C. THE CRUCIFIXION IN ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY.
1. The Denial of the Crucifixion in the Qur'an.
For nearly twenty centuries the Christian Church has held a unanimous opinion on the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and to this day there is no dispute among Christians as to what happened to him. We all believe he was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification (Romans 4.25). This consensus has resulted from the unambiguous testimony of the Bible to these facts.
Certainly the fact not only of Jesus' crucifixion but also his death on the cross cannot genuinely be questioned on Biblical grounds. This applies to his resurrection as well. On one occasion Peter addressed the Jews with a straightforward testimony to all three events, saying:
Paul once spoke of Jesus' obedience "unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2.8), while one of the angels who spoke to the women who had come to the tomb on the first day of the week after Jesus had been crucified declared:
Peter summed it up on the Day of Pentecost when he incontrovertibly testified to both the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ in these words, charging those standing before him in the crowd:
No one can seriously question or doubt that the Bible testifies to the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the record it has left to the Christian Church and its testimony has been accepted without dispute in all quarters of the Church throughout its history. We shall return to this universal consensus in Christianity about these three facts at the end of this section and will show how remarkably consistent the Bible is in respect of what happened to Jesus but, in contrast therewith, shall examine in the meantime the Qur'an's ambiguity about the crucifixion and the confusion it has led to among Muslim commentators, a confusion as pronounced today as it has ever been in Muslim history.
The only consistent thing the Qur'an teaches on the subject is that Jesus was neither crucified nor killed. We have already seen that it denies bluntly that Jesus was ever put on the cross, saying of him: "But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them" (Surah 4.157), the Arabic original reading Wa maa qataluhuu wa maa salabuhuu wa laakin shubbiha lahum. The confusion arises over what actually happened to Jesus if he was not crucified. On this point the Qur'an is embarrassingly vague as we shall see, so vague that many Muslim theories nonetheless take in the actual crucifixion as a means to explaining the whole matter while denying his actual death on the cross. No matter how elliptically Muslims may argue around the event they nonetheless always fall back somehow on the only Qur'anic text dealing with the subject and will hold the actual Christian belief in the crucifixion and resurrection to be untenable.
Some Christian writers have occasionally also sought to sidestep the apparent blunt denial of the fact of the crucifixion and death of Jesus in the Qur'an by endeavouring to restrict this denial, for example, by suggesting that it is only denied that the Jews crucified Jesus. The aim is to preempt the issue the Qur'an takes with the Bible on the subject and so make it easier for Muslims to accept the crucifixion as an historical fact, a stepping-stone towards accepting the whole atoning emphasis behind it. One says:
Elder's line of reasoning is quoted with apparent approval in another Christian work (Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur'an, pp. 119-121), though a well-known writer also from the Christian side dismisses the argument completely:
There is only one verse in the whole Qur'an addressing the subject of the crucifixion and it denies it as an historical fact in such emphatic terms that one must surely believe that this is the book's express intention. The text has to be somewhat tortured to make it yield an alternative interpretation, especially where this turns out to be a hidden meaning completely contrary to its obvious teaching. The contrast between Acts 2.23 ("This Jesus . . . you crucified and killed") and Surah 4.157 ("They neither crucified nor killed him") can lead to only one safe conclusion - the Qur'an's intention to specifically deny both the crucifixion of Jesus and his death on the cross. One finds thus that the foundation of orthodox opinion in Islam on the fate of Jesus has always been that the Qur'an teaches that he was never put on the cross. The Qur'an and the Bible, therefore, must be taken to contradict each other in no uncertain terms on this issue.
