7. Death and resurrection of Jesus explained to Muslims

 

If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee.... (Surah, 10, Yunus, verse 94)

 

 

1. INTRODUCTION

 

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is without doubt the most important teaching of Christianity. It is not surprising then that this doctrine is also most disputed among non-Christians. In the pages that follow we will examine the evidence and look at common objections. The New Testament, known by Muslims as the Injil, provides the main historical source for information on our subject. 'The 'ancient document' principle under the Federal Rules of Evidence in the USA permits the authentication of a document to be made by showing that it is in such condition as to create no suspicion concerning its authenticity; Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, a lawyer, and dean of the Simon Greenleaf School of Law, comments about the application of the 'ancient document' rule to the New Testament documents: 'Applied to the Gospel records, and reinforced by responsible lower (textual) criticism, this rule would establish competency in any court of law.' ('The Resurrection - Proven Beyond Doubt', J. McDowell, Scripture Press, England, 1988, p. 32) More details on the dating and Manuscript authority of the Bible can be found in 'A Christian Response to Muslim Beliefs' and 'The History of the Quran and the Injil'. These booklets can be ordered from the author. The Bible reports the unique events of Jesus' death and resurrection in various places such as, Matthew 27:32-28:8, Acts 2:22-24, Romans 5:6-8. Furthermore, we will look at other facts which support those circumstances that have changed the world ever since.

 

 

2. PROPHECIES PREDICTED THE EVENTS

 

The death and resurrection of Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament, known as Torah to Muslims, hundreds of years before they took place!

 

'But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him...For he was cut off from the land of the living...he was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD'S will to crush him and cause him to suffer and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days...After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied...' (Isaiah 53:5,8-11, see also Psalm 22)

 

Some have asked, 'Jesus is never mentioned by name in the Torah. Why do the Christians say he had been foretold in it?'

 

While it is true that we do not find the name "Jesus" literally in the Torah, it is equally true that we find many prophecies in it that speak about someone to come in order to die for our sins and to be raised to life again! (e.g. Isaiah 53:5-11, Psalm 22, etc.) Since Jesus is the only one who has fulfilled those prophecies in every detail they clearly refer to him! He also confirms this fact himself! (Compare Luke 7:18-23 with Isaiah 35:1-6, Luke 24:44-47)

Besides that, the Old Testament book of Daniel, which has God's sovereignty in world history as its theme, mentions two descriptions of the final, eternal ruler of the world. One is "son of man" (7:13-14), an expression Jesus used most frequently when He spoke about Himself! (Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 11:19; 12:8,32,40, etc.). The second one is the Hebrew word "Messiah", meaning "the Anointed One" (9:25-27), a title which in its ultimate meaning is exclusively given to Jesus both in the Bible (John 1:41, 4:25) and the Quran (Surah 3, Ali 'Imran, verse 45). These exclusive titles by which Jesus is known in the Gospel are found in the Torah already!

 

 

3. JESUS SPOKE ABOUT HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION

 

He (Jesus) said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke 24, 44-47)

 

H.M. Baagil argues in his booklet 'Christian Muslim Dialogue' on page 28, 'Suffering is often exaggerated in the Bible and termed 'dead' as Paul said in 1Cor 15:31: ...I die daily, meaning I suffer daily.'

His statement itself is an exaggeration as the word "die" is mostly used literally. Only in a few cases it is synonymous with suffering. In all passages the usage is easily determined by the context. By looking at it the reader will see for himself that in Jesus' case it is clearly to be taken literally and in Paul's case the word is meant symbolically. However, the word "kill" which occurs in the next verse and is clearly distinguished from the word "suffer" is always used literally in the Bible!

