4.3.3 The Qur'an And The Death Of Jesus
Muhammad accepted Jesus as the Messiah and 11 times in the Qur’an calls Him this [Al-Masih]. And yet the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah make it clear that He was to die; and that although He would be human, and not God Himself, He would be somehow more than man. Yet in other places the Qur’an claims He was no more than a servant or messenger (43.59; 5.78). Semitic peoples understood clear enough that Messiah was and is a title far different to that of any other prophet (see the difference between the two in Mk. 8:28,29). It is a contradiction in terms to say that “The Messiah, Son of Mary, was no more than an apostle” (5.78). Jesus Himself pointed out that David thought that the Messiah would be greater than him: “ He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” (Mt. 22:43-45). Note that Masih is not an Arabic word; it is a word imported into the Qur’an and used solely of Jesus. “The greatest Muslim scholars such as Zamakhshari and Baidawi… admitted that it was a borrowed word” (Jeffrey, The Foreign Vocabulary Of The Qur’an p. 265). Yet the idea of Messiah in the Old Testament is based on Daniel 9:25,26: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined”. The Messiah was to die (“be cut off”). Yet He was to come before God Himself, and be given an eternal Kingdom on earth : “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like unto the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is and everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13,14).
“They [the Jews] said in boast “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary”. But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them…for a surety they killed him not” (4.157).
To deny that God gave Jesus to die for us is to turn away from the height of love which God showed. In the sacrifice of Jesus we see the very essence of love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life…In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:9,10).
Muslims seem to think that the love of God is shown by giving us things like health, wealth etc. But this is missing the point. The quintessence of the love of God is that He gave His Son. We may not be wealthy nor healthy; but the gift of God’s Son to die for our sins is what imparts a joy and grace to the whole experience of life and living. And there is an assurance that because God so gave Jesus, we will be granted “all things” of salvation: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?…For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:32,38,39). Islamic commentary on Abraham / Ibrahim’s willingness to offer his son is that a man could show no greater love than to offer his son. So, what greater love could God show than to offer His Son for us, whom He so loved? And yet Islam refuses to make this connection: they deny that God would be prepared to offer His Son to die.
Isaiah 53 is a prophecy of the crucifixion. Jesus applied Isaiah 53 to His own sufferings: “I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was numbered with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfilment” (Lk. 22:37). He clearly predicted His own death: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again…Behold, we go up to Jerusalem: and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again…Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Jn. 6:51; Mt. 17:22,23; 20:18,19.28). And He was willing to die (Mt. 26:39). He knew all that was going to happen, and yet He went along with it; He didn’t run away (Jn. 18:4).
There is a system of truth whereby one true thing leads to another. The fact that Jesus was the begotten Son of God shows His love. These ideas are often linked in John’s writings. The love of God is expressed to us in that He gave that only begotten Son to die for us. This makes a sharp contrast with Islam, which understands the love of God to be shown to us through His material gifts to us in this life, as a kind master may reward an obedient slave. Yet the love of God in giving His Son is so infinitely more passionate, gripping, tragic, and thereby the more demanding of response. This explains why in the 99 titles of God found in the Qur’an, never do we read of Him as “Father”. And yet this is the most common title for God in the New Testament. We can now become the Sons of God, His very own dear children (Rom. 8:14-16). The Divine parentage of Jesus, that God Himself had a son, opened up the wonderful possibility that we might become the Sons of this same God: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (Jn. 1:12). Because Islam has rejected the Divine parentage of Jesus, they have rejected the concept of God as their Father, and instead leave God as a distant being who mechanically judges sin and rewards the obedient. They see God as a master who owns a human servant: not as a Father who has a precious child. Quite simply, Islam denies the extent of the love of God; it shies away from a God who offers a close, constant, passionate relationship with those who wish to become His children. 1 John 3:1 says it all: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not”. Note that the Fatherhood of God was in principle taught in the Old Testament too (Ps. 103:13; Prov. 3:12; Is. 64:8; Mal. 2:10). The difference between a father / child relationship and a master/ servant one is that the basis of relationship is in the first one, love, grace, and care exist simply for reason of the fact that the child exists. The master / servant one is on the basis of duty and payment. We enter salvation only because it is our Father’s good pleasure to grant it to us (Lk. 12:32). This wonderful covenant relationship will result in a far more loving, grace-filled, compassionate life than that found in Islam. Jesus drew out the essential difference between the two systems in Matthew 17:25,26: “…What thinkest thou, Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? Of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free”. We as God’s children are free, under no obligation…apart from the endless obligation of gratitude and gracious response. Our debt to the Father and His Son becomes transmuted into a debt to all men (Rom. 1:14).