2. Shubbiha Lahum - "So it was Made to Appear to Them".
If Jesus was not crucified, then what happened to him? If the Qur'an had simply denied this event as a fact of history without further comment the Muslim world might not have needed to trouble itself further on the matter. A brief clause following the denial in the Qur'an, however, has led to intense confusion and debate about what happened to Jesus in many Muslim quarters to this day, the clause being very briefly wa laakin shubbiha lahum - "and so it was made to appear to them". In these few words the Qur'an has come tantalisingly close to admitting the very fact it emphatically purports to deny. Whatever they mean, vague as they clearly are without the slightest hint to their factual implications, they do teach one thing - it was somehow made to appear to the Jews that they had actually crucified Jesus. The Muslim world has, thus, generally held that as Jesus was about to be arrested and crucified, someone else was suddenly made to look exactly like him and was crucified in his place. Whether it was Judas Iscariot, Simon of Cyrene, one of his disciples or one of the Roman soldiers (all these have been suggested in different Muslim writings as possible victims of the transformation), no one knows. The famous commentator at-Tabari recorded a number of traditions offering different suggestions but wisely made no contribution of his own.
The Qur'an is thus taken to admit at least that the Jews plotted to crucify Jesus, that Jesus lived on earth up to the point of the crucifixion, that the Jews actually came to arrest Jesus, that someone was indeed crucified, and that that person was made so to resemble Jesus that the Jews thought it was indeed him. The Muslim world thus acknowledges that a man to all intents and purposes looking exactly like Jesus was in fact crucified that day. How much closer can you get? As I have said to so many Muslims, if you can accept all this, why can you not finally accept what is surely so much more probable and logical, that it was Jesus himself who was crucified?
The Qur'an offers yet another striking coincidence - it makes the life of Jesus on earth duly end on the very same day that the Bible says it did. It goes on to say: Wa maa qataluhuu yaqinaam barrafa'ahullaahu ilayh - "For of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, God raised him up to himself" (Surah 4.157-158). This is, in consequence of general belief in the theory that Jesus was substituted, taken to mean that at the very moment that someone else was made to look like him, God took him up off the earth to himself. This strange coincidence (namely the Qur'an's agreement with the Bible that Jesus' ministry and life actually ended on the same day) ironically gives the substitution theory its only possible credibility and one which makes other Islamic theories even more untenable. It wisely ends the life of Jesus on the same day that history itself duly ends it.
Apart from Jesus' forty days on earth after his resurrection (when he appeared only to his disciples), there is no evidence that his life ever continued on earth over the succeeding years. It is too hard to believe that such a prominent personality could suddenly disappear from the pages of history without further trace if he continued to preach and heal as he had done before. As his ministry was first and foremost to the sons of Israel as he openly testified (Matthew 15.24, supported by Surah 61.6), it is grossly unlikely that he could have been hidden while a major new world religion sprung up in his name, based on his resurrection and ascension to heaven shortly afterwards. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the majority of Muslims believing in the substitution theory, an improbable theory but not quite as implausible as others we shall mention.
The substitution theory leaves us with a very significant admission. "At least we all start from the fact of an intention to crucify . . . We cannot here isolate the historian and the theologian from each other, and both - whether Christian or Muslim - begin from the undoubted fact that there was an intention to crucify" (Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim, pp. 166,167). The same writer makes much the same point in another book: "The Qur'an does not dispute that the Jews desired to crucify Jesus" (Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, p. 294). Having come so far towards the Biblical record of the crucifixion it is to be deeply regretted that the Qur'an slips at the last hurdle and leaves the followers of Islam in no small confusion about what really happened that day. One Muslim writer comments on Surah 4.157:
Immediately we can detect some uncertainty on the part of the commentator who says that someone else was "somehow or other" taken for Jesus. A similar sense of ambiguity is unmistakable in this comment as well:
Yet another Muslim commentator betrays the same element of dubiousness in Surah 4.157 about what actually happened that day when he says:
All these authors speak vaguely about what really took place that day. The reason is that the expression "so it was made to appear to them" is extremely ambiguous and none of these commentators is therefore able to make dogmatic statements about its interpretation. Before examining the substitution theory itself on its own merits, let us conclude here by analysing this little expression, wa laakin shubbiha lahum, a bit more closely from a Christian perspective.
