Each One Was Judged According to His Works

So far we have tried to explain in some depth the idea that Jesus died as a sacrifice for sin. We have seen that both the Bible and the Qur’an speak of the mercy and the forgiveness of Allah. Both recognize and approve the idea of sacrifices offered to redeem people condemned to death. We have demonstrated the impossibility of erasing one’s own sins by accumulating good works, and we have seen that even Muhammad could not be confident of going to Heaven on the basis of his own personal righteousness. He said in the Qur’an, “I know not what shall be done with me or with you” (Surah 26:9 – Al-Ahqat). Without the grace of Allah, no one will be saved; the means by which Allah can offer forgiveness to men without compromising His righteousness and minimizing His commandments is the voluntary sacrifice of the one who committed no sin. Thus it is that Jesus himself said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

We also introduced, however, the following idea: God will judge each person according to his or her own actions. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” The Qur’an says in Surah 35:18 – Fatir, “No burden-bearer shall bear another’s burden, and if some over-laden soul should call out for someone else to carry his load, not the least portion of it will be borne for him, even though he were a near relative.” We have said a lot about the necessity of an intervention by the Most Merciful, without which no one will be saved. But the Qur’an and the Bible evidently also teach the personal responsibility of each individual. So in what sense is each person judged according to the good or the evil which he has done, and how does the grace of God figure? What does God seek in us in order to be able to grant us His grace?

What Does God Seek in Us?

If God looks for perfection in us, the absence of sin, He will not find it. (Besides, we would no longer be speaking of grace, but rather of something that was deserved.) In order for us to be pleasing in His eyes strictly by our works, we would have to obey ALL His commandments, EVERY day of our lives, “for whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:10,11). The Bible tells us quite frankly, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us… If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10).

So then, if God knows that He will never find perfection in us, what is it that He seeks? If He must grant His grace and forgiveness to a man in order for that man not to be condemned, what does He require of the man before giving this forgiveness? After all, a just God would not decide on the eternal destiny of His creatures in an arbitrary or capricious manner or according to a passing mood.


That which God seeks in man can be summarized by the word “faith.” The Jews asked Jesus one day, “‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent’” (John 6:28,29). The patriarch and prophet Abraham was a rather righteous man, but he was not perfect. Like all men, he committed sin. He pleased God, however, because of his faith. The Bible says several times, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3). Another way of expressing the idea that faith was accounted to him for righteousness would be to say that “Abraham believed God. And that faith made him right with God” (International Children’s Bible).

Many Bible passages teach that we are saved by faith. According to Romans 1:16 the Injeel “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” Ephesians 2:8 says very simply, “By grace you have been saved through faith.” Obviously, faith is necessary for salvation, and without faith no one will be saved. But no passage says that we are saved by faith alone. In fact, other verses show that having faith in one’s heart cannot, by itself, save the sinner.

James 2:20,24 says, “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?… You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (We should point out that the word “works” is not used here to speak of works which would deserve or earn a salary, but simply of actions by which faith must be expressed.) We have a concrete example of faith without works in John 12:42,43, which says, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” Were the Jews spoken of in these verses saved? Certainly not (see Matthew 10:32,33)! They were not saved, because they had the wrong kind of faith. They had an intellectual conviction—they recognized a truth—but they did not demonstrate it by what they did. So there is a kind of faith that does not save.

The question to be answered then is: What kind of faith saves, and what does this faith include?

The Kind of Faith that Saves

The eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews is of called the “faith chapter” of the Bible, because it emphasizes so strongly the importance of faith and cites the examples of so many people who, “by faith,” were pleasing to God. At the end of the preceding chapter the author had exhorted his readers to be “of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39), and in chapter 11 il shows them how this faith is manifested and how it is rewarded. He mentions many individuals as examples, and we see that the faith of all these people led them to act:

Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice…”

Hebrews 11:7: “By faith Noah… prepared an ark for the salvation of his household.”

Hebrews 11:8: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance.”

Hebrews 11:27,28: “By faith [Moses] left Egypt… By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them.”

In every case God rewarded people for an obedient faith. When faith had led to obedience, these people obtained the reward “by faith.” A faith that is not translated into obedience is useless when it comes to salvation. As Paul says in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

When Does Faith Save?

At what point can we say that a faith is effective for saving a sinner? Is it possible to know when someone moves from a dead faith to one that is alive and will enable that person to be saved by the blood of Jesus?

We have already seen that one must confess his faith in Jesus. It is also necessary to repent, that is, to make the sincere decision to turn away from sin. Jesus said in Luke 24:47 “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached” in His name. Obviously these two things are linked in such a way that one does not receive God’s forgiveness without repenting. Jesus said explicitly in Luke 13:5, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So the apostles, in their preaching, did not fail to proclaim that “the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:30,31).

It is, however, neither at the moment of confession of faith nor at the time of repentance that the sinner obtains God’s forgiveness or grace. It is when faith is expressed in baptism. Do not think about the ceremony that some people do with a few drops of water to newborn babies. This rite certainly does not express the faith of the person who receives it. Baptism, according to the Bible, is when a person who has listened to the Injeel, has believed it, and has repented of sin, allows himself to be immersed in water, according to the commandment of Jesus and in the image of his death and resurrection. This is how the person demonstrates his faith, love, trust and submission toward God.

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus himself associated faith and baptism as conditions of salvation when he entrusted to his disciples the mission of evangelizing the world. He said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). To be condemned, one can simply disbelieve. To be saved, on the other hand, one must, according to Jesus, not only believe but also be baptized. If we understand this, we will not be surprised to find that throughout the New Testament those who had truly believed in the Gospel immediately accepted baptism. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached the Good News of Jesus. To those who had indicated their faith by asking what they should do, Peter said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

To say that baptism is necessary for salvation is not to deny salvation by faith. In the Bible, baptism is never placed in opposition to true faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism is not in contrast to faith; it signifies faith. It is an act that is motivated by faith, that expresses faith, and that makes faith able to save us.

Baptism is also a commitment. After being baptized, we must continue to demonstrate our faith by doing our best to serve God, obey His laws, repent sincerely and turn away from our sin whenever we have failed to resist temptation, not putting our trust in our own righteousness but the blood of Christ which purifies us. We do not try to earn the grace that has been given to us, but we make every effort not to “fall from grace” (Galatians 5:4) or “be deprived of the grace of God” by allowing ourselves to be dragged back into a life of sin and immorality (Hebrews 12:15, NAB). We must abide in Christ, who gives us life (John 15:4-6). And in the end, we do not present ourselves proudly before God with all of our own good works. Rather, we come in the righteousness of Christ, the one to whom we have clung with perseverance, the only one in whom we have placed our trust. So the judgment will depend on God’s mercy, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and on our personal choice to believe, to put our trust in Christ for salvation, and to obey the Gospel.

But this choice must be made while there is time. The Qur’an is right in saying that on that day “if some over-laden soul should call out for someone else to carry his load, not the least portion of it will be borne for him.” If it is only on the last day that one calls for help, it will be too late. Christ is truly willing to bear your sins, but you must call on him now, well before you reach the seat of judgment.

Prideful Heart, Sensitive Heart

Here is a description of the great Day of Judgment which, to many people, seems perfectly accurate:

“In that day, the human soul will receive the punishment or the reward which will be due him. Neither the money of the rich, nor the strength of the powerful, nor the arguments of the eloquent will be of any avail to them. Good works will be the only witness and the only defense, either for or against the one who has done them. In that day, no one will be the victim of an injustice, and no one will receive anything that he has not deserved.”