All this is why the Christian prays simply: “Our Father” (Mt. 6:9); whereas the Muslim must pray: “Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Reckoning” ( 1.2-4). We do not demean God by speaking of Him as Father; He has instead elevated us up nearer to His level, in that for those baptized into Christ, they too are Sons of God, joint heirs with His only begotten Son: “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together ” (Rom. 8:17). The love of God was revealed and is required of us, simply because Jesus was the Son of God, given to die to enable us to reach up to the level where He was and is: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another…And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him”(1 Jn. 4:7-11,16 ). The Sonship of Jesus opened the way for us to become adopted sons of God: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father “ (Gal. 4:4-6 ). We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). As Jesus cried “Abba, Father”, so can we who are in Him (Mk. 14:36 cp. Rom. 8:15,16). The love of God is revealed in that He sent His son to die for us (1 Jn. 4:9,10; Rom. 5:8). The love of Jesus likewise was crystallized in His death: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends…now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (Jn. 15:13; 13:1). To deny that He died is to deny this love, and to preclude ourselves from being touched and transformed by its very existence.
The love of God and Jesus was shown therefore in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died (Rom. 5:8). This is a far cry from the Islamic God who ‘loves’ those obedient to Him by giving them material blessings. In the parable of the prodigal son, the Divine Father runs out to welcome the doubting son (Lk. 15:20). This stands in direct contrast to 6.141; 7.31: “God loves not the prodigal…the wasters”. The story of the prodigal son being welcomed by the Father running out to meet him is just so powerful. This God is our God. He is not a God far away, but a God who is near (Is. 55:6). He is not a God who is totally different to us, as the Qur’an claims. He created us in His image (Gen. 1:27; James 3:9). We are to be imitators (Greek ‘mimicers’) of Him, as beloved children (Eph. 5:1). We are to be holy, because He is holy (Lev. 19:2); perfect, because He is perfect (Mt. 5:48). We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), hoping to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). In the cross, God rent the heavens and came down to be involved in the tragedy of humanity (Is. 64:1). This is the extent and passion of His involvement with us; and this is why I unashamedly appeal to you, to not keep God afar off. But let Him come near to you, in accepting that He had a Son, whom He gave to die to you, to make that way of escape for you from your own humanity…and appropriate that death and resurrection to yourself through the act of baptism.
It is on this subject that Islam and Christianity are mutually exclusive. The Qur’an says: “They neither crucified nor killed him” (4.157). Acts 2:23 says the opposite: “This Jesus…you crucified and killed”. The Qur’an gives no explanation of what happened to Jesus. To say that “so it was made to appear to them” begs the questions: How and why? To which no answers can be given. The Qur’an itself says that Jesus was on earth at the time, the Jews came to arrest Jesus, they wanted to have Him killed, and that someone was crucified that day looking like Jesus. For the Jews were convinced He was dead. If Muslims believe all this, then why not accept what is surely the more probable and logical- that Jesus Himself was the one crucified?
It is impossible for Him to have been snatched away to God’s presence in Heaven- for mortal flesh cannot see God. He was a man, of our nature [not of God’s nature]. So He would need to be granted God’s nature, which is immortal, if He were to be in Heaven. And yet Muslims believe Jesus will return and then die and be buried next to Muhammad. A mortal man can’t exist in Heaven, and yet the Muslim contention requires this.
To deny that Jesus died is to deny the New Testament as any kind of true record. And yet Muslims do refer to it- why, if it is so totally unreliable? Remember that Muhammad was told: “He sent down to you the Scripture [the Qur’an]…and He sent down the Torah and the Gospel” (3.3). John 19:25-27 records how Jesus on the cross speaks to Mary as his mother; why would Mary have been at the foot of the cross if it wasn’t Jesus there? And what about all the references by Jesus Himself to His upcoming death and resurrection (Mt. 17:9,22-23; 20:18-19; Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; Lk. 9:22; 22:22; Jn. 8:28; 12:34)? These would all be nonsense if He Himself never died. The Qur’an claims that Jesus said: “Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life again” (19.33)- and the same words are recorded of John the baptist (19.15). God said of Jesus, according to 3.55: “O Jesus! I will cause you to die and raise you to myself” (translation confirmed by Muhammed Asad, The Message Of The Qur’an p. 75). The same Arabic phrase translated “raise you to myself” occurs in 4.158, where it is said that God raised Jesus up to Heaven to escape death; but in 3.55 we are told that this raising up occurs after His death. The serious contradictions within the Qur’an have to be faced up to. And also it has to be noted that there is strong historical evidence that a man called Jesus was crucified as the New Testament says He was. To simply deny this is desperate indeed. And there was no need for a human substitute to have hung there instead of Jesus: for, as in His babyhood, God could easily have saved His Son from death without deceiving the world and causing an innocent bystander to die a painful death by torture.
The author was privileged to participate in a public debate with Immam Kalam Azad in New Amsterdam, Guyana on Easter Sunday, 2001 on the subject: “Did Jesus die on the cross?”. Videos and transcripts of the debate are available.