Or: The Curse of the Cross and its Blessing
This article attempts to be a quite comprehensive overview and interpretation of all the Bible and the Qur'an say on the topic of the Crucifixion of Jesus, the Messiah: Whether it happened, and what its meaning might be.
I want to deal with the topic in three parts:
And after the "theological discussion" is presented, I think the following will be an important appendix:
Although I feel like apologizing for the length of this treatise, I hope that its length will allow it to be thorough and helpful in providing a deeper understanding of our respective views. If you have any interest in understanding the Christian faith and the content of the Bible, I urge you to stick with me, because at the end, you will see that this whole question and its supposed "Islamic solution" will prove to be a major headache to Muslims [that is, if you dare think about it - instead of just dismissing the problem] and it uncovers a big inconsistency in the Islamic faith.
Though being an Ahmadiyyan, Mr. ...'s argument below is also one of the usual Muslim arguments against Jesus' dying on the cross.
But I think that the Muslim "solution" is more consistent than the Ahmadiyyan one. Muslims say, because this is a shameful death, Allah would not allow this to happen to His prophet, and the Qur'an indeed says, that Jesus did not go to the cross but was 'rescued' from it and some sort of illusion was staged instead. [Qur'an 4:157]
In the contrary, the Ahmadiyyas say that Jesus DID go to the cross but did not die there. He supposedly survived it, was resuscitated and then emigrated to India where he eventually died of old age [in order to make room for Mr. Ahmad to come and claim to be the Messiah].
Now, looking at the verse and the reasons supplied by Mr. ... below, even to hang on the cross is shameful and accursed, not only to die on it, so I do not see how the Ahmadiyya interpretation is any solution to the problem he is presenting himself.
Nevertheless, I will answer to the general claim, that this is a shameful and humiliating event which Allah would never allow his prophet to suffer.
Since this is already a very long article, I didn't want to quote in full ALL the many references I am giving. It will be worth it to have a Bible handy and to look up and verify what I say. For those who do not have a Bible, there is one one the world wide web and you can just click on the reference and your browser will give you the passage. For general reference, the Web Bible is at http://bible.gospelcom.net/ and I would suggest you use the NIV translation, but feel free to check the same passage in different translations. There are at least 5 available at the above address.
In article <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Mr. ... writes:
Jochen here is another thing I would like for you to explain.
Hazrat Ahmad wrote:
"Apart from this, it was necessary that he (Jesus) should escape death on the cross, for it was stated in the Holy Book (Bible), that whoever was hanged on the wood was accursed. It is a cruel and an unjust blasphemy to attribute a curse to an eminent person like Jesus, the Messiah,
It is clear that the significance of the word Mal'un, viz. accursed, is so foul that it can never apply to any righteous person who entertains love of God in his heart. Alas! Christians did not ponder over the significance of a curse when they invented this belief; else, it impossible for them to have used such a bad word for a righteous man like Jesus.
Jochen I find this as a very convincing reason to believe Jesus did not die on the cross.
Mr. ... (who decided he rather be anonymous)
As I indicated above, I would understand, based on your reasoning, if you would therefore deny that Jesus even went to the cross. But why would it be less accursed and shameful to nearly die there than it is to actually die there? After all, everybody thought he was dead. The soldiers, the onlookers, the Priests, even the disciples... And so in the sight of everybody, he DID die this shameful death. That is what everyone thought. So, everyone would think exactly what you say nobody should be allowed to think. This special Ahmadiyyan solution is no solution at all. And in addition, it seems that the Ahmadiyyas claim some sort of special revelation on this event, since nobody before them, at least not in the first few hundred years ever had such an idea.
But I will nevertheless answer all your questions above, i.e. the meaning of this curse, and how the Apostles preached on it. I will also show that the Christians have indeed thought deeply about this problem and that the solution is all "written up" in the Bible, both in prophecies of earlier prophets, saying it would exactly happen this way and in the teaching of Jesus himself on this very topic.
You referred correctly to the curse of God, as it is written in the Torah:
If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him than same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
Actually, the usual procedure was to put the condemned person to death and after he died to put him up on the tree as a demonstration of the punishment of evil and to deter others from following his evil ways. But the fact that Jesus died on the cross instead of being hung on the cross after dying is not much of a difference. He has been hung on the cross/tree and that is understood as a sign of God's curse on him.
Christians did very much ponder about the meaning of the cross, the curse upon the one on the cross and what it all means. It is not that the Ahmadiyya are the first to find this 'shameful'. It was shameful to the very people who saw it. It is part of the horror of the death on the cross. And it is one reason that many Jews did NOT accept Jesus as the Messiah. Even some of his followers thought it was over, now that Jesus had died, and even died in a way that displayed the curse of God on him. Luke reports of a conversation two of the disappointed disciples have then someone asks them why they are so sad. Their answer is:
"[It is] about Jesus of Nazareth", they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priest and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel [i.e. the Messiah]." (Luke 24:19-21)
They understood well, that this kind of death, the crucifixion, meant (in the usual understanding of the Jews) that he couldn't be the Messiah. How could the Messiah be under God's curse?
Now, this stranger who is joining these two disciples and asked them for the reason of their sadness is none other than the risen Lord, Jesus. And as he joins them on their way, he starts to explain them the true meaning of the scriptures and that all this has happened exactly like God had foretold it through his earlier prophets.
He (Jesus) said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe ALL that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Now, WHAT do the earlier prophets say? Sadly Luke was a bit short in this account and I am sure many would like to know what Jesus taught them on this way. But we can only guess and have to search the Old Testament for ourselves to see what indeed is written there. And note that Jesus put suffering and glory together. Yes, ultimately he will enter his glory, but the way is through suffering and this is not a contradiction in his mind.