At first glance, all of that sounds right. But we have seen that such a description is incomplete. It leaves no room for the mercy of God. The Qur’an tells us, “Ask God’s forgiveness. God is ever forgiving and most merciful… God promises His forgiveness and His bounty. God is bountiful and all knowing” (Surah 2:199,268 – al-Baqarah). “As for those who believe in God and hold fast to Him, He will admit them to His mercy and His grace” (Surah 4:175 – al-Nisa’). Grace is favor that one receives but has not deserved. Forgiveness necessarily implies that one has committed unworthy acts, bad deeds, but that God chooses to forget these sins and not punish them. Salvation will therefore not simply be on the basis of good works.

If salvation were strictly by our works being placed on a divine set of scales, several negative consequences would result.

The Danger of Pride

We have considered the example of the man who tells himself, “I am confident that I have done enough good works so that the scales will speak in my favor. My sins are minor, and I will not need to have some of them removed from the scales in order to avoid the fire of Hell.” Probably without realizing it, this person falls into one of the most detestable of sins in God’s eyes, and that is the sin of pride. The Bible tells us, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5.5,6). We must have an attitude of humility in our dealings with one another. But this attitude is just as important in our relations with God. Jesus told a parable that memorably demonstrates this principle. We read in the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14:

“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

Human pride is offensive to God; whoever believes himself to be righteous before his Creator is blind to the seriousness of his sins, and his pride causes him to commit other sins. If we teach that the salvation of a man is strictly the reward for his own righteousness, we are saying, in reality, that this man earns eternal life as the wages for a task he has accomplished. If you accept a contract for work—whether it be in an office, in a factory or in a field—and you meet all the standards the employer has set for you and fulfilled the tasks that were assigned, the employer owes you your salary; it is your right. The employer does not really have a choice in the matter. He has an obligation. If this were the way things worked in regard to works of righteousness on the earth, it would mean that God owed us salvation. Instead of being grateful, we could be proud and boastful. God has certainly not established a system that would encourage pride in the hearts of sinners like ourselves.

On the contrary, God has decided to offer men salvation on the basis of his grace, his favor that we have not deserved. The Injeel teaches in Ephesians 2:8,9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this [salvation] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The Danger of Despair

There is another danger in the belief that our eternal destiny depends entirely on our personal righteousness. Some people, rather than being filled with pride, are very much aware of their faults, their failings, their inner impurity, their hypocrisy, the mean things they have said—in short, their sinful condition before God. These people live in continual doubt concerning their relationship with God and the fate that awaits them on the day of judgment. They desperately want to know that they will be received into Paradise, but they wonder every day if their good works will weigh more than their sins. When you have a bank account, you can always request a bank statement that tells you what your balance is. But no passage in the Qur’an and no story among the Hadiths will let you know how God is going to do his calculations. If I have eaten something that was “haram,” what exactly must I do to compensate for my failing; of course, it would be something beyond my usual obligations, because I am needing “extra credit” to make up for what I did wrong. If I neglected to say my mandatory morning prayers for a whole week, I need to do some good works to fill up the other dish of the scales, but what kind of deeds, and how many, will suffice? Can I know that my account is debt-free, that I have a healthy balance? It is not that I want to take it easy for a while and reduce my efforts to do what is right. No, but I would like to sleep in peace and not be terrified of death and the Judgment to follow.

To tell the truth, if one rejects the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins, one will never have a right to peace of mind in regard to salvation. The prophet Muhammad himself did not have any assurance of his salvation, so how would you? In the Qur’an, Allah gives this order to the prophet, “Say: ‘I am not an innovation among the messengers, and I know not what shall be done with me or with you. I only follow what is revealed to me; I am only a clear warner’” (Surah 26:9 – Al-Ahqat). This uncertainty in Muhammad explains what he said one day according to a well attested Hadith: “In the name of Allah, I ask forgiveness of Allah and I repent before Him more than seventy times a day” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 74, Number 319, Page 213). What man today could be righteous enough to have the least bit of confidence concerning his place in Paradise? We are all sinners, and our good works are not enough to remove even one of our sins. This is why the apostle Paul said that his deepest desire was to be found in Christ, “not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). This perspective sets a person free from uncertainty and from the fear of death and the Judgment. It allows one to have the confidence expressed in Romans 8:33,34,39:

“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us… [Nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Do You Want Peace?

Jesus actually did die on the cross. The prophets had predicted it, history attests to it, and contrary to popular opinion, neither the Qur’an nor the oldest Hadiths contradict it. According to the Bible and, it seems, the Qur’an, the death of Jesus was part of the plan of God, conceived by Him even before He created the world. And why would Allah have wanted His holy servant, Jesus the Messiah, to die in this way? Very simply because it was the only way to redeem sinful men; for centuries God left unpunished the sins of great men of faith such as Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and many others. But this debt of sin had to paid someday. The wages of sin is death. Everyone has deserved it. A sacrifice was necessary as a ransom. With the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. But the blood of animals cannot take away a man’s sin. The blood of a sinless man was necessary. This is what God provided. He did for man what man could never do for himself. So there is no room for human pride. No man must boast before the Almighty God. Neither is there a reason to despair or live in extreme fear. In John 14:27 Jesus made this promise before going to the cross: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Do you want this peace?

Who Needs This Sacrifice?

A well-known verse in the Qur’an says, in speaking of the Day of Judgment, “Then those whose scales weigh heavy with good works will be successful. But those whose scales weigh light will have ruined their souls; in Hell will they abide” (Surah 23 – al-Mu-minum, ayat 102,103). According to this verse, on the Day of Judgment, the good works of a person will have to be weightier than his or her evil deeds. But the Qur’an also says, “Ask Allah for His Forgiveness. Truly, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most-Merciful… Allah promises you Forgiveness from Himself and Bounty, and Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower” (Surah 2 – Al-Baqarah, ayat 199,268). If God truly forgives, it is obviously possible for men’s wrong choices and sinful actions to be removed from the scales on the last day.

When the son of Abraham was to die at the hands of his father, Allah, in His goodness, provided a ransom, a ram which was sacrificed instead of the young man. This sacrifice, which is celebrated by Muslims every year during the feast of Adha, prefigured another ransom that God intended to provide, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. As we have it in the Injeel, Romans 3:24-26:

“For God showed him publicly dying as a sacrifice of reconciliation to be taken advantage of through faith. This was to vindicate his own justice (for in his forbearance, God passed over men’s former sins)—to vindicate his justice at the present time, and show that he is upright himself, and that he makes those who have faith in Jesus upright also.” (Romans 3:23-26, translation of E.J. Goodspeed)

This is how Allah can be forgiving and merciful, without resembling the corrupt judge who does not uphold the law. The debt of sin has been paid by the one who had no sin, no debt to pay; that one is Jesus, son of Mary, the “pure” son whose birth was announced by the angel.

Who Needs This Sacrifice?

Perhaps you are telling yourself: That is all very nice for those ‘bad sinners’, those who do not take the straight path. But as for me, I have always done my duty toward God: I never fail to make Salat five times each day; I pay the Zakat; I do not cheat during the month of Ramadan; I even saved money for years in order to do the hajj; I do not eat pork; I have also built a small mosque. I am confident that I have done enough good works so that the scales will speak in my favor. My sins are minor, and I will not need to have some of them removed from the scales in order to avoid the fire of Hell.

If you reason this way, you are simply wrong. As a matter of fact, if God does not take our sins from the scales of justice, we have absolutely no hope.

Why the Law (or Good Works) Do Not Give Any Hope to the Sinner

The nature of law

If we reflect on the nature of any law, including that of God, we will see that the mental picture of actions placed on a set of scales is a rather incomplete picture of the justice God will administer on the last day. Yes, God will taken into consideration the good and the evil that each person will have done. But it will not merely be a question of determining if the good actions outweigh the evil ones.

