In this second paper we will continue our comparison of the Biblical and Islamic presentations of the states of Christ, reviewing the crucial stages in the life and ministry of Christ as presented in the Christian Scriptures, and examining the Islamic equivalent (if any), to understand the contrasting portraits of the life of Jesus. In this particular paper, we reach the crux of the matter in terms of the ministry, as opposed to the nature of Jesus – specifically, His death. The death of Christ is crucial to Christian theology, being the objective means whereby salvation is provided for humanity. Islam, of course, denies the death of Christ. Thus an examination of the states of Christ in this regard will be most illuminating to both Christians and Muslims to discover the consistency of both systems.
4. The Sufferings of Christ
A. The Biblical view
The Scriptures, e.g. Acts 8:28-35, present Jesus is the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah – cf. especially chapter 53:6-10:
6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he did not open his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief: when you shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
The Gospel records display the hostility Jesus received from His contemporaries, even those of His own town: – Matthew 13:57 ‘And they were offended at him. But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and in his own household.’ John 1:11 ‘He came to his own, and those that were his own did not receive him.’ This even included, at first, the unbelief of His own family – John 7:5 ‘For even his brothers did not believe on him.’ Attempts and plots were made to kill Him – John 5:18 ‘Because of this the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God.’ 7:1 ‘And after these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he was unwilling to walk in Judaea, because the Jews sought to kill him.’
- Thus we can say that He suffered at the hands of his fellows – in various ways outlined above.
- He suffered inasmuch as that He, the sinless One, was obliged to dwell in a sinful environment – Matthew 17:17 ‘And Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?’ John 8:23 ‘And he said unto them, You are from below; I am from above: you are of this world; I am not of this world.’
- Especially, He suffered in His loneliness – in Gethsemane, He was forsaken by everyone – Matthew 26:56 ‘But all this is coming to pass, so that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples left him, and fled.’
- He suffered Temptation. Indeed, Hebrews 4:15 indicates that He endured the full range of temptation – ‘For we do not have a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that has been in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ Hebrews 5:7-8 makes clear the fact that such temptations were essential to His ministry – 7 Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, 8 though he was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which he suffered…’ This text is often misunderstood, especially by Muslims, so the explanation of the great Princeton Professor Geerhardus Vos is appropriate at this point:
The point of identification here is the experiential knowledge of obedience, as appears from the correspondence between this conception in verse 8 and verse 9: ‘having learned obedience, He became the author of salvation to those that obey.‘ It has been too quickly inferred, however, from this statement that the author of Hebrews ascribes to Jesus a progressive moral development in general and associates this with the teleiwois he predicates of Him. It must be plain to the most superficial reader that ‘obedience’ here has a very specific meaning: it is obedience to the call of suffering, for the Saviour learned it ‘from what He suffered.’ If in the two preceding passages the suffering appeared as a school in which was learned the strength of temptation as inherent in suffering, here we meet with the positive counterpart to this conception: the suffering as a school of obedience through the overcoming of the temptation proceeding from it. Because the obedience developed itself in suffering, the period of its development is called ‘the days of His flesh,’ i.e., the days in which He was subject to the weakness of the natural earthly life, and therefore had to conquer the dread of pain and death which is inseparable from this state. The prayers and supplications which He is said to have offered up were not that He might be saved from death, but that He might be saved out of it; they were expressions of that obedience He was learning, not expressions of a mood of weakness He had to unlearn. For the writer adds that He was heard, He obtained what He prayed for, and this was not escape from death, but salvation through and out of death.
From the above it appears how we must understand the statement that ‘He learned obedience.’ ‘Learning’ is not here equivalent to acquiring what was not previously there in principle, far less to acquiring that of which the opposite was previously there. Chapter 10:5-7 shows that the writer ascribes to Jesus the spirit of perfect obedience at the very moment of His coming into the world, for he makes Him say in the words of the Psalmist: ‘Lo, I am come to do thy will, 0 God,’ and the will of God he referred to is specifically the will that the Messiah should suffer and die. ‘Learning’ simply means to bring out into the conscious experience of action, that which is present as an avowed principle antecedent to the action. There is a difference between the desire and resolve to obey and the carrying through of this attitude of mind in the concrete circumstances of life, whilst natural inclinations assert themselves in the opposite direction. It should be noticed that the article stands before ‘upacohn, which shows once more that a specific type of obedience is in the author’s mind. The contrast also indicated in the words ‘although being a Son’ is not a contrast between sonship and obedience in general, but between sonship and obedience evinced in suffering. It is natural for a son to obey, it is not natural for a son to have to learn obedience in this way.
Now it is this training in obedience that the passage brings into connection with the teleiwois of Christ. Having learned obedience and having been made perfect, He became the author of salvation. It is most natural to take the ‘having been made perfect’ here as resumptive of ‘having learned obedience,’ so that it adds not a second qualification to the first, but interprets the fact of the obedience which Christ learned in its significance as a qualification for His office. The rendering strictly ought to be: ‘having learned obedience and thus been made perfect.’ This, however, does not yet decide how the author understands the ‘perfecting.’ Does he mean to say: having learned obedience and having been made perfect in obedience, He became the author of salvation? Or is his meaning rather: having learned obedience and thereby been made a perfect high priest, He became author of salvation? The latter is to be preferred, because the emphasis in the context rests on the likeness between the obedience of Christ and that of believers. Because He practiced obedience Himself, He can appreciate and reward the obedience of those who follow Him. To introduce the thought of the absolute perfection of the Saviour’s obedience would tea to obscure this parallelism. Of course the author conceived of Christ’s obedience as absolutely perfect. But here it was out of place to call attention to this. What he affirms is simply that through the practice of obedience Christ became a perfect high priest, since now He is able to endow with eternal salvation all those who obey Him in however imperfect a degree. 1
It is a matter of discussion as to whether Jesus could or could not sin, but two facts are certain: He did not sin, and the temptations were real. The setting of the Temptation by Satan in the desert is in the nature of fulfilment of prophecy, as we saw in our previous paper. Jesus endures the same temptations as Israel faced whilst in the desert with Moses, but whereas Old Testament Israel miserably failed the test, Jesus passes with flying colours.
Deuteronomy 8:2ff, looking back to Exodus 16:2-3, recalls how God tested Old Israel with hunger, a test, like the others, which would reveal whether Israel knew itself to be, and thus whether in truth it was the People of God. By its moaning and desiring to return to Egypt, Israel displayed itself devoid of faith and thus fails. Jesus, on the other hand, although hungry, does not respond to Satan, but quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 to display that His is the true Son of God, unlike the failed old ‘son’.
The Temple pinnacle temptation was to put God to the test. Faith in God does not require props, or constant dynamic displays. By threatening to stone Moses at Massah, Israel drew from the LORD the act that proved them to be His people – Exodus 17:1-7, so Satan tempts Jesus to seek outward evidence that He is God’s Son by forcing the hand of the LORD, but Jesus refuses, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.
The third temptation reflects the collapse into total lack of faith that characterised Israel in Exodus 34 when Moses was up the mountain. Israel committed idolatry. Deuteronomy 6:13-14 forbids the worship of other gods, and Jesus quotes this in passing the test here. The significance of this is that Israel was to secure its national existence by no compromises with the heathen, especially their gods. They were not to be a nation like any other, but rather to be a holy nation. Jesus refuses to the invitation to become a ruler like any other through the means Satan offers – obeisance to him, compromise with the forces controlling the world.
It must be underlined that these were not only temptations from Satan, they were tests from God – note how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, which the Old Testament reveals to the place of testing: the true Son of God is revealed thereby – Jesus, the true Israel – Matthew 4:1 ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.’ Temptation of itself does not indicate inward sin – rather, it has its origins in the natural desires – James 1:13-15. Adam and Eve were still sinless when they were tempted.
To understand the importance of the sufferings of Christ, we must consider the purpose of His incarnation – John 3:16 -to provide salvation for anyone with faith in Him; 1 John 3:8 – to destroy the works of the Evil One. This involved the ultimate suffering on the cross, for our sakes. We shall see later that His death on Calvary is characterised as the Passive obedience of Christ. This is made by possible by His active obedience. His role as the Suffering Servant ‘ implies commission by the Father, subjection to, and fulfilment of, the father’s will. All of this involves obedience.’ 2 We see evidence of this in His Baptism by John – Matthew 3:15 – it was performed for the sake of righteousness, identifying with the people He came to save. His work is performed at the behest of the Father – John 4:34; 6:38; 10:17-18. Note the emphasis in the Epistles on the subject – Romans 5:19; Philippians 2:7; Hebrews 5:8, etc.
The Atonement was necessary by reason of the demands of Divine Law. 1 Peter 1:19 shows that the offering had to be an entity without ‘blemish or defect’, since that which was blemished by iniquity could never remove such pollution. Thus Christ, as the offering, must live as a flawless believer – offering perfect and total adherence to the Torah, both in outward action and inward thought – in short, He must love God with all His heart, etc, and love His neighbour as Himself, with all that this implies. Berkhof, makes the vital point that ‘…if Christ had suffered only the penalty imposed on man, those who shared in the fruits of His work would have been left exactly where Adam was before he fell.’ 3 As the old hymn says, ‘in Him the tribes of Adam boast more blessings than their father lost’. The righteous life, as well as the death of Christ gains for us the following blessings:
- Freedom from the Law as the means of either entering or maintaining eternal Life – Galatians 4:4, 5.
- Adoption as Sons of God – (ditto).
- An inheritance and position of heirship – v7. The Righteousness of Faith (both in terms of entry and maintenance) supersedes that of the Torah – Romans 10:3, 4; 8:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 5:21.
