Jews, the Messiah, and the Prophet of Islam

Analyzing Another Muslim Dilemma

Sam Shamoun


This article will develop the following thesis.

The Jews expected the Messiah to come. As long as the Messiah had not come, there was the possibility of further prophets, but the Messiah would be the culmination of God’s history and the end of prophecy.

Muhammad appeals to the messianic or prophetic expectation among the Jews, and says that he is coming according to this expectation of such a scripture-announced prophet.

However, Muhammad destroyed his own credibility as a prophet from God by teaching that Jesus who had come 600 years earlier was in fact the Messiah, and thus the age of prophecy had ended with him according to Jewish expectation and the biblical testimony.


The Quran, in addressing the Jews, argues that Muhammad is predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures, claiming that his coming was already announced and well known to the Israelites because of these alleged prophecies:

Those whom We have given the Book recognize him as they recognize their sons, and a party of them most surely conceal the truth while they know (it). S. 2:146 Shakir

Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them. He will enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong. He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear. Then those who believe in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him: they are the successful. S. 7:157 Pickthall

Apart from the fact that there are no real prophecies of Muhammad in the Holy Bible, there are some major problems with the Quran’s appeal to the Jews and their sacred texts. The historical Jewish position is, for the most part, that the Messiah will arrive to usher in God’s peace and sovereign rule universally. Jewish tradition basically believes that the Messiah’s coming terminates all prophecy since he will usher in the Messianic era, the age of eternity, the world to come. As one Jewish source states:

Belief in the eventual coming of the moshiach is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism. It is part of Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith, the minimum requirements of Jewish belief. In the Shemosh Esrei prayer, recited three times daily, we pray for all of the elements of the coming of the moshiach: ingathering of the exiles; restoration of the religious courts of justice; an end of wickedness, sin and heresy; reward to the righteous; rebuilding of Jerusalem; restoration of the line of King David; and restoration of Temple service…

However, traditional Judaism maintains that the messianic idea has always been a part of Judaism. The moshiach is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, because the Torah was written in terms that all people could understand, and the abstract concept of a distant, spiritual, future reward was beyond the comprehension of some people. However, the Torah contains several references to "the End of Days" (achareet ha-yameem), which is the time of the moshiach; thus, the concept of moshiach was known in the most ancient times. (Source)

Most Jews didn’t (don’t) believe that Jesus was the Messiah since they felt (feel) that Jesus didn’t meet the requirements to be the Messiah. The same Jewish source above says:

What About Jesus?

Jews do not believe that Jesus was the moshiach. Assuming that he existed, and assuming that the Christian scriptures are accurate in describing him (both matters that are debatable), he simply did not fulfill the mission of the moshiach as it is described in the biblical passages cited above. Jesus did not do any of the things that the scriptures said the messiah would do.

Hence, as long as the Messiah hadn’t come they were open to the possibility that God may send a prophet to them.

Muslim sources confirm that the Jewish expectation for the Messiah’s appearance was very much alive and well during Muhammad’s time. In his classic English biography on Muhammad’s life, the late Muslim author Martin Lings wrote:

‘Abd al-Muttalib knew four of the Hunafa, and one of the more respected of them, Waraqah by name, was the son of his second cousin Nawfal, of the clan of Asad. Waraqah had become a Christian; and there was a belief among Christians of those parts that the coming of a Prophet was imminent. This belief may not have been widespread, but it was supported by one or two venerable dignitaries of eastern churches and also by the astrologers and soothsayers. As to the Jews, for whom such a belief was easier, since for them the line of Prophets ended with the Messiah, they were almost unanimous in their expectancy of a Prophet. Their rabbis and other wise men assured them that one was at hand; many of the predicted signs of his coming had already been fulfilled; and he would, of course, be a Jew, for they were the chosen people. The Christians, Waraqah amongst them, had their doubts about this; they saw no reason why he should not be an Arab. The Arabs stood in need of a Prophet even more than the Jews, who at least still followed the religion of Abraham inasmuch as they worshipped the One God and did not have idols; and who but a Prophet would be capable of ridding the Arabs of their worship of false gods? … (Lings, Muhammad: His Life based on the earliest Sources [Inner Traditions International, Ltd., Rochester, Vermont 1983], p. 16; underline and italic emphasis ours)

Lings then says:

The Jews accepted this covenant for political reasons. The Prophet was already by far the most powerful man in Medina, and his power seemed likely to increase. They had no choice but to accept; yet very few of them were capable of believing that God would send a Prophet who was not a Jew… (Ibid., p. 126)