There are some who suggest that Muhammad was aware of the Nestorian/Monophysite controversy of his time which centred on the actual nature of Christ's personality. The Monophysites argued for a single divine character, the Nestorians for a double nature, one human and the other divine. From these disputes it is supposed that Muhammad may have derived the idea that Jesus came only in a human semblance, or that it was only such a semblance that appeared to them when he was crucified. This was indeed very much the belief of the early Gnostics and one writer argues:
The same writer, in another book, continues in this vein, suggesting that when Muhammad claimed that it was only made to appear to the Jews that they had crucified Jesus, he was following quite firmly in the footsteps of the Basilidean heresy before him:
It does seem that Muhammad may well have adopted this theory to some extent as one must surely look somewhere into pre-Islamic sources for his strange denial of the fact of the crucifixion, especially as he assumes the supposition that it was only a semblance of Jesus that was crucified. As he believed Jesus to be a prophet, however, it is grossly unlikely that he would have been influenced by the basic principles of Gnostic belief (as Tisdall goes on to point out), but the fact of an apparent crucifixion, so remarkably similar in both sources, argues strongly for the probability that Muhammad derived his conviction that Jesus was not crucified from the apocryphal sources mentioned.
Other Christian writers have supposed that the expression shubbiha lahum is to some extent derived from Romans 8.3 where it is said that God sent his own Son "in the likeness of sinful flesh", as well as Hebrews 2.17, where it is said he was "made like his brethren in every respect", and Philippians 2.6 where it says he was "born in the likeness of men". One of these writers suggests that by using these texts Christians can show Muslims in what way a "likeness" of men was really crucified that day (Register, Dialogue and Interfaith Witness with Muslims, p. 46). Speaking of the expression "likeness of men" (shibbin-nass in the Arabic Bible) in Philippians 2.6 he says:
Much the same argument is advanced by another writer who says "The Koranic expression 'shubbiha lahum' (4:157) is very close to the Biblical statement, 'the likeness of sinful flesh and the likeness of men"' (Abdul-Haqq, Sharing Your Faith with a Muslim, p. 138), while yet another writer says of the same three Biblical quotes given in the above paragraph:
Just as we found that the suggestion that the Qur'an does not really deny the crucifixion of Christ was strained against the whole patent intention of Surah 4.157, so here too it appears to require a wide stretch of the imagination to read into the same text that it was in fact Jesus who was crucified and that the expression "so it was made to appear to them" can be reconciled on Biblical grounds which were almost certainly unknown to Muhammad. Another Christian writer, while acknowledging the complete vagueness of the words shubbiha lahum and the silence of the Qur'an about the identity of the one crucified in the place of Jesus, nevertheless contends that it cannot be Jesus himself:
Another suggestion is that Muhammad was perplexed by the claim of the Jews on the one hand that Jesus had been crucified and the claim of the Christians on the other that he had been raised to heaven, especially when the latter acknowledged that he had indeed been put on the cross. The resurrection would appear to be the obvious answer to the dilemma but there is no hint in the Qur'an that he ever knew that Christians believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Muhammad sought thus somehow to "raise" and "exalt" Jesus in harmony with the Christian belief in his glorification.
Another writer we have already quoted sums up the apparent connection between the ascension of Jesus in the Bible and his deliverance and exaltation in the Qur'an by saying:
From both the Christian and the Muslim sides there have come a number of proposed explanations of the strange expression "so it was made to appear to them". One thing is quite apparent - the very ambiguous nature of its content has given rise to these varying interpretations and there are clear admissions in Muslim writings that the meaning of this passage is anything but clear.
We would close by commending to our readers a brief reflection on the contrast between the crucifixion narratives in the Bible and the Qur'an. The Biblical records not only state emphatically what happened but do so in the finest detail, even to the hour of Jesus' death, the apportionment of his garments, his sayings from the cross, etc. The Qur'an, however, while denying the crucifixion as a fact of history, is so elusive and vague on the whole subject that any final Muslim interpretation of the events of that day must largely be based on pure guesswork.