B. The Islamic view
Ahmed Deedat, in The God that never was, refers to Hebrews 5:7-8 in a dismissive and derogatory way, and, as in the whole of his pamphlet, ignores the Biblical dogma (of which he must be aware), that Jesus was simultaneously divine and human, states that ‘”God” Learnt Through Experience: “Learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” (Hebrews, 5:8)’ 4 We have already addressed this issue. Deedat also attacks the Biblical narrative of the temptations of Jesus, once again either displaying his complete ignorance of the theological import of the narrative as explained above, or wilfully engaging in pejorative polemics:
THE TEMPTING OF “GOD” The Devil Tempted “God” For 40 Days: “And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan.” (Mark, 1:12-13) The Devil Tempted “God” Continuously: “And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.” (Luke, 4:13) Like the Sinners, “God” Was Tempted In All Things: “But (he) was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews, 4:15) True God Cannot be Tempted With Evil: “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” (James, 1:13) Only The Ungodly Are Tempted With Evil: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” (James, 1:14) 5
However, the Qur’an does picture Jesus as enduring suffering. Whilst Islam denies original sin, it does hold to the sinlessness of the Prophets – Surah Al-An’am 6:85 – ‘And Zakariya and John and Jesus and Elias: all in the ranks of the righteous…’ The Biblical position, however, is that Jesus was uniquely sinless, something Islam traditionally denies in favour of the collegiality of the prophets. However, in seeming contradiction to this assertion, the Hadith does imply that only Jesus had no charge of sin against Him, something no other prophet can claim, and equally the Qur’an apparently implies that even Muhammad had to ask forgiveness for his sins. 6 Jesus is described as a ‘holy son’ in Surah Maryam 19:16ff. 7 It is likely that this unwitting affirmation of the unique sinlessness of Jesus reflects Qur’anic borrowing from Christianity, and the presence of this belief in both Qur’anic and Hadith texts is significant. Similarly, the contradictory claim of the impeccability of all the prophets is probably an attempt to assert equality for Muhammad with respect to Jesus. There is not the same sense in Islam as in the Bible that it involved a state of humiliation for the sinless one to enter the realm of the sinful, but in practical terms, the fact that the ministry of Jesus was met by unbelief and hostility is definitely apparent. The Jews are portrayed in the Qur’an as being guilty of unbelief with respect to the ministry and message of Jesus, S. 3:52ff:
52 …Jesus found unbelief on their part…
54 And (then unbelievers) plotted and planned and Allah too planned and the best of planners is Allah.
55 Behold! Allah said: ‘O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme…’
The Muslim translator and commentator, Yusuf Ali, refers to the iniquity of the Jews in this passage:
394 Read this with iv. 157, where it is said that ‘whereas they slew him not nor they crucified him but it was made dubious unto them.’ The guilt of the Jews remained, but Jesus was eventually taken up to Allah. (3.55)
395 Jesus was charged by the Jews with blasphemy as claiming to be Allah or the son of Allah…
396 Those who follow thee refers to those who followed Jesus in contrast to the Jews who rejected him. (3.55)
One aspect of the suffering of Jesus according to Islam is found in S. 4:156, which indicates that Mary was accused of immorality, implying that Jesus was illegitimate: ‘That they rejected faith: that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge.’ Yusuf Ali comments: ‘The false charge against Mary was that she was unchaste. Cf. xix. 27-28. Such a charge is bad enough to make against any woman, but to make it against Mary, the mother of Jesus, was to bring into ridicule Allah’s power itself.’ Samuel Zwemer in his book The Muslim Christ suggests that the statement in S. 4:172 ‘Christ disdaineth not to serve and worship Allah…’ is a reference to ‘the title of the Messiah in Isaiah as the servant of Jehovah.’ 8 Whether this is so or not, there seems to be no specific theological necessity for Jesus to suffer according to Islam. Rather, the Qur’an simply makes the historical observation that this occurred, and notes that this was the common inheritance of the prophets:
Surah Al-Baqara 2:87ff
87 We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of Apostles; We gave Jesus the son of Mary clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you an Apostle with what ye yourselves desire not ye are puffed up with pride? Some ye called impostors and others ye slay!
91 When it is said to them: ‘believe in what Allah hath sent down’ they say ‘We believe in what was sent down to us’; yet they reject all besides even if it be truth confirming what is with them. Say: ‘Why then have ye slain the prophets of Allah in times gone by if ye did indeed believe?’
Surah An-Nisaa 4:155
155 (They have incurred divine displeasure): in that they broke their Covenant: that they rejected the Signs of Allah; that they slew the Messengers in defiance of right; that they said ‘Our hearts are the wrappings (which preserve Allah’s Word; we need no more)’; nay Allah hath set the seal on their hearts for their blasphemy and little is it they believe.
156 That they rejected faith: that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge.
157 That they said (in boast) ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary the Apostle 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 of a surety they killed him not.
Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 6093
Narrated by Ali ibn AbuTalib
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said to him, “You have a resemblance to Jesus whom the Jews hated so much that they slandered his mother…Ahmad transmitted it.
Given that Muhammad, rather than Jesus, is the central figure in Islam, we should not be surprised that there is no presentation of Jesus as the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. In the Bible, His sufferings presage and climax in the Crucifixion, which Islam denies. Islam, however, presents the sufferings of Jesus as presaging those of Muhammad. It can be seen that ultimately, the ministry of Muhammad supplants the role of the crucifixion of Christ. In this respect, it is significant that the Qur’an contains nothing comparable to the temptations of Jesus in the New Testament. Given that Jesus is not presented as either the climax or the crux of salvation-history, this is not surprising. As we have seen, the temptations of Jesus as presented in the Bible play a specific salvatory role, for which the Islamic portrait of Jesus has no place or point. In this respect, the temptations of Jesus would be superfluous as to the Islamic theological schema. At any rate, it is taken for granted that prophets are sinless. However, Zwemer notes a Muslim tradition about the temptation of Jesus that obviously borrows from the Biblical account:
There is also this curious version of the temptation of Jesus which may indicate His victory over the devil, but is not very conclusive: Ta’us of Yemen, one of the early followers of Mohammed, used to say, ‘There is nothing which a man says but is counted against him, even his moaning in illness.’ He said, ‘Jesus having met Iblis, the latter said to him, Do you not know that nothing will betide you but what is destined for you?’ Jesus replied, ‘Yes.’ Iblis then said, ‘Ascend to the summit of this mountain and throw yourself down: see whether you will live or not.’ Jesus replied, ‘Do you not know that God has said, ‘My servant cannot test me, for I do what I please?’ Verily, a servant does not try his Lord, but God tries His servant.’ Ta’us said, ‘Iblis there-fore became his enemy.’ 9
In fact, the portrait of the sufferings of Jesus in the Qur’an seem merely to fulfil the function of typology – showing that it is the common experience of divine messengers to experience rejection and hostility, and thus present the persecution of Muhammad by the pagans as the culmination of human animosity towards the prophets of God. 10 Islam can then argue that the antagonism of the Quraish to the message of the prophet of Islam fits a theological/historical pattern. Muhammad, however, goes one better (according to the Muslim perception): he ultimately triumphs over his persecutors in the material, political sense. The other reason that Jesus is displayed as persecuted by the Jews is to explain and justify the removal of prophethood from that people to the Arabs, in a parallel way to the import of Matthew 21:43 – and thus argue for the Apostolic ministry of Muhammad, Surah Maidah 5:78 – ‘Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected faith by the tongue of David and of Jesus the son of Mary: because they disobeyed and persisted in excesses.’ The Hadith and Fiqh also refer to this:
Sunan of Abu-Dawood Hadith 4322
Narrated by Abdullah ibn Mas’ud
The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) said: The first defect that permeated Banu Isra’il was that a man (of them) met another man and said: O so-and-so, fear Allah, and abandon what you are doing, for it is not lawful for you. He then met him the next day and that did not prevent him from eating with him, drinking with him and sitting with him. When they did so. Allah mingled their hearts with each other. He then recited the verse: “curses were pronounced on those among the children of Isra’il who rejected Faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus the son of Mary”…up to “wrongdoers”. He then said: By no means, I swear by Allah, you must enjoin what is good and prohibit what is evil, prevent the wrongdoer, bend him into conformity with what is right, and restrict him to what is right.
The Prohibition Against Talking Ill of the Dead
…Cursing the dead disbelievers is permissible, because Allah, the Exalted, says: “Curses by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary, were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected faith.” Qur’an 5.78 Similarly we read in the Qur’an: “Perish the hands of the Father of Flame!” Qur’an 111.1 Pharaoh and others like him have also been cursed in the Qur’an, besides the great curse of Allah about which we read: “Behold! the curse of Allah is on those who do wrong. Qur’an 11.18
Yusuf Ali comments about Surah Al-Maidah 5:78-79, interestingly borrowing from the New Testament to elaborate on these verses:
786 The Psalms of David have several passages of imprecations against the wicked. Cf- Psalms cix 17-18; lxxviii. 21-22 (‘Therefore the Lord heard this and was wroth; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; because they believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation’); Psalms lxix. 22-28, and Psalms v. 10. (5.78)
787 Cf. Matt- xxiii, 33 (‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of Hell?); also Matt. xii. 34. (5.78)
788 There are bad men in every community, but if leaders connive at the misdeeds of the commonalty,-and even worse, if leaders themselves share in the misdeeds, as happened with the Pharisees and Scribes against whom Jesus spoke out, then that community is doomed. (5.79)
5. The Passion
A. The Biblical View
(a) Jesus is crucified for being the Messiah, and Son of Man – Matthew 26:63-64. His death was necessary, as He was the Suffering Servant. He dies, albeit in parody, as King of Israel – 27:37, 42, and is recognised by a representative Gentile as ‘Son of God’ which many of His compatriots, especially the Hierarchy, rejected – 26:65; 27:43; Mark 15:39.
(b) This latter fact points to an aspect of His ministry as the Son of Man and servant – the ingathering of the Gentiles into the New Covenant Israel – Isaiah 11:10ff; 42:1, 6; 49:6; Matthew 12:18, 21; John 11:51-52; 12:31-32.
(c) The Cross was His avenue to the Father, John 17:1, 11, and to glory – 12:27-28; 16:23; 17:2, 5.
(d) It establishes the New Covenant – Matthew 26:28. The fact that this is related to His death and is associated with the Passover in 26:1; 1 Corinthians 5:7 points to the election predicted in Ezekiel 20:24-38 and which characterised the first Exodus itself – only those of faith who put themselves under the blood enter His kingdom and covenant, and such is removed from those whose rejection of Jesus evidence their infidelity – Matthew 21:43.
(e) Jesus bears upon Himself the Judgement of Wrath that was to come upon all mankind, but specifically the judgement to be poured out on Jerusalem and the generation of Israel to which He came – Matthew 23:35-36; Luke 21:22-23 poured out on Jerusalem and the generation of Israel to which He came – Matthew 23:35-36; Luke 21:22-23. This was fulfilled in AD 70, and the latter event displayed the election within Israel to which we referred earlier – those who had identified themselves with the Messiah did not suffer the Judgement – Matthew 24:22; Luke 21:28.
(f) His crucifixion and death are real, and involve real pain and anguish. He anticipates this in Gethsemane, when, faced with the reality of the torturous, long, drawn-out pain of the Cross he naturally, like any man, wishes it were possible to forego the agony inherent in the event – Matthew 26:3-56; Mark 14:3250; Luke 22:39-53. Geoffrey Grogan writes about the Agony in the Garden:
Mark gives us a particularly vivid account of what happened on that occasion. He tells us that Jesus ‘took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.’ (Mark 14:33.) Commentators are agreed that this sentence is not easy to translate into English. The language is strong, very strong, and no English verb quite expresses either of the two Greek verbs involved. Distress, horror, dread, amazement all are involved. Out of this horrifying experience came a poignant word to his disciples, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death;’ (Mark 14:34). These words too are so very difficult to translate. The New English Bible rendering is rather free, but it does more justice to them as an expression of deep feeling: ‘My heart is ready to break with grief.’