Imagine a person who has always respected all the laws of the country where he lives. He has obeyed the speed limits when he was driving, paid his taxes, refrained from stealing and been a model employee. But one day this man gets angry with his neighbor and kills him. He cannot cite the fact that he has obeyed all the other laws to persuade the judge or the jury not to convict him of murder. We have a duty to obey ALL the laws. You can be sentenced to prison, to pay a fine or even to be put to death for violating just one law. Obedience to certain laws does not give us the right to break others that we find difficult or unimportant or that we do not like. If this is true of man-made laws, how much more would it be true of the laws ordained by the Lord of the universe! This is why the Bible says in James 2:10,11:

“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”

Laws, by their very nature, condemn those who disobey them. Sin, according to 1 John 3:4, is “the transgression of the law.” The function of law is not to excuse or forgive the guilty party. The Gospel tells us in Galatians 3:21,22, “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin…”

A man must obey all of God’s commandments. Suppose that he realizes that he has disobeyed several of them. He resolves to respect all of them in the future. That is good, but we have to recognize two problems:

1) If I abstain from stealing today, that will not take away my guilt for having stolen yesterday and will not enable me to escape punishment for the crime that I have already committed.

2) Suppose that I make the resolution to perfectly obey all of God’s commandments from this day forward. That is all very well, but do you think that I will succeed in never committing another sin until the day that I die? Certainly not. Thus, not only will my future obedience not take away my past sins, but, because my obedience will always be imperfect, my failings will continue to accumulate. As the Bible says in Romans 2:5,6: “You are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works.”

According to another passage, the law of God is holy, and his commandments are righteous and good, but the law makes man very conscious of his weakness, his failures, his unworthy and defiled condition because of sin. The apostle Paul speaks for most of us when he writes:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15,22-24, ESV).

You see that instead of enabling man to win God’s favor, the law makes him to constantly see how far he is from satisfying God’s requirements of righteousness and holiness. It reveals that man needs someone to deliver him—he needs a savior.

The Impact of Sin v. The Value of Good Works

Think about this question for a moment in terms of the good works which might compensate for the bad ones. There are many situations in life where it plainly would be useless to put the good and the bad on a set of scales. Suppose, for example, that you receive a visitor and want to prepare him a meal, using what you have on hand. You see three eggs and decide to make an omelet for your friend. Breaking the eggs, you discover that the third one is rotten. If you put this third egg in the omelet with the two others, telling yourself that the good eggs weigh more than the single one that is rotten, the dish will be spoiled and your visitor will not be able to eat it. Besides, you would never think of presenting such a meal to a visitor in your home. Even if your good works are twice as numerous as your sins, these noble actions can never cover up your sins or eliminate before the Holy One the sickening odor of the evil that you have committed in the course of your life.

Think, for example, of a woman who hates her husband and wants to get rid of him. She decides to poison him little by little, putting in his food every day a tiny quantity of poison, arsenic perhaps. The meals that this woman serves are good, nourishing, and full of vitamins and proteins and everything that the body needs. But the good ingredients in this food, even though they weigh far more than the small amount of arsenic, will not prevent the poison from having its effect. Sin is a poison. It kills, in spite of the presence of that which is good, noble and honest.

Think of a person who says many kind and useful things throughout his life. He tells the truth, he encourages others, he gives good advice. But when you question this person concerning his ideas about God, he shamelessly pronounces words of blasphemy and hatred that dishonor his Creator. The vast majority of what this person says is very good, but those good words cannot make up for the blasphemy that he commits.

Who needs the sacrifice of Jesus which God ordained? Who among us needs Allah to take from the scales of justice our bad deeds so that we may not be condemned on the last day? It is clear that all of us need this. Everyone needs God’s forgiveness, because all have sinned. Even though I may not have broken all of God’s commandments, I am a sinner and I am unworthy to present myself before God. All my good works combined will never change this reality. We all need the grace that has been made possible by the death of Jesus, planned by God from the beginning.

Why Would God Have Wanted Jesus to Die on the Cross?

There is no valid reason to deny that Jesus was put to death. The Qur’an supports the fact and the Hadiths do not deny it. The prophets of Allah had predicted it. Non-Christians confirmed it. And above all, this fact is at the heart of the Injeel which God, according to the Qur’an, gave to the Messiah, Jesus. The widespread idea that the condemnation, the humiliation and the crucifixion of Jesus would have constituted a failure or defeat, preventing the Servant of God from accomplishing his mission is false—considering that Jesus has been resurrected from the grave, one can no longer speak of failure. The idea that Allah is necessarily going to make all of his apostles “victorious” by delivering them from danger is also false—the Qur’an itself speaks repeatedly of faithful prophets whom the Jews killed and of Muslim martyrs who gave their blood for the cause of Islam. As for the verse in the Qur’an that people take to affirm that Jesus did not die on the cross, it simply teaches that it was God, and not the Jews, who was behind the death of Jesus (see the article “Did Jesus really die?”).

But the question remains:

Why Would God Have Wanted Jesus to Die on the Cross?

Jesus himself answered this question. In John 10 he compared himself to a shepherd and his disciples to sheep. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep… Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:11,17,18). In these verses we see that Jesus confirms that his death was ordained by God—it actually was God who had willed it—but he also says that he voluntarily obeyed this command to give his life. When Jesus says that the shepherd gives his life for his sheep, he indicates that his death was to serve others. He would give his life to save his “sheep.” In Mark 10:45 he adds an element concerning his death for others. He says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” A ransom is the price paid to obtain the life or the liberty of a slave or a prisoner. Jesus said that his life would serve as a ransom for many.

These words of Jesus are in perfect agreement with those of the prophets who had preceded him. In a long passage written by the prophet Isaiah it is very clearly stated that the Christ must die. He must not be saved at the last minute so that he might not suffer or experience shame. No, according to God’s plan, he had to die. But the same text tells us the reason for the death of Christ.

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 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… By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities… He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53.5,6,10,12)

Clearer words could not be found, but would it not be unjust to make one person suffer in the place of another? Shouldn’t the guilty one be the one to be punished? Will God not judge each one according to his own actions?

The Qur’an says, “Then those whose scales weigh heavy with good works will be successful. But those whose scales weigh light will have ruined their souls; in Hell will they abide” (Surah 23:102,103 – Al-Mu-minun). In other words, on the day of judgment, one’s good actions will have to be greater than one’s sinful actions. The Bible seems to speak in the same way when it says in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” The Qur’an says in Surah 35:18 – Fatir, “No burden-bearer shall bear another’s burden, and if some over-laden soul should call out for someone else to carry his load, not the least portion of it will be borne for him, even though he were a near relative.” Again, the Bible says in Romans 14:12, “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Certainly, God will judge each one of us according to our choices and our actions. But again, the Bible and the Qur’an agree in teaching that God is merciful and ready to forgive. In the Zabur David says, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5). In the Qur’an we read, “Ask God’s forgiveness. God is ever forgiving and most merciful… God promises His forgiveness and His bounty. God is bountiful and all knowing” (Surah 2:199,268 – Al-Baqarah). Most of the Surahs of the Qur’an begin with the words, “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.”

What does the word “forgive” mean? Is it not to pardon, absolve, to show grace, to renounce the intention to punish, to forget or act as if a fault had not been committed? What is mercy? Is it not pity or compassion which leads one to forgive the guilty?

Obviously it is therefore possible for men’s bad choices and sinful actions to be removed from the scales on the last day. But how? By what means?

The Necessity of a Sacrifice

Someone who does not grasp the righteousness of God might respond that no “means” are needed: God is sovereign, and if He wants to forgive, He simply chooses to do so. He says, “I forgive,” and it is done—the sin is taken away.