3. A Critical Analysis of the Substitution Theory.
Islam hardly offers a rational alternative to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Not only is the Qur'an's brief treatment of the subject embarrassingly vague but the substitution theory, which has become the most widely- accepted explanation of the Qur'an's teaching in Surah 4.157, is itself extremely vulnerable on moral grounds and will not withstand the acid test of critical analysis.
It is extremely difficult to see why God should transform the appearance of a bystander to make him look like Jesus so that the Jews and Romans could crucify him instead. The very act of misrepresenting one man as another is surely a form of impersonation and we cannot expect to find the "Holy God who shows himself holy in righteousness" (Isaiah 5.16) doing such a thing. Furthermore, if it was God's intention to deliver and save Jesus, why should anyone be crucified at all, particularly an innocent bystander (that is, one innocent of any supposed crime for which the Jews sought to crucify Jesus). Muslim writers attempt to circumvent this difficulty by proposing Judas Iscariot as the victim as his crucifixion would supposedly be a fitting consequence of his wish to betray Jesus into the same form of execution. There is no hint in the Qur'an, however, as to the identity of the victim substituted for Jesus and the choice of Judas is an obvious expedient designed to remove a troublesome objection.
I have found it very useful to point out to Muslims that the Bible records seven sayings of Jesus on the cross and that these show quite plainly that it could only have been Jesus who was crucified. One saying in particular has much relevance here and it is contained in the following passage:
The compassion with which Jesus commended his mother to his beloved disciple John cannot be explained if it is suggested that someone else was crucified. What particularly affects Muslims, however, is a consideration of the identities of those at the foot of the cross. Among them were his beloved mother Mary, highly esteemed in Islam as Bibi Maryam, his closest male disciple John, and his closest female disciple Mary Magdalene. Would God have left these people to behold the agony Jesus was enduring if it was merely someone made to look like him? They would surely have thought it really was him. Would God have allowed his mother to endure such torment all because of an illusion of his own making?
This leads to another reason why no one can seriously believe in the substitution theory if he believes that God acts nobly and consistently at all times. If the man crucified was made to appear to be Jesus himself, is it then surprising that his disciples and followers really believed it was him and so founded the whole Christian faith on a hoax, an illusion of which God himself was the deliberate author? Many of Jesus' disciples laid down their lives preaching Christ crucified - all for nothing, all because they were deceived by the God of a prophet for whom they had left everything to be his followers (Mark 10.28)? The substitution theory implies that God is the author of the greatest fraud in history.
The teaching of the Koran that Jesus Christ did not die upon the cross implies that the entire Christian movement is based on a unique deception in history. (Abdul-Haqq, Sharing Your Faith with a Muslim, p. 133).
In our view what really is one of the greatest deceptions in history is the denial of the crucifixion of Jesus in the Qur'an, only this time God cannot be held to be the author of such a delusion. Hundreds of millions of Muslims are brought up believing blindly in the substitution theory which, when anyone thinks seriously about it, is riddled with improbabilities and unacceptable implications. If this is in fact the teaching of Surah 4.157, then the Qur'an cannot validly be held to be the Word of God.
4. Muslim Confusion About the Fate of Jesus.
A number of Muslims have become acutely conscious of the shortcomings of the substitution theory but, being unwilling to accept the logical alternative because it will oblige them to forsake Islam and become Christians, they have proposed other theories, all of which appear to be even more improbable than the generally-accepted theory. Each one has to extend the life of Jesus beyond AD 29. As we have seen this renders such theories untenable right from the start. Some say Jesus lived on and died a natural death later in life. No one can say where he lived, what he did, when he died, or where he is buried. There is nothing in all history to give credence to such a theory.