It was while his heart was thus weighed down with horror and grief that Jesus went to pray. ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.’ (Mark 14:36.) The use of the word ‘cup’ in such a context as this makes us realize what an agony of anticipation must have formed the emotional background to its use by him on earlier occasions. His human nature shrank from the cross, yet his will embraced the Father’s will. He would do what the Father wanted him to do, no matter what the cost of it might be to him. 11
It is worth noting that unlike Muhammad, Jesus never physically fought His enemies, telling His followers to put away their swords. 12 Indeed, Jesus died for the sake of His enemies – Romans 5:8. There is nothing comparable to the massacre of the Banu Qurayza in the ministry of Jesus; rather, in fulfilment of prophecy, He went like a sheep to the shearers. It was not as though He could not have destroyed His foes; He informs His disciples that if He so-requested it, He could appeal to His Father, who would immediately once send Him more than twelve legions of angels, Matthew 26:53. Furthermore, it should be noted that the Agony in the Garden is unintelligible unless He knew that He was going to die. The Father could have sent His angels to deliver Jesus, but it was the Father’s will for Him to die, in contradiction to Islam’s belief about the miraculous rescue from the cross.
The agony on the cross is, however, accentuated by two other factors – the fact that He will have to bear the wrath of God against the sin He vicariously bears, and also that He will have to undergo all of this alone.
(g) We should remember that most of His close associates fled and abandoned Him upon His arrest, that He was scorned, mocked, tortured and humiliated by the Jewish Hierarchy and Roman army, and was compelled to die as a common criminal with two men who were such, both of whom, initially, joined the taunts of those who looked on. (Isaiah 53:9 prophesied Jesus’ position with such men in His dying moments.)
Worse than all else was His abandonment by God – Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1. As Jesus vicariously bore the sins of all, in this sense becoming sin for us, He experienced what the wicked in Hell must know and feel – the utter abandonment by God, the total separation from the love and presence of the Father.
It is well-known that Muslims believe that someone was substituted for Jesus on the cross. Whilst this cry – ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me’ could be interpreted as supporting this, the request for the Father’s forgiveness for those crucifying Him is more problematic – Luke 23:34. This is even more unlikely in the light of John 19:27, where Jesus instructs John to take care of His mother – ‘Then he said to the disciple, Behold, your mother! And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.’ If it were Judas, Peter, Simon of Cyrene or whoever, this would make no sense. The same goes for the promise of imminent entry into Paradise for the repentant thief in Luke 23:43 – ‘And he said to him, Truly I say to you, Today you shall be with me in Paradise.’
(h) The Crucifixion ends on a note of victory – Tetelstai (‘tetelestai’) ‘it is finished’ and with a shout of triumph, Luke 23:46, in which having completed His work, He commits his spirit into the hands of the Father, to whom He now returns – v 43. We thus see the separation between material and immaterial aspects of a human being common before the Parousia – He yields up His spirit to God, Matthew 27:50, whilst His body is entombed, and that in the grave of a rich man, in fulfilment of Isaiah 53:9; Matthew 27:57, 60. Again, it should be observed that it would be unintelligible for Judas, Peter, Simon of Cyrene or whoever to make this shout of victory.
(i) Jesus thus triumphs over death in and through death – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57. He conquers the one who had the power of death – Hebrews 2:14-15. He has overcome the cosmological forces of sin and death – Romans 6:6-7, 9.
(j) We see the identification of the elect with Christ in His death and burial. Not only did Christ die for us, becoming a ‘curse’ for us, i.e. receiving the due threatened upon the sinner in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (and Deuteronomy 28) and stated thus in Galatians 3:13, but we have died with Him and in Him – Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:3-11. The latter passage probably speaks of spiritual, rather than water baptism. We are thus set free form sin and death – we have a key to the grave, which will be opened at the Parousia. Practically, we know that what we were formerly – the old self – went into the grave with Christ and stayed there, and that our new self has been raised with the Risen Christ that we might live unto God. Christ has dominion over sin, death and Satan, so they no longer have dominion over us, because of our identification with Him.
B. The Islamic View
It is well-known that the Qur’an specifically denies the crucifixion of Jesus. This is a daring thing to do in the light of the clear testimony of the New Testament, and also in the face of the Christian practice of the Eucharist, however erroneously Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have presented it. Since all professing Christians had Eucharistic practices and dogmas at the time of Muhammad, he could scarcely be unaware that this testified to the reality of the death of Christ. Moreover, this practice was not a later development, nor supposedly a creation of Paul, but went right back to Jesus, predicted as His Last Supper: Matthew 26:26 (Mark 14:22ff; Luke 22:19) ‘And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink this; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for remission of sins.’ We find the Eucharist also addressed and employed in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles. 13 It is hard to explain the early (indeed, immediate) and widespread practice of the Eucharist unless everyone was convinced of the reality of Christ’s death.
The Qur’anic denial of the death of Jesus did not originate in polemical dispute with Christians, but rather with Jews. Montgomery Watt has argued that the latter is the probable term of reference. 14 The Medinan Jews are said to have responded to Muhammad’s claims of being a messenger in the prophetic college of Abraham, Moses and Jesus by denying the prophetic standing of Jesus, as they had been able to kill Him. God would not have permitted Him to be put to death if He were a genuine messenger of God. Given that Muhammad claimed to be the prophetic successor to Jesus, the consequent implication is that if Jesus were a false prophet, so was Muhammad. On this basis, we can understand the necessity for the Qur’an at this point to deny the reality of the death of Jesus to safeguard not so much Him, but rather Muhammad against Jewish attacks (we shall see later that the nature and cause of this denial causes theological problems for Islam).The Jews are not totally absolved of guilt, since the Qur’an definitely accuses them of attempted murder against Jesus:
Surah An-Nisa 4:157
157. That they said (in boast) “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary the Apostle 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 of a surety they killed him not.
158. Nay Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power Wise.
159. And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them.
There are different Islamic theories as to what occurred on Calvary. This results from the ambiguity of the language of the Qur’an (Wa maa qataluhuu wa maa salabuhuu wa laakin shubbiha lahum) in this regard. Usually, it is believed that a passing Jew, one of the Roman soldiers, Judas, Simon of Cyrene or even one of the disciples, frequently Peter, was the unhappy victim, whose features were transformed by God. 15 Gilchrist refers to the work of the Islamic scholar Tabari in this regard:
Tabari, although he treats the subject very fully and gives a great number of traditions, does not seem to have known the story of a Jew who was crucified. As to Judas, he states that some of the Christians assert that he was the one made in the likeness of ‘Isa and crucified. Tabari realizes constantly the confusion in the different contradicting statements current even in his time, and after venturing the above remark, says that Allah knows best how it was. 16
Later, Gilchrist notes the comments of another Muslim, Daryabadi, on this issue: ‘It was not Jesus who was executed but another, who was miraculously substituted (how and in what way is another question, and is not touched upon in the Quran) for him.’ (The Holy Qur’an, Vol. 1, p. 96-A). However, it should be noted that the ‘substitution’ theory is not explicitly taught in the Qur’an, which simply affirms a divine miracle that made the crucifixion appear real. Essentially, a mass delusion – even affecting Jesus’ followers – occurred. However, the reference to Jesus being assumed into Paradise does seem to indicate that this belief probably derives from the teaching of the Gnostic leader Basilides, who taught that, rather like a sci-fi ‘body swap’, the features of Simon of Cyrene were altered so that he would resemble Jesus, and the same occurred in reverse to Jesus, who stood by laughing. Irenaeus writes about the beliefs of this sect:
Those angels who occupy the lowest heaven, that, namely, which is visible to us, formed all the things which are in the world, and made allotments among themselves of the earth and of those nations which are upon it. The chief of them is he who is thought to be the God of the Jews; and inasmuch as he desired to render the other nations subject to his own people, that is, the Jews, all the other princes resisted and opposed him. Wherefore all other nations were at enmity with his nation. But the father without birth and without name, perceiving that they would be destroyed, sent his own first-begotten Nous (he it is who is called Christ) to bestow deliverance on them that believe in him, from the power of those who made the world. He appeared, then, on earth as a man, to the nations of these powers, and wrought miracles. Wherefore he did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man of Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him, that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified, through ignorance and error, while Jesus himself received the form of Simon, and, standing by, laughed at them. For since he was an incorporeal power, and the Nous (mind) of the unborn father, he transfigured himself as he pleased, and thus ascended to him who had sent him, deriding them, inasmuch as he could not be laid hold of, and was invisible to all. Those, then, who know these things have been freed from the principalities who formed the world; so that it is not incumbent on us to confess him who was crucified, but him who came in the form of a man, and was thought to be crucified, and was called Jesus, and was sent by the father, that by this dispensation he might destroy the works of the makers of the world. If any one, therefore, he declares, confesses the crucified, that man is still a slave, and under the power of those who formed our bodies; but he who denies him has been freed from these beings, and is acquainted with the dispensation of the unborn father. 17
St. Clair Tisdall notes the opinions of other heretics who believed someone was substituted for Jesus:
But this view regarding Christ’s dying only in appearance and not in reality was not confined to Basilides. Photius (820-91 circa) in his Bitliotheca (Cod. 114) mentions the fact that in an apocryphal book called the ‘Travels of the Apostles’ it was asserted ‘that Christ had not been crucified, but another in His stead.’ Manes or Mani, the celebrated false prophet who at one time obtained so much influence in Persia, in a similar way held that ‘The prince of darkness therefore was fastened to the cross, and the same person bore the crown of thorns.’ It cannot be said that Muhammad denies Christ’s death on good authority, or that in doing so he is in good company. 18
It is significant that Yusuf Ali is obliged to make reference to Gnostics such as Basilides in his commentary on S. 4:157ff in order to defend the Qur’anic account, ignoring the fact Gnostic theology contradicts Islam as much as it does Christianity:
The end of the life of Jesus on earth is as much involved in mystery as his birth, and indeed the greater part of his private life, except the three main years of his ministry. It is not profitable to discuss the many doubts and conjectures among the early Christian sects and among Muslim theologians. The Orthodox Christian Churches make it a cardinal point of their doctrine that his life was taken on the Cross, that he died and was buried, that on the third day he rose in the body with his wounds intact, and walked about and conversed, and ate with his disciples, and was afterwards taken up bodily to heaven. This is necessary for the theological doctrine of blood sacrifice and vicarious atonement for sins, which is rejected by Islam. But some of the early Christian sects did not believe that Christ was killed on the Cross. The Basilidans believed that some one else was substituted for him. The Docetae held that Christ never had a real physical or natural body, but only an apparent or phantom body, and that his Crucifixion was only apparent, not real. The Marcionite Gospel (about A.D. 138) denied that Jesus was born, and merely said that he appeared in human form. The Gospel of St. Barnabas supported the theory of substitution on the Cross. The teaching is that Christ was not crucified nor killed by the Jews, notwithstanding certain apparent circumstances which produced that illusion in the’ minds of some of his enemies: that disputations, doubts, and conjectures on such matters are vain; and that he was taken up to Allah.(4.157)
There is difference of opinion as to the exact interpretation of this verse. The words are: The Jews did not kill Jesus, but Allah raised him up (rafa’u) to Himself. One school holds that Jesus did not die the usual human death, but still lives in the body in heaven, which is the generally accepted Muslim view. (4.158)
It can be inferred that the Qur’an recognises that the Jews believed that they had crucified Christ, and also that those attending the crucifixion in general were of the same perception. A further and rather obvious observation is that that Basilides and his followers were not even alive at the time of the crucifixion, and thus their views can be safely ignored as baseless. Further, the testimony of the gospels is not the only witness to the reality of the crucifixion. The Jews themselves firmly believed that they had killed Jesus: the Talmud, after accusing Him of being a ‘magician’ who ‘planned to deceive Israel with his delusions’, states ‘It is taught: On Passover Eve they hanged Yeshu …they hanged him on Passover Eve’, and quotes Deuteronomy 13:8f, which requires the execution of such a person, (Babylonian Talmud 43a) 19 It remains the orthodox Jewish belief that Jesus is being punished in Hell, a belief which necessitates His death. The Jewish historian Josephus, in his famous Antiquities of the Jews records that Jesus was slain in this way, and given that he writing after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, his testimony is especially significant: ‘…Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day…’ 20
The Roman historian Tacitus (a hostile foe of Christianity), writing after 115 AD and so not too far removed from the events, states the following in his Annals 15:44: ‘…Christus, had been executed when Tiberius was emperor by order of the procurator Pontius Pilatus.’ The Greek Epicurean historian Lucien, 100 AD, wrote that ‘The Christians continue to worship that great man who was crucified in Palestine because he brought a new religion into the world.’ 21 Thallus, a Samaritan-born historian, c. AD 52, quoted by Julius Africanus, c. AD 221, similarly affirms the reality of the crucifixion: ‘Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness [at the time of the crucifixion] as an eclipse of the sun- unreasonable, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was the time of the pascal full moon when Christ died.’ The Letter of Mara Bar-Serapion, after AD 73 (this letter resides in the British Museum): ‘What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished…. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.’ 22 Hence, Islam has to contend with the fact that the consensus of opinion, both of Christians and their foes, in and shortly following the time of the crucifixion, is that Jesus was indeed placed on the cross and died there.