Yes, God is sovereign. He does what He wills. But He is also righteous, and He refuses to compromise His righteousness, His integrity. The Bible says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Because He will never accept to do wrong, the Bible reminds us in Hebrews 6:18 that it is impossible for God to lie. But His righteousness also prevents Him from looking with favor upon the guilty. The prophet Habakkuk said to Him, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why [would] You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13). As the Patriarch Abraham asked the Almighty one day, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Being a God of mercy and compassion and at the same time the holy and righteous Judge of every man presents a dilemma. How is it possible to be both merciful and just at the same time? How can God forgive sin and at the same time honor and uphold his own holy commandments. If a human judge forgave the guilty parties out of favoritism toward his friends or his relatives, or because he had received a bribe, we would consider him unworthy to hold his job. A judge has the duty to see to it the law is applied, to punish the guilty and to let the innocent go free. How would God be a righteous judge when he acquits the guilty, when the deserved sentence is not handed down.

This is what demonstrates the necessity of sacrifice for sin, a concept with which all of humanity has been familiar since the time of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve. You remember that Abel offered to God some of the firstborn of his flocks and their fat. It is certainly a concept that exists in Islam. “Pray to your Lord and sacrifice to Him alone” (Surah 108:2 – Al-Kawthar). “And perform properly the Hajj and ‘Umrah for Allah. But if you are prevented, sacrifice a Hady (animal, i.e. a sheep, a cow, or a camel, etc.) such as you can afford, and do not shave your heads until the Hady reaches the place of sacrifice… And fear Allah much and know that Allah is Severe in punishment” (Surah 2:196 – Al-Baqarah).

The Torah often emphasizes the idea of expiation for sin, of appeasing God’s wrath. Sin must not remain unpunished. Given that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), we understand why the prescribed means of expiation was sacrificial blood. God told the Israelites, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). The Injeel underscores this principle in Hebrews 9:22, where it is written, “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

So if Allah commanded men to offer the blood of animals to atone for their sins, why would He order His servant Jesus to give his life as “a ransom for many”? The answer is found a few verses later in the passage that we have just read: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Even if the Bible had not explicitly said it, we could have guessed this truth, couldn’t we? When we talk about sacrifice, we are recognizing that the sinful man deserves death—his own blood should be shed; but he is asking God to accept the blood (the life) of the sacrificed animal in the place of his own. The animal is substituted for the guilty person. But here is the obvious problem: the life of an animal is not equal to the life of a man. The value of its blood is insufficient to redeem a human being. The sacrifices commanded by the Law of Moses served to teach the principle that sin must be paid for (expiation) and that a sacrifice could, theoretically at least, remove the sin and appease the righteous anger of God. But true expiation would require the blood of a human being, blood which would represent a life of equal (or greater) value to that of the person asking for forgiveness. But the blood of a sinful man would not do the job. (This principle is symbolized by the fact that the animal to be sacrificed had to be, according to the Law, “without blemish.”) The man who has committed sin has already, in a sense, forfeited his life; if he is condemned to die for his own sin, he can hardly offer his life in the place of another condemned man. No, only a free man, a man without sin, could offer himself up as a substitute for the guilty.

This is why Jesus is the only man who could have given his life as a sacrifice for sin.

Several passages in the Bible emphasize the idea that Jesus did not sin. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 the apostle Paul wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV). The apostle Peter, also, declared the same truth: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).

Muhammad did not try to prove that Jesus had sinned. On the contrary, we see in Surah 19:19 – Maryam that the angel said to Mary, “(The angel) said: ‘I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son’” (some translations of the Qur’an render these last words “a son endowed with purity”). Strangely, this state of purity is attributed by the Qur’an to no other prophet.

Let us return to the idea that God is merciful and desires to grant forgiveness, but that He is also the Judge of all the earth and must administer justice and see to it that His holy law is applied. We can now understand the solution to this dilemma, a solution which the Word of God sets forth in the Injeel in these words:

“For all men sin and come short of the glory of God, but by his mercy they are made upright for nothing, by the deliverance secured through Christ Jesus. For God showed him publicly dying as a sacrifice of reconciliation to be taken advantage of through faith. This was to vindicate his own justice (for in his forbearance, God passed over men’s former sins)—to vindicate his justice at the present time, and show that he is upright himself, and that he makes those who have faith in Jesus upright also.” (Romans 3:23-26, translation of E.J. Goodspeed)

When Abraham was supposed to put his son to death, Allah, in His grace, intervened to save the life of the young man. According to Surah 37:107 – As-Saffat, God said, after providing a ram for the sacrifice, “We ransomed him with a great sacrifice.” Was this not a prophetic action on His part, symbolizing what he would later do for all people? God Himself provides the necessary sacrifice to save the soul that cannot save itself.

Jesus: More Than a Prophet? (Part 3)

Jesus was truly a prophet of God—we agree on that. But we are examining the question: Was he more than a prophet? We have already seen several things that distinguish him from the others: the fact that his coming had been announced many centuries ahead of time and specially prepared by the sending of another prophet; he was unique in that he led a sinless life; he made claims that no other prophet made—for example, he claimed to have existed thousands of years before his birth; he claimed to have the right to forgive sins; he wore the title of Messiah, a title that even the Qur’an attributes to him. And he did great miracles. But one of his miracles surpasses those of all other prophets.

His Resurrection

In the Gospel according to John 2:18-22 we read:

“So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.”

These disciples “believed the Scripture” because they understood that the resurrection of Jesus was one of the things that had been announced in advance concerning him. The apostle Peter preached to the people of Jerusalem a few weeks after the death and resurrection of Jesus. He said:

“God raised [him] up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him: ‘…For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’

…Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.” (Acts 2:24,25,27,29-32)

The apostle Paul, also, placed great emphasis on this miracle. When he preached in the city of Athens, Greece, he said:

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30,31)

From the dawn of the first day of the week after the crucifixion, the disciples of Jesus recognized that the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid was empty. In addition, various people began to testify that Jesus, returned to life, had shown himself to them. First there was Mary Magdalene, then certain other women; next Cleopas and another disciple spoke with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Upon their return to Jerusalem, they learned that Peter was also saying that he had seen the Lord. Finally, Jesus presented himself to ten apostles at one time. Judas has already committed suicide, and Thomas was not with the others. But the ten others were able, that first Sunday evening after the death of Jesus, to speak with him, to touch him and to see him eat so that they would know that he was not a ghost. Other appearances of the resurrected Lord would follow for a period of forty days. These two things fully attest to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth: the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses.

The Empty Tomb

Three days after the crucifixion of Jesus his tomb was found to be empty. This is a well-substantiated historical fact. If the body of Jesus had been in the tomb where it was laid, Christianity would have been stillborn. Who would have proclaimed Jesus as the living Lord while his corpse was rotting in the grave? No one.

Those who do not want to accept the idea that Jesus rose from the dead have proposed other theories to explain why the body was no longer there.

1. The body stolen by the disciples? Some tell us that the disciples of Jesus stole his body. This was the first explanation offered by the unbelievers. Remember that after the death of Jesus, the Jewish chief priests and the Pharisees had gone before the governor Pilate,

“saying, ‘Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead.” So the last deception will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’” (Matthew 27.63-65)

So all possible precautions were taken: the tomb was carved out of solid rock; a great stone, weighing at least a ton, was rolled in place to close the entrance to it; the seal of the Roman government was placed on the stone as a warning to anyone who might think of disturbing the grave; and soldiers were posted, according to some experts as many as sixteen men, four of whom would be on guard duty at any given time. According to Roman custom, a soldier caught sleeping while he was supposed to be at his post was to be put to death for his transgression. In spite of all these precautions, some have claimed that the body was stolen.

In Matthew 28.11-15 the Bible tells us what happened after some women saw the Lord:

“Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.” And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.’ So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”

Matthew does not even bother to refute this idea—after all, who can say what happens around him while he is asleep? Besides, all these soldiers would not have dared to go to sleep at the risk of their lives. The disciples would not have had the opportunity to steal the body of Jesus.

