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JERUSALEM (BP)–Spiritual oppression against faith in Jesus has reached an intensity in Israel unknown in modern days, according to a Southern Baptist International Mission Board worker.
When John Anthony came to the Holy Land 24 years ago, “one or two” struggling congregations of Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah were meeting for worship, he said. Now the number of such Hebrew-speaking congregations has grown to 52 — and 11 are in Jerusalem. At least 5,000 Messianic Jews are thought to be living in Israel.
Anthony said he believes Satan is causing increased Muslim and Jewish Orthodox fundamentalism in the region to stop God’s movement in drawing lost Jews to himself. Violence brought by religious extremists in the country reflects not only political struggle but also supernatural opposition against Jesus as Messiah, he said.
The most recent incident of Islamic extremism came July 30 when two suicide bombers detonated 22 pounds of explosive and sharp metal shrapnel in Jerusalem’s bustling Mahaneh Yehuda vegetable market.
The terrorists, later tied to the militant Palestinian Muslim group Hamas, walked to opposite ends of the market and blew themselves up. The market is just a five-minute walk from Baptist House Center, site of Jerusalem Baptist Church, where Anthony is pastor.
Besides the bombers, 13 people were killed. Eighty-two others were hospitalized, including 18 in critical condition.
“A number of our friends shop at this location on a regular basis, not to mention the occasional visits we make there,” Anthony said. “I guess it just gets closer all the time.”
One of Anthony’s friends, Petra Heldt, was hospitalized in the attack with burns on her face and arms. She directs the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Jerusalem. “Like most everyone else, she was simply there buying some groceries,” Anthony said.
“There is a supernatural element of the enemy that is moving against believers in Israel right now. Read the Book of Mark … read about the demonic activity. The Book of Mark is alive and well today in many ways in Jerusalem,” he explained.
Anthony and his wife, Connie, have watched “waves” of spiritual oppression sweep across Israel. From 1972 to 1982, people bashed out windows at the Baptist center 10 or 12 times and bombed it twice. “We were threatened, harassed, spit at, demonstrated against, and our church was burned down. I thought I was going to be killed several times. My wife was attacked twice on the street by Muslims.
“That was a real oppressive time,” Anthony said.
Still, opposition then came from a few extremists. And for the next five years even that seemed to dissipate. The number of Jewish believers in Jesus continued to multiply. Then in 1987 Palestinians launched the “Intifada,” an uprising against the Israeli government. Violence again became commonplace. And it presented a new obstacle for the gospel.
In 1994, the process to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians seemed to offer a return to normalcy. But in late 1995 a Jewish fundamentalist assassinated Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in an attempt to derail the peace process.
“With the assassination, (and) until now, we’re in a whole new season of satanic oppression,” Anthony said. “What’s happening right now is that with the rise of Jewish Orthodox fundamentalists and their growing power, there is persecution openly against believers in the Messiah.
“It has never happened before in such a great amount of vast comprehensive oppression.”
A proposed law working its way through the Israeli legislature would limit evangelical work among Jews. The law has received wide publicity and is considered by many Jews to be undemocratic. Its ultimate passage or rejection will be a partial test of fundamentalist Orthodox Jews’ power to influence Israeli society today.
Orthodox Jewish fundamentalists are more scared than ever about the growing number of Messianic Jews, Anthony said. “They’re (Messianic Jews) becoming a threat. They’re not whimpering with their tails between their legs. They’re standing up and fighting for their rights, and witnessing in the streets,” he added. “Please pray for Israel and the peace of Jerusalem.”

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  • Marty Croll