Jonathan Cahn, a star on the religious right, says only belief in the “Prince of Peace” can protect Israel
The Israel-Hamas conflict has launched an armada of bad takes. Jonathan Cahn — an influential “messianic rabbi” who once prayed over Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago — is late to the party, but has uncorked one of the most bizarre rants since the beginning of the bloodshed.
In a new “prophetic” video, Cahn calls the initial Hamas attack “demonic.” But Cahn insists that the massacre of some 1,400 Jews has deep roots — stemming from the Israelis’ stubborn refusal … to accept Jesus.
Messianic Jews like Cahn uphold Jewish traditions, but tout Jesus as their savior. Speaking in front of green-screen images of the Holy Land, Cahn likens the “helpless” Jewish people to “sheep without their Shepherd,” who were unprotected “when the wolves came to the flock.” He paints this vulnerability as a problem of faith. “What if the Jewish Messiah already came,” he asks, “and most of them missed it?”
Only by turning to “Yeshua” (Jesus) as “their Prince of Peace,” Cahn insists, will the Jews of Israel find protection from “the Enemy” (Satan) who has long “raged against the children of Israel.” Invoking his own faith, Cahn alleges: “Without Him, there is no peace,” adding: “Only when they turn to Him, who is the hope of Israel, will they find their shalom.”
Far from a lonely internet crank, Cahn is “the most prominent messianic Jew in America,” religion scholar Matthew Taylor tells Rolling Stone. Cahn has gained notoriety as an end-times “prophet.” He is embraced by top figures on the religious right, and he has made deep inroads in MAGA world.
In addition to leading a congregation at his “Jerusalem Center,” Beth Israel, in Wayne, New Jersey, Cahn has surprising mainstream cred, writing a series of New York Times bestselling books. His shtick as an author is decoding current events as though they are somehow modeled on biblical stories.
Cahn first established himself as a cultural force with his bestselling 2012 book, The Harbinger, which explains 9/11 as a warning sign that God is removing his “hedge of protection” from America as a divinely favored nation because of cultural degeneracy. A far-right religious tract dressed up as a novel, The Harbinger got plugged by the likes of Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee, and sold more than 2 million copies. His newest title is The Josiah Manifesto: The Ancient Mystery & Guide for the End Times.
Think of Cahn as one part Dan Brown, one part Jew for Jesus. It’s a strange formula, but it’s been successful. And Cahn has built an avid audience of more than 800,000 YouTube subscribers. Despite its condemnable content, Cahn’s Israel-Hamas take went viral, earning more than 1 million views in less than a week.
What does it mean to be a “messianic rabbi”? Messianic Jews are typically ethnically Jewish, but Christian converts, believing that Jesus was, indeed, the messiah of the Old Testament. Today’s messianic Jewish movement emerged from the hippie-inflected “Jesus People” of the 1960s and ‘70s.
Rather than an offshoot of Judaism, messianic Jews should be understood as charismatic Christians, who nonetheless cling to Jewish customs and holidays. The movement is viewed as offensive within much of mainstream Judaism. “They see it as a missionary movement to convert Jews away from Judaism to Christianity, and they see that as deceptive,” says Taylor, a senior scholar with the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies.
Efforts to reach Cahn through his congregation were unsuccessful. But Cahn outlined his biography and religious views during a recent interview on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The son of a Jewish refugee — “my father escaped Hitler,” he explained — Cahn attended a synagogue as a child, but said he never felt God’s presence. As an atheist teen he became an avid reader of Nostradamus and science fiction. He stumbled upon Christianity by reading The Late Great Planet Earth, a hugely popular end-times prophecy book of the 1970s. And after a near-death experience as a teenager — in which his car, he said, was hit by a train, but he emerged unhurt — Cahn devoted his life to Jesus, whom he refers to by the Hebrew name Yeshua.
It is unclear what formal religious training Cahn has; one bio says simply he’s “known as pastor and rabbi.” Cahn’s religious views are heavy on end-times theology. In this belief system, the return of the Jewish diaspora to Israel is a precondition of the second coming of Jesus. But Cahn avows that the messiah won’t return until Israel’s Jews are also converted. He told the TBN audience: “Jesus said, ‘I’m not coming again, guys, until you Jewish people say … Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
The audience for such messages are not Jews, but fellow far-right Christians. Cahn has become a celebrity in a charismatic Christian movement fetishizes parts of the Jewish religious experience — to the extent that some follow the Hebrew calendar, blow shofars, and observe Jewish holidays like Passover. In his TBN interview, Cahn spoke to this Christian hunger for connection to Israel, telling viewers, “If you’re born again, you are Jewish; you are spiritually Jewish. That’s not hype. The bible says you are a citizen of Israel more than you’re anything else.”
Taylor calls Cahn “incredibly effective at activating evangelical fascination with Jews, and then leveraging that as a form of authority — that his interpretation of the Bible must be the right one, because he’s a Jewish Christian.”
Brad Onishi, a religion professor at the University of San Francisco and host of the Straight White American Jesus podcast, agrees. Onishi says of Cahn: “He has double legitimacy in the charismatic Christian world.” Cahn is seen as a prophet who has been called by God to speak: “He’s actually a Jew who saw the light, and saw Jesus was the Messiah — they exist!,” Onishi says, voicing the excitement he observes in Cahn’s followers. In this way, Cahn stands apart from other political leaders in the charismatic movement. “That’s not something that Lance Wallnau, or Che Ahn, or Dutch Sheets, or any of the others can match,” Onishi says. “They don’t have that clout.”
In the MAGA age, Cahn made his mark by helping the religious right gain comfort with Donald Trump. Insisting that modern American politics could be seen as an echo of Old Testament tales, Cahn cast Hillary Clinton as Jezebel — an infamous worshiper of false idols — and Donald Trump as the avenger Jehu, who ultimately had Jezebel thrown out a window to her death.
In 2019, Cahn earned an invitation to Mar-a-Lago, where delivered a “prophetic word” to Trump himself. Purporting to channel the language of God, Cahn declared before the U.S. president: “I have raised you up to be a Jehu to your nation.” Calling on Trump to care for Israel, Cahn continued in the voice of God: “My right hand will uphold you and you will fulfill the purposes for which I have placed you in your mother’s womb, for such a time as this.”
Cahn’s dark comments about the Hamas attack on Israel are deeply troubling to Onishi, who was raised in an evangelical church. “He’s basically saying that the violence — the immeasurable, unthinkable violence done by Hamas — was somehow the fault of those who refuse to pay homage to the Savior that Cahn adheres to and worships.” Onishi sees Cahn’s remarks as echoing an ugly, but consistent, throughline. “We saw this after 9/11 with Jerry Falwell senior. We saw this with John Hagee after Hurricane Katrina.”
For Onishi, Cahn’s comments lay bare a stark contradiction common to right-wing American Christians, who revere Israel — seeing it as critical to divine history — yet viewing Jewish people as failing their calling to worship Jesus, and ultimately not that important. “There’s an overwhelming, explicit, uncontainable ‘love’ for Israel,” on the one hand, Onishi says, but on the other, “a disregard for Jewish people.”