If the disciples had been able to steal the body of Jesus, they would have committed the greatest fraud ever carried out. It would also mean they had knowingly lied. But their behavior is not that of deliberate liars: to the contrary, almost all the apostles died for their testimony (and all of them were beaten and imprisoned for it). One would not be willing to undergo that and even give one’s life to uphold what one knew to be a deliberate lie. Not only did they give their own lives rather than retracting their words, but they also knew that many of those who would accept their testimony would also die for having believed. And yet, not one of them renounced his testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus.

2. The body stolen by the Jewish authorities? A second theory says that the body of Jesus was stolen by his enemies. But this idea is even more unbelievable than the first. The Jewish authorities wanted to put a stop to the preaching of the Christians. They told the apostles: “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine” (Acts 5:28). If they had the body of Jesus, they would have simply been able to produce it and parade it through the streets of Jerusalem. There would have been no need to tell the apostles not to preach—they would have been laughed at. No one would have been converted to Christianity. The fact that the authorities did not produce the corpse of Jesus proves clearly that they had not stolen it.

Let’s be frank: apart from the resurrection, there is no reasonable explanation for the empty tomb of Jesus. But there is another incontrovertible proof of the resurrection:

The Eyewitnesses

Remember that already on the very day of his resurrection, Jesus showed himself to a variety of people and under a variety of circumstances. The witnesses did not all have the same temperament. There were men and also women who saw him. He showed himself to individuals and to groups. Some of his appearances took place in closed spaces and others out in the open, some in the morning and others at evening.

Notice also that the witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus were not expecting to see him. In spite of the promise that he had made to come back from the dead, it could not be said that the disciples were fervently desiring or hoping for the resurrection. The women who saw him were going to the tomb to embalm a body and not to find a living Lord. When these women came back saying that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, the other disciples made fun of them. Before Jesus made himself known to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 beginning in verse 13, he found them sad and downcast, without any hope, in spite of the testimony they had heard from the women. All of this shows that the appearances of Jesus were not hallucinations or mirages. They were not comparable to the person in the desert who thinks he sees a well-watered oasis surrounded by palm trees, where, in fact, there is nothing but sand. Such visions are not a group activity where everyone sees and hears the same thing. In addition, people who hallucinate generally see something they hope for or desire strongly. And finally, had they been hallucinations, all these appearances would not have suddenly ceased 40 days after the resurrection. But they did stop after 40 days, because Jesus ascended back up to heaven in the sight of his disciples.

The witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus were men and women who knew him very well. They could not have been mistaken about his identity. They were also devout people who were never accused of dishonesty or immorality. They called on others, also, to follow righteousness. If they were deliberately lying, it would be hard to figure out their motivation in doing so. They never gained any material advantages for what they preached. On the contrary, they were persecuted and even killed. If this were a modern trial, no reason would be found to remove them from the jury. Historians find no reason not to accept their writings. Several historians have solemnly stated that no event in history can be more firmly established than the resurrection of Jesus.

What other prophet announced ahead of time that he would be put to death and would rise from the dead on the third day? More importantly, what other prophet was able to fulfill such a promise?

The Importance of What One Believes about Jesus

Jesus spoke, of course, of faith in God, but no other prophet insisted as he did on himself and the necessity of believing in him. Jesus dared to say that the eternal destiny of each one of us depends on the conclusion that we come to regarding his identity. Does it not seem to you that he must have been more than a prophet? Perhaps the greatest danger for us, whether we be readers of the Bible or of the Qur’an, would be to adopt the attitude that the inhabitants of Nazareth had. When Jesus, having begun his ministry, went to the town where he had grown up, the people were amazed. They were saying:

“‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?’ So they were offended at Him… Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:54-58)

These people thought they already knew who Jesus was. But their conception of him was much too limited. They did not discover his true identity, because they had too many preconceived ideas about him. Their prejudices prevented them from taking advantage of what Jesus would have done for them.

According to Surah 3 – Al-Imram, “When Allah said: O Jesus, I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in My presence and clear thee of those who disbelieve and make those who follow thee above those who disbelieve to the day of Resurrection.” If you have not already done so, get a copy of the Gospel and fully discover this one called Jesus.

Jesus: More Than a Prophet? (Part 2)

In our last installment of this study we noted that Christians and Muslims agree in saying that Jesus was a prophet. But we also asked the question: Was Jesus more than a prophet? We saw that the coming of this prophet Jesus had been announced several times and quite clearly by God’s prophets who had preceded him. God even sent the prophet John the Baptist (Yahya) to prepare the people so that Jesus might be received in a worthy manner, something that God had not done for any other prophet. We also saw that the Qur’an and the Bible agree in saying that Jesus was “pure.” He was without sin. Neither Moses nor Muhammad nor any other prophet is described this way.

Let us pursue our study by looking at other ways in which Jesus is unique among the prophets of God.

His Pre-Existence

No one found anything to condemn in the actions of Jesus. He is the only Jew to ever perfectly keep the law that God had given to the Jews. The words of Jesus were, on the other hand, often very surprising, not to say chocking. One day while speaking with the Jews, Jesus told them:

“‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, “If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.” Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. [The One] who honors Me [is the One] of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him… Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ [The patriarch Abraham had lived almost two thousand years before the time of Jesus.] Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’” (John 8:51-58)

These words of Jesus agree with the testimony that John the Baptist had given. Remember that the angel Gabriel had announced to Zachariah, the father of John, that his wife, Elisabeth, would have a son. Remember also that she was already in her sixth month of pregnancy when this same angel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the Christ. John was therefore six months older than Jesus. But what does John say in the Gospel of John 1:30? When he saw Jesus, John the Baptist said, “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’”

In speaking to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, Jesus had been a little more precise. He said, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” “Son of Man” was the expression that Jesus used most often to speak of himself.

The prophet Jeremiah said that God knew him when he was still in his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5). But Jesus claims to have been in heaven before his birth and to have spoken with Abraham.

His Claim to Forgive Sins

The prophet Jesus made other claims that shocked the hearers of his time and which continue to shock some who read them today. A plain example is found in the Gospel of Mark 2:1-12:

“And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’

And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, ‘Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Arise, take up your bed and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’”

The Title of Messiah

The word, prophet, designates someone who receives a message directly from God, an inspired message that he is supposed to communicate to men. Of course, there have always been men who claim to speak for God but who, in fact, deceive their listeners. The Qur’an treats Jesus as a true prophet, but at the same time it insists that Jesus was not more than a prophet, that he was a mere messenger. But it must also be said that the Qur’an speaks of “al-Masih” (3:28) or “the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary” (4:171). If, therefore, Muhammad recognized Jesus to be the Messiah, it would be worthwhile to examine the meaning of this title.

In the Gospel according to John, we see in the first chapters two future apostles of Jesus, Andrew and his brother, Peter. John the Baptist had just born testimony to Jesus of Nazareth, and Andrew, who was already a disciple of John the Baptist, heard it. John 1:41 says: “He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ).” In this verse we have a Hebrew word and a Greek word that have each been Anglicized. The Hebrew word, mashiah, and the Greek word, christos, mean the same thing: they mean “anointed,” or “one who has been anointed.” But what is the meaning of this curious term?

In the Bible we find three categories of people who were anointed with oil—that is, oil was poured on their heads when they took on their particular roles. These three categories were: priests, charged with presenting to God the sacrifices of His people; prophets, charged with communicating messages from God to the people; and kings, charged with governing and leading the people in the name of God, the true King of kings. But the term, the Messiah, is even more special. It was the subject of several prophecies in the Old Testament. The Messiah would be prophet, priest and king all at the same time. He would be anointed, not by the hand of man, but by God Himself. In the Psalms (known to Muslims at the Zabur), David wrote concerning the enemies of God:

“He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure, ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’” (Psalm 2:4-6)

All the Jewish people in the time of Jesus waited longingly for the coming of this individual who was to be anointed by God. Even among the Samaritans, those of mixed origin whose pagan ancestors had intermarried with Jews, people were aware of the One who was to come. In John 4:25,26 a Samaritan woman who was speaking with Jesus stated, “’I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’”

His Miracles

What shall we say of the miracles performed by Jesus? Is there a difference between what he did and what others were able to do? The Gospel is filled with stories of the miracles of Jesus. The Qur’an also attributes miracles to him. In Surah 5, aya 110, Allah says to him:

“When Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary, remember My favour to thee and to thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit… and thou didst heal the blind and the leprous by My permission; and when thou didst raise the dead by My permission; and I protected thee from the Children of Israel when thou camest to them with clear proofs.”

