(RNS) — An independent charismatic ministry has launched a 21-day prayer and fast for Israel, which its leaders believe will hasten Jesus’ return as part of the Second Coming.
The Isaiah 62 Global 21-Days of Prayer and Fasting, organized by the International House of Prayer Kansas City and its leader, Mike Bickle, is being billed as a historic gathering that will bring together as many as 1 million “intercessors” who will take turns praying an hour a day for what they call “the salvation of Israel.”
The prayer and fast, which began Sunday (May 7), will conclude on May 28, which is Pentecost. The Christian holy day commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Bickle said the fast is part of a network of thousands of evangelical ministries across the world who are mobilizing their followers to join for the three weeks of prayer and fasting.
It did not appear that anyone was traveling to Israel in person.
The event is named for a passage from the Book of Isaiah that says, “I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night.”
The purpose of the fast is to awaken Jews to the God of Israel, which they believe took on human form as Jesus. Once they do, Jesus will return.
“When Israel wakes up spiritually, Jesus says, I will come down from heaven,” Bickle said in a YouTube segment with evangelical singer and activist Sean Feucht. “The Second Coming is actually connected to the Jews saying yes to Jesus. And the Jews saying yes to Jesus is related to the gentiles standing for God’s purpose for Israel.”
Since 1999, Bickle, a self-proclaimed prophet, has led a prayer room in Kansas City devoted to nonstop 24/7 prayer. The prayer room is staffed intermittently by some 600 worship leaders, called missionaries, who lead musical prayers around the clock. Anyone can tune in online.
Bickle did not respond to requests for interviews.
The 67-year-old evangelist was originally a megachurch pastor in the Vineyard Fellowship movement. He then became part of a group called The Kansas City Prophets. Among them is Lou Engle, also of Kansas City, who has a prayer group called TheCall Ministries.
“In most charismatic and a lot of American evangelical circles there’s a really big focus on Israel being key to Jesus coming back,” said Brad Christerson, a sociologist at Biola University who co-wrote with Richard Flory a 2017 book, “The Rise of Network Christianity,” that features Bickle’s ministry. “They pray for the salvation of the Jews, for protection over the city and nation and for End-Times prophecy regarding Israel to be fulfilled.”
Bickle, who has 79,000 Instagram followers and 69,000 Twitter followers, is not opposed to Jews. He rejects Replacement Theology, which teaches that the church is the new or true Israel that has permanently replaced or superseded God’s covenant with the Jewish people. He believes Jew and gentile will all be united in the end.
His ministry has a 24/7 prayer room in Jerusalem overlooking the Mount of Olives called Succat Halell, or the Tabernacle of Praise.
Jews have long resisted efforts at conversion, and some who learned about the fast were not enthusiastic about it.
“To pray for us to abandon a tradition that is beloved by so many is tone deaf,” said Rabbi Joshua Stanton, an interfaith leader who works with the evangelical community.
American and Israeli Jews have mostly developed warm relations with evangelicals, many of whom, driven by their End Times beliefs, visit Israel frequently and contribute millions of dollars in aid.
But Bickle has a mixed record among Jews. In a 2011 sermon, Bickle said God would give Jews a chance to convert to Christianity and “raise up the hunters” against those who refuse,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. Bickle also called Hitler “the most famous hunter in recent history.”
The Anti-Defamation League called the 2011 sermon “abhorrent, intolerant and unacceptable.”
Bickle, however, has not strayed from his mission.
“Mike Bickle is not distractible,” said Steve Hickey, a seminary professor at Alaska Christian College and a former pastor. “He’s very focused. He’s got a very biblical and responsible approach.”