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Handling Muslim Objections, Part 3: “Jesus Did Not Die on the Cross”




Most Muslims believe that Jesus did not die on the cross, but this takes the very heart out of the gospel! As the Apostle Paul explains, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17-20).


By denying that Jesus died on the cross, Muslims have no certain hope for eternity other than seeking to earn merit for their good works. Islamic tradition records Muhammad’s reply to a woman as she said to a dead body, “‘May Allah’s mercy be on you … I testify that Allah has honored you.’ The Prophet said, ‘How do you know that? … By Allah, although I am Allah’s Apostle, I neither know what will happen to me, nor to you.’”[1]


In the Quran, there is a key verse that most Muslims interpret as denying Christ’s death on the cross:


That they [the Jews] said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not: Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself. (4:157-58 Yusuf Ali[2])


This confusing verse leaves Muslims “full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture” as to what happened on the cross. Muslim writers who were far removed from Muhammad, both in distance and in centuries of time, later wrote contradicting conjectures that someone was substituted for Jesus on the cross, or that the crucifixion was an illusion, or that Jesus’ soul left his body before it was crucified, and other such things. However, none of these ideas are from the Quran itself nor are any attributed directly to Muhammad.


Could Jesus’ mother, Mary, who stood at the foot of the cross, not recognize her own son? And, what do these Muslim conjectures about the crucifixion say about Jesus, in that He would let some innocent person get executed in His place, and about God, in that He would let people believe this for 600 years before the time of Muhammad?


The fact is, some Muslim writers, since the early days of Islam and even today, interpret this confusing verse in the Quran to affirm the crucifixion.[3] This verse is viewed as metaphorical in light of other verses in the Quran saying, “Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord” (3:169); “And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: ‘They are dead.’ Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not” (2:154).


It is curious that the Quran should claim that Jesus did not die on the cross when overwhelming historical testimony confirms that He did. Many ancient writers speak of it, such as Thallus, Mara bar Serapion, Pliny the Younger, Lucian of Samosata, Suetonius, Josephus, and even the Jewish Talmud. The Roman historian Tacitus, who lived back then, clearly wrote in his Annals 15:44 that, “Christus, the founder of the name [Christians], had undergone the death penalty in the reign of [emperor] Tiberius, by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate.” The real question is not IF Jesus was crucified, but WHY Jesus was crucified.


So, how did the traditions that came to deny the crucifixion and offer no hope for eternity develop? Muslim rulers approved these writings during the heyday of the expansion of the Islamic empire, which had rapidly spread militarily across vast territories stretching from Spain to Afghanistan. The rulers of this empire surrounded themselves with captive slaves and concubines as they lived luxurious lifestyles off the tribute collected from their conquered subjects. In reaction to such worldliness, legalistic and mystical schools of Islam developed, along with the Sunnah literature of traditional and legal custom and practice. Different schools of Islamic jurisprudence then interpreted the Sunnah with varying degrees of strictness for Muslims to choose. The Sunnah itself came largely from oral stories about the life of Muhammad that were circulating long after his time. This system provides Muslims with options to gain merit for eternity without need for the sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.


The message of the cross, by contrast, assures us of eternal salvation, but does not accept our own good works as a way to heaven: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). “Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul'” (Matthew 16:24-26)?


The power to live such a crucified life can only come from the Holy Spirit but is given freely to all those who believe in Christ. The reason WHY Jesus was crucified was that it is not fate that separates us from God, as Muslims believe, but sin, and the only remedy for sin is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. As we read in John 3:14-18:


Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up (on the cross), that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

 

Our sincere hope is that our Muslim friends will turn away from futile efforts to earn merit for good works in the hope of gaining Paradise and will come instead to put their trust in the Lord Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. It is the only assurance in this life of God’s acceptance in eternity and will allow them to discover the rich blessings of a life in Christ along with the power to face the many trials they meet with confidence in God’s unfailing love.


[1] See Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 87, Hadith 145.

[2] Some popular versions of the Quran change the original Arabic wording of these verses to promote different theories of what this meant.

[3] For example, Ja’far ibn Mansur al-Yaman (d. 958), Abu Hatim Ahmad ibn Hamdan al-Razi (d. 935), Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani (d. 971), Mu'ayyad fi'l-Din al-Shirazi (d. 1078), and others affirmed the historicity of the crucifixion.



 



This resource, by Adam Simnowitz, will provide you with additional biblical resources to understand the significance of Jesus' death on the cross--particularly in light of Muslim claims that Jesus did not die.

book.Sminowitz, Adam__Jesus prophesied His death__English
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