J.K. McKee delivers the August 2022 Outreach Israel News update.
Is your spiritual and mental condition best described with words such as: confused, upset, or disappointed? If these, or similar words, are appearing more frequently in your vocabulary, rest assured you are not alone. Today as we look at the condition of the worldwide Body of Messiah—and in particular what is taking place in Western civilization—many of us have reason to pause and be in a state of shock. While a number of people are of the position that there are going to be a series of victories for good over obvious evil, we may only witness ourselves being saved from quasi-communism and see it replaced with a libertarianism for a while. Perhaps some good things may happen in the coming days, but the social ramifications and long term influence of the hard Left are not going to so easily go away. Their influence on theology and spirituality are things that many people of faith do not like to acknowledge or recognize.
One of the most significant prophecies, regarding the restoration of Israel in the end-times, appears in Deuteronomy 28:13: “Adonai will make you the head and not the tail, and you will be only above and not below—if you listen to the mitzvot [commandments] of Adonai your God that I am commanding you today, careful to do them” (TLV). It is decreed that there will be a reversal of past situations, not only of Israel’s exile and ridicule among the nations—but also that Israel will come to a position of leadership and direction. The analogy of the head and the tail of an animal is clear enough. Israel will stop being the proverbial “tuchas,” as the Yiddish term goes, and will become the brains of the operation. The condition for this is, “do not turn aside from any of the words I am commanding you today, to the right or the left, to go after other gods in order to serve them” (Deuteronomy 28:14, TLV). Far from being dominated by the world and its false gods, Israel will have the answers that the world is seeking, being the representatives of the One True God on Planet Earth!
Today’s Messianic people are of the broad conviction that what is prophesied in Deuteronomy 28:13-14—perhaps in conjunction with the New Covenant expectations of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27, and God writing His Instruction onto a transformed heart and mind—are things that doubtlessly should be taking place today in the Messianic movement. We fully affirm the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom in Messiah Yeshua, and certainly that the Jewish and non-Jewish Believers, who make up this very special and unique faith community, should be the head and not the tail. We should be the brains and not the tuchas! Because we read Scripture and approach world events through the lens of Acts 1:6 and Romans 11:26, when challenges present themselves, we should look at them as opportunities to learn and see our effectiveness for God’s Kingdom improved.
Many of us are innately aware of the theological and spiritual challenges which have presented themselves, and continue to present themselves, to the broad Messianic community. We have had to sort through matters such as: Two-House, One Law/One Torah, Hebrew Roots, false end-time prognostications, charismatic abuses, Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, how to demonstrate Jewish and non-Jewish unity as one new humanity, how to declare the good news to the Jewish community, how to properly welcome in non-Jewish Believers who are called to the Messianic movement and are embracing their faith heritage in Israel’s Scriptures. In far too many cases, the Lord has had to use some form of drama, for us to address an important topic or controversial issue. Yet today, what has arrived on the scene is likely to make all of the divisive matters we have thus far encountered seem very petty and infantile.
What is the biggest matter facing conservative communities of faith? Wokeism. Generally speaking, the older someone is, the less likely they are in tune with the influence of Wokeism—and the younger someone is, the more likely they are not only aware of Wokeism, but they have been influenced by it. Not unlike the drug culture, sexual revolution, and anarchist movements of the 1960s, the Wokeism of the 2020s does not quite know what it is, or what its goals are. The hyper-liberal and hyper-progressive wave, sweeping through much of Western society, does have some parallels with what was seen in the Hippie culture of the 1960s. It frequently employs chemical substances, it promotes LGBTQI, and it is opposed to the establishment. It also often claims Yeshua, or Jesus, as one of its biggest supporters! It is short sighted and naïve of any of us to think that Wokeism is just a temporary phenomenon that will blow over, or a fire that will just burn itself out.