 

'From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.' (Matthew 16:21)

 

 

4. WITNESSES CONFIRM EVENTS SURROUNDING JESUS

 

'When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit...The man who saw it (John, see verse 26) has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth and he testifies so that you also may believe.' (John 19:30,35)

 

'...and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:5,6)

Besides that direct evidence here is very considerable circumstantial, indirect evidence, that can be drawn from the details of the New Testament accounts:

 

The resurrection alone can explain the change in the disciples. They turned from a bunch of terrified, traumatised individuals into bold and fearless proclaimers of a new, revolutionary way. In the midst of incredibly hostile conditions they stood their ground. Eleven out of the first twelve followers were killed for their beliefs. It is most unlikely that they would have sacrificed their lives for a lie. Today, countless people still experience a dramatic change in their lives as a direct result of their belief in Jesus.


The authorities could have easily refuted the claims of the resurrection by producing the body of Jesus.
In the most unlikely case that Jesus had only swooned at the cross the critics of the new movement need only to have brought him in front of a court of law to show that the claims for the resurrection were outrageous.
Evidence of women at that time was inferior to that given by man in a court of law. Yet the Gospel gives a central role to women in the resurrection account. Why would anybody deliberately weaken the evidence if the story were just made up?


At one point the relatives of Jesus thought him to be mad. Considering the fact of how sceptical brothers are of each other why did James shortly afterwards become the leader of the Church in Jerusalem? What else, apart from the Resurrection, could have affected such a change among his family?


Most early Christians were of Jewish background. The most unusual change in their day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday can only be explained because the resurrection took place on the first day of the week. Christian water baptism dates back to the first believers. Immersion into the water signifies the death of one's old life while the coming up out of the water is a symbol for being resurrected into a new life with Jesus. Without the historical facts of Jesus' death and resurrection such a teaching would never have become a standard practice in the Church. Neither would the regular observance, known as 'Holy Communion', since through it the death of Jesus is proclaimed until he comes again.

 


5. HISTORIANS RECORDED LIFE AND DEATH OF JESUS

 

Mostly hostile historians recorded the life and death of Jesus as historical facts. Their names are Pliny, Cornelius Tacitus, Thallus and particularly Josephus, a Jewish general who defected to the Romans and wrote the Jewish history for them:

 

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many Jews and Gentiles. He was the Christ (Messiah). And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal amongst us, had him condemned to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousands other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." (Antiquitates indaicae Vol.18,III:3)

 

 

6. MUSLIM DISAPPROVAL EXAMINED

 

A. Christians say that Jesus is God, but how can God die, eat, sleep, etc.?

The answer is found in Philippians 2:6-7:

 

(Jesus) who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!

 

God revealed Himself in Jesus as perfect man. As such he was given birth by his earthly mother Mary, he had a normal human body, and therefore, he naturally felt hungry weary and could be put to death on a cross but in his human nature only. In his humanity he could also make statements like,

 

'By myself I can do nothing...' (John 5:30)

'...the Father is greater than I.' (John 14:28)

 

In other words, Jesus has two natures; He is fully man and fully God!

 

God is limitless in His presence, but by His choice he may manifest himself in a limited way for the good of man. This is also what he did when he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush (Exodus 3:4, Surah 28, Al Qasas, verse 30). Nothing is impossible for God!

 

A manifestation of the sun to humans takes place through a tiny reflection on the retina of the eye. This image shows the whole sun while the sun remains itself. In the same way, Jesus shows God while God remains the same.

 

B. At the resurrection of the dead people will get spiritual bodies.

 

Jesus appeared to his disciples after the crucifixion in his natural body, which shows that he die not die.

 

Ahmed Deedat argues Jesus Christ denied that he died on the cross by showing his disciples that he was not a ghost (Luke 24:36-47). Deedat refers to 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 and explains that anyone would receive a spiritual body when he raises from the dead, in other words he would not have flesh and bones as Jesus had. Since Jesus denied he would be a ghost who has a spiritual body, he also denied that he died in the first place. (see Video entitled, "Crucifixion, Fact or Fiction?" featuring a debate between Ahmed Deedat and Dr. Robert Douglas)

As Dr. Douglas already pointed out very well in the debate, the word "spiritual" has different meanings (Galatians 6:1) depending on the context of the passage. In 1 Corinthians 15;35-44, referred to by Ahmed Deedat, it is the general resurrection of mankind at the day of judgement.