The Ahmadiyya Movement teaches that Jesus was indeed crucified but that he survived the cross, was taken down in a swoon and presumed to be dead, recovered and went to India, lived there and preached till he was a hundred and twenty years old, and died in Srinagar where he is buried. The tomb of an obscure ascetic, one Yus Asaf, has very conveniently become the tomb of Jesus! The theory that Jesus survived the cross is even put forward by some Muslims today in writings calculated to undermine the Gospel. Invariably these publications (for example Deedat, Crucifixion or Cruci-Fiction? ; Sheard, The Myth of the Crucified Saviour) make no attempt to reconcile this theory, commonly known as the "swooning" theory, with the substitution theory. Most significantly they do not propose their theory as a dogma of Islam but seek solely to undermine the crucifixion narratives in the Bible.
At least Ahmadiyya writers are being true to their own beliefs, but these Muslim writers appear to be guilty of a two- faced approach in their writings. They propose a theory but refuse to own it and one can only presume that they are motivated purely by an awareness of the weakness of the Muslim Substitution theory and believe the best way to handle the subject of the crucifixion of Jesus is to attack the Biblical records instead.
I have dealt at some length with the swooning theory in The Islam Debate (co-authored with Josh McDowell, pp. 111-127) and have offered an extensive refutation of its arguments in the book and will therefore not repeat myself here. Nonetheless there is one thing about the Ahmadiyya admission that Jesus was indeed put on the cross that I believe should be mentioned here and it is found in this quote from a typical Ahmadiyya book about Jesus Christ:
If we can be grateful to Ahmadiyya writers for anything it is this belated admission in Islam of what must surely be obvious to all who know how to assess the facts of history objectively - the actual crucifixion of Jesus. It does not seen legitimate to us, either, to doubt it. We take our own exception, however, to the writer's suggestion that he did not die on the cross which is equally historically certain. This leads us, however, to a further point of confusion about Jesus in Islam and that is the Qur'anic teaching about his eventual death.
There are not a few passages in the Qur'an which speak of Jesus' death. In one place we find him speaking from the cradle to his mother and those about him, saying:
Very much the same thing is said of John the Baptist in Surah 19.15 and there can be no doubt that John died and was buried like all other men and that the reference to being raised in his case refers to the Day of Resurrection. The logical interpretation of the words of Jesus as recorded in the verse quoted is that he would die a natural death and be raised to life on the Last Day. Yusuf Ali has a very interesting comment on this verse, saying:
Another Muslim writer, commenting on the same verses in the nineteenth Surah, draws what appears to be the most reasonable conclusion regarding their interpretation when he says:
He says elsewhere in his booklet on Jesus: "Please note that he does not follow birth with ascension to heaven. He clearly says the next event concerning himself is death" (op. cit., p. 40). He notes Yusuf Ali's uncertainty about what really happened to Jesus, pointing out that in all his other footnotes to his translation he clearly "shared the orthodox teachings that Jesus ascended to heaven without having died" (op. cit., p. 44). He takes him to task, however, for making an obvious allowance in his commentary on Surah 19.33 for the death of Jesus during his first sojourn on earth. A Christian writer also notes Yusuf Ali's uncertainty about the fate of Jesus in reviewing another comment of his relating to the death of Jesus:
There is a clear degree ;of confusion among Muslims as to whether Jesus died on earth or was raised alive to heaven. Most believe that he will come back to earth to die, but Obaray's comments on Surah 19.33 show how unlikely it is that Jesus' words in the Qur'an were intended to be a reference to his death after being raised alive to heaven for many centuries. Modern Muslim writers who hold to the substitution theory declare with one voice that Jesus did not die on earth, but earlier commentators struggled with passages that spoke of Jesus' apparent natural death at the end of his life and expressed no certain opinion on the matter, leaving it open in their writings. "Moslem commentaries are by no means as sure of the idea that He did not die, as are the present- day interpreters'' (Elder, "The Crucifixion in the Koran", The Muslim World, Vol. 13, p. 243).