Wokeism, the hyper-liberal and hyper-progressive wave sweeping through much of society, and capturing the attention of many young people, is something that today’s Messianic movement needs to be paying very close attention to. We need to pay attention to this for many varied reasons. It is something that, without a doubt, is going to affect a great deal of the secular Jewish community—the main people who we have been commissioned to reach with the good news of Messiah Yeshua. Wokeism, and its acceptance by many Protestants, is going to see a huge sector of evangelicalism move toward post-evangelicalism—the main people who have, for decades, supported and stood with the State of Israel, supported Israel’s right to exist from Biblical prophecy, and have helped the Messianic Jewish movement in innumerable ways. And, if you can believe it, Wokeism has an appeal to many of the young people in the Messianic movement, some of whom have been spiritually reared in controlled, overly-conservative environments—where asking questions and dialoguing over controversial matters have not always been the pattern, or at times permitted.
My ministry track record over many years has been wanting to provide a constructive solution to the difficult issues facing today’s Messianic people. I do believe that in this present season, it is not difficult to discern how Wokeism has exposed our weaknesses. Many of these weaknesses were not our own fault; too many of us were simply unaware or under-informed as to the pleas and cries of those who did not have a voice. Many of these weaknesses, however, did come as a direct result of some people wanting to delay, ignore, or even terminate discussions on topics which they knew were going to be divisive. Yet now in mid-to-late 2022, no topic or issue, no matter how inconvenient, can be put off or dismissed. As Paul directed in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong” (NRSV). If we do not confront our various limitations, and employ the proper modifications, alterations, and corrections—then we are not going to help the present challenge: a possible hemorrhage of young people from the Kingdom of Light to the Kingdom of Darkness.
Sabbath, Feasts, Kosher Will Be What Aids the End-Time Saints?
For many people, especially non-Jewish Believers whom God has called into the Messianic movement, the Messianic experience is all about things like remembering the seventh-day Sabbath/Shabbat, the appointed times or moedim, and a kosher style of diet. For certain, these are good things which can not only bless and enrich God’s people, but are actually designed to teach us about the end-times: “These are a foreshadowing of things to come, but the reality is Messiah” (Colossians 2:17, TLV). Some, especially from evangelical Protestant backgrounds, have made some significant sacrifices in no longer celebrating traditional Christian holidays or in eating customary family recipes with pork or shellfish.
There are various challenges that people go through, when it comes to adopting these various elements of the Messianic lifestyle. While many will immediately think that non-Jewish Believers from established church backgrounds have the most to give up—as they enter into new patterns of doing things—Jewish Believers too, often have their own difficulties. Most Messianic Jewish Believers were raised in secular homes, where there were tacit and cultural remembrances of various Torah practices, but with limited interest in a relationship with God. It is not a surprise why so many of the debates, external and internal, that today’s Messianic people have, concern matters like keeping Shabbat or kosher, or what to do when Christmas and Easter come on the calendar.
A number of people in today’s Messianic community have the center of their faith seemingly focused around matters like Shabbat, the appointed times, or kosher—and not necessarily the Messiah. Now, while today’s Messianic people all acknowledge the great blessings of these Torah practices, our faith has to be fully centered around Yeshua the Messiah. Some, as we have seen far too frequently, actually believe, albeit falsely, that their remembrance of these Torah practices may actually merit them special favors and protection by the Lord in the end-times. Think about all of the Internet memes that you have probably encountered from Hebrew Roots people on social media touting Isaiah 66:17 and God’s judgment upon those who eat pork in the Last Days. Notwithstanding that Isaiah 66:17 would imply that the dietary laws have hardly been abolished—it is quite shallow for anyone to immediately conclude that simply eating bacon or a ham sandwich is going to merit eternal damnation, when the language of Isaiah 65 and 66 is rooted within the practices of Ancient Canaanite paganism. So, whatever judgment is issued by God, will be in association with far more than what people eat. Still, there are those who actually think that God will give them special protection in the Last Days, because they do not eat pork—among other things that make them so-called “Torah observant.”