The various miraculous deeds of Jesus not only showed his power over the forces of nature, over demons, over disease and over death; they not only demonstrated his knowledge even of the secret thoughts of men; they not only constituted very often proofs of his great compassion in the face of suffering; they also testified of his identity. And Jesus did not hesitate to draw men’s attention to what his miracles signified. In the Gospel according to John we read, “Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, ‘How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me'” (John 10:24,25). The enemies of Jesus recognized the reality of the miracles of Jesus, but they were not ready to believe, in spite of the proofs. John 11:47,48 says: “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him.’”

Other prophets had done miracles before Jesus, but as we have suggested, one of his miracles surpasses all the others. This miracle will be the subject of the next part of our study.

Jesus: More Than a Prophet? (Part 1)

Jesus of Nazareth is, of course, at the heart of the New Testament. He also occupies an important place in the Qur’an. Both books attribute to him the title of prophet. Isa, the Quranic version of the name Jesus, appears 25 times in the Qur’an, not counting the passages that use other terms to refer to him. The importance of Jesus, both for Christians and for Muslims, is undeniable. But would it be right to elevate Jesus in importance so that he would be above God’s other prophets? Why should he receive more attention than all the others?

The Coming of Jesus Was Prophesied

One of the first things that strike us concerning Jesus is the fact that his coming had been predicted by God’s other prophets, not just once or in a vague or doubtful manner, but clearly and in many different writings. The Jewish people did not understand very well the character of the Messiah and of the work that God would have him do, but certain things were clear for them, as we see in Matthew 2:1-6, which says:

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”’”

The passage to which the priests and scribes referred is found in the book of the prophet Micah and was written 700 years before the birth of Jesus!

The miraculous nature of the birth of Jesus had also been predicted. It was the prophet Isaiah who had announced that a virgin would be found with child (or pregnant) and would give birth to a son who would be called Emmanuel, one of the names that have always been used for Jesus. This prophecy dates from the eighth century before Christ (Isaiah 7:14).

Jesus was famous for the extraordinary miracles that he did. The prophets had spoken of them well ahead of time. In Isaiah 35:4b-6 we read, “He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing.” After having been put in prison by Herod, John the Baptist wondered if he had been mistaken about Jesus. If the Messiah were here, how could John be subjected to so great an injustice for having preached the truth? So he sent messengers to ask Jesus if he really was the one they were expecting. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me’” (Matthew 11:4-6). John had asked Jesus if he was truly the one who people knew was supposed to come. Jesus pointed out the miracles that he was doing and which were the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the one who was to come.

When it comes to the death of Jesus, the prophecies about him are even more numerous. It was announced in advance that he would enter Jerusalem seated on a donkey, that he would be betrayed by one friend and abandoned by the others, that his hands and feet would be pierced, that people would cast lots to divide up his clothes, that he would be thirsty and be given vinegar to drink, that his bones would not be broken but that his side would be pierced. The prophets even predicted the exact words that the mockers would use to ridicule him: “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!” (Psalm 22:8; Matthew 27:43). The prophet Zachariah wrote the following about four centuries before the death of Jesus, “So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter” (Zachariah 11:12,13). Those who are already familiar with the story know that Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, had received exactly thirty pieces of silver for having given to the enemies of the Lord the information they wanted so that they could arrest Jesus far from the crowds. But when Judas saw how things took place following this betrayal, he was filled with remorse. The Bible says that Judas took the thirty pieces of silver back and threw them in the temple before going out to hang himself. The chief priests gathered up the money and used it to buy a potter’s field to serve as a cemetery for the burial of foreigners (Matthew 27:3-7).

In chapter 53 of the book of the prophet Isaiah, we find that the Messiah would be despised by men, acquainted with grief and rejected by his own people, but also that he would be punished for the sins of others, that he would intercede for the guilty, that he would be numbered with the transgressors, that his tomb would be with the rich and that he would be raised from the dead.

The Ministry of John the Baptist

In addition to all these prophecies, God sent a special messenger just to announce the arrival of Jesus. The Qur’an recognizes this individual as a prophet, a man of integrity, a man who spoke the truth to the people. This messenger, whom the Bible calls John and whom Muslims know by the name of Yahya, identified himself simply as a voice, the voice of someone who cried: “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23). Let us say in passing that even this aspect of the life of Jesus had been prophesied. Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, contains the prediction that God would send his messenger in order to open up the way by calling the people to repentance (Malachi 3:1). When a head of state is to go somewhere, it is customary to send people ahead of time so that he may be welcomed in a manner worthy of his dignity. This is what John was doing for Jesus, the king who was coming to bring a blessing to some and judgment to others. The Gospel of Luke 3:15-17 says:

“Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, ‘I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.'”

When Jesus came to be baptized, John told the crowd, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me’” (John 1:29,30). John’s mission was to prepare the people to receive in a worthy manner the prophet who was to follow him: Jesus.

Just the preparation for the coming of Jesus has to impress us deeply. His life and his works will do so even more.

A Life Without Sin

Several passages in the Bible emphasize the idea that Jesus did not sin. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 the apostle Paul wrote, “Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could be right with God.” The apostle Peter, also, upheld the same truth: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 1:22). Peter quotes here a word from the prophet Isaiah concerning the Christ: “And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53.9). But it was not only other people who claimed that Jesus had no sin. Jesus himself challenged his opponents by saying, “Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8:46).

Muhammad did not try to prove that Jesus had committed sin. To the contrary, we see in Surah 19, aya 19 of the Qur’an that the angel said to Mary, “I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son.” One of the Muslim commentators, by the name of Er-Razi, says that the title of Messiah was given to Jesus because he was free from the stain of sin. Oddly, this state of purity is not attributed to any other prophet in the Qur’an. In the Bible we see the weaknesses and sometimes even the sins of the other prophets. Adam ate the forbidden fruit; Noah got drunk; Abraham lied; Jacob deceived his father; David committed adultery; Solomon worshipped his wives’ idols. Even Muhammad recognized that he had sin in his life. More than one verse in the Qur’an exhorts him to beg for the forgiveness of his sin. The 48th Surah begins with these words, which Allah addresses to Muhammad: “Verily, We have given you (O Muhammad) a manifest victory. That Allah may forgive you your sins of the past and the future, and complete His Favour on you, and guide you on the Straight Path.” In addition, Muhammad himself admitted that he did not know his eternal destiny. “Say (O Muhammad): ‘I am not a new thing among the Messengers (of Allah) nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner'” (46:9).

The apostle John said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But this same John said about Jesus: “In Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). There can be no doubt that Jesus is clearly different from all the others whom men have recognized as prophets.

Did Jesus really die? (Part 2)

According to the Qur’an, the Jews boasted in these terms:

“‘We have put to death the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been so]. And those who differ in this matter are in doubt concerning it. They have no definite knowledge about it, but only follow mere conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him.” (Surah 4 – An-Nisa’, aya 157)

We saw in our last article that the majority of Muslims think that this verse from the Qur’an means that God intervened in a miraculous way to keep Jesus from being put to death. He supposedly caused another person to look like Jesus and be crucified in his place. None of the hadiths support this interpretation, but it is very popular, in spite of the fact that it makes God out to be a deceiver who would be responsible for the invention of a Christian doctrine that Muslims consider to be false.