The Hadith implies a bodily assumption of Jesus into Paradise. This is the natural inference from Bukhari 6.149, where it presents Jesus as saying to Allah ‘you took me up’. 23 Whilst there are parallels with the Biblical narratives of the bodily ascensions before death of Enoch and Elijah, it more likely that Gnostic theory has influenced Islam on this point, as comparison with the doctrine of Basilides we examined earlier testifies: ‘… he transfigured himself as he pleased, and thus ascended to him who had sent him, deriding them, inasmuch as he could not be laid hold of, and was invisible to all.’ The implication of both this and S. 4:157 (‘they did not kill him’) is that Jesus did not die. The reference in v159 ‘there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death’ also implies this.
There are obvious objections to the Islamic denial of the crucifixion of Jesus. Islam has no problem with God deceiving people – Surah Al-i-Imran 3:54 ‘And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers.’ Yet, it is not just the act of deception that is problematic here. How could a righteous God engage in such a callous deception that would send possibly a completely unwilling innocent man to die in this way (if it were not Judas)? Gilchrist notes that the damage done to the moral character of God by Islam’s substitution theory:
It is extremely difficult to see why God should transform the appearance of a bystander to make him look like Jesus so that the Jews and Romans could crucify him instead. The very act of misrepresenting one man as another is surely a form of impersonation and we cannot expect to find the ‘Holy God who shows himself holy in righteousness’ (Isaiah 5.16) doing such a thing. Furthermore, if it was God’s intention to deliver and save Jesus, why should anyone be crucified at all, particularly an innocent bystander (that is, one innocent of any supposed crime for which the Jews sought to crucify Jesus). Muslim writers attempt to circumvent this difficulty by proposing Judas Iscariot as the victim as his crucifixion would supposedly be a fitting consequence of his wish to betray Jesus into the same form of execution. There is no hint in the Qur’an, however, as to the identity of the victim substituted for Jesus and the choice of Judas is an obvious expedient designed to remove a troublesome objection.
What are we to say of the nature of a God Who behaves in this way or of the character of a Christ Who permits another – even if a Judas – to suffer the consequences of an antagonism His own teaching has aroused against Himself? Is this kind of victory the worthiest in prophets of God? (Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, p. 296). 24
Similarly, Steven Masood writes about the ‘substitution’ theory: ‘Whoever it was, if God made his face to look like that of Jesus at that moment so people were ‘taken in’, would this not be an intolerable deception? How could Jesus, the prophet of God, allow such a terrible deception? If God wanted to raise Jesus to heaven, why was it necessary to victimize a bystander? Many Muslims answer: “God knows.”‘ 25
A perhaps more significant objection, given that Islam has little trouble with ‘heavenly deception’, is the question of the theological import of the rescue of Jesus from the cross. It is well-known that Muslims, especially when debating Christians, will deny the need for the crucifixion on the basis of Islam’s rejection of the concept of Vicarious Reconciliation, since it instead affirms the necessity of submission to God by obedience to Islamic law (the Shari’ah). The Muslim writer Abdalati declares on this subject that ‘Islam rejects the …Crucifixion… This rejection is based on the authority of God Himself as revealed in the Qur’an and on a deeper rejection of blood sacrifice and vicarious atonement for sins.’ 26 However, it should be remembered that the denial of the crucifixion did not arise as a result of controversy with Christians, but rather in dispute with Jews. This is quite clear from the context of the passage in question, S. 4:157ff, wherein Christians are not mentioned. What is controverted is a Jewish, not Christian theological assertion. This is important, because so often Muslims (and even Christians) anachronistically read back their controversies on the means of salvation to these verses, whereas the theme of the passage is not a rejection of vicarious blood sacrifice, but rather of the supposed Jewish ‘boast’ of the execution of Jesus, and the implications this assertion possessed for the prophetic claims of Muhammad himself.
As we saw previously, Watt suggested that the denial was a result of an declaration by the Jews that Jesus was not a true prophet because He had been executed. It is quite likely that the form of His death – crucifixion, linked to a divine curse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Galatians 3:13), as well as the tradition found in the Talmud, was the basis of this belief. Hence the Muslim assertion that it only appeared to be so. It is probable that this statement accurately reflects what actually occurred between Muhammad and the Jews of Medina, whatever the origins of the rest of the passage. Indeed, it is quite possible that the remaining verses in the passage are a later insertion, because they are quite embarrassing for the ‘substitution’ theory. This is particularly true of 4:155 – ‘they slew the Messengers’. Similarly, in Surah Al-Baqarah 2:61, 87, we read about the actions of the Jews towards divine Messengers ‘That was because they disbelieved in Allah’s revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully’; ‘Some ye called impostors and others ye slay!’ The same thought is found in v91 ‘Why then have ye slain the prophets of Allah in times gone by if ye did indeed believe?’ A similar idea is found in S. 3:112 ‘That is because they used to disbelieve the revelations of Allah, and slew the Prophets wrongfully.’ Again, S. 5:70 ‘We made a covenant of old with the Children of Israel and We sent unto them messengers. As often as a messenger came unto them with that which their souls desired not (they became rebellious). Some (of them) they denied and some they slew.’ It seems that there was neither divine rescue nor any theological reason for these prophets not to be killed.
The obvious question then arises as to why then was Jesus ‘taken up’ when other prophets were slain? What was so different about Jesus? This is something Islam has yet to answer. Given that other prophets were not spared, and that according to the Qur’an, Jesus will indeed die one day, why was it necessary to preserve His life from assassination? Unlike the Biblical position, according to Islam Jesus is presently doing nothing of a salvatory character in Paradise – He is not ruling or interceding. What then is the theological import of His assumption? What theological reason is there for Jesus not to die, as did other divine messengers? There is no crucial reason for Jesus not to have been crucified and died. It serves neither theological purpose – nor any logical purpose, for that matter – for Jesus to have cheated death the way He did according to Islam.
There are two possibilities that might help to resolve this dilemma. One is that Muhammad gave a knee-jerk reaction to the Jewish polemic, which later Qur’anic redactors were unable to harmonise with other theological assertions. This is more than a possibility, given that it is often observed that the Qur’an gives the impression of hurried collation. Another possibility is that the text should read as not denying the action of murder, but rather the identity of the perpetrator. That is, we should understand the text not as rejecting the claim that the Jews killed Christ, but instead, that the Jews killed Christ. Rather, Allah was responsible, and it only appeared to the Jews that they had got their way. Elsewhere, the Qur’an tells Muslims who killed their foes at the battle of Badr, S. 8:17 ‘Ye (Muslims) slew them not, but Allah slew them. And thou (Muhammad) threwest not when thou didst throw, but Allah threw, that He might test the believers by a fair test from Him. Lo! Allah is Hearer, Knower.’ In short, divine sovereignty and providence was the agent for the crucifixion, and the Jews were merely the instrument of the heavenly purpose. Anderson notes that a form of this theory has recently been suggested by a Sudanese Muslim leader:
Mahmoud Mohammad Taha the leader of the Republican Brothers in Sudan, wrote in a booklet titled al-Masih:
The belief of the Muslims that Jesus did not die is based on Sura 4:157. But it is clear that that verse does not give that understanding … specially if we take into consideration the other verse in which God said, ‘Isa [Jesus] I am about to cause you to die and lift you up to me’, and also the words, ‘Peace be upon me, the day I was born, and the day I die, the day I am raised up alive’. Naturally the Qur’an does not contradict itself, for the expression ‘mutawaffika’ means that he will die … and also the expression ‘the day I die’ points in the same direction. So the straight understanding becomes that the Christ was killed, then raised up. And that is what is pointed to by the words of God, ‘and they slew him not of a certainty – no indeed’, which means that without any doubt they killed him, as they thought they did, but they slew him not of a certainty which is the same expression as ‘they thought they did’… this meaning appears in the Qur’an in other places such as the words of God, ‘you did not slay them, but God did, and when thou throwest, it was not thyself that threw, but God threw’. And the meaning of that verse is that, when you killed them, it was not you who killed them, but it was God.