Ibn Ishaq, one of Islam’s first biographers, reported something similar:

According to what I heard from ‘Ikrima, freedman of Ibn ‘Abbas or from Sa‘id b. Jubayr from Ibn ‘Abbas, Jews used to hope that the apostle would be a help to them against Aus and Khazraj before his mission began; and when God sent him from among the Arabs they disbelieved in him and contradicted what they had formerly said about him. Mu‘adh b. Jabal and Bishr b. al-Bara’ b. Ma‘rur brother of B. Salama said to them: ‘O Jews, fear God and become Muslims, for you used to hope for Muhammad’s help against us when we were polytheists and to tell us that he would be sent and describe him to us.’ Salam b. Mishkam, one of the B. al-Nadir, said, ‘He has not brought us anything we recognize and he is not the one we spoke of to you.’ So God sent down about that saying of theirs: ‘And when a book comes to them from God CONFIRMING what they have, though beforehand they were asking for help against those who disbelieve, when there came to them what they knew, they disbelieved in it, so God’s curse rests on the unbelievers.’

Malik b. al-Sayf said when the apostle had been sent and they were reminded of the condition that had been imposed on them and what God had covenanted with them concerning him, ‘No covenant was ever made with us about Muhammad.’ So God sent down concerning him: ‘Is it not that whenever they make a covenant a party of them set it aside? Nay most of them do not believe.’

Abu Saluba al-Fityuni said to the apostle: ‘O Muhammad, you have not brought us anything we recognize and God has not sent down to you any sign that we should follow you.’ So God sent concerning his words, ‘We have sent down to thee plain signs and only evildoers disbelieve in them.’ (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth impression 1995], p. 257; capital emphasis ours)

Guillaume makes quite an interesting observation:

2. This and similar passages seem to indicate that the MESSIANIC hope was strong among the Jews. (Ibid., capital emphasis ours)

The above sources establish that the Jews were anticipating the coming of the Messiah and, as long as he hadn’t arrived, were also prepared to accept a prophet from God until he did. But the Jews also knew that a prophet would have to be a fellow Israelite, accounting for their rejection of Muhammad on the grounds that he was an Arab.

It is precisely here that the Quran has placed itself in a very precarious position. The Quran says the Messiah has come and his name is Jesus:

(And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto Allah). S. 3:45 Pickthall

Since the Quran believes the Messiah has arrived then this means Muhammad could not be a prophet.

As long as the Jews believed that the Messiah hadn’t arrived then there was a chance for them to accept that God would send prophets. It may have also been possible for them to accept Muhammad as a prophet, despite the fact that he was an Arab, since they may have reasoned to themselves that prophets may not necessarily have to be Israelites (though this is highly unlikely since they saw that the pattern put forth from their scriptures was that prophets were raised up from the nation itself). But they could not accept Muhammad if they believed that the Messiah had come since to them his arrival would have signaled the completion of prophecy and the dawn of a new age.

To put it in another manner, the only way for the Jews to have accepted Muhammad as a prophet is if they remained convinced that their Messiah hadn’t arrived. But since Muhammad claims that the Messiah did appear then the Jews, if they were to accept this view, would have had to reject Muhammad as a prophet. The Jews believed that the Messiah was the culmination of all prophecy, as well as God’s supreme ruler and agent whom everyone had to believe in and obey. They could not imagine their Messiah being subject, subordinate to, an Arab prophet since their very own Scriptures, which the Quran itself appeals to, plainly state that the Messiah is an eternal king ruling forever and who completes prophecy and vision, along with a host of other things:

"A Psalm of Solomon. Give the king thy justice, O God, and thy righteousness to the royal son! May he judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor! May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live, may gold of Sheba be given to him! May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day! May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may men blossom forth from the cities like the grass of the field! May his name endure for ever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May men bless themselves by him, all nations call him blessed! Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name for ever; may his glory fill the whole earth! Amen and Amen! The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended." Psalm 72:1-20

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this." Isaiah 9:6-7

"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." Daniel 7:13-14

"Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one (Messiah), a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one (Messiah) shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war; desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week; and for half of the week he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator." Daniel 9:24-27

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. I will cut off the chariot from E'phraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth." Zechariah 9:9-10

The Lord Jesus himself and his followers confirm this view of the Messiah. The NT expressly teaches that the Lord Jesus is the culmination of all prophecy and reigns forever as King:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Matthew 5:17-18

