God our Savior, Redeemer
Luke 13:1-9 tells how Jesus got into a lively conversation with some Jews about a tragic disaster. The conversation began with the Jews asking Jesus a question but he took the opportunity to mention another disaster in which 18 people had been killed. He made an insightful remark about these much-talked about headline news stories, using them to challenge people to make right with God. How can we be alert to these current conversation topics so we can make the most of such opportunities, as Christ did?
Is there a way of engaging Muslims in meaningful conversation about the masses of Muslim refugees pouring into Europe?
I have found that it is not difficult to discuss this humanitarian disaster spawned by the deepening violence in Syria and indeed, across much of the Muslim world. I broached this topic with Alif and then nudged the discussion in a positive direction by sharing how I came across a remarkable prophecy that seems relevant. He agreed to read Isaiah 49:24-26 even though I warned him that it paints a gruesome picture involving people slaughtering one another. Verse 24 begins by posing a question, “Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?” Then God replies, “I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine.” As horrifying as this judgement may seem, it has a positive impact, “Then all mankind will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isaiah 49:26, NIV)
J. Alec Motyer explains this verse in his excellent commentary on Isaiah,1
Maybe "eating their own flesh" and "drinking their own blood" draws on a picture of siege conditions with cannibalism as the last resort against starvation. But the reality is that those who choose their own way, are in the end self-destructive, and it is part of the divine justice which rules the world to effect this outcome. [All the bold font throughout this article has been added for emphasis.]
Motyer notes that the theme of self-destruction is a recurring theme in earlier wars of the Lord (see Judges 7:22; 1 Samuel 14:20; 2 Chronicles 20:23). However, let me add that this theme also correlates to future wars which are predicted to happen near the end (Ezekiel 38:21-23; Revelation 6:4). Thoughtful readers will realise how relevant this is considering the rampant self destruction going on in terms of sectarian feuding and bloodshed across much of the Middle East.
As a matter of fact, in the last half of the 20th century, 11 million Muslims suffered violent deaths, of which 90% were caused by Muslim-on-Muslim violence.2 Indeed, this trend has intensified over the last year (2014-15), in the wake of a resurgent radical Islam.3 Note, for example, groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, not forgetting the Iranian regime which continues threatening to wipe Israel off the map.
Now let us take a closer look at the second half of verse 26, describing the positive impact resulting from God's judgements: Then all mankind will realize that the Lord is the Mighty One of Jacob, the Savior, Redeemer. There is, in fact, a growing awareness across the world that the one true God, is indeed Savior and Redeemer.
David Garrison provides much evidence in his book, A Wind in the House of Islam, observing that in recent years there has been an unprecedented harvest among Muslims. He adds that, “one of the greatest recurring motivations for Muslims coming to Christ” is the widespread violence they see in their societies (p. 58). A recent story out of Germany confirms Garrison's point. This story illustrates God's sovereign hand shaking the nations and ripening his harvest. The Associated Press tells of an evangelical church in Berlin that has grown from 150 people three years ago to 600 in September 2015.
After showing Alif Isaiah's prophecy I told him Christ posed a similar question to the religious leaders of his day, “who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger – someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.” (Matthew 12:28-29) This intrigued Alif, so I read the whole paragraph explaining what prompted Jesus to ask this question. The Jewish leaders saw a blind man miraculously healed and freed from the grip of demons yet they accused Jesus of doing it by the power of Satan!
My friend realised these leaders were blinded by evil motives and jealousy. Moreover, he did not need to be an expert to connect the dots with what is happening today, especially in relation to extremist groups who portray themselves as being so religious! Moderate Muslims, like Alif, do not want anything to do with radical Muslims such as ISIS and Boko Haram. They hate them. In fact, when I told him that I think these murderers are inspired by Satan, he agreed! Interestingly, the Bible tells us that Christ accused the Jewish leaders of being murderous, "like your father the Devil." (John 8:44)
After reading this passage in Matthew 12 I pointed Alif to Psalm 83, another Scripture which is quite similar Isaiah 49. Whereas Isaiah assures God's people he will contend with their enemies, the Psalmist asks God to deliver his people by crushing their enemies. If you take the time to read this whole Psalm you will see that the nations listed here are part of the Muslim world.
