4. The Theory That Jesus Survived the Cross
We have never ceased to wonder why Ahmed Deedat continues to promote the theory that Jesus was indeed crucified but came down alive from the cross. Our amazement arises from two considerations. On the one hand, this idea is held to only by the heretical Ahmadiyya sect in Islam and is denounced by all true Christians and Muslims. On the other hand, this theory has been refuted time and again and, whereas Deedat continues to promote it, he can offer no reply to the arguments produced against it.
For example, on page 36 of his new booklet, he claims that when the centurion watching over Jesus on the cross “saw that he was dead already” (John 19:33), this means purely that he “surmised” that Jesus had died and that there was nothing to verify his death. In a reply to his earlier booklet “Was Christ Crucified?”, I showed quite plainly that the centurion's observation was the best possible evidence that Jesus was already dead. The centurion had to confirm before the Roman governor that the crucified man was already dead and, if he was wrong, his own life was likely to be forfeited. We read:
The Roman governor Pilate knew that if the centurion confirmed his death, then it was sure, for in those days any soldier who allowed a prisoner to escape would lose his own life in consequence.
When the Apostle Peter escaped from prison some time later in the city, the sentries appointed to guard him were summarily executed (Acts 12:19). Again, when another jailer supposed that Paul and Silas had escaped from prison as well, “he drew his sword and was about to kill himself” (Acts 16:27), until he discovered they had not. He preferred to die by suicide than by execution. Death was the penalty for allowing prisoners to escape - what then could the centurion expect if a man condemned to death had escaped because he had made some careless and negligent observations? No one but the centurion could have been such a reliable witness to the death of Jesus on the cross!
Although an emphatic refutation of Deedat's assumption that the soldiers only “surmised” that Jesus was dead has thus been given, Deedat continues to promote the same old argument. He casually overlooks the conclusive evidence against his theory and just simply reproduces it. It is a poor advocate who can only repeat his original arguments once these have been thoroughly disproved by his opponent.
Not only did the centurion observe very conclusively that Jesus was dead but one of the soldiers thrust a spear into his side - an act calculated to ensure his death. One of the common Roman methods of killing people was to “put them to the sword”, that is, to thrust them through. This is precisely what the soldier did to Jesus and, even if he had been in perfect health, he could never have survived such a blow. Yet Deedat ridiculously suggests that this death-dealing blow “came to the rescue” of Jesus and helped to revive him by stirring up his blood so that “the circulation could regain its rhythm” (page 39). Surely not even the most gullible of his readers will believe such absolute nonsense - that a death-blow, a spear-thrust through his body, could help to revive him! When one has to resort to such absurdities, it is clear that there is no merit in the argument.
A similar absurdity is set before the reader a few pages on in Deedat's booklet where he is discussing the occasion when Mary Magdalene came to anoint the body of Jesus shortly after his crucifixion:
This, too, is sheer scientific nonsense. Jesus had died late on the Friday afternoon and it was only a day and two nights later, as Deedat admits on the same page, that Mary Magdalene came to anoint his body. No body will “fall to pieces” within such a short period. In bold letters Deedat adds that Mary came alone to the tomb to supposedly help Jesus recover, yet in Matthew 28:1 and Luke 24:10 we discover that she was accompanied by at least two other women, Joanna and Mary the mother of James, and that only to bring spices which they had prepared according to the burial custom of the Jews. There is just no substance in Deedat's arguments. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are facts of history - the only fiction is his theory that Jesus supposedly survived the cross and recovered.
We do not propose to go into the moving of the stone, whether Jesus tried to show his disciples that he was not yet dead, or the subject of the Sign of Jonah. Although all these subjects are treated in Deedat's booklet, we have given a thorough answer to them in the second booklet in this series entitled “What Indeed was the Sign of Jonah?” which readers may obtain free of charge.
