Friday, February 1, 2013

A Rabbi Looks at the Last Days by Jonathan Bernis


The first part of the book brings the reader's attention to what is happening in the Jewish community, and how it relates to the last days. “It is not possible...to understand the last days without understanding Israel's role in all this.” (41)
Bernis shares his own history, raised Jewish and then becoming a Christian during college. He eventually felt the call to go back to his hometown of Rochester, NY, to expand a small Messianic fellowship to a full fledged Messianic Jewish congregation.
He gives several reasons why Christians can know the “last days are near.” For example, Satan is increasing his attacks on the Jews. He reviews history and explains the “why” of the persecution.
Another sign is that scattered Jews are returning to Israel. (He spends some time describing his evangelistic meetings in Russia in May, 1993. He writes, of renting The Oktyabrsky Grand Concert Hall, “People who know this story often comment, 'What great faith you had!'” (67) Of the meetings, he writes, “...it was unlike anything seen since the Shavuot [Pentecost] almost two thousand years before.” (68) Words of comment fail me.)
Other reasons include the Gospel being preached to the nations, rise of Messianic expectations in Israel, and that the “times of the Gentiles” are being fulfilled.

The second part of the book concentrates on the reader's role in ushering in God's kingdom. When Yeshua returns, there will be a return to the Garden of Eden. (147) “The good news is that this world is on its way.” (148) And we “can help speed up its arrival... By doing [our] part to reach the Jewish people with the Gospel.” (148) “The revival of Israel is tied to revival for the world...” (149)
He helps us understand what words to use, etc., respecting the history of the Jews, as well as using the Old Testament exclusively.
He encourages Christians to celebrate the Jewish feasts and gives a description of them and their meaning.

Bernis writes about much more than the Jews and the last days. He recounts much of his own evangelistic work among the Jews all over the world. He also writes about the Jewish roots of Christianity, suggests doing things like celebrating the feasts, and critiques replacement theology. He covers the history of Jewish persecution and of the newly formed state of Israel in depth.
He laments that Christians are not focused on evangelizing the Jews. “There is a direct connection between the salvation of Israel and the return of Jesus to this earth.” (81,82)
He writes, “The Gospel began with the Jewish people.” (97) He says Christians have forgotten that it is “first to the Jews.” (Rom. 1:16) Bernis calls it an issue of “divine priority.” Focusing on evangelizing the Jews is part of “God's divine order.” (97)

There are a few issues I have with Bernis' book.
Bernis placed much emphasis on evangelizing the Jews as the salvation of Israel is necessary, he says, for the return of Christ. Imagine my surprise when I read, “After the blowing of the shofar as both a warning to the earth that leads to the outpouring of God's judgments and the shofar blast that summons us to meet Him in the air, we will see a national awakening take place with Israel as they recognize the one whom they have pierced...” (214, emphasis added) So now I am confused. Does the awakening of Israel happen after the “rapture”? Bernis does add that this awakening must happen before Jesus can establish His millennial reign. (216) He later writes, “...the Jewish people will continue to reject the cornerstone [Jesus] until a set time in history.” (218) He notes that Jesus is waiting in heaven and one of the things He is waiting for, before He returns, is “the salvation of Israel.” (222) But Bernis wrote earlier that the national awakening will happen after the trumpet blast.
He writes, “Until 1967, it was impossible for Jesus to return...” (97) This was because the Jews did not have control of Jerusalem until then. Also, “...[Jesus] simply cannot come back until He is invited back by His Jewish brethren.” (82) (Wow. I thought God was sovereign.)
He also writes, “I am convinced that God does nothing apart from the prayers of His people.” (170) So, how did God create the universe, before He created people to pray Him into action? Reading through the Bible, I find that God acted sovereignly many times, before any human prayed.
Bernis encourages Christians to embrace our Jewish roots. He writes, “...the first century church...was made up entirely of Jewish people or proselytes to Judaism. These people never forsook the traditions of their forefathers.” (197) “The Jews of the first century who put their faith in Yeshua never meant to start a religious movement that was separate and distinct from Judaism.” (198) In fact, he writes, Jesus is waiting in heaven for, among other things, “the Church's coming into its destined fullness...a fullness that includes returning to the Jewish roots of the faith...” (222) So, Christians not celebrating the Jewish feasts is preventing Jesus from returning?
I find this whole concept of Christians embracing their Jewish roots odd. Paul opposed Peter when Peter went “Jewish” in a Gentile setting (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul said a religious festival or a Sabbath day is “a shadow of things that were to come,” and that “the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17) The writer of Hebrews agrees, saying the law and the sacrifices (such as those at the Day of Atonement) were not realities but only shadows of the good things that are coming. (Heb. 10:1) I just do not understand why I, who have the reality of Christ, would want to celebrate the shadows.
With all Bernis covers regarding how Christians think of the Jews, he never addresses Bible passages like Gal. 3:7 (“it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”), Gal. 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek...”), nor Gal. 3:29 (“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”)

This book was not what I expected, based on the title. This book is mostly about the Jews, their persecution, and how Christians should evangelize Jews to bring on the return of Jesus.

Jonathan Bernis serves as president of Jewish Voice Ministries International. He is on a weekly television program and is a sought after speaker, teaching at seminars and conferences worldwide. He is a prominent leaders in the Messianic movement and is the author of several books. Jonathan, his wife and their two daughters reside in Phoenix, Arizona. You can find more about Bernis and his ministry at http://www.jewishvoice.org/.

Chosen Books (Baker Publishing Group), 240 pages. Publisher's product page.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from Chosen Books for the purpose of this review.

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