Thus Mamoud Mohammad Taha, like the philosopher Sagastani understood from the same Qur’anic passages that Jesus was killed by the Jews without a doubt, then raised up by God. With Dr. Ayoub he found no difficulty in concluding that the Qur’an speaks plainly of the death of Jesus, otherwise the Qur’an would be contradicting itself. He then proceeded to prove that this mode of expressing the death of Christ is not unique but has a parallel in the Qur’an, indeed it is an affirmation in the form of negation. 27
This view has much to commend it, and may well be the original understanding. It would accord with the Servant passages in the Book of Isaiah – 53:10 – ‘Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; He has put him to grief:’ In other words the Lord was responsible for the death of Jesus, using the instrumentality of the sin of the Jewish priesthood to accomplish this. Recently, a Christian website paper pointed to the following Hadith, which taken in tandem with this interpretation, may echo the original Christian concept of the death of Christ (although the prophet is unidentified), especially as Luke 23:34 says: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’:
Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 9.63
Narrated by Abdullah
As if I am looking at the Prophet while he was speaking about one of the prophets whose people have beaten and wounded him, and he was wiping the blood off his face and saying, ‘O Lord! Forgive my people as they do not know.’ 28
The problem is that the Hadith corpus, as with the majority Muslim interpretation, does not seem to allow for this. As we examine the following texts, the implication is that Jesus will die after His Second Coming. If that were the case, it is difficult to see how He could have died previously. Of course, there is nothing to say that the Hadith does not contradict the Qur’an, and given the late dating of the Hadith, the interpretation it offers does not preclude the interpretation suggested by people like Mahmoud Mohammad Taha being the original one, and indeed the correct exegesis of the Qur’anic passage in question. We are obliged to say, however, that the view of Islamic sources in their entirety – i.e. the Qur’an and Sunnah – indicate that Islam denies the death of Christ on the cross:
|Sunan of Abu-Dawood Hadith 4310Narrated by AbuHurayrahThe Prophet (peace be upon him) said: There is no prophet between me and him, that is, Jesus (peace be upon him). He will descend (to the earth). When you see him, recognise him: a man of medium height, reddish fair, wearing two light yellow garments, looking as if drops were falling down from his head though it will not be wet. He will fight the people for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill swine, and abolish jizyah. Allah will perish all religions except Islam. He will destroy the Antichrist and will live on the earth for forty years and then he will die. The Muslims will pray over him.||Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.657Narrated byAbu HurairaAllah’s Apostle said, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, surely (Jesus,) the son of Mary will soon descend amongst you and will judge mankind justly (as a Just Ruler); he will break the Cross and kill the pigs and there will be no Jizya (i.e. taxation taken from non-Muslims). Money will be in abundance so that nobody will accept it, and a single prostration to Allah (in prayer) will be better than the whole world and whatever is in it.” Abu Huraira added “If you wish, you can recite (this verse of the Holy Book): ‘And there is none of the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) But must believe in him (i.e. Jesus as an Apostle of Allah and a human being) Before his death. And on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them.” (4.159)|
|Surah Al-Maidah 5:110110 Then will Allah say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! recount my favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom the Law and the Gospel. And behold! thou makest out of clay as it were the figure of a bird by My leave and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave and thou healest those born blind and the lepers by My leave. And behold! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the Clear Signs and the unbelievers among them said: ‘This is nothing but evident magic’.||Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 5772Narrated by Abdullah ibn SalamThe description of Muhammad is written in the Torah and also that Jesus, son of Mary, will be buried along with him. AbuMawdud said that a place for a grave had remained in the house.Tirmidhi transmitted it.|
We should also consider S. 5:110 in this regard, which speaks of God restraining the Jews from violence against Jesus. This could possibly speak of the cross, though, as Yusuf Ali suggests, it may be referring to incidents prior to this – ‘The Jews were seeking to take the life of Jesus long before their final attempt to crucify him: see Luke iv. 28-29. Their attempt to crucify him was also foiled, according to the teaching we have received: Q. iv. 157.’ If the latter is the case, whilst it might suggest a pattern in the life of Jesus whereby God preserved Him from destruction, it also begs the question why God would have to assume Him into Paradise, given that He protected Him otherwise previously.
A further point requires examination. In the absence of vicarious atonement, what exactly is the (earthly) ministry of Jesus according to Islam? The actual ministry of Jesus is two-fold and complementary – guidance and prophecy. It can be observed that the ministry of guidance according to Islam is exactly equivalent to the Biblical ministry of sacrifice. This can be seen by examining Genesis 3:15, the judgment of God after the sin of Adam and Eve, with God addressing the Devil as well – ‘and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’ This prophesies a Deliverer who will undo the work of Satan at cost to Himself – the first Messianic prophecy, which itself points to the Sacrificial death of Christ, and is in keeping with texts like John 12:31, which specifically deals with the Cross – ‘now the ruler of this world shall be cast out’, and 1 John 3:8 ‘For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, to destroy the works of the devil.’
When we compare this with the Qur’an, we find that instead of a promised Deliverer, there is a prediction of Guidance – S. 2:38 ‘We said: Go down, all of you, from hence; but verily there cometh unto you from Me a guidance; and whoso followeth My guidance, there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve’; S. 20:123 ‘He said: Go down hence, both of you, one of you a foe unto the other. But if there come unto you from Me a guidance, then whoso followeth My guidance, he will not go astray nor come to grief.’ It is clear that Guidance of this sort has a salvatory function from what is stated in S. 7:35 ‘O Children of Adam! If messengers of your own come unto you who narrate unto you My revelations, then whosoever refraineth from evil and amendeth there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.’
On this basis, we should not be surprised to find Islam presenting not a Jesus who willingly and in the determination of God suffers a sacrificial death, but rather one se primary ministry is to mediate divine revelation. It is in this sense and context we should understand the Qur’anic references to the Gospel bestowed upon and brought by Jesus. Of course, by the Injil Muslims often understand not so much the message, the kerygma, but a revelatory Book. This is perceived as a portion of the Book of Allah preserved on heavenly tablets: S. 3:23 ‘Hast thou not turned thy vision to those who have been given a portion of the Book? They are invited to the Book of Allah to settle their dispute but a party of them turn back and decline (the arbitration).’ Yusuf Ali comments ‘A portion of the Book. I conceive that Allah’s revelation as a whole throughout the ages is ‘The Book’. The Law of Moses, and the Gospel of Jesus were portions of the Book. The Qur’an completes the revelation and is par excellence the Book of Allah. (3.23)’ Similarly, Surah Al-i’ Imran 3:3 is instructive on this issue: ‘It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step) in truth the Book confirming what went before it; and He sent down Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this as a guide to mankind and He sent down the Criterion (of judgment between right and wrong).’ In the Biblical schema, Jesus brings in His person and His work the means of salvation – His redemptive, vicarious self-sacrifice. In Islam, He brings the Book of Allah. The common aspect between the two religions is that with Jesus, the means of salvation has come from heaven to earth. The difference is the identity and nature of that means of salvation.
The ministry of Jesus therefore consists of divine revelation accompanied by attesting miracles. This can be seen from S. 3:46ff, where Jesus as the divine Apostle reveals the will of God whilst yet a babe! Specifically, this message involves testimony to the truth of the Torah, a change in the food laws (probably reflecting Mark 7:19), and the affirmation of the unique worship of Allah, belief in which is the testimony of relationship to Allah:
Surah Al-i’ Imran 3:46
46 “He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity and he shall be (of the company) of the righteous.”
48 “And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom the Law and the Gospel.
49 “And (appoint him) an Apostle to the Children of Israel (with this message): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I make for you out of clay as it were the figure of a bird and breathe into it and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave; and I heal those born blind and the lepers and I quicken the dead by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe.
50 “(I have come to you) to attest the Law which was before me and to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah and obey me.
51 “It is Allah who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a way that is straight.”
52 When Jesus found unbelief on their part he said: “Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?” Said the Disciples: “We are Allah’s helpers we believe in Allah and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims.
53 “Our Lord! we believe in what thou hast revealed and we follow the Apostle; then write us down among those who bear witness.”
Similar thoughts on the saving nature of guidance are found in other texts, such as S. 5:46 ‘And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary confirming the law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light and confirmation of the law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah’, and S. 2:87 ‘We gave Jesus the son of Mary clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit.’ The content of this ‘guidance’ might surprise many Christians familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, since it included an injunction to jihad: Surah At-Tauba 9:111 ‘Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their good; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth through the Law the Gospel and the Qur’an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah?’ Far from urging forgiveness for His enemies, the Islamic Jesus cursed them, S. 5:78: ‘curses were pronounced on those among the children of Israel who rejected Faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus the son of Mary’.
According to Surah An-Nisaa 4:160, the original kosher regulations were a divine punishment, so it is significant, if contradictory, that despite the iniquity of the Jews continuing during the ministry of Jesus, and in fact climaxing with their rejection of Him, the Gospel Jesus received apparently relieved them of this punitive burden: ‘For the iniquity of the Jews We made unlawful for them certain (foods) good and wholesome which had been lawful for them; in that they hindered many from Allah’s way.’ Despite this, Yusuf Ali comments on Surah Al-Ahqaf 46:12: ‘The last revealed Book which was a Code of Life (Shari’at) was the Book of Moses; for that of Jesus was not such a Code, but merely moral precepts to sweep away the corruptions that had crept in. The Qur’an has the same attitude to it as the teaching of Jesus had to the Law. Jesus said (Matt. v. 17): “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” But the corruptions took new forms in Christian Churches: an entirely new Shari’at became necessary, and this was provided in Islam.’ It is difficult to harmonise this interpretation with S. 4:160, especially since food laws are a principal consideration of the Shari’ah.
The emphasis on the unique worship of God is clear from Surah Az-Zukhruf 43:63, where we read that ‘When Jesus came with Clear Signs he said: “Now have I come to you with Wisdom and in order to make clear to you some of the (points) on which ye dispute: therefore fear Allah and obey me. 64 “For Allah; He is my Lord and your Lord: so worship ye Him: this is a Straight Way.”‘ Specifically, this ‘Gospel’ guidance did not contain an affirmation of Christ’s deity, according to Surah Al-Maidah 5:116–117: ‘And behold! Allah will say “O Jesus the son of Mary! didst thou say unto men ‘worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah”? He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say)… 117 “Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say to wit ‘Worship Allah my Lord and your Lord’…’ The same call to the unique worship of Allah and the denial of that worship to Jesus is found in v72 of the same surah.
As we saw earlier, Islam presents the sufferings of Jesus as presaging those of Muhammad. There is no sense of the Cross being the earthly climax of Christ’s ministry prior to the Resurrection, and in the absence of the death of Christ, and for that matter the resurrection and session, it follows that something else is the climactic terminus of His ministry. The answer is found in S. 33:40 ‘Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets…’, and also in the Hadith:
|Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.652Narrated by Abu HurairaAllah’s Apostle said, ‘Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.’Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.651Narrated by Abu HurairaI heard Allah’s Apostle saying, ‘I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary, and all the prophets are paternal brothers, and there has been no prophet between me and him (i.e. Jesus).’||Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.658Narrated by Abu HurairaAllah’s Apostle said “How will you be when the son of Mary (i.e. Jesus) descends amongst you and he will judge people by the Law of the Qur’an and not by the law of Gospel?Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.655Narrated byAbu Musa Al AshariAllah’s Apostle said, ‘…if a man believes in Jesus and then believes in me, he will get a double reward…’|
|Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.734Narrated by Jabir bin AbdullahThe Prophet said, ‘My similitude in comparison with the other prophets is that of a man who has built a house completely and excellently except for a place of one brick. When the people enter the house, they admire its beauty and say: “But for the place of this brick (how splendid the house will be)!”‘Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.735Narrated by Abu HurairaAllah’s Apostle said, ‘My similitude in comparison with the other prophets before me, is that of a man who has built a house nicely and beautifully, except for a place of one brick in a corner. The people go about it and wonder at its beauty, but say: “Would that this brick be put in its place!” So I am that brick, and I am the last of the Prophets.’||Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 5791Narrated by Ali ibn AbuTalibWhen Ali described the Prophet (peace be upon him) he said: …Between his shoulders was the seal of prophecy and he was the seal of the prophets…Tirmidhi transmitted it.Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 1.189Narrated by As Saib bin YazidMy aunt took me to the Prophet and said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! This son of my sister has got a disease in his legs.’ So he passed his hands on my head and prayed for Allah’s blessings for me; then he performed ablution and I drank from the remaining water. I stood behind him and saw the seal of Prophethood between his shoulders, and it was like the ‘Zir-al-Hijla’ (means the button of a small tent, but some said ‘egg of a partridge.’ etc.)Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 5764
Narrated by Jabir ibn Abdullah
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘I am the leader (qa’id) of the messengers, and this is no boast; I am the seal of the prophets, and this is no boast; and I shall be the first to make intercession and the first whose intercession is accepted, and this is no boast.’
