Last week, in response to our online article “Is Jesus The Only Way?” a reader, a Muslim, remonstrated with us with regards to the person and work of our Lord Jesus. According to him, Jesus was not God; but only a prophet of God.
What interested me most in that conversation was his denial of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. This is because, if you take away the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the whole foundation of Christianity comes crumbling down. Obviously if Christ didn’t die by crucifixion, then he didn’t rise. And if he didn’t rise, then there will be no resurrection. And if there is no resurrection; there is no hope for the Christian (1Corinthians 15:12-18). Ultimately, if Christ was not crucified, then the Apostles and Jesus himself were all liars; and the Bible a fraud.The death and resurrection of Christ is the hope upon which the foundation of Christianity stands. And Islam calls that into question. “The bible says Jesus was not sacrificed for the sins of mankind”, this reader asserted. When asked what his authority was, he quoted Psalm 91. The Qur’anic narrative on the crucifixion confirms Jesus was not crucified, he claimed. In this article, I will provide a response to his assertions and claims, with particular respect to the Psalm he referred to.
Psalm 91:10-15 reads:
no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him (Ps. 91:10-15).
Here is The Qur’anic narrative also
They [The Jews] declared, ‘We have put to death the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been so]. And those who differ in this matter are in doubt concerning it. They have no definite knowledge about it, but only follow mere conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him. God raised him towards Himself. God is almighty and wise (Qur’an 4:157-158).
The argument being made was, Psalm 91, as a Messianic Psalm rules out any possibility of a crucified Messiah. “No harm will overtake you“, he emphasised. He continued that as Psalm 91 foretold, the angels would “lift him (Jesus) up” and furthermore, the Qur’an states that “God raised him up”; what the Qur’an reports about Jesus being in fact the fulfilment of Psalm 91:11-12 he affirmed. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands…”
“They certainly did not kill him. God raised him up to Himself”, was the final plea.
So here we stand, with the Qur’an apparently correcting the Bible. The only problem is that, this is simply a misinterpretation.
I will now address three points in defending the crucifixion of Christ.
The Bible Doesn’t Contradict Itself
Firstly, we should bear in mind that Psalm 91 doesn’t obliterate all the other Scriptures in the Bible pointing to a suffering Messiah. One of the first principles of hermenuetics—the science of interpreting Scripture–is the analogy of faith. R.C. Sproul in his book Knowing Scripture states that,
The analogy of faith is the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture: Sacra Scriptura sui interpres (Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter). This means, quite simply, that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.¹
Simply, God’s word–the Bible– doesn’t contradict itself. The crucifixion was God’s plan as much as his promise of protection was. When God promises to protect us; it doesn’t mean the absence of trials, temptations, or even death.
Jesus won’t bypass the road to Calvary. God’s steadfast love doesn’t mean the absence of pain, not for Jesus and not for us. God showed him salvation (Psalm 91:16), but remember the empty tomb came after a blood-soaked cross.²
While protection of the Messiah was spoken of in Psalm 91, we must also note that, a suffering Messiah was also prophesied in Isaiah 53. It is only proper that when interpreting the Bible, we look at it as a whole. Also, if we read the Bible, we will indeed see the Messiah was protected and angels did bear him up. Examine Christ’s encounter with Satan in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). After the whole episode, we are told “angels came and were ministering to him [Jesus].”
The Crucifixion Was God Ordained
Secondly, Christ’s death was God’s ordained plan. In Acts 2:22-23, we are told that Jesus was killed “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”. So, anyone who calls the death of Christ to question is calling God’s plan to question. Christ didn’t die a reckless death where God was unable to protect him.
In fact, God offered Christ up for the sins of the world. He was put up as a propitiation for the sins of the world (Matt. 1:21, Jn 3:16, Rom. 3:25, 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). A striking observation one may make reading through the gospel of John is the many assassination attempts, so to speak, on Jesus’ life. But none succeeded because his “time was not yet come” (Jn. 7:6; 10:39). Jesus only died at the time appointed by God through crucifixion.
A Moral Dilemma
Who is Jesus? A liar or a messenger of God (borrowing the Islamic description of Christ). Now Jesus on numerous occassions spoke about his death. If he didn’t die on the cross; then we are faced with a moral dilemma: was Jesus a liar or a messenger of God?
Considering the person of Jesus, his moral virtues and the perfect life he lived; if his words about his death, are not true, then we will have to reconsider how we view him. Either he is a liar or he is who he claims to be—the Son of God.
In fact, Islam does acknowledge a Jesus who is a “Messiah, and a messenger of God” in the very place they question his crucifixion. The question we have to ask of Islam is that, can a Messiah and Messenger of God lie? Was Jesus a liar to have spoken about his death, if it was never to be?
Consider these words spoken by Jesus:
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40).
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matt. 16:21).
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (Jn. 2:18-19; 21-22).
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (Jn. 10:11).
Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial (Jn. 12:7).
Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour (Jn. 12:27).
These are some few words spoken by Jesus himself. If he didn’t die by crucifixion, then he lied when he spoke these word. Is the person of Jesus as recorded in Scripture consistent with a liar? No. Lying is sin and the Bible tells us Jesus was without sin (Heb.4:15). By the Biblical narrative, there is no reason to doubt the Crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, if Christ was not crucified; as Paul said, we will be of all people the most miserable.
1. R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture , Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009, Kindle Edition
2. Online article, Why you don’t have to fear terror by Jonathan Parnell, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-you-dont-have-to-fear-terror