The Psalmist prays that divine judgement will cause them to “seek your name, O LORD. Let them be put to shame …that they may know that you alone whose name is the LORD [Yahweh], are the Most High over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:16-18, ESV)
I showed my friend how similar this Psalm is to Isaiah 49, especially verse 26 which says, “Then all mankind will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” Time did not allow us to explore the divine names, Savior and Redeemer.
God our Savior, Redeemer
Like many Muslims, Alif's understanding of Allah has little to do with Savior and Redeemer. I trust that we will soon meet again to continue this conversation. However, the next time we may face some challenges since neither of these names are in the 99 beautiful names of Allah. When I get the opportunity to have this kind of discussion, I usually ask, "Do you believe Allah is Savior?" Often Muslims agree, though somewhat hesitantly. Inevitably, however, it comes to light that neither the name Savior nor Redeemer are on this prominent list of divine names.
May I suggest that when discussing this topic, it can be helpful to mention one or two Qur'anic examples which imply these names are valid, e.g. Moses and Jonah (Surah 2:50; 37:139-144). Then you can examine in more detail the same stories as found in the Old Testament. Next you will want to carefully look at some possible reasons why the names Savior and Redeemer were not included. As you might expect, Muslims offer various reasons to resolve the dilemma but sadly they evade the real issue.
Let me explain three simple steps for exploring this conversation.
1) The epic Exodus story
You may want to start by reading Isaiah 63 which recalls the well known Exodus story and explains how, “the Lord became Israel's Savior.” The prophet Isaiah continues by recounting how, despite the Lord's lovingkindness to the Israelites, they,
rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? ... to make for yourself a glorious name. (Isaiah 63:8-13, ESV)
So what is this glorious name? The prophet Hosea reminded the Israelites of the first commandment, "But I am the LORD your God, [who brought you] out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me." (cf. Exodus 18:8-11; 20:2-3)
Several other Scriptures also show the importance of God's saving power.
2) Isaiah 43:21-23;
Declare what is to be, present it—let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. 'Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.' (NIV)
Notice that acknowledging God does not just mean recognizing his oneness, it involves acknowledging he is “Savior.” Furthermore, the importance of this name is underscored because God commands the world, “Turn to me and be saved.”
3) Criterion for proving there is only one true God
Savior is important because the OT prophets highlighted this attribute as a criterion – a key trait distinguishing the true God from false gods. Whereas the true God saves, false gods cannot save. (see Exodus 8:8-11; Daniel 3:25-26; Jonah 1:16; 2:8-9; Isaiah 43:10-12)
Islamic scholars who compiled the 99 names have acknowledged that there are other valid names which could have been included, indeed, there are several hundred names but only 99 were chosen. Examples of some of these other names include the Arabic terms, Al Monqid (Rescuer, see Surah 3:103), Al Munjiya (Deliverer, see Surah 2:50) and Al Fadi (Redeemer, Surah 3:107). Each of these names fits the criteria for inclusion. Did the scholars inadvertently overlook these names? If so, why did they overlook all three? Could they not have included at least one or perhaps two of the three?
Notice there are four synonymous names closely clustered around the trait of power, i.e. Powerful, All-Powerful, Mighty, Almighty. Would it not be simple to drop one or two of these redundant names and put in their place the name Savior or Redeemer?
Here is another thought provoking question based on the divine trait, to redeem, which correlates closely with Savior in the Bible. The idea of ransom, redeem (Al Fadi) features prominently in the Quranic account of Abraham's sacrificial test. Why didn't the compilers include Al Fadi among the 99 names? It is clear that "Redeemer" features prominently because the Qur'an says, "We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice." (Surah 37:101, bold font added)4
These are vital questions Muslims need to grapple with. We must bear in mind that the attributes, Savior and Redeemer are not obscure or peripheral names. They are feature prominently and recur often throughout the prophets.
As important as it is to examine the names of God, let us move the conversation beyond looking at a list of names and start to explore the stories behind them. One story that is especially important is the epic redemption story, which highlights the Passover Lamb. (How unfortunate that the Qur'an does not mention the lamb!)