 

Hebrews 9:27 also speaks about the final judgement day when it mentions that man has to die once. Deedat quotes the first part of this verse out of context and comes therefore to the wrong conclusion that Lazarus did not die he only swooned. However, the text (John 11:17-44) tells us unmistakably that he had already been in the tomb for four days! In four other circumstances (Luke 7:11-15, Matthew 9:18-26, Acts 9:37-42; 20:9-12) it is equally clear that the people who experienced a bodily resurrection where dead before.

 

In all those instances a miracle took place, which by its very nature had to break the realm of the ordinary. Normally the resurrection takes place only once and people receive a spiritual body, but in those cases it occurred before the judgement day and with a physical body that people would believe Jesus is Lord!

 

As a miraculous sign (Matthew 12:38-39) He rose from the grave in a combination of both ways described above. His resurrected body had flesh and bones too (Luke 24:39) but in addition was able to walk through locked doors (John 20:26)! The expression 'spiritual body' therefore, does not mean nonmaterial but radically different in that it will be imperishable, powerful and glorious.

 

This reasoning is in line with the general view, "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve." (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)

 

C. Like Jonah, Jesus did not die either

 

The argument of the Muslims who hold the above objection is built on the following verses:

 

'Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, 'Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.' He answered, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.' (Matthew 12:38-41)

 

In this passage Jesus refers to His death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection on the third day. The words "three days and three nights" refer to a common Jewish reckoning of time and mean the same as when a European would say "three days". According to the Talmud, a Jewish commentary to the Mishna (written regulations about life in the Jewish community), any part of a day is counted as a full day in Jewish thought. Since Jesus was born into a Jewish culture, His words need to be understood in the Jewish context. He died on an early Friday evening (Matthew 27:45, reckoned as 1. day), remained in the grave the whole of Saturday (Matthew 27:62, reckoned as 2. day) and rose from the dead on Sunday morning (Matthew 28:1, reckoned as 3. day). This same way of counting part of days as whole days is found in other parts of the Bible:

 

"Sir", they (the chief priests and the Pharisees) said, we remember that while he (Jesus) was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day..." (Matthew 27:63-64)

 

Here we see that the words "three days" and "until the third day" are used interchangeable because they have the same meaning! For more examples please read Genesis 42:17-20 where Joseph puts his brothers into custody "for three days" and released all but one "on the third day". These two phrases are used interchangeably because they express the same truth. The words "three days and three nights" where an Egyptian was neither eating or drinking in 1 Samuel 30:12 are explained in verse 13 to be equal to "three days". In Esther 4:16 the Jews, including Esther, decide to fast for "three days, night or day". Chapter 5:1-6 makes it clear that they broke the fast "on the third day" because that is exactly what is meant by the expression "three days and three nights"! When Jesus refers to His death on the cross and His resurrection as the sign of Jonah He wants to declare the following main truth: In the same way as Jonah rose again from what normally is leading to a sure death, (being swallowed by a huge fish for three days) Jesus too will raise again after three days from what usually no one can escape, from death! Jesus likens what will happen to Him with the story of Jonah also in regard to the time factor, the three days. Since we must not take everything literally in an incident that is used as a sign to compare with another situation, the fact that Jonah stayed alive in the belly of the fish cannot be used as a proof that Jesus too must have survived the cross alive. This way of arguing would lead us into big problems because then we would also have to try to apply the other details of Jonah's story to what happened to Jesus. This is impossible because Jonah disobeyed God, Jesus did not, a huge fish swallowed Jonah, Jesus was not, etc. This same way of using a comparison to communicate one major truth only is found in other parts of the Bible:

 

'For as lightening that comes from the east and is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.' (Matthew 24:27)

 

The context (verses 23-25) shows that the only point Jesus makes in this verse is that His return will be visible everywhere. To read into His statement more than this would be a dangerous speculation. The sign of Jonah has to be studied in its wider context. Besides many verses that clearly mention Jesus' death and resurrection, verses 18-22 of John, chapter 2 help to further clarify the matter:

 

'Then the Jews demanded of him, 'What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.' The Jews replied, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?' But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scriptures and the words that Jesus had spoken.'