We drew the attention of our readers and listeners to a different interpretation of this verse in the Qur’an. The phrase “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them,” does not necessarily mean that the crucifixion did not take place, but that in fact, the Jews were not responsible for it—it is the sovereign God who was guiding events and fulfilling His own plan. This would not be the only place where Allah expresses Himself in such a way in the Qur’an. In Surah 8 – al-Anfal, aya 17, he is speaking to Muslims who had achieved a victory at the Battle of Badr. He tells them, “You did not slay them, but God slew them; and when thou threwest, it was not thyself that threw, but God threw, and that He might confer on the believers a fair benefit” (Surah 8 – al-Anfal, aya 17).

Which Interpretation Fits Best?

Let us see if this way of understanding the passage about the crucifixion does not agree more with the facts than the usual explanations do.

The Character of God

We have already alluded to the idea that we detract from the honor of the perfectly holy and righteous God if we claim that he used his miraculous power to deceive humanity and make people believe a lie. Saying that God has purposely misled people in this way does not honor Him.

The Qur’an

The interpretation that we have proposed, according to which the crucifixion actually did take place, agrees best with the most natural way of understanding other verses in the Qur’an. For example, we read in Surah 19:33,34 – Maryam that Jesus said, “‘Blessed was I on the day I was born, and blessed I shall be on the day I die and on the day I am raised to life again.’ Such was Jesus, the son of Mary.” Considering what had been preached about Jesus for nearly six hundred years by that time, these words would naturally be understood as a confirmation not only of the death but also of the resurrection of Jesus. They certainly contradict the version which says that Jesus was taken directly to heaven when the soldiers came to arrest him and that he did not die.

Another passage which agrees more with the idea that Jesus actually died on the cross is found in Surah 3:55 – Al-’Imran, which says, “When Allah said: O Jesus, I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in My presence and clear thee of those who disbelieve and make those who follow thee above those who disbelieve to the day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return, so I shall decide between you concerning that wherein you differ.” In some translations of the Qur’an, Allah says to Jesus, “I will take thee.” According to a note in the translation of Maulana Muhammad Ali, it signifies “God took his soul.” Pickthall’s translation is, “O Jesus, I am gathering thee”, and this is the Biblical idiom for causing to die. Yusuf ‘Ali, in his first edition, translated the words as meaning I will cause thee to die. The point is that the Jews were not really responsible for the death of Christ—God is the One who willed it.

The writings of the prophets God had sent in earlier times

Islam teaches that one must believe in the prophets that God has sent to the world, all of the prophets. But those who claim that Jesus, the Messiah, was not put to death ignore what the prophets before Jesus had said and written about him. These messengers of God clearly predicted his humiliation, his suffering and his death.

Read, for example, what the prophet Isaiah wrote about the Messiah in chapters 52 and 53 of his book:

“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem…

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?… He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…

“After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many.”

(Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:1-3,6-11; NIV)

This text dates from 700 years before the birth of Jesus, and we have a manuscript, or ancient copy, of it that precedes the death of Christ by more than a century.

The king and prophet David, in the Zabur, gave us the words of the Messiah which describe in horrible detail the suffering of the crucified one.

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning?…

“All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”…

“I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; you have brought Me to the dust of death.

“For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”

(Psalm 22:1,7,8,14-18, NKJV)

The same subject comes up in another passage from the Zabur:

“You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor; My adversaries are all before You. Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Psalm 69.19-21, NKJV)

The various details described in these passages, we find them in the accounts of the eyewitnesses who saw Jesus on the cross.

Jesus, the son of Mary, who was, of course, a prophet himself, predicted numerous times that he would be arrested, mistreated, unjustly condemned and put to death by the Romans. He added, of course, that he would also be raised from the dead. When he had been resurrected, he said to his disciples:

“‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself… Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.’” (Luke 24.25-27,46)

Jesus himself predicted his own suffering and death. If his death did not take place as he said, then he was not a true prophet. But the Qur’an says, to the contrary, that he was.

Historical Testimony

In addition to the prophecies in the Torah, the books of the prophets and the Psalms concerning the death of Christ, in addition to the numerous passages in the Injeel which speak of it, there exist many historical testimonies from non-Christians in the first and second centuries confirming the fact of the crucifixion of Jesus.

A Roman historian by the name of Tacitus, born in 58 A.D., wrote concerning Christians, “This name comes from Christ, whom the governor Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, delivered to the torturers.” The Greek author Lucian, born in the Roman province of Syria in the year 120, referred to Jesus as “the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced into the world this new sect.” Lucian denounced Christians for their loyalty to “that crucified sophist” under whose laws they lived. The Jewish historian Josephus, the Talmud (Jewish commentaries), the Roman writer Thallus—all of the first century—also confirm that Jesus was crucified. None of these writers was Christian, (most were hostile to Christianity), so they cannot be accused of acting out of self-interest in providing testimony that supports Christian doctrine.

A historical or a theological problem?

To tell the truth, the reason for interpreting Surah 4:157 the way the majority of Muslims do has nothing to do with proof that one might find in history, in the Bible or in the Qur’an. They interpret it as they do because of a theological preconception. Before even looking at the case of Jesus, they tell themselves that God would not allow his servant to encounter failure; now they consider the condemnation, the humiliation and the crucifixion of Jesus as a failure that would have prevented him from fulfilling his mission. They think that Allah will necessarily deliver his apostles from danger and make them victorious.

Those who think this way forget many passages in their own Qur’an which clearly show that Allah allowed many righteous men, including His prophets, to die at the hands of the rebellious and unbelieving. In speaking of the Jews he says in Surah 2:61 – Al-Baqarah, “And abasement and humiliation were stamped upon them, and they incurred Allah’s wrath. That was so because they disbelieved in the messages of Allah and would kill the prophets unjustly. That was so because they disobeyed and exceeded the limits.”

In another passage it is written, “Those who deny God’s signs and kill the prophets unjustly and kill those who enjoin justice— give them warning of a woeful punishment” (Surah 3:21 – Al-Imran).

Still another says:

“To Moses We gave the Book and sent a succession of messengers after him. We gave Jesus, son of Mary, clear signs and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. But, whenever a messenger came to you with something which you did not desire, you grew arrogant, calling some liars and slaying others.” (Surah 2:87 – Al Baqarah)

(See also 3:112,181,183; 4:155; 5:70.)

The Qur’an also clearly shows that God does not always preserve the lives of those who fight for him: “And say not of those who are killed in the Way of Allah, ‘They are dead.’ Nay, they are living, but you perceive (it) not” (Surah 2:154 – Al-Baqarah; see also 3.169).

Why then should it be said that Jesus could not undergo a painful death, killed by wicked men? Why should one hold to an interpretation that contradicts the Qur’an, history and the writings of all the holy prophets of God?


If your concern is to protect the honor of Allah, and you think that it would be degrading for the great King of the universe to admit that mortal men had succeeded in killing the one He sent, and apparently in putting an end to his mission, think about this question: Which would glorify God more: to say that God helped Jesus to run away from wicked men, or to say that God allowed Jesus to be victorious over death by raising him up on the third day? Which one exalts the Almighty more: doing what looks like a magic trick to deceive men and help Jesus to escape death, or allowing Jesus to die and bringing him back to life after three days? What a wonderful proof of the power of God! Proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus does not dishonor God at all. Let us not hesitate to recognize the facts and to rejoice in them.

Did Jesus really die? (Part 1)

Catholics and Protestants alike often attribute to Jesus ideas that he never taught and which are not found in the Holy Bible. The creation of monasteries, the ceremony of Confirmation, the confession of sins to a priest, and the “sacrament” of “extreme unction” (anointing the dying with oil) are examples of non-biblical practices, of which many others could be mentioned. These practices, which were unknown to Christians for centuries, have now become fundamental parts of the faith of millions of people and are seldom questioned. In the same way, the majority of Muslims accept as articles of faith certain ideas and practices, never suspecting that these things were not taught by the one they consider to be the last prophet of Allah. This phenomenon actually explains part of the division between Christians and Muslims: in the course of time men have added doctrines which take them farther away from the Truth and which also put more distance between Christianity and Islam.