Yet, how empowered are such people going to be, in declaring the good news of Israel’s Messiah in the Last Days, when so many of them are often unable to relate to, or even be that informed of, the condition of our fallen world? How many of those who label themselves as “Torah observant” are broadly incapable of adequately communicating the justice, mercy, and love of God to their fellow human beings who need an encounter with Him?
Is it not true that God’s people in the Last Days know Yeshua and keep the commandments? I know how often I have seen the verses quoted in Messianic teachings. Revelation 12:17 says, “So the dragon became enraged at the woman and went off to make war with the rest of her offspring—those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Yeshua” (TLV). Also Revelation 14:12, “Here is the perseverance of the kedoshim [holy ones/saints]—those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Yeshua” (TLV). I agree with the premise that the end-time Believers will know Yeshua as Savior and keep the Torah’s commandments—and I further agree that many have dismissed legitimate blessings from the Lord by not remembering the appointed times or Shabbat, among other things. I have seen these two verses in Revelation stress the need for a Torah foundation, something I also agree with. But having been twenty-seven years in the Messianic movement (since 1995), I have personally grown tired and weary about hearing about the need for a Torah foundation, and seeing too many people going through the weekly Torah portions with the same selective points made year after year—when what having a Torah foundation is supposed to do, is to help us better understand God’s character, His interactions in history, and for our value system to reflect God in a marred world suffering from the consequences of its sin.
Keeping God’s commandments for a born again Believer, possessing a transformed heart and mind by His Spirit, is going to have to more consciously consider those frequently-quoted statements focusing on the weightier matters of Torah. Micah 6:8 decreed, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV). Yeshua’s words to the Pharisaical leaders in Matthew 23:23 are also not new to us: “[you] have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (NASU). Certainly in a great deal of historical Protestantism—while not necessarily observing the appointed times of Leviticus 23 or the kosher dietary laws—there has been an emphasis on responsible Christian people observing Torah commandments that compose the weightier matters, in particular the just principles spoken of by the Messiah in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chs. 5-7).
As wonderful a blessing as Shabbat, the moedim, or kosher can indeed be—how many of us have made a strong effort to really focus on the weightier matters in our Torah studies and commandment keeping? I cannot speak for every Messianic person, family, or group—because I know that some genuinely do their best to focus on the weightier matters, but then others would have significant problems with doing so. For a variety of complicated reasons, many do not want to see how God’s people in the Last Days keeping His commandments has far more to do with how their ethics and morality are grounded in a foundation of Torah. This is why the end-time Believers reject the beast system. It has far less to do with taking a rest on the Sabbath, and far more to do with the culture of life that Torah is intended to promote. Are you ready to see your future studies of the weekly parashah focus on the moral and ethical code that—regardless of some of the childish debates we have witnessed over years involving non-Jews remembering Shabbat or the festivals—we all believe need to be followed by all of God’s people?
The arrival of Wokeism should be a huge shake up or wake up to all of us in the Messianic community, that a huge, sometimes overlooked, and even under-emphasized “Torah observance” is about a code of conduct and value system, rooted in the instruction of Moses’ Teaching. This will require a level of Torah engagement and discussion that many of us have not witnessed. Thankfully, many sincere and godly Jewish and Christian scholars have provided us with a great deal of useful insight, in matters that have faced many preceding generations of humanity.
Why Will Torah Study from an Ancient Israelite Perspective First, Likely be Difficult?
What does it mean for God’s people to have a Torah foundation? Are all of the Torah’s commandments intended to be followed by all of God’s people, in all places and in all times? How much of our misunderstanding of the Torah comes because not enough have followed that simple yet complicated rule of responsible Bible interpretation: interpret a text for its original audience first, then deduce principles for today?