 

Here again Jesus is asked for a miraculous sign and He repeatedly states that they would find it in His resurrection from the dead after three days! But this time He makes it clear that they would destroy this temple, meaning they would kill His body!

 

It is not uncommon for Jesus to express the same truth (as in the sign of Jonah) but in different ways, with a slightly different emphasis (here stressing His death as well). For more examples of this method of teaching, please read Matthew 13: 24-30 and compare it with verses 47-50, or 13:44-46).

 

D. Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Getsemane for deliverance from the cross was answered

 

Dr Hasan M. Baagil built his case mainly on two passages:

i)

'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me (Jesus); yet not my will, but yours be done. An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.' Luke 22:42

Jesus was about to enter into the most horrific experience which finds no precedent in the whole of human history! It is summed up in the words,

'God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.' (1 Corinthians 5:21)

 

The reader may pause for a moment and try to take in the deeply profound meaning of that verse. Jesus, the one who was without sin took all our past and future rebellion and filth upon him to receive the punishment on our behalf, death! Much worse than the physical pain the crucifixion involved, is the emotional and the spiritual agony, expressed in its totality by separation from Him who is the very source of life! In such a dramatic event time ceases to exist. Death becomes synonymous with eternity for someone who enjoyed an unceasing relationship at the deepest level with the Almighty God. The sweat of Jesus was like drops of blood falling to the ground. This points to a possible hermatidrosis, the actual mingling of blood and sweat as in cases of extreme anguish, strain or sensitivity (see N.I.V. Study Bible, Zondervan Publishers, USA, 1985, footnote).

 

An angel came to strengthen him. All these surrounding circumstances point to a scenario of almost unbearable distress for which language is devoid of words. This is the real significance of the cup from which Jesus asked to be delivered by the Father, stressing that not his will but God's shall be done. In comparison the actual, physical death was the "least" and not the most important part of it as H.M. Baagil gave the impression (See, "Christian Muslim Dialogue" page 28).

 

Jesus' fully human plea shows that he indeed became a man like us. That he is without sin, in opposite to us, is made clear by the way he brings the request before his Father. It is embedded by the words, '...not my will but yours be done.' These kinds of wishes are not in themselves sinful as long as they are brought in subjection to God. If Jesus was first and foremost concerned with avoiding his physical death then he would be inferior to many brave saints before and after him. (Hebrews 11:37) Surely this can not be! When Jesus spoke to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, he said:

 

'Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?' 'We can,' they answered. Jesus said to them, 'You will indeed drink from my cup...' (Matthew 20:22-23)

 

Here, another reason is found why the 'cup' mentioned above can not refer to Jesus' physical death only. James was later to die as a martyr (see Acts 12:2). Not so John, he was banished to Patmos (Rev 1:9) and died a natural death. The only thing they both had in common with Jesus was not the physical death but the spiritual and emotional suffering for God's sake to a certain degree.

 

ii)

During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)

H.M. Baagil interprets these words to mean that Jesus was actually saved from the physical death on the cross as an answer to his prayer.

 

Kenneth S. Wuest, a well known New Testament Greek scholar writes on Hebrews 5:7: 'There are two words in Greek which mean 'from', 'apo' which means 'from the edge of,' and 'ek' which means 'out from within.' The second is used here. The Messiah prayed to be saved out form within death. Had the inspired writer used 'apo', he would have reported our Lord as praying to be saved form dying a physical death. At no time in his life did He pray that prayer.' (Wuest's Word Studies, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, 1992, page 101) The prayer was indeed answered! Jesus was saved out from within death through the resurrection! Hebrews 5:7 refers in particular to the prayers Jesus made while hanging on the cross. For example, his words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) are the beginning of a petition found in Psalm 22 which ends in thanksgiving for answered prayers!