Another argument once again repeated by Deedat that has often been refuted is his suggestion that Jesus was reluctant to die. In refutations of his previous booklet on the subject of the crucifixion I have shown clearly that Jesus was only reluctant to be forsaken by his Father and be abandoned to the realm of sin and the wickedness of sinful men. This fear reached its pitch in the Garden the night before Jesus was crucified when the hour had come for him to be handed over to sinful men (Matthew 26:45). Had he been reluctant to die, this fear would only have reached its climax as he faced the cross the next day but, after he had been strengthened the night before by an angel who ministered to him (Luke 22:43), he faced death with remarkable fortitude. He calmly walked forward, knowing all that was to befall him, as we have seen. He walked right into a course that he knew must lead to his crucifixion and death.
He calmly took all the injuries heaped on him the following day and without any sign of fear or protest gave himself over to be crucified. As he was taken out of Jerusalem he showed more concern for the women of the city and their children than for himself (Luke 23:28) and on the cross cared only for those around him and not for himself (John 19:26-27). Indeed, instead of finding that he was reluctant to die, we discover in the Gospel narratives that he set his face towards the cross and, although he had many opportunities to avoid it, he did not seize them but went on, determined to redeem men from their sins.
Yet another of Deedat's arguments thus comes to nothing. We find him in considerable confusion in another place when he says:
There is no substance in the suggestion that God would not allow his anointed one to be killed for there was a specific prediction in the prophecy of the great prophet Daniel that the “anointed one shall be cut off, and shall have nothing.” (Daniel 9:26) It is in fact from the very use of the word Messiah in this text that the Jews came to call the awaited Savior of the world the “Messiah”, and yet it is right in this text that we read that this very Messiah would be cut off - a clear prediction of the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
We are particularly intrigued to find that Deedat quotes Deuteronomy 18:20 as a reference to the coming “anointed one”, the “Christ”, the Messiah, namely Jesus. In his booklet “What the Bible Says About Mohammed” he labors to prove that the prophecy of a coming prophet in Deuteronomy 18 is a reference to Muhammad, even though we have proved again and again that it was an anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, namely Jesus. (The Qur'an confirms that the only Messiah, the only “anointed one”, al-Masih, was Jesus - Sura Al 'Imran 3:45). It is therefore most significant to find Deedat making one of his occasional slips and conceding in the above quote from his booklet that the prophecy relates to Jesus, the Messiah, and not to Muhammad.
Perhaps the most absurd argument in the whole of Deedat's booklet is his suggestion that God, in hearing Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, sent his angel to strengthen him “in the hope that God will save him” (page 35). He goes on to argue that God especially put it into the minds of the soldiers that Jesus was already dead on the cross and says this was “another step in God's plan of rescue” (page 36). The argument, thus, is that after hours of scourging, beating, having thorns pressed into his head, being forced to carry his cross, being crucified, succumbing into unconsciousness in exhaustion at the point of death after hours of indescribable agony, and enduring an awful sword thrust, God wonderfully stepped in to “save” him by fooling everybody into thinking that Jesus was already dead when he was really only at the point of death.
One struggles to find any logical progression of thought in this line of reasoning. If it was God's intention to “save” Jesus, surely he would have taken him away immediately, as the overwhelming majority of Muslims believe. What sort of “comfort” or “strengthening” could the angel have given if God's hand was only to be revealed after hours of indescribable agony and torture to the point of death on the cross?
Firstly, such pain and suffering would have been unnecessary and God's deliverance would have been brought about only after a tragic delay. Secondly, it could have been no comfort to Jesus to know that he faced the horrors of crucifixion only to be delivered at the point of death. Furthermore, if Jesus was taken down alive from the cross purely because he was so close to death that all thought he was already dead, we cannot see how God “saved” him or even where he intervened. This would have been nothing more than an accident caused by an illusion.
The whole argument is obviously strained against the logical progression of the events in the Gospels. The truth of the whole matter is that Jesus was physically at the breaking point in contemplating suffering for sin. He had just told his disciples that he was “exceedingly sorrowful - even unto death” (Mark 14:34). God heard the prayer of Jesus and the angel gave him strength to proceed and endure the cross and death and so fulfill his mission to redeem sinners from sin, death and hell.