I would like to do in this article the same for you as Jesus did for his disappointed disciples, who thought that God would never let that happen to His Messiah. Well, they had SEEN Jesus hang on cross and die, so claiming that it never happened was not an option for these very disappointed and confused but honest people. So the only solution to the dilemma for these Jews was, that Jesus could not have been the Messiah after all. And that is their verdict on it to this day. But what has Jesus shown these two? I don't know the exact verses they were talking about. But I want to show you a few (out of many) which Jesus might have used to show them the meaning of it all.
The King and Prophet David wrote this Psalm which is prophecying about the crucifixion of the Messiah (1000 years before the birth of Jesus!), and this is the very prayer/passage Jesus prayed/quoted while on the cross as we can see from the first verse. In brackets, e.g. [John 3:35], I will give (one or more of) the parallel passage of the New Testament relating to the Old Testament prophecy in the specific verse that precedes it. Please do check them out.
For the director of music. To [the tune of] "The Doe of the Morning."
A psalm of David.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? [Matthew 27:46]
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
8 "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." [Matthew 27:41-49]
Yes, even David prophesied that the Messiah would be despised and die a shameful death with mockers around him.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
[In John 19:28 Jesus expresses his thirst - and in general, this description is very accurate of what a crucified person would feel. And note the last word, it is about dying: death.]
16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me,[This expression of "piercing" will come back later! And, as we know, Jesus was nailed to the cross through his hand(wrist)s and feet - and this is one of the signs of recognition by his disciples, see Luke 24:40, John 20:20,25]
they have pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. [Mark 15:24]
24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
[Although this person is so afflicted and despised, God is not rejecting him, contrary to what everyone would expect.]
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him -- may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
[What happens here at the cross, this despised death, will result in the spread of God's message all around the earth, people from all nations will turn to the Lord and will worship Him.]
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him -- those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn -- for he has done it.
And this message of the Lord's righteousness will spread throughout the earth and throughout the generations [Luke 24:46-47]. And though it doesn't look like it at the time, David concludes his prophecy with "He has done it". And "he" is the Lord himself. This whole event is God's plan, this was not an accident. God foretold it 1000 years before it happened in history.
Whom is David talking about? Was he describing a nightmare he had after overeating at the evening meal? That would not have been included in God's word then. And a nightmare wouldn't contain these precious words of worship to God, of His righteousness proclaimed to all people. No, as Jesus has said, God's Word is is full of prophecies about the Messiah and who else could be so important as to give such a detailed description of his death? And none but Jesus fits this prophecy. And as verse 27 says, this event leads to the fact that all the ends of the earth will turn to the Lord, and people from all different nations will bow before the Lord.
Let me give you another astonishing Old Testament passage, this time the Lord speaks through the prophet Zechariah, about 500 years before Christ. In chapters 12 and 13 we read:
1 This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel.
The LORD, who..., declares:
2 "I am going to ...
10 "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced,
and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.
On the cross Jesus was pierced through his hands, feet (by nails), and his side (by a spear), John 19:34, John 20:20,25.
And this passage will be considered again in my exposition on the Trinity but here we are only concerned with the prediction of crucifixion.
God speaks in this whole chapter in the first person, and says that Israel will PIERCE Him and then LOOK at Him. These are very tangible words of the physical world. And what is happening at this day when they pierce him (God!)? The mourning will be like for a son!
And the next verse continues in Zechariah 13:
1 "On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.
Another such passage explaining in clearest terms the meaning of the death of the suffering servant of God, is Isaiah 52-53 (Isaiah was a prophet around 740 B.C.):
13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him -- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness --
[Resulting from the torture before the crucifixion, scourging etc]
15 so will he sprinkle many nations,
[The sprinkling of blood is a sign of cleansing and forgiveness of sins, Hebrews 9:11-15,Leviticus 16:15-19.]
and kings will shut their mouth because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.
1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 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.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
[This is said about the servant of the Lord - seemingly shame and humiliation does not disqualify a person from being God's servant. But "who will believe?" (verse 1), that is the first question at the beginning of the chapter and this is the question still asked today. And following this question, God again explains the meaning of this death]
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
[As it SEEMED, he was under God's punishment and curse but the contrary is true]
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 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 her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 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.
10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Time and again in this short passage, God says that this righteous servant of His will bear the sin of his people, the sin of the transgressors. And though he will be unjustly condemned to death (verse 8) it ultimately was the Lord's doing and will (verse 10) because from eternity past it was planned that he will give his life as a guilt offering and forgiveness will be available for all who have sinned. Jesus, the righteous servant who had no sin of his own, bore the iniquities of the many (verse 11), and he did not curse but prayed for his enemies who put him on the cross (verse 12, Luke 23:34).
And there are many many more parallels to the life and suffering of Jesus in those few verses.
God made this plan known 740 years before Jesus was even born. This was no accidental death. And the curse of the cross is the curse that God put on all sin and which he judged in this historic event on the cross.
But the Jews originally didn't understand it and even the Apostles and other disciples could not completely comprehend it at first, even though Jesus had spoken about it many times. But they later realized very clearly its meaning, when Jesus explained it to them after the resurrection. He had talked about it before too, but it seems that the disciples couldn't grasp it before it had happened.
So far we have seen what the earlier prophets David, Zechariah and Isaiah say about the death (crucifixion) of the Messiah.
In the next part, we will see what Jesus himself and his Apostles teach about it and also look at the passages of the Qur'an in regard to the crucifixion.
Continue with Part 2 of this article.
The Cross of Christ
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