 

E. Jesus did not die on the cross he only swooned

 

Muslims like Ahmad Deedat (see, "Crucifixion or Crucifiction?", H.M Bageel (see, "Christian Muslim Dialogue") and the Ahmadiyyas give new meanings to a number of verses from the Biblical account on the death and the resurrection. They would like to convince their readers that Jesus survived the crucifixion because he only became unconscious. Later in the cool of the tomb he allegedly recovered. By doings so they actually confirm that Jesus was crucified on the cross even though Surah 4, Al-Nisa, verse 157 is traditionally interpreted to mean that he was not crucified:

 

... 'whereas they killed him not nor crucified him '(Surah 4, Al Nisa, verse 157)

To say that the words in the Quran '..nor crucified him,' mean that Jesus did not die as a result of the crucifixion, in other words to be crucified means to be killed, is clearly wrong. In Acts 2,23 we read that the words 'to crucify' (to nail on a cross) do not necessarily mean, 'to kill.' If it was not so why would Peter have been inspired by God to say:

 

'This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.'

If the words 'nailing him to the cross' would be equal to 'death' there would be no need for one or the other! For a more detailed explanation of Surah 4, Al Nisa', verses 157-159 see the article 'Easter story found in the Quran?!'

 

F. Roman soldiers did not break Jesus' legs which would have caused his death

 

Did they want to save him because he was innocent? If he died on the cross, his blood would clot and not gush out of his body when his side was pierced.

 

H.M Baagil and others referred those arguments to John 19:32-34. To give the reader an idea how they take the issues out of context, he shall be provided with the surrounding verses 31-37 as well.

 

31 'Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: 'Not one of his bones will be broken,' 37 and, as another scripture says, 'They will look on the one they have pierced.'

Verse 33 states that the Roman soldiers found Jesus already dead. Mark 15:33-37 note that Jesus died about 3 PM on Friday afternoon, at the same time as traditionally animals were slaughtered for sacrifice at the temple! The body was taken down quite sometime before sun set (see Mark 15:42-47) which usually occurs around six PM during Spring when the crucifixion took place. That leaves approximately two hours at the most wherein Jesus' body was pierced with a spear. This is not enough time for blood within a dead body to clot. The Greek word used in verse 34 to say that blood and water flowed out is literally translated as just "came out". That indicates the piercing to have taken place shortly after Jesus died.

 

In 1986 the world famous "Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol 255, No.11, pages 1455-1463, March 21) published an article entitled, "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ." William. D. Edwards, MD, a pathologist wrote:

 

"Some of the scepticism in accepting John's description has arisen from the difficulty in explaining, with medical accuracy, the flow of both blood and water. Part of this difficulty has been based on the assumption that the blood appeared first, then the water. However, in the ancient Greek, the order of words generally denoted prominence and not necessarily a time sequence. ("Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research," Robertson, Nashville, Tenn, Broadman Press, 1931, pp 417-427) Therefore, it seems likely that John was emphasising the prominence of blood rather than its appearance preceding the water. Therefore, the water probably represented serious pleural and pericardial fluid, and would have preceded the flow of blood and been smaller in volume than the blood. Perhaps in the setting of hypovolemia and impending acute heart failure, pleural and pericardial effusions may have developed and would have added to the volume of apparent water. The blood, in contrast, may have originated from the right atrium or the right ventricle or perhaps from a hemopericardium...Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge." (Pages 462-1463) "...Death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus' death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier's spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross." (Page 1455)

 

G. The teaching that Jesus died on the cross for our sins contradicts Hosea 6:6 where God said:

 

"For I desire mercy not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings." (See "Christian Muslim Dialogue" by H.M. Baagil, page 31)

 

Hosea 6:6 and all others passages similar to it (1 Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 1:11-17, Micah 6:8, Psalm 40:6-9, Matthew 9:13, 12:7) when read in their context show clearly that God is not against sacrifice in itself. He only opposes those offerings that were done apart from faithfulness to his will. They are completely unacceptable to him. It is like those who go to the mosque on Fridays but during the week live a sinful life. God will never be pleased with their visit to the mosque under these circumstances.