Furthermore, the Qur'an contains clues implying that Allah/God is Savior/Redeemer. According to the Qur'an, Allah says, “We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice.” (Surah 37:101) The word “momentous” indicates the sacrificial ransom was important.
Pondering the Passover Lamb
Mentioning Eid ul Adha with its slaughter of a sheep is reminiscent of the way Jewish people historically commemorated their high festival by sacrificing a Passover Lamb. As we noted earlier, the Qur'anic account of the Exodus makes no mention of the Passover Lamb. In a similar way, the Qur'anic account of Abraham's supreme test obscures the sacrificial lamb. The Bible says Abraham clearly foretold, “God himself will provide the lamb,” but the Qur'an makes no mention of this prophecy.
As we continue exploring the sacrificial-lamb theme, we discover another omission. Nowhere does the Qur'an mention a prophecy describing the Messiah being "like a lamb" as we see in Isaiah 53:5-7:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 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. (NIV)
Isaiah chapter 52 and 53 gives another clue which correlates with the overarching theme that we have been tracing from the beginning, i.e. God's salvation. Isaiah 52:7-10 reads,
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns! … Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. (NIV)
Earlier we noted a strong similarity between salvation and redemption. In fact there is another passage that again shows a close link between them, Psalm 106:7-12:
We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly. When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name's sake, to make his mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived. Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. (NIV)
If one makes the effort to trace the theme of a sacrificial-lamb in the New Testament one discovers the OT promises are fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ. Not only so, one sees a victorious culmination at the end of the Bible. It is no coincidence that the word “Lamb” is mentioned 19 times in Revelation.
In contrast to the Bible which highlights the sacrificial Lamb of God, the Qur'an pointedly undermines the cross. Indeed, according to the Ahadith when Isa returns in the end-times he will break the cross. Islam, therefore, contradicts the cross which reflects God's heart of love and the crux of his plan to save man. 5
Here is a sampling of verses from the NT which unfold the theme of the slain Lamb. Note the words in bold highlight the Lamb theme and the capitalised words highlight SALVATION/REDEMPTION.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
John 13:1, cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. … Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.
1 Peter 1:18-20
For you know that God paid a RANSOM to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your RANSOM long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake.
When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You REDEEMED people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. (HCSB)
And they were shouting with a great roar, “SALVATION comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”
And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshipped God. They sang,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”
And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”
Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
We began with a question that Isaiah posed, “Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?” Seven hundred years later, Jesus Christ asked a similar question, but before asking it, he miraculously freed a man who was literally blinded by Satan. Many were amazed at seeing this, but the religious leaders claimed Jesus was empowered by Satan, the Prince of demons. Christ countered them by asking, “who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger -- someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.” (Matthew 12:28-29)
Jesus proved to be more powerful than Satan, but interestingly, he also authorized his disciples to cast out demons in his name. However, there is another way that Christ's followers exercise authority and overcome the devil. As it is written, "And they have defeated him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” (Revelation 12:11)
An amazing example of someone who overcame the devil by laying down his life is available online here. The bold Christian commitment of this brother from Assam in India in the face of death, was instrumental in converting his executioner and later many from his village.
I want to urge any reader who truly wishes to be assured of salvation, to recognise that it can only be received as a gift. Confess your sins and accept God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ who died as the Lamb of God to take away your sins. He also rose again in triumph assuring us that, we have passed from death to life.
I would be delighted to hear the story of how God has brought you out of darkness into his light. If you have questions or comments please feel free to email me here.
All Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated. The quote of Surah 37:101 comes from Yusuf Ali's translation of the Qur'an.
You may wish to read an article that traces the theme of God's saving power from OT to NT:
Other relevant articles you may want to read are:
- How Jesus and Muhammad confronted Satan
- Who can overpower Satan & release his captives?
- The Cornerstone: Muhammad or Jesus?
- What every Christian needs to know about sharing the Gospel with Muslims
- A Longstanding Violent Legacy
- When Nations Shake: A Prophetic Perspective
- At a Berlin church, Muslim refugees from Iran converting to Christianity in droves