7 - HAS CHRIST BEEN CRUCIFIED?
CHALLENGE: Muslims radically reject the crucifixion of Christ.
Christians, in accordance with the Gospel, testify that Christ was so strongly rejected by His Jewish enemies that, out of envy, they finally handed him over to the Roman occupation forces in Jerusalem, demanding His death. The Roman soldiers proceeded to torture Him, and afterwards nailed Him to a cross. There He died an agonizing death, alongside two other condemned men. The Romans killed Him.
In the Gospel of Christ we find detailed descriptions of these events, which culminate in the statement: “Then he (the Roman governor) delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. … After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, 'I thirst!' Now a vessel full of vinegar was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with vinegar, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” (John 19:16-18 and 28-30) From this testimony of the Apostle John it is evident that Jesus was crucified, and that He died as a result of His agony on the cross. He truly was killed. These events were confirmed by four different witnesses to Christ.
Muslims, however, claim: No! Christ was neither killed nor crucified. It only looked as though Christ had been crucified. In truth, an error of justice had taken place. One who looked like Christ was erroneously crucified. The true Christ was saved by God from the hands of His enemies, being raptured alive to heaven, where He still lives today until the time of His return.
Muslims defend this belief on the basis of a single passage in the Koran, which says the following about the Jews: “and (cursed are they) for saying 'We killed Christ, 'Isa, the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allajh!' Yet they did not kill him, nor crucify him, but it was made to be similar to them. And truly, those who are at variance about him are in doubt about him. They have no knowledge concerning him, except the following of surmise. And they did not kill him of a certainty, but Allah raised him up to himself; and Allah was mighty and wise.” (Sura al-Nisa' 4:157-158) The Gospel of Christ, which four times clearly testifies that Christ was killed and crucified, is rejected by Muslims as a Christian forgery of the original text of the Gospel.
Is this accusation of the Koran sufficient to disprove the fourfold witness of the Gospel? Do all Muslims have to believe from the Koran that Christ was neither killed nor crucified?
1. Immediately after His birth Christ said according to the Koran: “And peace is upon me, the day I was born, and the day I will die (yauma amuta), and the day I will be raised up alive!” (Sura Maryam 19:33) This verse speaks unequivocally about the birth, the death, and the resurrection of Christ in one indissoluble interrelationship.
2. In view of the plans of the Jews to kill Christ, the Koran says: “And they were cunning; and Allah was cunning; and Allah is the most cunning of all. (That was) when Allah said: 'O 'Isa, I am letting you pass away (inniy mutawaffika) and lifting you up to Me, and I purify you of those who rejected the faith, and I will set those who followed you above those who have rejected the faith till the Day of Resurrection. …” (Sura Al 'Imran 3:54-55) These verses show clearly that Allah let Christ pass away, that is, he let him die. The cunning trick of Allah against the Jews was that he did not send Christ to hell, as they believe today, but that he raised him to himself in heaven.
3. After Christ had been raised up to heaven by Allah, the Koran describes a conversation of Christ with Allah. Therein Christ said to Allah in heaven: “I said to them (my followers) only what you commanded me, that: 'Worship Allah, my lord and your lord!' I was a witness over them, while I remained among them; but when you made me pass away (falamma tawaffaytaniy), it was you who was watcher over them; you are the witness over everything.” (Sura al-Ma'ida 5:117) This verse makes it clear that Christ passed away before He was lifted up to heaven. Otherwise, in heaven, Christ would not have been able to speak of his passing away in the past tense.
It is obvious that between these three passages of the Koran and the passage in Sura 4 (Sura al-Nisa' ) there is a contradiction. Three passages confirm the death of Christ, while the passage in Sura 4 denies the death of Christ. Muslim commentators have tried to overcome these contradictions by introducing three interpretation attempts. They all, however, remain dark and incomprehensible:
First Incomprehensibility: The Chronological Expansion. In order to reconcile Sura 4:157 with Sura 19:33, commentators insert, without the least of grounds for this in the Koran, a huge span of time between the birth of Christ and his resurrection. They say that Christ was born and raptured to heaven, where He lives today. From there He will return at the end of time, and only then will He die and be raised up together with all mankind. This interpretation, however, contradicts Sura 5:117, where Christ tells Allah that He had passed away before He was raptured to heaven.