Many of today’s Messianic people actually have a good handle on the Apostolic Scriptures or New Testament, precisely because they recognize that in order to understand some of its difficult passages or statements—that they need to interpret the various Gospels or Epistles, with First Century audiences in mind. This is especially true when reviewing the letters of Paul, and some of the difficult statements appearing in Galatians or Romans, which have been customarily and incorrectly interpreted as anti-Law. It can also be true when reviewing some of the tense clashes that Yeshua has with the Jewish religious leaders, and debates that were present within Second Temple Judaism. Today’s Messianic people are widely aware that in order to best understand the Apostolic Scriptures, they are reading information that is certainly inspired by God and is for them, but that it was not necessarily written directly to them.
For some reason or another, many of today’s Messianic people, in studying the Torah, have not transferred this same attention to detail to their reading of it. It is very true that Deuteronomy 30:11 directs, “For this mitzvah [commandment] that I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far off” (TLV). When one looks at, for example, the thousands of extra-Biblical regulations and opinions surrounding Shabbat, in a great deal of the Rabbinical tradition—it is clear enough that this was not God’s original intention in giving His people a day to rest. Some of the extra-Biblical insights can be useful, but a great deal of it is overkill. I think many Messianic students simply want to read the weekly Torah portion, and have its words convey something special to them—without a great deal of apparent “noise” from later generations of Jewish Rabbis. Depending on what the issue actually is, I can understand this. But still, what did the Torah’s instruction, stories, or account, mean to Ancient Israel in the Ancient Near East?
As all of us should be aware, Torah study and things of Torah have become a venue over many years, to springboard an entire host of ear-tickling teachings and controversies. At first, I am sure many of you encountered from some of the perspectives available so-called Hebrew letter pictures, a way of being able to apparently decipher the true meaning of Hebrew words without actually having to study Hebrew as a language, with parts of speech and grammar. But moving beyond this kind of falsehood, especially with the Hebrew Roots movement in full sway, other matters grabbed the attention of many: all of the different ways to pronounce the Divine Name YHWH/YHVH, varied and contradicting calendar systems correcting the supposed errors of the mainstream Jewish calendar, the need for patriarchy and polygamy to be restored to the Body of Messiah, and perhaps even why most non-Jewish Believers in the Messianic movement are really members of the Ten Lost Tribes. But even without some of this deception, just having to better inform people about the place of Shabbat, the appointed times, a kosher style of diet, the value of many Jewish traditions and customs associated with them, and the need to avoid rigidity and legalism, was present. Throughout much of the 2000s and 2010s, ministries like ours had to expect to spend a great deal of time and energy, sorting through a wide selection of matters, which we had not originally ever thought we would have to discuss.
And one of the biggest casualties of having to spend time confronting a number of these issues—is that not enough time was left remaining to help shift Messianic people over to more consciously recognizing that they need to read the Torah from the perspective of an Ancient Israelite audience first. Some of the biggest attacks against the Bible which are on the horizon, if not already here, are going to come from people who deride the Tanach or Old Testament. Every one of us should be aware that the significant bulk of the Torah’s commandments actually do deal with the ethical and moral code God wanted Israel to have. It is easy enough to recognize that a selection of these commandments were given against a backdrop of a Fifteenth or Thirteenth Century B.C.E. level of technology. It is not as easy, for example, for some to read from Israel being delivered from its slavery in the Exodus, and then as soon as Exodus ch. 21 hits, encounter Israel being given instructions on how to regulate slavery in its own society. Yet the answer to this, and other matters—such as claims of oppression of females, or claims of Israelite genocide against the Canaanites—can only be best understood from the vantage point of the original audience. We often find that the instruction, that God gave to Ancient Israel, was much less stringent and most progressive, if we can use that word, in comparison to the other law codes of the Ancient Near East. The Torah, as originally given to Ancient Israel, was a significant step forward from the consequences of the Fall in Genesis 2, but was not the complete answer—one which is only found in the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua, and in His decisive interpretation of Moses’ Teaching.