We all know that the central message of Christianity is based on three historical events: 1) Jesus Christ died on a cross; 2) he was buried; 3) three days later he was rose from the dead—he was resurrected. Most Muslims, however, deny the crucifixion of Jesus. Do they deny it because Muhammad actually said that the crucifixion did not take place? Or is this idea instead one of those beliefs that came along much later?

A Key Verse from the Qur’an

When we ask our Muslim friends about this point, they always refer us to the same Qur’anic verse: Surah 4:156-158 – An-Nisa’. In this passage Allah says that he had sealed the hearts of the Jews

“on account of their denial of the truth. Except for a few of them, they have no faith. They denied the truth and uttered a monstrous slander against Mary. They declared, ‘We have put to death the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been so]. And those who differ in this matter are in doubt concerning it. They have no definite knowledge about it, but only follow mere conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him.”

A great many explanations of this passage have been suggested. Some say that an angel protected Jesus or that he hid himself in a niche in the wall, while the soldiers laid their hands on one of his disciples, who was killed in his place. Others say that Simon of Cyrene, the Jewish passerby who was forced to carry the cross of Jesus, was then crucified instead of Christ. Many, including the so-called “Gospel of Barnabas” claim that God changed the appearance of Judas, the traitor, miraculously making him look like Jesus so that he would be crucified in his place. In fact, although the details vary widely, most explanations include the idea that God intervened to change the appearance of someone and make people think that they were killing Jesus, when it was actually another person. Ahmad Deedat, a South African Muslim who wrote a book on this subject, claimed that Jesus actually was nailed to the cross, but that he did not die. Deedat said that Jesus fainted and people wrongly thought that he had died; when he had been laid in the coolness of the tomb, he supposedly woke up. Still others say that there was not even a crucifixion at all; they say that the story of the death of Jesus was entirely fabricated.

Problems with the Usual Explanations

All these explanations have certain problems. There is, for example, a moral problem if we say that God used trickery or deception to deliberately make people believe a lie. God is perfectly holy, pure and without sin. The Bible clearly says in Hebrews 6:18 that “it is impossible for God to lie,” and Titus 1:2 that God “cannot lie.” He commanded in the Law of Moses: You shall not “deal falsely, nor lie to one another” (Leviticus 19:11). Would He who commanded men not to use deception try Himself to deceive men? How could He be trusted from then on? Far be it from God, the God of Truth—far be it from Him to deceive men and make them believe falsehoods. You must realize that if Allah had deceived men in order to make them believe that Jesus died on the cross, he would be responsible for having invented one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. He would be both a liar and one who helps to establish false religions. May He forgive men who have suggested such a thing. God would not use His miraculous power to deceive men. Satan is the one who does such things. Let us not dishonor God.

On the other hand, is it possible to believe that, without any miraculous intervention on God’s part, someone else could really be crucified and buried in the place of Jesus? While he was on the cross he was recognized by the Roman centurion and his soldiers, the passersby who heard him preach, the Jewish leaders, and the two criminals who were crucified on either side of him. There were also those who knew him intimately: the women who had accompanied him from Galilee, his own mother and his disciple, John. His body must have been easily recognizable after it was taken down from the cross, not only by his face, but also by the scars from the crown of thorns that the soldiers had placed on his head. Besides, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who buried him, as well as the women who were watching as the body was prepared for burial, all knew Jesus very well. Without a miraculous deception, they could not have mistaken someone else for Jesus.

What about Ahmad Deedat’s idea that Jesus was indeed crucified, but that he did not die? According to this theory, Jesus just fainted and then was revived later on in the coolness of the tomb. People mistakenly thought he was dead, and when they saw him alive a few days later, they proclaimed that he had been resurrected.

Let us be honest and realistic: Jesus actually died. Before his crucifixion, He had been severely beaten by “experts.” Roman soldiers knew perfectly well how to use their scourges, leather whips with pieces of glass and sharp stones woven into them, to bruise the entire body and leave the skin hanging in bloody strips (it is said that a person’s back would resemble ground meat). They had mastered their method of execution, one of the cruelest ever invented by man, producing suffocation and a slow, agonizing death. They knew how to determine if their victim was dead. And in the case of Jesus, they also pierced his side with a spear. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:33,34). It should be added that Jesus was buried according to Jewish custom: “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:39,40).

Even if one supposed that Jesus had not died but had only fainted, how could he have survived for three days in a damp tomb with no food, water or medical attention, severely wounded, wrapped like a mummy in several meters of cloth attached with nearly 100 pounds of sticky spices? How would he have had the strength to free himself from the strips of cloth, roll away the gigantic stone from the entrance of the tomb, overpower the soldiers who were guarding it, walk for several miles on feet that had been pierced with nails, and then present himself to his disciples in a state that would convince them that he was the Lord of life? Mr. Deedat’s version just does not hold up.

No Support in the Hadiths

In light of the opposition of the overwhelming majority of Muslims today, it is very interesting to learn that most reputable collections of Hadiths, that of Sahih al-Bukhari and that of Sahih Muslim, are totally silent on the question of the crucifixion. Those who read the Hadiths know quite well that they often speak of questions that such and such disciple of the prophet asked him and of the answers he gave. Sometimes the questions concern the meaning of particular Koranic verses. It is strange then, when one thinks of the divergent views held by Muslims today on the meaning of the 40 Arabic words that make up Surah 4:157, that of all the stories preserved during the first two hundred years following the life of Muhammad, none of them refer to one of his disciples asking him about the crucifixion of Jesus or the meaning of this verse. That means that there is no truly credible support for the usual explanations that we have seen for this passage in the Qur’an.

Let us summarize:

  • Some say that God substituted someone in the place of Jesus, but they do not agree on who it was on the cross—Simon of Cyrene? Judas? Peter? An unknown Jew? We don’t know.
  • Some say that neither Jesus nor someone resembling him was crucified.
  • Some say that Jesus escaped and went to India, where he died many years later of a natural death.
  • Some say that Jesus was crucified but that he did not die as a result. He was revived in the tomb.
  • Some say that God took him away to heaven before he could be arrested, others that it was after he had been arrested and beaten and was on the way to be nailed to the cross, and others that he was taken to heaven years later.

Our text in the Qur’an says, “And those who differ in this matter are in doubt concerning it. They have no definite knowledge about it, but only follow mere conjecture.” This is a perfect description, not of those who uphold the account contained in the Injeel, but of those who deny the crucifixion.

Another Explanation of the Verse

Do you know that there is another way to understand the Koranic passage we have read? This explanation does not come from Christians, but from Muslim scholars. The context of Surah 4:157 is a reproach addressed to the Jews who had rejected God’s prophets, spoken against Mary, and boasted of having crucified Jesus Christ. In refuting the Jews, the Qur’an says, “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been so].” This does not mean that there was no crucifixion, but that, even though it took place, God was the one responsible for it. The Jews only did what God, the Almighty, allowed them to do for the fulfilling of His own plan. The same kind of language is used in the eighth Surah of the Qur’an, which speaks of the actions of the Muslims at the Battle of Badr: “You did not slay them, but God slew them; and when thou threwest, it was not thyself that threw, but God threw, and that He might confer on the believers a fair benefit; surely God is All-hearing, All-knowing.” The Muslim faithful did, in fact, kill their enemies, but this was only, according to the thought in this verse, with the help and according to the will of Allah. In the same way, the Jew did play a role in the death of Jesus, but it was God who willed it and who caused his death to take place.