"You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in MY kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Luke 22:28-30

"The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt!’ His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him." John 12:12-16

"Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.’ Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.’" John 18:33-37

"But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled." Acts 3:18

"To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." Acts 10:43

"and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all." Ephesians 1:19-23

"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him." 1 Peter 3:21-22

"Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:10-11

"and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." Revelation 1:5-6

"He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on MY THRONE, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne." Revelation 3:21

"Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever." Revelation 11:15

"she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, … And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God." Revelation 12:5, 10

"they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful." Revelation 17:14

"On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords." Revelation 19:16

The dilemma should be clear. If Muslims want to appeal to the Jewish expectation of a prophet during the time of Muhammad as an argument supporting Muhammad’s prophetic aspirations then they must also agree with them that Jesus is not the Messiah. After all, if Jesus were the Messiah then the Jews would not be expecting any other prophet to come after him. But if they do agree with the Jews on this point then this means the Quran is wrong for asserting that the Messiah has come.

Furthermore, according to the Hebrew Bible, the popular Jewish view, and the NT Scriptures the Messiah’s coming results in the fulfillment of prophecy and the start of a new age where he rules over creation forever. Both the NT and the Quran agree that Jesus is the Messiah. Therefore, this leaves absolutely no room for an Arab prophet named Muhammad.

A possible objection considered

A Muslim may interject that Christians are convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, despite the fact that he did not fulfill all the expectations of the Jews of what the Messiah would be, which implies that some of their expectations around the notion of the Messiah were wrong. The Muslim may then reason: It is the same with us. We acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah, but the expectation that this would mean the end of prophecy was simply one of those wrong notions the Jews had/have.

There are several problems with this position. First, arguing that the Jewish view of the Messiah is not completely accurate in order to prove that the Islamic position regarding the Messiah is correct only backfires against the Muslim claims. It severely undermines the Muslim appeal to the Jews of the Hijaz and their alleged belief that a so-called prophet was to arise from that area. If the Jews were incorrect regarding the exact description of Messiah then this opens up the possibility that they were also mistaken regarding God sending a prophet allegedly from Arabia.

Second, in order to determine which specific Jewish belief is sound, and which is not, one has to check them against the Scriptures. However, appealing to the Holy Bible presents even more challenges for the Muslim position. The Hebrew Bible, as we saw, shows that the Jews were correct regarding the Messiah being a Son of David who rules forever, a point which the Quran and Islam denies. Therefore, if the Jews were to accept Jesus as the Messiah, as the Quran bids them to do, then they would need to accept the Christian position that Jesus is the King of all creation and that all nations must serve him forever.

The Jews were also correct that the Messiah’s advent would usher in the culmination of all biblical prophecy. The NT, in agreement with this view, plainly teaches that Jesus is God’s last Word to mankind since all revelation centers on the person and work of God’s beloved Son. The Lord Jesus completed God’s revelation by raising up his servants, the Apostles and NT Prophets, to record and inscripturate everything that God wanted mankind to have till the return of Christ. Again, if the Jews were to accept Jesus as their Messiah then they would have to reject Muhammad who claimed to have received additional revelation centuries after the Messiah had already culminated God’s message to mankind.

Therefore, it isn’t simply a matter of what Jewish tradition said about the Messiah, but what the Hebrew Bible has to say about this subject. As the foregoing shows, the Hebrew Bible agrees with the NT that the Messiah is the Son of God who rules forever and whom all must worship and adore. Thus, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are in agreement regarding these points.

In light of the foregoing, the Jews could only consider accepting Muhammad as a prophet if they believed that the Messiah had not arrived. But if the Messiah hasn’t shown up yet then Muhammad was wrong for believing that he has. And yet if Muhammad is correct that the Messiah has arrived then he is wrong for proclaiming himself to be a prophet of God. Either way, Muhammad ends up looking like a false prophet.

One way around this is to convince the Jews, as well as the Christians, to doubt what their own Hebrew Bible says about the Messiah. But even this would end up disproving Muhammad since he claims in his book that the Hebrew Bible and the NT scriptures are genuine revelations which have been preserved by God! In fact, earlier we looked at some Quranic references where Muhammad appealed to specific predictions in these scriptures in order to verify his prophetic ambitions. For more on the Quranic view of the Holy Bible please refer to the articles in this section.

Basically, no matter from what angle a Muslim tries to look at s/he is left with an inescapable dilemma.

The Incoherence of the Qur'an
Who is the Messiah?
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page