Another passage which causes much confusion among Muslim commentators on the subject of the death of Jesus is this One where God addresses him, saying:
The words "I will take thee", in the original Arabic, are innii mutawaffiika which, according to the common meaning of the words, can only mean "I will cause you to die" (so Muhammed Asad, The Message of the Qur'an, p. 75). It is only after this that God says wa rafi'uka ilayya - "and I will raise you to myself". The same word is used here as in Surah 4.158 where it is said that God raised Jesus to himself after the denial that the Jews had succeeded in crucifying and killing him. It is upon that text that the doctrine of the raising o Jesus to heaven without his prior death upon the earth is built, yet in Surah 3.55 the raising is clearly spoken of as following his death. Once again Muslim writers attempt to postpone the death of Jesus to the future, saying that the death referred to is yet to come but, if it is, "then the Raising of Jesus to Allah must also be future" (Obaray, Miraculous Conception, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus (Nabi-Isa) as Taught in the Kuran, p. 29). It is well-nigh impossible to see how any Muslim writer, who approaches all the passages we have mentioned objectively, can possibly reconcile them. Well does a Christian writer say:
This also explains why there are so many conflicting opinions in Islam about what really happened to Jesus at the end of his earthly life, prompting another Christian writer to comment: "There is no doubt that this variety of versions resulted from the lack of clear wording in the Qur'an with regard to the last days of Christ's human life on earth" (Jadid, The Cross in the Gospel and the Qur'an, p. 11 ) . Another verse which helps to compound the confusion is this one where Jesus is quoted as speaking to God of his disciples, saying to him of his time on earth:
Once again the words for "when Thou didst take me up" are not the only possible translation of the original words falammaa tawaffiitanii. They are just as reasonably translated in the alternative by Muhammad Asad as "since Thou hast caused me to die" (Asad, The Message of the Qur'an, p. 169) and by Muhammad Ali as "when Thou didst cause me to die" (Ali, The Holy Qur'an, p. 276), for the word tawaffa, meaning "to gather to oneself", can quite properly be taken as a reference to death as the manner in which a man's soul is taken back to God. If this is the intended meaning of the words in Surah 5.120, it can only refer to the death of Jesus at the end of his life on earth when God continued to watch over his disciples.
There can be little doubt that the Qur'an is quite vague and at times contradictory on the subject of the death of Jesus and, indeed, on what really happened to him that fateful Friday when the Bible states quite emphatically that he was crucified, died and was buried, only to rise on the third day. The Qur'an presents no reasonable alternative to this clear sequence of events. The great commentator ar-Razi was constrained to make the following comment on the Qur'anic teaching about the destiny of Jesus:
It is surely far more sensible to conclude that the difficulties here spoken of militate against the alleged divine inspiration of the Qur'an and that the confusion in The Muslim World has been caused by an inexplicable denial in the Qur'an of a fact positively true to history - the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. A modern Muslim writer is also obliged to Concede his inability to define clearly what happened to Jesus when he says of Surah 4.157 in a book he has written on the whole subject of Jesus' crucifixion:
In the light of the Qur'anic denial of the crucifixion Hussein considers that the whole question of the destiny of Jesus is an unexplained mystery. On the contrary a very clear explanation is found in the Bible and in the Christian doctrine of the Atonement. The Bible alone has the truth about Jesus and, in our view, the confusion surrounding the Qur'anic alternative arises not from a mystery but from a myth - that Jesus was neither crucified nor killed. A Christian writer puts the whole matter in a nutshell when he says:
Without seeking to cause offence Christians should be quite open in pointing out to Muslims how inconsistent the Qur'an appears to be in its treatment of this subject and how it has caused Muslims to be at variance with each other in their interpretation of its teaching. Its unwarranted charge against Christians regarding the crucifixion, "Those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow" (Surah 4.157), has rebounded against its own followers and it is they alone who are left holding much dispute among themselves as they conjecture about the ultimate fate of Jesus. Let us close by seeing how clear the Bible is, in contrast, on this subject.
