‘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)
In much of today’s decadent Western world Easter is mainly associated with a few more days off and tasty chocolate eggs. However, for practising Christians it marks the biggest, most breath-taking celebration of the year! The festival of Easter reminds them that Jesus died on a cross to pay the punishment for the sins of the world and of his subsequent resurrection. The purpose of this paper is to examine what the Quran has to say on the profound truth that has changed the lives of countless millions of people.
In Surah 19, Maryam, verse 33, Jesus allegedly said shortly after birth:
‘So 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)’
Abdullah Jusuf Ali wrote in the footnote number 2485 of his translation of the Holy Quran (The meaning of the glorious Qurān text, translation and commentary, Cairo, Egypt, Dar Al-Kitab Al-Masri, 1938, edition: 3rd ed. also in 1975 edition): ‘…those who believe that he (Jesus) never died should ponder over this verse.’ However, such revealing remarks made by this highly respected Muslim scholar were quickly expunged and replaced with the explanatory words ‘Jesus was not crucified (4:157)’ by the editorial board of the new edition of ‘The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an!’ (Amana Publications, Beltsville, U.S.A., 1989) Here is what A. Jusuf Ali was still allowed to say about such doubtful practices in the introduction to the above mentioned version of the Quran: ‘Even since the early Commentators wrote, the Arabic language has further developed, and later Commentators often abandon the interpretations of earlier Commentators without sufficient reason. In exercising our selective judgement in such cases it would be a good rule to prefer the earlier to the later interpretation, though, where a later writer has reviewed the earlier interpretations and given good reasons for his own view, he has an advantage which we must freely concede to him.’ (Ibid., page XVI) Here now are the reasons which support A.Yusuf Ali, the earlier commentator’s view:
Identical words as in Surah 19, Maryam, verse 33 are used in verse 15 of the same Surah to describe the live of the prophet Yahya who died another violent death through beheading (see Ibid. footnote 2468). Furthermore, Surah 4, Al Nisa’, verse 159, also mentions the death of Jesus where interpreters again are not agreed as to the exact meaning. There are a number of other verses in the Quran that confirm the death of Jesus:
Behold! Allah said: ‘O Jesus! I will take thee (Arabic: ‘mutawaffika’) and raise thee to Myself…’ (Surah 3, Ali ‘Imran, 55, also Surah 5, Al Ma’idah, verse 117)
The translation of ‘mutawaffika’ in this verse is disputed among Muslim scholars. The word and its derivation are found over 25 times in the Quran. (see 2:234,240; 3:55,193; 4:15,97, 5:117; 6:61; 8:50; 10:46,104; 12:101; 13:40; 16:28,32,70; 22:5; 32:11; 40:67,77; 47:27) In all but two places they imply death or are associated with it. In the two exceptions (6:60, 39:42) the context reveals that ‘mutawaffika’ figuratively means slumber. This is not the case in the two verses that speak about the death of Jesus (3:55, 5:117)!
If Jesus did not die Surah 19, Maryam, verse 31 would not make sense. There Jesus allegedly said, ‘…and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity so long as I live:’ According to the traditional Muslim view, Jesus was taken up to heaven alive. But nobody can seriously believe that he still gives alms up to this day!
The following Hadith about the day of judgement, collected by Al-Bukhari is further proof that Jesus died:
On the authority of Ibn Abbas: The Prophet of Allah said, ‘…Then I will say as the pious slave Jesus, son of Mary, said: ‘And I was a witness over them while I dwelt amongst them. When you caused me to die (‘tawaffaytani’) you were the watcher over them, and you are a witness to all things…'(see, Bukhari, Nuhammad Ibn Ismail. Sahih of al-Buhari, trans. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 1984, vol. 3, number 3263. See also vol. 4, number 4349, 4463.)
Since Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) referred to himself with the same phrase (‘tawaffaytani’) Jesus is said to have used in Surah 5, Al Ma’idah, verse 117 it becomes clear that the prophet of Islam, who died, confirms that Jesus also died! A further confirmation is found in Surahs 10, Yunus, verse 46, 13, Al Ra’d, verse 40, and 40, Ghafir, verse 77 where basically the same term that is used for Jesus’ last moments, ‘natawaffayannaka’ meaning, ‘we indeed cause you to die’ is applied to Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) From our study so far we can say with certainty that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a fact, even in the Quran. Now we need to ask another important question:
Islamic scholars are in disagreement about it. The Quran which professes to be a clear guidance that contains no doubts (Surah 2, Al Baqarah, verse 2; Surah 5, Al Ma’idah, verse 16) is apparently silent regarding this question which, according to the Torah and the Injil is of the utmost importance for mankind! (Isaiah 53, Matthew 26:26-28, John 3:16) Muslims are left only with the Hadith in trying to answer this crucial question. How reliable are many of these traditions reporting the sayings and doings of Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) and his companions in the light of the following facts?