To save Jesus from dying while at the point of death after hours of agony on the cross would have been an untimely and senselessly delayed deliverance accompanied by a lengthy period of painful recovery from the horrific ordeal. To save him from death by raising him in glory and perfect health is sensible, logical, and is in fact the genuine Biblical accent of the crucifixion.
We press on to Deedat's argument that Jesus disguised himself after surviving the cross so that no one would recognize him, calling this “a perfect masquerade!” (page 49). He suggests that when Jesus met two disciples on the road to Emmaus the day he walked out of the tomb alive (Luke 24:15) he concealed his identity until he revealed it in breaking bread before them, and then went away. This is nothing but an attempt to water down the incident in the Bible which has a far more dramatic element. It will be useful to quote exactly what happened:
The drama here unfolds rapidly. Suddenly their eyes are opened and he vanishes out of their sight! If we look carefully at this passage we can see what really happened when they recognized Jesus.
The Bible states that after his resurrection his body bore the nature that all the righteous will bear in heaven. He was able to transcend all earthly limitations and could appear or vanish at will. He could suddenly appear in a locked room (John 20:19) and could conceal or reveal himself at will.
So here, it was not Jesus who removed a “disguise”. The text plainly says “THEIR eyes were opened.” Suddenly THEY were able to perceive who he was. So likewise we read that the risen Jesus, in his eternal body, was not only able to open men's eyes to perceive his true identity but could even open their minds to perceive the meaning of God's revealed Word (Luke 24:45).
Just as he suddenly appeared in the room (Luke 24:36), so he equally suddenly vanished out of their sight. The dramatic character of the narratives in Luke 24 cannot be explained away in rationalistic terms. The thrust of this whole chapter is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (cf. 24:46) and it was this remarkable event that led to such dramatic incidents
The whole theme of the narratives in the Gospels is the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It requires a good deal of word-twisting to argue otherwise. An example is Deedat's suggestion that Jesus was laid in a “big, roomy chamber” (page 79) All the Gospels teach plainly that this was nothing but a tomb which had been especially hewn out of a rock by Joseph of Arimathea as his own burial place. In Matthew 27:60 we read that Joseph took Jesus' body and “laid it in his own new tomb” (so also Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53). In John 19:41-42 it is twice said Jesus was laid in a TOMB and bound according to the BURIAL CUSTOM of the Jews. Deedat's attempts to torture these accounts of a funeral into his own speculation that Jesus was placed in a “big roomy camber” so that he might “recover” are a self-evident proof that there is no substance in his argument at all.
Lastly we shall consider his four statements on page 50 of his booklet where he points out that many people testified on the day of resurrection that he was ALIVE. The word is placed in capital letters, is underlined, and is accompanied by an exclamation mark in each case. This purports to be an argument favoring his theory that Jesus had not died on the cross but was still alive. We marvel at such reasoning for the whole point of the resurrection from the dead, as set out in the Gospels, is this very fact - that Jesus was raised ALIVE from the dead. What, then, is Deedat trying to prove? The testimonies that Jesus was alive are central to the whole Christian belief that Jesus had risen from the dead after being killed on the cross.
In his quote from Luke 24:4-5, Deedat only quotes the words of the angels to Mary and the other women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” He significantly omits these words which follow:
In these words we clearly find the angels speaking of Jesus being CRUCIFIED and RISING ON THE THIRD DAY. Clearly they proclaimed that he was alive because he had duly RISEN FROM THE DEAD. Much the same was said by the brethren at Jerusalem to the disciples from Emmaus:
The united testimony of all was that Jesus was alive because he was RISEN INDEED. “He has risen” (Mark 16:6) was the universal testimony that day. He had come alive from the dead and had conquered all the power of death. He had made it possible for men to be raised with him to newness of life (Romans 6:4) and to rise with him to eternal life in victory over death and sin (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). He had fulfilled his own declaration:
Deedat's whole argument is a pitiful caricature of the glorious event described in the Gospels. Our brief treatment of his argument that Jesus came down alive from the cross and somehow recovered proves conclusively that there is nothing at all in what he says. The misleading arguments he presents lead us to conclude that he fails to prove his cruci-“fiction” theory because he comes from an “improper”-gation Centre!