Darimi transmitted it.
It can be seen that ultimately, the ministry of Muhammad supplants the role of the crucifixion of Christ. Even the distinctive Guidance Jesus brings from God – the Gospel – is superseded by the Qur’an at His return. The ministry of Jesus is simply the penultimate stage of the prophetic line. Indeed, we may be bold enough to argue that effectively, the Muslim Jesus approximates to the role of John the Baptist in the Bible – the preparatory forerunner. His ministry sets the typological pattern for Muhammad, as can be seen from a comparison of S. 61:6 and S. 5:110, with the references to the charges of occultism against both prophets:
|Surah Al-Maidah 5:110110 Then will Allah say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! recount my favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom the Law and the Gospel. And behold! thou makest out of clay as it were the figure of a bird by My leave and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave and thou healest those born blind and the lepers by My leave. And behold! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the Clear Signs and the unbelievers among them said: ‘This is nothing but evident magic’.||Surah As-Saff 61:6And remember Jesus the son of Mary said: ‘O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of Allah (sent) to you confirming the Law (which came) before me and giving glad Tidings of an Apostle to come after me whose name shall be Ahmad.’ But when he came to them with Clear Signs they said ‘This is evident sorcery!’|
In fact, the parallel is absolute when we consider the prediction of Muhammad (‘Ahmad’) in S. 61:6. Hence, the climax of Christ’s ministry according to Islam is not found in His own activity, but in that of another – Muhammad. With the advent of Muhammad, the typological and prophetic terminus has been reached. Muhammad is said to have stated in his farewell sermon ‘O People, no prophet or apostle will come after me and no new faith will be born’. Thus, what the Epistle to the Hebrews 1:1-2 states of Jesus being the fulfilment of the revelation of God applies in Islam to Muhammad. The ministry of Jesus in Islam is not the crux and apex of salvation-history as it is in the Bible. Whatever the interpretation of Surah 4:157, it is clear that for Islam, the cross is emptied of its meaning, since ultimately the means of salvation awaited the coming of the Arabian Apostle.
It is precisely at this point that incongruities arise. If Jesus is so secondary, why is the end of the world according to Islam presaged by His return, and not that of Muhammad? Why is the great eschatological agent of Satan called Ad-Dajjal Al-Masih – the Antichrist, and not the ‘Anti-Muhammad’? Why is the conversion of the world to Islam accomplished by His return than by a second advent of Muhammad? Why was Muhammad allowed to die partly as a result of an enemy poisoning his food when Jesus was bodily assumed to safeguard Him from harm? Why are the conception, ante-natal activity and birth of Jesus so uniquely miraculous if Muhammad is the climax of salvation-history? Why does Jesus speak as a prophet from His cradle, when Muhammad has to wait until the age of forty? Moreover, and crucially, other than to predict the coming of Muhammad, what is the point of Christ’s ministry at all?
The partial answer to this, about which we have touched earlier, also supplies a further problem. The ministry of Muhammad, whilst predicted by Jesus according to the Qur’an, and the climax of the prophetic line, was not according to S. 6:89 inevitable. If the Jews had welcomed the ministry of Jesus, the prophetic line would not have passed to the Arabs, making the call of Muhammad impossible! Of course, the rejection of Jesus is the climactic eschatological reason for the transference of the line of prophethood, so in that respect, we can see a crucial role for the ministry of Jesus, but it is difficult to see how this text can be reconciled with S. 61:6 if the Jews had responded positively to Jesus. Yusuf Ali writes about this text (S. 6.89): ‘Them, i.e., the Book, and authority and Prophethood. They were taken away from the other People of the Book and entrusted to the holy Apostle Muhammad and his People.’
Surah Al-An’am 6:83
83 That was the reasoning about Us which We gave to Abraham (to use) against his people: We raise whom We will degree after degree: for thy Lord is full of wisdom and knowledge.
84 We gave him Isaac and Jacob: all (three) We guided: and before him We guided Noah and before him We guided Noah and among his progeny David Solomon Job Joseph Moses and Aaron: thus do We reward those who do good:
85 And Zakariya and John and Jesus and Elias: all in the ranks of the righteous:
86 And Ismail and Elisha and Jonas and Lot: and to all We gave favour above the nations:
87 (To them) and to their fathers and progeny and brethren: We chose them. And We guided them to a straight way.
88 This is the guidance of Allah: He giveth that guidance to whom He pleaseth of His worshippers. If they were to join other gods with Him all that they did would be vain for them.
89 These were the men to whom We gave the Book and authority and prophethood: if these (their descendants) reject them behold! We shall entrust their charge to a new People who reject them not.
90 Those were the (prophets) who received Allah’s guidance: copy the guidance they received; Say: ‘No reward for this do I ask of you: this is no less than a Message for the nations.’
It can be seen that the Islamic position is riddled with inconsistencies. This is largely the result of attempting to synthesise the ministry of Jesus with that of Muhammad by elevating the latter, and to harmonise the distinctive claims of the Biblical Jesus with the Arabian Apostle and their contradictory means of salvation. Given both the historical priority of Jesus, His unique personal standing, and His climactic eschatological role, this undertaking is impossible. Hence the muddled views of Islam on the issue.
6. The Descent Into Hades
A. The Biblical view
The Roman Catholic Church traditionally believed that His death, Jesus entered the Limbus Patrum, the supposed abode of Old Testament saints, and proclaimed His triumphant redemption. He then led them into heaven:
The first truth is that Jesus truly died. By saying that he ‘descended into hell’, Christians affirmed that he was really dead. It meant the humiliation of being dead, of being cut off from life… It is now revealed that the Lord is with us even in death. This is the first meaning of ‘descended into hell’… Jesus was ‘gathered to his fathers’, that is, he joined the great mass of the dead. And so the Church began to think of the millions who had died before Christ, and for whom God also cared Jesus was imagined as announcing the redemption, immediately after his death, to the mass of the dead. ‘He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey… in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark’ (1 Pet. 3:20)… Later, it was said that they waited in limbo, ‘the limbo of the Fathers’. 29
Suffice it to say that Scripture knows of no such abode. Article III of the 39 Articles of the Church of England, ‘Of the going down of Christ into Hell’, states ‘As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also is it to be believed that He went down into Hell.’ The Lutheran Augsburg Confession echoes this thought in Article III of its constitution – ‘truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried… He also descended into hell, and truly rose again the third day…’ The Heidelberg Confession states the same in regard to its twenty-third question. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VIII section four, states that Christ ‘endured most grievous torments immediately in His soul, and most painful sufferings in His body; was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption.’ The Second Helvetic Confession of the Swiss Reformed churches does not address the subject directly, but states in its eleventh chapter
‘We believe, moreover, that our Lord Jesus Christ truly suffered and died for us in the flesh, as Peter says (1 Peter 4:1). We abhor the most impious madness of the Jacobites and all the Turks [i.e. Muslims] who execrate the suffering of the Lord. At the same time we do not deny that the Lord of glory was crucified for us, according to Paul’s words (1 Cor. 2:8)… We believe and teach that the same Jesus Christ our Lord, in his true flesh in which he was crucified and died, rose again from the dead…’
This idea of Christ’s descent into Hell probably derives from the so-called ‘Apostles’ Creed’, as implied by the reference in the Augsburg Confession itself to this creed, which is not a product of the Apostles themselves but a later attempt to relate Apostolic teaching in the face of heresy, states that Christ descended into ‘hell’. Berkhof suggests it was first employed circa 390 AD, in the Latin terms descendit in inferna, which can denote either descent into ‘lower parts’ or ‘hades’. 30 Neither the original creed of Nicaea nor the later ‘Nicene creed’ present such a thought of descent into Gehenna, but rather that Jesus ‘suffered’ in the words of the former creed, and ‘suffered and was buried’ in the latter.
The concept is completely absent from the Bible. The promise to the repentant thief ‘Today you will be with Me in Paradise’ totally excludes it. Rather, Acts 2:27 speaks about the Messiah being in hades. By this hades the state of death, rather than Gehenna, the place of eternal punishment is meant. The Hebrew term in the Old Testament is Sheol; the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) translates this by hades. Sometimes the term is used for the ‘grave’, other times both senses are apparent – if someone had died and been buried, he is in the grave. A consideration of some sample texts points to the term referring to the state of death – 1 Samuel 2:6; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 14:9-11; 38:10; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14. We shall look at the Biblical basis for this.
(a) Ephesians 4:9 – ‘He also descended into the lower parts of the earth’. Some equate the latter location with Hades, the Realm of the Dead; as we have seen, some even identify it as hell, but this is untenable, as the place of punishment is not probationary, and no second chance for salvation is possible – Hebrews 9:27 makes clear that the eschatological destiny of everyone is settled at death.
The Passion narratives indicate that the soul of Jesus upon His death went immediately to heaven – Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:43, 46. The soul of a man upon death enters immediately upon his destiny and destination – cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23; Revelation 14:13. Christ, as a man, would have conformed to this pattern – such is essential for the reality of His humanity. Nor is there any evidence from the Resurrection narratives of Jesus descending into ‘hell’ or anywhere else prior to His ascension in Acts 1:9.
The text in question does not develop the theme of the descent into the lower parts of the earth, but rather stresses the fact that Christ has ascended, and done so in order to sanctify Church. Berkhof states ‘…the opposite of the ascension is the incarnation, cf. John 3:13. Hence the majority of commentators take the expression as referring simply to the earth’. 31 He sees Psalm 139:15 as an influence here (cf. also Isaiah 44:23). In my view, the ‘lower parts’ of the earth are simply placed in antithetical apposition to ‘all the heavens’ – the latter meaning either the scriptural idea of the three heavens or the Jewish idea of seven heavens – after all, if we take the former phrase in a crass form of literalism, we must do the same for the latter – so that is would mean that Christ ascended above the heavens – that He was not now in heaven. Thus the contrast is simply between heaven and earth, ascension and incarnation.
(b) 1 Peter 3:18-19: ‘he went and preached to the spirits in prison’. The first question is the identity of the imprisoned spirits. One view is that they are the fallen angels of Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4. Clearly, the ‘preaching’ involved could not be evangelisation, as no provision for the redemption of demons has been made. It is suggested that a triumphal declaration is indicated, but such seems rather forced. Moreover, the succeeding texts refer to those disobedient during the time of Noah, and humans are indicated. There are thus three possible views:
(i) The reference is those who died in their sins in Old Testament times: but as we have seen, no second chance is given.