From about 1465 collections of Hadith, Muslim scholars have singled out six as being the correct ones. They are here listed in the order of importance:
Al-Bukhari, he put his collection together 246 years after the prophet’s death. From 6000,000 Hadith he selected 7200 (1.2%!). The choices were made according to the judgement of one individual! Muslim, he put his choices together 251 years after the prophet’s death. Al Tirmize, he chose them 269 years after the prophet’s death. Abu Daud selected his version 265 years after the prophet’s death. Abu Abdir Rahman presented his collection 293 years after the prophet’s death. (‘Dictionary of Islam’ by T.P. Hughes, Asia Publishing House, London, 1988, pages 639-646)
Here are some examples without any further comments. They cast considerable doubt on the reliability of the Hadith collections:
The prophet of God said: ‘When a fly falls into a bowl that belongs to one of you, he should dip it in completely. Afterwards he can take it out; truly in one of its wings lies healing and in the other illness.’ (Bukhari and Abu Daud in Mishkat II, page 152)
Jabir reported that the prophet of Allah commanded the licking of fingers and bowls saying: ‘You do not know on which part the blessing lies.’ (Sahih Muslim, page 1120)
‘If somebody has eaten he should not wash his hands until he has licked his hands and the bowl or someone else did it on his behalf.’ (Ibid. page 1119)
Ibn Umar reported that the prophet of Allah had said: ‘A believer eats through one intestine, an unbeliever through seven.’ (Ibid. page 1119)
The prophet of Allah said: ‘When someone among you yawns he should cover the mouth with his hand otherwise the devil will enter it.’ (Sahih Muslim, page 1540)
In the light of these somewhat embarrassing notes that contradict medical science it is understandable if the attentive reader tries to get an answer to the question, ‘When did Jesus die’ only from what is commonly known as the holy Books themselves. There is only one reference in the Quran that appears to say when Jesus did not die. It is found in Surah 4, Al Nisa, 157-159:
That they said (in boast) ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah’- But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for a surety they killed him not- Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise- And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgement he will be a witness against them.’
This passage, like all the others concerning the end of Jesus’ life on earth in the Quran, is unclear. It is not surprising therefore, to find a number of interpretations concerning it. However, to say that the crucified one ‘was somehow or other taken for Christ’ (‘The Meaning of the Quran’ by Maududi, Islamic Publications, Pakistan, 1992, commentary on Surah 4, Al Nisa’, verse 157) would turn the Holy and Righteous God into the greatest deceiver of all! From a Christian point of view it is totally unacceptable to think that He would be responsible for misleading 1.3 billion people who call themselves Christians today! Some Muslims will say, ‘Allah can do whatever He wants. If it pleases Him, to mislead all the Christians, He has the right to do so!’ However, they are not willing to use the argument of God’s sovereignty, when they study the Christian concept of the Trinitarian God who sent Jesus to die on the cross for sinners.
Muslims like Ahmad Deedat (see, ‘Crucifixion or Crucifixion?’, 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. According to them Jesus was crucified but he did not die on the cross, he only swooned. By coming up with these unsubstantiated theories they actually contradict Surah 4, Al Nisa’, verse 157 which is traditionally interpreted to mean that he was not crucified:
…But they killed him not, nor crucified him…
To justify their position they say that the words in the Quran ‘…nor crucified him…’ mean that Jesus did not die as a result of the crucifixion (See the Ahmadiyya version of the Quran with footnotes, Volume 2, page 583). They think that to be crucified means to be killed and since Jesus only swooned he was not crucified in the sense that he did not die from it. Verses like the one in Acts 2,23 proves them wrong. There 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! (See also Acts 5:30) In retrospect it is truly amazing how people like Ahmad Deedat who even contradict their own Quran are still tolerated by the Muslims community in general to represent their religion in debates and in literature. Only God knows how much damage they have done to thousands of souls.
How then should we interpret Surah 4, Al Nisa’, verses 157-159 in the light of what has been said so far? In Muhammad’s (p.b.u.h.) time Muslims were commanded to seek advice in a particular question from those who possess the previous Scriptures, the Jews and the Christians. (Surah 16, Al Nahl, verse 43; Surah 21, Al Anbiya, 7) Therefore, it is surely right to do it in this case as well.
The Jews were boasting THEY had crucified and killed Jesus because they were convinced he was a false prophet. Against their arrogance verse 157 says, ‘THEY slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them.’ The Biblical accounts tell us that Jesus was not killed by the Jews in the last instance, but because God brought about his deliberate and well-thought out plan. In Acts 2:23 we read:
‘This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked man, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.’
It only appeared to the Jews that they successfully killed Jesus whereas in reality God, in his sovereignty, even used those wicked people in order to bring about his purposes. The emphasis is not that the Jews killed Jesus but that God allowed them to do so! Verse 157 seems to speak out against this wrong, boastful emphasis only not against the fact that Jesus was killed.
Verse 158 speaks about the ascension of Jesus, when he was taken up to be with God which is well documented in the Injil (Luke 24:50-51, John 6:62, Acts 1:9-11, 1 Timothy 3:16) and undisputed by both Muslims and Christians. However, Muslims who believe that Jesus was just a messenger, will have to answer the following question: ‘Mere men may only be able to go to Paradise. Since it is created Allah will not be there because he is completely separate from his creation according to Islam. Does not the fact that ‘Allah raised Jesus up unto himself’ proof that Jesus was more than just another prophet?’
Verse 159 seems to say that none of the Jews will believe in Jesus before they die and on the day of resurrection it will be too late for them to change their minds. The Torah, Zabur, and the Injil agree unanimously that Jesus died for our sins on a cross nearly 2000 years ago and that he was raised up to life again! (Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Matthew 26:26-28; 27:50) Secular history too confirms the bedrock of Christianity, the death and resurrection of Jesus. The names of the historians are Pliny, Cornelius Tacitus, Thallus and particularly Josephus, a Jewish general who defected to the Romans and wrote the Jewish history for them. (Antiquitates indaicae, Vol. 18, III: 3)
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:
Throughout this study it has become clear that the Quran agrees for certain with the Bible and with secular history that Jesus dies at some stage and is definitely alive today! Furthermore we found possible evidence in the Quran that Jesus indeed died on the cross and rose again which confirms the clear accounts of the Bible (Torah, Zabur, Injil) and of secular history. We therefore have four reliable witnesses in favour of the Easter story and one that is at least partially certain (Quran). It is now left to the reader to come to a decision regarding this crucial matter. Please pray for God’s guidance as to who Jesus really is!