5. The Crucifixion as a Fact of History in Christianity.
Hussein spoke of accepting the Qur'anic teaching on the crucifixion as a mystery which should be taken for granted on faith alone. Fortunately no such purely subjective approach is required when one comes to the Bible for it has universally been accepted that "By the standards of modern historiography the crucifixion of Jesus is one of the most certain events in past history" (Watt, Islam and Christianity Today, p. 144). In fact even non-Christians who query such phenomena as the virgin-birth, miracles and resurrection of Jesus, nonetheless acknowledge the crucifixion to be one of the certain historical facts of his life.
Unlike the Qur'an, which creates much confusion among its commentators regarding the ultimate death of Jesus, the Bible is quite consistent with itself and the historical narratives of the crucifixion in the Gospels define the sequence of events in fine detail as we have seen.
Not a single writer in the New Testament but tells of the actual death of Jesus; not a single voice is heard in all the record of the Book of Acts raising any doubt that Jesus was crucified. Not until the lapse of centuries had men the audacity to doubt this historic fact and teach their cunningly devised fables. (Zwemer, The Glory of the Cross, p. 27).
The ironical thing about the Qur'an is that it teaches that the deliverance of Jesus from crucifixion was part of a superior plan of God to save him from the designs of the Jews. They plotted against Jesus, but "God too planned, and the best of planners is God" (Surah 3.54). The irony is found in the fact that the Bible teaches that the crucifixion of Jesus, a fact of history, was in fact the very means by which God accomplished his superior plan. On the Day of Pentecost Peter declared that the Jews did indeed crucify and kill Jesus Christ, but this did not defeat God's purposes for it was according to his "definite plan and foreknowledge" (Acts 2.23). Through it he brought about the salvation of all who truly turn to him in faith, and by means of its sequel (the resurrection) he brought about the assured hope of eternal life in all who are raised to newness of life with Jesus (Romans 6.4). A Muslim writer is bold enough to see this very thing when he says that whereas the death of Jesus fulfilled the plan of the Jews, "the resurrection fulfils the better plan of Allah" (Obaray, Miraculous Conception, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus (Nabi Isa) as Taught in the Kuran, p. 39), and he goes on to conclude:
In a similar vein a Christian writer points out that the cross was not an untimely end to Jesus' ministry which destroyed his plans and caught him unawares, but was the very purpose for which he came into the world that he might bring about the salvation of God: "The Cross was no afterthought, n sudden tragedy. It was the conscious choice of Christ" (Cragg The Call of the Minaret, p. 300). The same writer perhaps gets right to the heart of the matter when he shows that the victory came not through a last-gasp deliverance by which God snatched his helpless prophet away from his enemies, but rather through the climax of God's love as it was revealed in all its perfection when he willingly gave his Son that we might be forgiven and become heirs of the hope of eternal life in the everlasting kingdom of God:
Elsewhere he points out that it is enigmatic to find that the Qur'an declares, just after its proclamation that God raised Jesus to heaven without being crucified, that God is "Mighty, Wise" (Surah 4.158). For in 1 Corinthians 1. 23-24 the Apostle Paul teaches precisely the opposite, namely that it is in Christ crucified alone that we discover "the power of God and the wisdom of God". The Qur'an sees God's hand of deliverance as a physical demonstration of God's power and wisdom, whereas in the Bible it is in God's grace in allowing his Son to be crucified and in using this as his foreordained means of our salvation that we truly see God's power and wisdom manifested.
In closing we can only recommend that Christians seeking to witness to Muslims should always maintain this theme - the cross of Christ not only as a proven fact of history but also as the revelation of God's love and righteousness for all men until the end of time. We have every right, as I have done here, to emphasize the factual truth of the crucifixion, but must do so purely as a means to an end, namely to enable Muslims to discover all the glory of its meaning and purpose.
I have purposefully left the whole subject of the crucifixion as a fact of history until the end of these three chapters on the most effective means of communicating the Gospel to Muslims so that it may obtain its proper place - a supporting proof for the message of the Gospel upon which it is based. The one cannot do without the other. Jesus called on all true believers to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4.24) and no Christian witness will ultimately be effective unless it can combine these two essential ingredients - the spirit of the message of the Gospel and the factual truths on which it is based.
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