God's Unfinished Business with the Pharisees

Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.

- Matthew 13:30 (NKJV)

JERUSALEM – A spiritual sifting is going on here today, as God prepares His people for our Messiah’s return in the final days. The Lord is about to separate the wheat from the tares for the final harvest (Matthew 13:30, NKJV).

During my travels to Israel over the last 30 years, I have witnessed the gulf widening between religious and secular Jews, particularly in Jerusalem, where it all began (and where the Prophets say it will all end). During a recent year, more than 17,000 residents—mostly secular—left Jerusalem and were replaced by nearly 11,000 newcomers, most of them religious Jews.

Israel was founded in 1948 by secular Jews hoping to create a haven for all persecuted Jews, and to create the Millennium without waiting for the Messiah to come.

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On the other hand, the Orthodox—descendants of the Pharisees who opposed Yeshua—are in the forefront of Israelis that do not follow Yeshua who are still longing for the Messiah to come. They will be crucial in the End Times as the only Jews eager to resume the altar sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple, which is mentioned by Yeshua (Matthew 24:15) and the book of Revelation.

Of course, many Messianic Jews will have no desire to perform the blood sacrifices, since Yeshua has offered the final one.

“There is a polarization going on, religious and secular,” I was told by Rabbi Yaakov Frankel, who runs a yeshiva for Jews returning to the faith. “But this must happen before Messiah comes.” Many other Orthodox rabbis echo this teaching from the Talmud.

While the Talmud was composed by men, not God, it is helpful for us to know its teachings in order to understand why religious Jews are so excited about the coming of the long-delayed Messiah whose name they don’t yet know.

There is a polarization going on, religious and secular, but this must happen before Messiah comes.

- Rabbi Yaakov Frankel

The Talmud says that the Messiah will come when the world is either entirely religious or entirely wicked. Think of it as a “zero sum game.” If all are wicked, the Messiah no longer has reason to delay coming and judging the world. If all are religious, Messiah needn’t wait any longer to come and usher in 1,000 years of world peace.

But I have asked several Orthodox rabbis if there might be a third possibility—what if the world becomes polarized between those fully religious and those stubbornly pagan, with nobody left on the fence? Yes, the rabbis replied, this would bring the Messiah.

We are not bound by the Talmud, but God’s sifting is going on before our very eyes, as attested by the New Testament.

“Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth?” Yeshua asked the disciples. “I tell you, not at all, but rather division . . . father will be divided against son . . . mother against daughter. . . ” (See Luke 12:51-53, NKJV). He was predicting the rupture of Jewish families, as some Jews would accept Him while others would not.

This is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago, and it is accelerating rapidly.

In this way, the Lord is working today to reverse the gravest religious apostasy in history, following the Emancipation of the Jews in Europe in the 1800s and the Holocaust of 1939-1945. After the recovery of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War in June 1967, religious Jews sensing the arrival of the Messianic age began roving the streets, looking for fallenaway Jews to invite home for “just one Shabbat,” and then another. Thousands of Jews have come back from agnosticism through this baal t’shuvah (master of return) movement. Today their children and grandchildren are becoming the second and third generations.

During my fourth visit to Israel, my wife Shirah and I had dinner at the home of Eric Mahr in northern Jerusalem, within sight of two Arab settlements. Mahr, a baal t’shuvah from Buffalo who made aliyah with his wife and children, discussed the change of heart that Jews must experience for the Messiah to come.

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“If the Jews will all be worthy by keeping kosher and Shabbos, God will hurry the Redemption,” he told us. “If they do not, then every prophecy in the Bible will come true, and there will be ‘wars and rumors of wars.’” I smiled to myself to hear my Orthodox friend using the words of Yeshua in Matthew 24:6.

True, Jews must do more than return to the Law; all men must embrace Yeshua Ha-Mashiach. But even as teachers of the Law, religious Israelis face bitter hostility from their own fallen-away people. Like Jonah in his day, secular Israelis are running from God and their calling as His messengers.

And so as we watch the hand of God separating the wheat from the tares, we must be wise. The return of Jews from atheism to Judaism mustn’t be viewed solely as a return to “the slavery of the Law” (much as it is, with many Orthodox still persecuting Jewish Believers in Yeshua). It is more than that. It is the process of God’s building up of the ancient Pharisee sect so that it will finally come full circle and, in time, stop rejecting Yeshua of Nazareth.

Let’s not forget that the Church at Jerusalem was actually a Messianic Jewish congregation that met in someone’s house but returned daily to the Temple. These Jews found no trouble in fitting Yeshua into their existing Pharisee Judaism. Neither will today’s Orthodox, as more and more of them become secret Believers in Yeshua, while continuing to attend their old synagogues, waiting for the others to also be touched by the Ruach ha-Kodesh, in God’s sovereign time.

His winnowing fan is in His hand,” said Yochanan the Immerser, “and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn. . .

- Luke 3:17, NKJV
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