 

H. Jesus can not die for someone else's sin because each one has to be punished for his own sins according to Ezekiel 18: 4: 'The soul who sins is the one who will die.'

 

It is true that each person is responsible for his own sins. A sinner can not take the place of another sinner and ask God to be punished on behalf of the other. Jesus however was without sin and therefore the only one able to take our sins and be punished for them in our place. In opposite to everyone else Jesus was sinless from birth (Surah 19, Maryam, verse 19, Hebrews 4:15). This truth is confirmed by the following Hadith: 'Satan touches all children at birth except Jesus' (Bukhari, Volume 6, page 54)

 

 

7. WHY DID JESUS HAVE TO DIE ON THE CROSS AND RISE AGAIN?

 

Why does God not simply forgive man when he committed sin? This is probably the most important question of all. If we can understand why Jesus had to die, it will be easier for us to believe that He did so. There are two main reasons for his death on the cross:

 

A) To restore God's honour

 

The Old Testament, known as the Torah by Muslims, tells the wonderful story of how God created Adam and Eve and later the Israelites to be his people. We learn how he loved them like a father loves his children. Time and time again, however, we read with great sadness how his chosen ones break his commandments, how they become guilty of lawlessness. Even more disturbing is the fact that their rebellion is only a fruit of a conscious rejection of the Almighty God. His own people spit in his face and bring shame upon him before the very nations they were supposed to be witnessing of his honour and glory. To make matters even worse, they were not ashamed of themselves:

 

'Therefore the showers have been withheld, and no spring rains have fallen. Yet you have the brazen look of a prostitute; you refuse to blush with shame. Have you not just called to me (God): 'My Father, my friend from my youth, will you always be angry? Will your wrath continue for ever?' This is how you talk, but you do all the evil you can.' (Jeremiah 3:3-5)

 

The people of old did as they pleased because they had lost a sense of shame. While their mechanical, outward ritual acts may still have been in place they were not concerned about God's honour at all. Repentance, the turning round from one's evil ways, was later expressed in terms of recognition of shame and disgrace. (Jer. 31:19) Likewise, our disloyalty to God, our resistance against his work among us is known and is exceedingly shameful. We too deserve to be punished ever so severely. Since God is pure, completely removed from all evil, man's sin has cut off, effectively killed, the relationship between the two. The warning given to Adam and Eve became a frightening reality:

 

And the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Gen 2:16-17)

'For the wages of sin is death,...'(Rom 6:23)

 

Only through death God's honour will be restored. Consequently God introduced an elaborate sacrificial system to the Israelites through Moses. Shame could be removed by getting forgiveness for sins, but only if an animal would die in their place.

 

'...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.' (Heb 9:22)

This all important truth is also reflected in 'Qisas' the Islamic law of retaliation. (Surah 2, Al Baqarah, verses 178-179) It consists in doing to the person who has committed a crime the very same thing they have done. The life of someone who is wilfully killed demands the murderer's life in retaliation. However, the next of kin can accept a financial compensation instead. According to Surah 5, Al Maida, verse 45, retaliation for inflicted wounds is also necessary. A nose for a nose and so on. If a member of the body which is to be cut off in revenge is defective, a compensation will be accepted.

