjamin.
“So our message to Israel, ” said Reuven, “is that this [Messianic Judaism] is the real faith of Israel. This is not just another stream of Judaism, among many, and this really is the only way of salvation as Peter said, that God has provided for the Jewish people.”
He said it was an enormous challenge to the people of Israel whose first reaction normally was: “You’ve converted to Christianity, you’re not part of us.”
But he said slowly, some of the people of Israel were beginning to understand their message. The fact that many evangelical Christians were friendly to Israel and supportive, was also affecting the thinking of the Jewish people.
And their message to the Church, said Benjamin, was that it was time to re-examine its history and ask the Lord how He wants to reconnect the earliest part of His Church and the Church of today.
For most of the Church’s history its view has been that when a Jew comes to believe in Jesus, he is converted and becomes a Christian, rather than that the nations, according to the Scriptures, have been joined to what God began in Israel by bringing Jewish people to the faith, he said.
“It is a whole new way of believing and understanding — that the gentile Church represents the wild olive branches that have been engrafted into the cultivated olive tree. So it’s part of a process of restoring of the wholeness of the Church and the unity of the Church because one of the things that no one can deny is that the Church was born in Jerusalem. So that is something that we all have in common and can work with to bring different pieces together”.
He said there was “definitely a grace in certain parts of the Church today, to bring this message [about Israel’s role in the restoration of the Church] because it is God’s time and because it is God’s time there is something that the Holy Spirit is doing.”
Reuven said the growth of Messianic communities in Israel, which now included groups speaking Hebrew, Russian, Amharic, English and other languages, presented new discipling challenges.
“There is a whole new generation of young people that have been born into this reality [of Messianic communities], and of course we have to properly educate them because the influence of the world is very, very great — that they remain faithful to the Lord, and that they will find their identity, because the Jewish identity is something so strong and to find their identity as Jews in the Messiah requires real help from the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.”
Reuven, who has paid three ministry visits to South Africa and visited other African nations, said he has been part of all of the Africa Leadership Summits (ALS) which have been held every second year in Jerusalm since 2013. He met ALS visionary Pastor Segun Olanipekun in Kenya some years before the launch of the ALS and they have maintained contact since then.
Watch the video below in which Benjamin and Reuven share their thoughts on the ALS:
Benjamin told Gateway News about recent connections between the Church in the Pacific and the Messianic movement in Israel, which he believes are a sign of what God wants to do on a much larger scale.
He said he was approached by people from the Pacific Islands who wanted to bring Christian leaders to Israel to establish covenantal relations with the Messianic movement at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles in 2017. But they said they would only come if they were invited because in their culture that was the responsibility of the first-born and the Messianic Jews were the first-born in the Church of Jesus Christ.
“So we prayed about this for quite a while and we finally agreed to this and we did have a conference in 2017 and to our great surprise, I expected about 150 maximum people to come from the islands, but about 1 000 came.”
He said he has subsequently visited the Pacific Islands twice to participate in conferences where covenants were made.
“One of them was the island [nation] of Vanuatu where the government was involved together with the Church, where they said: ‘We are wild branches in the olive tree and we are covenanting ourselves and recognising that we are wild branches grafted into the cultivated olive tree.’
“This was a national thing… and that was really significant. And a similar thing happened in Samoa, where also the prime minister and the head of state came and they read this covenant that they had made. Basically they are dedicating the Island of Samoa to the Lord, but the place; the point of connection to Israel was absolutely central in the covenant,” he said.