(ii) Old Testament saints are in view: but the syntax and context rule this out. The spirits in question are in ‘prison’, a punitive term wholly inappropriate to describe the blessedness of the righteous dead. What Old Testament evidence there is indicates that Old Testament saints went to heaven – 2 Kings 2:1; Hebrews 11:5. Moreover, v 20 clearly states that the disobedient are in view.
(iii) As indicated above, disobedient spirits are in view, and specifically the people of Noah’s day – v 20. The context would seem to be limited to these alone. Peter is referring to an Old Testament event – the Flood – which is presented as a ‘type’ of something in the New Testament – specifically baptism, which v 21 says is the ‘anti-type’ of the salvation wrought in the Flood. In 2 Peter 2:4ff the Flood is one of several types (v 6) to which Peter refers. Thus, the preaching is restricted to the disobedient persons of the time of Noah and this helps to establish that the incident referred to – preaching to the ungodly – was something accomplished at that time, not is the time of the Incarnation. 2 Peter 2:5 seems to support this by referring to Noah as a ‘preacher of righteousness’.
This leads us on to discover the meaning of ‘spirit’ in 1 Peter 3:18. Pneumati here is probably an instrumental dative, and probably refers to the Holy Spirit, rather than man’s spirit. The reference to ‘quickening’ is not used in the New Testament with respect to the intermediate state: it denotes resurrection, either physical or spiritual e.g. Romans 8:11, John 5:21. Where sarx (flesh) is in contrast to pneuma and the latter is in apposition to ‘life’, especially ‘quickening’, the context suggests that pneuma refers to the Holy Spirit, e.g. John 6:63: the Holy Spirit is the agent of Resurrection – Romans 8:11. As we have seen, there is no evidence that the Risen Christ went anywhere but straight to heaven, nor is any claim to the contrary made here: it simply says that in the Spirit He went to preach to those of Noah’s day in Noah’s time – the same spirits now imprisoned.
Hosea 9:7 says that a prophet is ‘a man of the Spirit’. Noah was engaged in prophetic proclamation – 2 Peter 2:5 calls him a ‘herald of righteousness’. Genesis 6:3 relates how the Spirit did address Himself to the antediluvians, and the two verses inform us that He did so through the agency of Noah, preaching in the power of the Spirit to those now in prison. The Spirit and Christ (and the Father) share the same essence, so it can be said that whoever receives the Son receives the Spirit and the Father. Peter has already identified the work of the Third Person of the Trinity in the Old Testament as that of ‘the Spirit of Christ’, and done so in a context like this one of the impartation of revelation. Peter is quite keen on relating OT types and examples to contemporary matters. Thus the text does not teach Christ’s descent into Hell.
(1 Peter 4:6 probably does not refer to this or any other Old Testament event but rather to dead New Testament Christians. The text clearly speaks of them living unto God – i.e. they were righteous, unlike the sinful dead of 3:19-20. Kai here has the sense of ‘indeed’ – i.e. ‘for this reason indeed’. Those now dead – i.e. in Christ – had the gospel formerly preached to them. ‘Spirit’ again refers to the Holy Spirit, and probably refers to the life of their earthly sojourn. Nothing is said in the verse about Christ proclaiming the gospel to them whilst dead. The text looks back to v 5, and forward to vs. 17-18.)
(c) Psalm 16:8-10/Acts 2:25-27, 30, 31: ‘You will not leave my soul in Sheol; neither will you suffer your Holy One (hasid) to suffer Corruption’.
(i) We must first ask what Sheol means here: since it is contrasted with resurrection, the most obvious understanding is that it does not refer to Hell, but rather to the grave, or to the state of death.
(ii) The next question is the identity of the figure(s) here: the author of the psalm is David, and vs. 8-9 are clearly about himself. Hasid is best translated ‘Favoured One’ the object of grace. David claimed to be such in Psalm 4:4; 89:19-20. From Deuteronomy 33:8 (cf. Exodus 17:2, 7); 1 Samuel 2:9-10, etc., we know it came to have messianic overtones. Thus, David was a forerunner of the ultimate hasid – the Christ.
We can thus see the importance of Acts 2:27: David was confident of his eventual resurrection from the grave and the state of death because he knew that God would resurrect the anti-typical hasid, Jesus, with whom he was in union; the concept is similar to that of 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. Hence the text does not mean Christ first went to hell, but merely that He died! There is thus no evidence that Christ ever descended into hell; He simply entered the state of death.
Theologically, the significance for Christians is that as original sin – ‘the old man’ was crucified with Christ so that we would be liberated from the power of sin, Romans 6:6, the mystical union of the Church with Christ means that ‘the old man’ was buried with Him, Romans 6:4 ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death: that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life’; Colossians 2:12 ‘having been buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.’ Christians are identified with Christ in his burial and entry into the state of death – the sinful nature is entombed there.
B. The Islamic view
Clearly, if Jesus was bodily assumed into Paradise in a miraculous rescue from the cross, He cannot have entered the state of death. In this regard, Islam has nothing that corresponds to this stage. However, this is not to say that Islam does not believe Jesus will avoid death. The latter clause of S. 4:159 (‘And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them.’) is also problematic for Islamic theology. Yusuf Ali comments that there is some disagreement about the interpretation of this:
Before his death: Interpreters are not agreed as to the exact meaning. Those who hold that Jesus did not die refer the pronoun ‘his’ to Jesus. They say that Jesus is still living in the body and that he will appear just before the Final Day, after the coming of the Mahdi, when the world will be purified of sin and unbelief. There will be a final death before the final Resurrection, but all will have believed before that final death. Others think that ‘his’ is better referred to ‘none of the People of the Book’, and that the emphatic form ‘must believe’ (la-yu’ minanna) denotes more a question of duty than of fact. (4.159)
Muslims usually take the reference to Jesus dying here as allusion to His death after His Second Coming, as Yusuf Ali indicates. Another text compounds the ambiguity of the Qur’an about the death of Jesus: S.19:33 – ‘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)’! A similar phrase is found with reference to John the Baptist in S. 19:15 – ‘So Peace on him the day he was born the day that he dies and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!’ Even more difficult is S. 3:55: ‘Behold! Allah said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject Faith to the Day of Resurrection; then shall ye all return unto Me and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.”‘(Yusuf Ali) The Arabic is Iz qa lalla hu ya ‘isa inni mutawaffika wa ra fi’uka ilayya wa mutahhiruka minal lazina kafaru wa ja ‘ilul lazinattaba’u ka fauqal lazina kafaru ila yaumil qiya mah(ti), summa ilayya marji’ukum fa ahkumu bainakum fima kuntum fihi takhtalifu n(a). The word mutawaffika definitely means ’cause to die’.
In the context of the passage, it appears that those blaspheming or disbelieving are Jews, as Yusuf Ali suggests, even though his interpretation is probably inaccurate, given that he refers this to the Jewish charge against Jesus of blasphemy, rather than the calumnies of the Jews themselves, which the text has in focus. 32 The reference to ‘raising’ or ‘ascending’ could mean either resurrection or the assumption of Jesus. If the latter is what is meant, then this would support the view that the Qur’an doessupport the view that Jesus died on the cross, and His spirit ascended to Paradise, specifically Barzakh, the intermediate state. 33
In critique, there is something incongruous in Jesus enjoying (so far) two thousand years in bodily existence in Paradise to descend to earth for a short time, only to die and enter the same state disembodied. Yet again, this is evidence of how Islam has been unable to harmonise its incorporation of the uniqueness of Jesus into its own theological schema. We have seen that from the Hadith Jesus is fated to die after His return, in a normal and non-violent way, with no soteriological significance for Muslims, as it does for Christians. The only significance His grave will possess is that of honour, being situated between that of Muhammad and Abu Bakr, the first caliph.
- Vos, Geerhardus, ‘The Priesthood of Christ in Hebrews’, in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter writings of Geerhardus Vos, (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., USA, 1980; original article in Princeton Theological Review, 1907), pp. 147-148. ↩
- Murray, John, ‘The Obedience of Christ’, Collected Writings Vol. 2, p. 151. ↩
- Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology, p. 380. ↩
- Deedat, Ahmed, The God that never was, http://www.ais.org/~maftab/neverwas.htm ↩
- ibid. ↩
- Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 6.236, Narrated by Abu Huraira, “Some (cooked) meat was brought to Allah’s Apostle and the meat of a forearm was presented to him as he used to like it. He ate a morsel of it and said, ‘I will be the chief of all the people on the Day of Resurrection. Do you know the reason for it? Allah will gather all the human beings of early generations as well as late generations on one plain so that the announcer will be able to make them all hear his voice and the watcher will be able to see all of them. The sun will come so close to the people that they will suffer such distress and trouble as they will not be able to bear or stand. Then the people will say, “Don’t you see to what state you have reached? Won’t you look for someone who can intercede for you with your Lord?” Some people will say to some others, “Go to Adam.” So they will go to Adam and say to him, “You are the father of mankind; Allah created you with His Own Hand, and breathed into you of His Spirit (meaning the spirit which he created for you); and ordered the angels to prostrate before you; so (please) intercede for us with your Lord. Don’t you see in what state we are? Don’t you see what condition we have reached?” Adam will say, “Today my Lord has become angry as He has never become before, nor will ever become thereafter. He forbade me (to eat of the fruit of) the tree, but I disobeyed Him. Myself! Myself! Myself! (has more need for intercession). Go to someone else; go to Noah.” So they will go to Noah and say (to him), “O Noah! You are the first (of Allah’s Messengers) to the people of the earth, and Allah has named you a thankful slave; please intercede for us with your Lord. Don’t you see in what state we are?” He will say, “Today my Lord has become angry as He has never become nor will ever become thereafter. I had (in the world) the right to make one definitely accepted invocation, and I made it against my nation. Myself! Myself! Myself! Go to someone else; go to Abraham.” They will go to Abraham and say, “O Abraham! You are Allah’s Apostle and His Khalil from among the people of the earth; so please intercede for us with your Lord. Don’t you see in what state we are?” He will say to them, “My Lord has today become angry as He has never become before, nor will ever become thereafter. I had told three lies (Abu Haiyan (the sub-narrator) mentioned them in the Hadith. Myself! Myself! Myself! Go to someone else; go to Moses.” The people will then go to Moses and say, “O Moses! You art Allah’s Apostle and Allah gave you superiority above the others with this message and with His direct Talk to you; (please) intercede for us with your Lord! Don’t you see in what state we are?” Moses will say, “My Lord has today become angry as He has never become before, nor will become thereafter, I killed a person whom I had not been ordered to kill. Myself! Myself! Myself! Go to someone else; go to Jesus.” So they will go to Jesus and say, “O Jesus! You are Allah’s Apostle and His Word which He sent to Mary, and a superior soul created by Him, and you talked to the people while still young in the cradle. Please intercede for us with your Lord. Don’t you see in what state we are?” Jesus will say, “My Lord has today become angry as He has never become before nor will ever become thereafter.” Jesus will not mention any sin, but will say, “Myself! Myself! Myself! Go to someone else; go to Muhammad.” So they will come to me and say, “O Muhammad ! You are Allah’s Apostle and the last of the prophets, and Allah forgave your early and late sins. (Please) intercede for us with your Lord. Don’t you see in what state we are?”‘ The Prophet added, ‘Then I will go beneath Allah’s Throne and fall in prostration before my Lord. And then Allah will guide me to such praises and glorification to Him as He has never guided anybody else before me. Then it will be said, “O Muhammad! Raise your head. Ask, and it will be granted. Intercede! It (your intercession) will be accepted.” So I will raise my head and say, “My followers, O my Lord! My followers, O my Lord”. It will be said, “O Muhammad! Let those of your followers who have no accounts, enter through such a gate of the gates of Paradise as lies on the right; and they will share the other gates with the people.”‘ The Prophet further said, ‘By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, the distance between every two gate-posts of Paradise is like the distance between Mecca and Busra (in Sham).’