 

From God's perfect perspective animal and all other sacrifices are defective. They can not take away sins but were only serving as a cover and a shadow of Jesus, the Messiah, the perfect sacrifice to come (Heb 10:1-18). He, being without sin, by taking our shame upon himself through his death on the cross, restored the honour of God in a most profound and just way:

 

'Moreover, the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him. I (Jesus) tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.' (John 5:22-24)

 

'Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' (Phil 2:5-11)

 

God raised Jesus from the dead confirming his authority, loyalty blessedness and blamelessness. Those who deny the cross refuse to accept God's generosity, his blessing. They dishonour the giver.

 

B) To meet the demands of God's justice and love

 

The Bible (Leviticus 11:45) and the Quran (Surah 59, Al Hashr, verse 23) tell us that God is holy. That means He is separated from anything that is unclean, bad, and hypocritical, in other words from anything that is sin. Both, the Bible (Isaiah 59:1-2) and the Quran (Surah 2, Al Baqarah, verses 35-36) tell us that sin separates man from God. Therefore, sin is not just a minor mistake, but absolutely intolerable in the sight of God! Another reason why sin has to be treated seriously, is because God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4, Surah 95, Al Tin, verse 8). He punishes every wrong doer and awards the one who does right. However, God will not judge according to our good or bad works alone (Romans 3:23-24, Surah 35, Fatir, verse 45). He loves us so much (John 3:16) that in His mercy he chooses to forgive our sins. But if He would forgive our sins without punishment, then in His mercy He would become unjust!

 

That is why God revealed Himself in Jesus and died on the cross for our sins. In Jesus God met the requirements of His justice and of His love! Jesus died on the cross on our behalf, for our sin. In Deuteronomy 21:23 anyone who hangs on a tree is described as being sinful and under God's curse. Galatians 3:13 explains that Jesus, himself without sin, became a curse for us because he took our sin on himself. After paying the penalty for sin through His death, Jesus rose again. Consequently the death and resurrection of Jesus are of the utmost importance for Christians! The following illustration will help to better understand this profound matter:

 

There was once a king who possessed a huge kingdom over which he also ruled as a just judge. He wrote down laws which had to be kept by everyone so that order and justice would be maintained. One day his very own son, whom he loved so dearly, committed a terrible crime. The law made it very clear that a perpetrator, such as his child had become would have to face a fine of £ 100,000,000,000. The king's son was not able to pay that large amount of money. However, the just judge could not change the law simply because the sinner was his own son, otherwise he would not have been impartial anymore. He decided that his child too was guilty, but when he pronounced the judgement, out of love, he offered to pay the fine on behalf of his son. In that way he could meet the demands of his justice but also of his love for the disobedient child. The son sorrowfully repented of his crime and humbly accepted his father's offer. This incident changed him so completely that he decided to love and serve his father forever. By doing this he could certainly never pay back the £100,000,000,000. No, he changed his way of life to express his great thankfulness towards his just and loving father.

 

The king in the illustration symbolises God, the kingdom is the world. The laws are the Holy Scriptures, the king's son is all mankind and the terrible crime committed by him is sin. The sum of £100,000,000,000 stands for the punishment of sin, which is a invincible separation from the Holy God. The king who took his son's place and paid the fine on behalf of him illustrates what God has done for all mankind in Jesus. He paid the punishment for sin by dying on our behalf at the cross. Finally, the complete change that took place in the life of the son is a picture of the new life of a Christian. By faith, through a prayer of forgiveness he accepts what Jesus Christ had done for him. He believes that Jesus took upon him the punishment for men's sin. Only out of thankfulness he starts to love and serve God, not because he thinks he could ever earn a place in heaven by doing good. Whatever the newly born Christian now does will be motivated by love for the One who saved him from a terrible punishment.