Second Incomprehensibility: The Replacement Sacrifice. In order to explain, in accordance with Sura 4:157, that Christ had not been killed, Muslim commentators say that it was not the person of Christ, but just one who looked like Him that was crucified. Christ Himself supposedly was taken up to heaven without dying. Commentators, however, quarrel among themselves about who exactly it was that was crucified in place of Christ: Was it a Jew named Titus, or someone who had guarded Christ, or a disciple of Christ who had voluntarily offered himself, or even the disciple that had betrayed Christ? In every case, Muslim commentators believe that Allah miraculously laid the likeness of Christ upon this replacement sacrifice, so that the Jews mistook him for Christ. Serious commentators (for example Zamakhshari and Razi) reject this interpretation.
Third Incomprehensibility: The Reinterpretation of “Passing Away”. In order to make these interpretations feasible, the meaning of a word in the Koran is changed: “wafat” (passing away), which in Sura 3:55 has the form “inniy mutawaffika” (I am letting you pass away) and in Sura 5:117 “falamma tawaffaytaniy” (but when you let me pass away). Some commentators say “wafat” (passing away) means sleep (only documented in two cases in the Koran: Sura 6:60 and 39:42b) and not death (as is clearly the case in 25 others passages of the Koran, for ex. Suras 32:11; 4:15; 39:42a or 8:50). This interpretation is disputed among commentators, which is the reason why there are Islamic traditions that interpret “wafat” in the verses on Christ according to the majority of passages in the Koran as meaning to die, and not to fall asleep.
SAD NEWS: Such Islamic attempts are unable to solve the problem of the contradiction between Sura 4:157 and other Koranic passages, in which the death and passing away of Christ are explicitly mentioned.
GOOD NEWS: Starting with the Koran, it is possible for every Muslim to believe that Christ was crucified, and that no one was erroneously killed in His place. Then Sura 4:157 does not say that Christ was not crucified, but, just like Sura 8:17 (it was not you who threw, when you threw, but it was Allah who threw), that “it was not the Jews who crucified Him, when they crucified Him, but it was Allah who crucified Him.”
TESTIMONY: My name is Hakim and I come from Jordan. I used to be a pious Muslim and visited the best Islamic schools. Finally, I studied Islam at the al-Azhar University in Cairo. For my final dissertation I worked on the subject of how Abraham's son, after he was to be slain by his father, was finally redeemed by Allah through a gigantic slaughtered sacrifice (Sura al-Saffat 37:99-111). I studied all the Islamic commentaries regarding this Koranic passage. In none of them did I find a satisfactory answer to the question of redemption (fida'). Only after I consulted the Torah and its interpretation by Jews and Christians did I begin to understand something about the redemption through the substitutionary death of sin offerings in the Torah and the redemption through the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross in the Gospel. I recognized that without the shedding of blood no atonement for sin is possible, and therefore also no forgiveness. I included these exciting discoveries from the Bible in my concluding dissertation. When I defended them before the Muslim students and professors in a final examination my listeners became so enraged that they stormed over me and nearly beat me to death. But I survived. Christians found me badly wounded and cared for me until I was well again. Today I believe in the death of Christ for my sins, bringing about the forgiveness of my sins. The explanations above have helped me to understand what the Koran really says. I tell you, dear friend, if you do not believe in redemption through Christ, you are lost!
PRAYER: Merciful God, I thank you that nothing happens without your knowledge and direction. You allowed Christ to be crucified by the Roman soldiers and thus pass away. Help me to understand the mystery of why you did that. Prepare me so that I can accept your salvation.
QUESTIONS: According to the Koran, did Christ die? How do Muslim commentators try to overcome the contradictions in the Koran concerning the death of Christ? What does the Gospel testify about the death of Christ?