Surah Muhammad 47:19, “So know (O Muhammad) that there is no God save Allah, and ask forgiveness for thy sin and for believing men and believing women. Allah knoweth (both) your place of turmoil and your place of rest.” (Pickthall) ↩
- Surah Maryam 19:16ff, “16 Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. 17 She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them: then We sent to her Our angel and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. 18 She said: ‘I seek refuge from thee to (Allah) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah.’ 19 He said: ‘Nay I am only a messenger from thy Lord (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.’” ↩
- Zwemer, Samuel, The Muslim Christ, (Message for the Muslims Trust, originally published by Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, Edinburgh and London, 1912), p. 28. ↩
- ibid., p. 126, quoting Hayat Al-Hayawan, p. 227, by Ad-Damiri. ↩
- Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.652, Narrated by Abu Huraira, “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.'” ↩
- Grogan, Geoffrey, I want to know what the Bible says about Jesus, (Kingsway, Eastbourne, 1979), p. 77. ↩
- Matthew 26:52 “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put away your sword: for all those taking the sword shall perish with the sword. 53 Or do you not think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He shall at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?'”
Luke 22:49 “And when those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ 50 And a certain one of them struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered and said, ‘Stop! No more of this.’ And He touched his ear, and healed him.”
John 18:10 “Simon Peter therefore having a sword drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. Now the servant’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus therefore said unto Peter, ‘Put back the sword into the sheath: the cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?'” ↩
- Acts 2:42 ‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.’
Acts 2:46 ‘And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home…’
Acts 20:7 ‘And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul spoke to them, intending to depart the next day; and prolonged his speech until midnight.’
Acts 20:11 ‘And when he went up, and had broken the bread…’
1 Corinthians 10:16 ‘The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?’
1 Corinthians 10:17 ‘seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread.’
1 Corinthians 11:23 “For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread; 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ 25 In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For as often as you eat this bread, and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” ↩
- Watt, Montgomery, Muhammad in Medina, (Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 317. ↩
- Robinson, Neal, Christ in Islam and Christianity, (Macmillan, London, 1991), pp.111-140. ↩
- Gilchrist, John, The Christian witness to the Muslim, http://www.answering-islam.org/gilchrist/vol2/index.html quoting Elder, J., ‘The Crucifixion in the Koran’, The Muslim World, Vol. 13, p. 246. ↩
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 24:4. ↩
- Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall, The Original Sources of The Qur’ân, (1905, Society For The Promotion of Christian Knowledge, London), p. 184. ↩
- Jadeed, Iskander, The Cross in the Gospel and the Qur’an, (The Good Way, Switzerland), pp. 34-35. France, R.T., The Evidence for Jesus, (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1986), p. 33. ↩
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:63-64. ↩
- Jadeed, The Cross in the Gospel and the Qur’an, pp. 32-33. ↩
- The Crucifixion nnd Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Historical Fact, http://www.spotlights.org/Cx-2.htm ↩
- Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 6.149, Narrated by Ibn Abbas, “Allah’s Apostle delivered a sermon and said, ‘O people! You will be gathered before Allah bare-footed, naked and not circumcised.’ Then (quoting Quran) he said: ‘As We began the first creation, We shall repeat it. A promise We have undertaken: Truly we shall do it…’ (21.104) The Prophet then said, ‘The first of the human beings to be dressed on the Day of Resurrection, will be Abraham. Lo! Some men from my followers will be brought and then (the angels) will drive them to the left side (Hell-Fire). I will say. ‘O my Lord! (They are) my companions!’ Then a reply will come (from Almighty), ‘You do not know what they did after you.’ I will say as the pious slave (the Prophet Jesus) said: And I was a witness over them while I dwelt amongst them. When You took me up, You were the Watcher over them and You are a Witness to all things.’ (5.117) Then it will be said, ‘These people have continued to be apostates since you left them.'” ↩
- Gilchrist, The Christian witness to the Muslim. ↩
- Masood, Steven, Jesus and the Indian Messiah, (Word of Life, Oldham, 1994), p. 48. ↩
- Abdalati, Hammudah, Islam in Focus, (American Trust Publications, 1975), p. 159. ↩
- Anderson, M., Jesus The Light and the Fragrance of God, http://www.answering-islam.org.uk/Mna/frag4_2.html ↩
- http://www.answering-islam.org.uk/Cross/hadith.html ↩
- A New Catechism – Catholic Faith for Adults, (Search Press, London, 1970), p. 177. ↩
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 340. ↩
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 341. ↩
- Yusuf Ali comments:
394 Read this with iv. 157, where it is said that ‘whereas they slew him not nor they crucified him but it was made dubious unto them.’ The guilt of the Jews remained, but Jesus was eventually taken up to Allah. (3.55)
395 Jesus was charged by the Jews with blasphemy as claiming to be Allah or the son of Allah. The Christians (except a few early sects which were annihilated by persecution, and the modern sect of Unitarians), adopted the substance of the claim, and made it the cornerstone of their faith. Allah clears Jesus of such a charge or claim. (3.55)
396 Those who follow thee refers to those who followed Jesus in contrast to the Jews who rejected him. (3.55)
397 All the controversies about dogma and faith will disappear when we appear before Allah. He will judge not by what we profess but by what we are. (3.55) ↩
- Fiqh-us-Sunnah: Fiqh 4.95, The Abode of Souls, Ibn al-Qayyim dealt with this subject under a separate chapter in which he mentions opinions of various scholars concerning the abode of souls. Mentioning the most correct position he explained, “It is said that the abodes of the souls in barzakh vary considerably. Some of them are in the highest reaches of the heavens, such as the souls of the Prophets, peace be upon them all. Their status also varies as observed by the Prophet, peace be upon him, during the night of Isra.”Some souls are in the form of green birds who roam around freely in Paradise. These are the souls of some of the martyrs, but not all of them. The souls of some martyrs are prevented from entering Paradise on account of their debts or some other similar thing. This is supported by a report by Ibn Hanbal in his Musnad from Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Jahsh that “A man came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and asked, ‘O Allah’s Prophet! What would I have if I am killed in the cause of Allah?’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, replied, ‘Paradise.’ But, when the man got up to go, the Prophet added, ‘Unless you have some debts to pay. Gabriel has informed me about it just now’.”Some souls will be locked out at the gate of Paradise, in accordance with this hadith: “I have seen your companion locked out at the gate of Paradise.” Other souls are restricted to their graves as is evident from the hadith about the martyr who had stolen a cloak (He had stolen it out of the spoils of war before their proper distribution) when he was killed, the people asked, “Will he have bliss in Paradise?” The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, the cloak which he stole causes a fire to flare over him in his grave.”The abode of others is at the gate of Paradise, as described in a hadith by Ibn ‘Abbas that, “The abode of martyrs is in a green dome, on a bright river, near the gate of Paradise. Their provision comes from Paradise in the morning and in the evening.” (Ahmad) This does not apply to Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, whose hands were transformed into wings, and with these he flies wherever he wishes in Paradise.
Others remain confined to earth, for these souls cannot rise to heaven. Indeed, these are base, earthly souls which do not mix with the heavenly souls, just as they do not mix with them during their sojourn on earth. A soul that is oblivious to its Lord, blind to His love, negligent of His remembrance, and remiss in seeking His pleasure is a despicable earthly soul. After separation from its body, it cannot go anywhere, but remains here. On the other hand, the heavenly soul in this life clings to the love of Allah and to His remembrance, and seeks His pleasure and nearness. After separation from its body, it will join other kindred heavenly souls. In the barzakh (Literally an interval, a separation or a partition, Al-barzakh may be defined as the intervening state between death and the Last Day) and on the Day of Resurrection a person will be with those he loved. Allah will join some souls with others in the abode of barzakh and on the Day of Resurrection, placing the believer’s soul with other pure souls, that is, other pure souls kindred to his soul. A soul, after separation from the body, joins other kindred souls who in their nature and deeds are similar to it and stays with them.
Some souls would be thrown in an oven or a pit along with other fornicators and harlots. Other souls would be in a river of blood, floating therein and swallowing rocks. The two categories of souls – the blessed and the damned – do not share a similar abode, for there are souls that reside in the highest reaches of heavens, while the others, low and mean earthly souls, cannot rise above the earth.
When one ponders the hadith and traditions on this subject carefully, one can easily find the reason for this. There is no contradiction in the sound traditions on this subject. In fact, they are all true and each supports the other. It is important, however, to understand the soul and to appreciate its essence and the laws that govern its functions. Indeed, the soul is something completely different from the body. It is in Paradise, but at the same time is attached to the grave and the body in it. It is the swiftest thing in moving, relocating, ascending, or descending from one place to another. These souls are divided into various categories: the ones that are free to move about, those that are confined, the ones that are celestial, and the others that are earthly and of a low order. After separation from their bodies, souls do experience health and sickness, and they feel far more pleasure and pain than they experienced when they were joined together. They are subject to confinement, pain, punishment, sickness, and grief as they are to various states of joy, rest, bliss, and freedom. How similar is its condition in the body to when it was in the womb of its mother! And likewise how analogous is its situation after separation from the body to when it came out of the womb into this world! There are four abodes of the soul, and each abode is bigger and greater than the previous one.
The soul’s first abode is the womb of the mother, where there is confinement, compression, seclusion, and three layers of darkness. The second abode is its earthly habitat where it grows, does good and evil, and accumulates blessings for its ultimate success or failure. Its third abode is the abode of barzakh, which is more spacious and immense than the abode of this world. This abode, compared to the fourth one, is like this (third) abode compared to the first abode.
The fourth abode is the abode of eternity, either Paradise or Hell. There is no other abode after these. Allah causes the soul to pass through these abodes in stages, until it reaches the abode most suitable for it, an abode that only it deserves and for which it is (uniquely) suitable, because this abode was created for it, and the soul was given the ability to perform the deeds that lead precisely to this abode.
Surah Al-Muminun 23:100, “‘In order that I may work righteousness in the things I neglected.’ ‘By no means! it is but a word he says before them is a Partition till the Day they are raised up. 101 Then when the Trumpet is blown there will be no more relationships between them that day nor will one ask after another!’”
Yusuf Ali comments: 2940 Barzakh: a partition, a bar or barrier; the place or state in which people will be after death and before Judgment. Cf. xxv. 53 and Iv. 20. Behind them is the barrier of death, and in front of them is the Barzakh, partition, a quiescent state until the judgment comes. (23.100) ↩