An ideology of Wokeism is going to most probably set itself the hardest against anyone who strongly believes in the importance of the Hebrew Bible or Tanach, the Old Testament. When we review Moses’ Teaching, we have to better understand its instructions for what they meant to their original Ancient Israelite recipients, and discerning the weightier matters of how its commandments informed the character and worldview of the Prophets, the Messiah, and the Apostles. In the short term, doing this is going to be difficult for many Messianic people, who may instead be conditioned to look for “hidden nuggets,” but it will be necessary if we intend to have better answers for the young people in our midst, being tempted by Wokeism.
Confronting Woke Means Difficult Things Will Have to be Mentioned
There are going to be many proposals across the religious world, as well as claims made, regarding the origins of Wokeism. For the most part, we should not be surprised when various spiritual leaders place most, if not all, of the blame upon: the world, society, the media, demons, and Satan. Certainly while dark, evil influences do play a role in the rise and acceptance of Wokeism, particularly among many young people—I myself am in a small minority, and am of the position that the religious Right and controlling spiritual leaders, more concerned about their power, have contributed the most to the rise of Wokeism. The biggest, single factor which has helped with the expanse of Wokeism has been for conservative spiritual leaders to fail to enter into dialogue with young people asking honest questions about God, the Bible, and human living. In terms of the Messianic community, which does tend to sit to the Right of much of the evangelical Right, simply evaluate how much our faith community has been growing the past three to five years. Is it more likely that young people are staying, or leaving? And are we really even attracting new people?
How has Wokeism exposed some of our weaknesses? Consider how difficult it is going to be, in just mentioning some of the subject matters which play into Wokeism. Over the past two decades and more, many across the broad Messianic and Hebrew Roots spectrum have rightfully stressed the need for God’s people to have a Torah foundation—but much of that Torah foundation has not been grounded in us having a firm ethical and moral footing in Moses’ Teaching, but instead too many people here and there focusing on finding ways to act spiritually and intellectually superior. So today in 2022, when we have a huge phenomenon like Wokeism dividing society, families, and taking too many young people into liberal and progressive religious circles—not enough people with some sort of “Torah foundation” are sufficiently prepared to address Wokeism, in a compassionate way that might actually bother to listen to those who are crying out for answers.
I recently completed a mini-series for my Today’s McKee Moments called “Woke Causes, Woke Effects” (July-August 2022), where I mentioned a few of the subjects that Believers are going to have to learn to talk about in a much more mature and less fundamentalist way: Biblical inerrancy, homosexuality, the rapture, Christian Zionism, relationships, and Creation versus evolution. There are, to be sure, other subjects I could have discussed. Yet not only do young people being enticed by Wokeism have some critical questions about these matters—but even people like myself. There has been an arrogance that many in the religious Right have demonstrated, by communicating their beliefs in a dogmatic and almost obscene way sometimes. Not enough, when talking about the sin of homosexuality, can honestly sit down with a person who is struggling with same-sex attraction—without, perhaps, coming across as immediately condemning that individual as being an “abomination.” Not enough, when expressing their views of Genesis chs. 1-11, are willing to at least hear why some people, who think that God directed evolution to bring about human beings, are not all immoral perpetrators of a social Darwinian survival of the fittest.
I do not have any instant answers to the Torah fundamentalism which has grown up in various sectors over the past two decades. This is why I believe that Wokeism has exposed our weaknesses. Too many have no idea how to best respond to the biggest social controversy since the 1960s—or for that same matter as to how we start to see the Messianic movement growing again, with young people committed to the salvation of Israel and living holy lives by keeping God’s Instruction. Very soon, we will be remembering the Fall High Holidays. Perhaps this year, we will all go before the Lord and ask Him for a special revelation of what we need to be doing in the future, the changes we need to make, and how we can be more effective servants for the purposes of the Kingdom…