The conservative evangelical men’s group Promise Keepers, best known for its 1997 “Stand in the Gap” rally on Washington’s National Mall in 1997, is planning a revival in Jerusalem this September, to bolster Israel’s tiny community of Messianic Jews.
Promise Keepers has long been aligned with Messianic Judaism, but this is the first time it has hosted an event in Israel. This new effort is explicit in celebrating the growth in numbers of Messianic Jews, and says that “Jesus Himself, prayed that these Jewish believers would be unified with the vast numbers of Gentile believers, resulting in the world recognizing that He was truly sent by God.”
The September 17 event, which will be held at an outdoor amphitheater outside the Old City walls, is called “Jesus Reigns,” and is part of Promise Keepers’ new “sister” ministry, “One Message,” which is not exclusively for men, spokesman David Jesse told me. The event, he said, “is to call the church worldwide to join together in unity to declare to the world that Jesus reigns and because of that, we will hear and obey God’s word, the power of the holy spirit, share with the poor, and stand with God’s chosen people Israel.”
Promotional materials for regional conferences planned in the United States in advance of September read, “In 2014, the men of God in America will boldly declare that JESUS REIGNS, and that He is the Captain of the Armies of Heaven!”
The amphitheater’s location is near Sultan’s Pool, at the edge of the Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna in Greek, which Promise Keepers contends is significant. “The Valley of Gehenna, interestingly, is where the Jewish concept of hell was born,” Jesse told me, and “became a place of being cursed. . . . It’s interesting that we’re going to have this event right there in this very location because Jesus says in Matthew 16 that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. We find it ironic that we have been led to have this event right there in the place where hell actually was first conceived in the Jewish mind.”
Jesse denied that this meant the group believes Jews will go to hell if they do not accept Jesus as the Messiah.
“We believe there is an enemy at work that seeks to deceive and oppress” people around the world, he said. “So we are going to go to the very place where hell was first conceived to declare that message worldwide.”
The Jewish concept of hell, however, is not the same as the Christian one.
When I spoke to Jesse on last week, he said Promise Keepers representatives were headed to Israel to meet with 20-25 prominent Messianic Jews and evangelists there, including Calev Myers of the Jerusalem Institute for Justice, a lawyer who represents many Messianic Jews; Rick Ridings of Succat Hallel, a house of prayer modeled on the International House of Prayer in Kansas City; and Tom Hess, who operates the Jerusalem House of Prayer for All Nations on the Mount of Olives.
“We have a list that keeps growing,” said Jesse. He said that Dan Juster, the director of Tikkun Ministries International who also oversees the activities of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute in Israel, was trying to make the meeting. The MJBI in Israel did not respond to a request for comment about its possible participation in the event.
The MJBI trains people to evangelize Jews, to “restore” Israel by convincing them to accept Jesus, or Yeshua, as their messiah. Last fall, former President George W. Bush keynoted the MJBI’s annual fundraiser in Irving, Texas, generating controversy in the American Jewish community.
Jonathan Bernis, a prominent Messianic Jew and president of Jewish Voice ministries, is chair of the MJBI, and serves on Promise Keepers’ board of directors. At the 2012 fundraiser for MJBI, which was keynoted by Glenn Beck, Bernis claimed “our numbers are growing and growing,” because “the Bible predicted that the day would come when the blindness would come off the eyes of the people it all began with,” referring to the Jews.
The organized opposition to Messianic Judaism in Israel is largely ultra-Orthodox. Still, in the larger culture, proselytizing is not socially accepted, and evangelists typically try to conduct it under the radar.
When I reported on Messianic Jews in Israel in 2012, I found they operated largely underground, particularly in Jerusalem, where they claimed a fear of reprisal from haredi opponents. At a youth conference organized by Succat Hallel at a concert venue in Tel Aviv, there was no signage indicating what was taking place, and organizers allowed me in on the condition that I didn’t report what happened inside. (There is, however, video of the event online.)
There appear to be no such concerns about secrecy around the Promise Keepers event, given its efforts to publicize it months in advance. Jesse said the group had held meetings with representatives of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, who were “very supportive,” and had a meeting scheduled with Jerusalem’s mayor.
Jesse was very clear that the event is aimed at bolstering Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel, with the spiritual and financial support of pastors in the United States and around the world. “There’s a general awareness that we want to get out about the responsibility of the gentile Christian church worldwide to stand with Israel,” Jesse told me, “specifically the Messianic community within Israel, the believing community. It says in Galatians says to do good of all men, but specifically those who are of the household of faith,” he said.
“We feel there are many organizations that call people to stand with Israel in general which is great and we support that,” Jesse added, “but our mission is to call Christians worldwide to stand with the believing community within Israel first and foremost.”
On a “practical long-term level,” said Jesse, the organizers plan to partner American pastors with Messianic congregations in Israel, “to build that relationship,” and to “have them continue that relationship after these pastors return home.” By mentoring, sponsoring, and supporting these Messianic congregations financially, said Jesse, “we believe that what will end up happening is a cycle, because as these people bless them materially, they’re going to receive spiritual blessing from being in Israel, and it’s going to create a cycle of blessing that’s going to really increase what God’s doing within both the congregations in Israel as well as these congregations throughout the rest of the world.”