Tribute to Peter Cohen
It is customary among the Jews to append the letters Z”L to the names of their departed righteous teachers. The letters stand for “zichrono li’vracha, ” which in English means “of blessed memory”.
This morning I pay tribute to Peter Cohen z”l – of blessed memory.
The earliest of the blessed memories dates back to the Bible classes Peter taught at Philadelphia House in Observatory. In these weekly gatherings of devoted students, the Spirit began to open my eyes to a deeper understanding of the Old Testament, the integrity of the Scripture and the pre-eminence of our Lord Jesus and his presense in every book, chapter and verse of the Hebrew scriptures. Peter’s special gift lay in his verse by verse expositions of Bible texts and his persistent application of the principle that “the testimony to Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).
With Gill and a few others we grew in knowledge and understanding as the Lord revealed deeper truth to us – embarking together on a painful yet exciting departure from views we had long held and cherished, in particular concerning the identity of the church and the salvation and role of Israel in the last days.
Peter’s new convictions came at great personal cost and sacrifice. Fully persuaded that the distinction between Jew and non-Jew in the Body of Christ is opposed to the spirit and stated purpose of the new covenant, namely the new creation of a new humanity identified in Messiah Jesus only, Peter ceased his Sabbath-day “Messianic” meetings in favour of a completely neutral and inclusive fellowship. Convinced that Dispensationalism unavoidably leads to an alternative gospel and salvation message for the Jew, and of the divisive and destructive consequences of Christian Zionism, especially to the Arab and Palestinian church, Peter started to contend vehemently against these teachings.
Peter was a true David who stood courageously against any number of insolent Goliaths. Peter’s widely circulated rebuke and exposé of the first version and most flagrantly heretical of John Hagee’s books, “In defence of Israel,” led directly to its retraction and removal from the shelves of Christian bookstores in South Africa.
With our ‘Israel in the Last Days’ conference in 2008 we hoped to put a check on the seemingly unstoppable advance of pop-eschatology among evangelicals in South Africa.
Notwithstanding his entry into the field of polemics, Peter continued faithfully to witness to the Jewish people. When Sean O’Sullivan emigrated to the USA in the year 2000, Peter and Gill took on the work of Messianic Good News, a ministry that started in Hamburg in Germany in the late 1800s. Many thousands of copies of a collection of Rabbis Testimonies were distributed free of charge to the Jewish communities in Johannesburg and elsewhere. A steady flow of compelling literature was produced and distributed, and often provoked a heated response from the Jewish community. At times Peter became intensely frustrated at the intransigence of the Jews and their sustained opposition to the Gospel – even to the point of despondency. “How shall they escape if they ignore such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3)?
While I neglected prior to Peter’s departure to ask him for his cloak, and for a double portion of his anointing, I have profited greatly from our close association over many years. Peter made a profound and lasting impact on my faith and Christian walk.
As with others who walked with uncompromising integrity before the Lord – Keith Green (1953-1982), Oswald Chambers (1874 – 1917) – the days of Peter’s sojourning among us may seem to us to have been too few or too short. But, remember Revelation 3:10: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”
As we who yet remain continue to contend for our precious faith in an ever darkening world, we do so in the light of the very great cloud of witnesses spoken of in Hebrews chapter 11 – the same cloud in which Peter shall reappear when our Lord shall come in the full manifestation of the Father’s glory. Until then, I shall sincerely miss my brother, friend and mentor, Peter Cohen of blessed memory.
Worcester, Western Cape
Sunday, 31 May 2020