 

Some Muslims might object to the illustration above by saying that God's attributes of Justice and Mercy can not be understood. They are completely different from our human concept. It is true that God's attributes are different from ours, but only in regard to their perfection rather than their definition. If the meaning of God's characteristics were so completely different from our understanding then his ninety-nine names, which allegedly describe them, would be unnecessary! Besides that, God Himself used illustrations in the Quran: In Surah 13, Ar-Ra'd, verses 16-17 we read that '...Thus doth Allah set forth parables.' (See also Surah 16, Al Nahl, verses 75-76)

 

A Muslim enquirer recently asked: 'The Bible states that God sacrificed his Son, but yet we also read that Jesus was resurrected back to life and is sitting on the right hand of God. When you sacrifice something, you do not take it back 3 days latter, is this not a contradiction?'

 

The reason why Jesus the perfect sacrifice was raised to live again on the third day is found in the word 'perfect.' Animal sacrifices were imperfect, they just pointed to the perfect one. That is the reason why they had to be offered again and again. That is also the reason why they were not raised to life again. However, Christ being the perfect, sinless sacrifice only had to die once. Since he paid the punishment for sin, namely death by his own death, the latter no longer became a reality! That is precisely why God raised Jesus to live again. This profound truth is expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57:

 

'When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.'

 

Jesus defeats the death that came as a result of sin! He as the firstfruit has been raised to life therefore. Those who believe in his perfect sacrifice will follow his example once they die physically. The following verses, again quoted from 1 Corinthians 15 confirm this good news:

 

'But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.' (Verses 20-22)

 

Here are some more verses that speak about the same truth:

'Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.' (Romans 4:25)

'For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:9-16)

 

Wow! What a message! That Christ was raised to life again after he died sacrificially for us is not a contradiction. Since death for him was no more, there is nothing that could be a contradiction to his being raised to life!

The destiny for us who are living in the time of the New Testament is dependent on our relationship to Jesus. The New Testament makes it clear that salvation is by faith through Christ alone:

 

'That in the time to come he might make clear the full wealth of his grace in his mercy to us in Christ Jesus: Because by grace you have salvation through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is given by God: Not by works, so that no man may take glory to himself. For by his act we were given existence in Christ Jesus to do those good works which God before made ready for us so that we might do them.' (Ephesians 2:7-10)

'Being conscious that a man does not get righteousness by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, we had faith in Christ Jesus, so that we might get righteousness (right standing before God) by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law will no flesh get righteousness.' (Galatians 2:16)

Salvation by faith in Jesus is believing with the intellect that the Bible is right about our sinful condition, about who Jesus is and about what he did on the cross for us. Passages that speak about judgement according to works have to be read in the light of what true faith means. This is confirmed when their immediate context is considered. (e.g. Joh 5:28-29, compare with verses 23-24, Mat 16:27 with verses 21-26, 25:31-46 with 23:37-39, Jam 2:14-26). As the German reformer Martin Luther used to say 'the faith that saves is never alone.' True faith in Christ shows itself in four ways:

 

1. Out of thankfulness followers of Jesus do what he tells them: To love God and man. This is the essence and test of true obedience. They desire to follow the moral law set out in the Old Testament and summarized in what is known as 'the 10 commandments.' (Exo 20:1-17)

 

2. Genuine faith in Jesus produces a desire to become more like him, to do what is right and just.

 

3. Saving faith creates the awareness that this new obedience can only come through faith in Christ. It does not come from focusing on the law, the desperate attempt to meet its demands. Instead it comes from continually fixing one's eyes on Jesus and his work, by remaining connected to him through being in his presence with one's thoughts.

 

4. Lastly, Biblical faith generates a constant abiding in and reliance on Jesus by faith. In this way only the Holy Spirit of God supplies the power for a changed life and lasting fruit. (Rom 8:13, Joh 15:5)

 

 

8. CONCLUSION

 

Having pointed out the reliability of the Bible it has become clear that throughout its pages the death and resurrection of Jesus is foretold and confirmed by him and others, some of whom were eye witnesses. Numerous historians attest to that truth. Their accounts are recorded outside the Bible. Answering the most common objections of Muslims has cleared the way for everyone to join in the bold declaration of the first believers: 'It is true! The Lord has risen!' (Luke 24:34)