Did Jesus Die On The Cross?

 

The death of Jesus is an essential part of the Christian worldview. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart Christ raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” If Jesus never died in the first place, then it wouldn’t make sense to believe He came back from the dead.  However, this is one of the big areas where Islam and Christianity are at odds with each other. Although the New Testament clearly teaches the death of Jesus, the Qur’an explicitly denies it. As with all historical events, it is impossible to have 100% certainty on this, but we can examine the evidence to see which position is more rational to believe in.

To begin with, it must be understood that the only reason Islam denies the death of Jesus is because the Qur’an says He didn’t die, but only appeared to.

And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Surah 4:157

Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise. Surah 4:158

As we can see, the Qur’an’s claim is that every single person around who witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross was mistaken. He actually didn’t die, but Allah only made it appear that way. The disciple John, Jesus’ mother, the roman executioners, Joseph of Arimathea [who took Jesus body off the cross to bury Him in the tomb], and anyone else who was there, somehow got it all wrong; and the Qur’an came along over 600 years later and cleared everything up! Now if that sounds ridiculous, it is, because it should sound that way. Muslims however, must maintain their belief in the non-death of Jesus simply because the Qur’an says so. Any Christian attempting to share the gospel with a Muslim must be prepared to deal with this objection. Obviously the authority of the Bible will be questioned if used by the Christian to defend this belief – after all why would a Muslim trust the Bible over the Qur’an – and so Christians must be able to deal with this objection first. (See my article: The Qur’an Says The Bible Is The Word of God under Topics/Islam)

So first of all, what are some reasons to question the Qur’an’s assertion that Jesus did not die on the cross? Well there are several:

  1. Since the Qur’an affirms the authority of the Gospels, and in the Gospels Jesus predicts His own death many times, there is a big problem. The Qur’an describes Jesus as a great prophet. What do we call a prophet who prophesies something that never happened? A false prophet. If Jesus did not die on the cross, then he is not a great prophet as the Qur’an says. If He did die on the cross, then He was a prophet, but the Qur’an is wrong because it says He never died. Either way, it would seem that there is a contradiction with the claims of Islam.
  2. If Jesus did not really die on the cross, but Allah only made it seem that He died, then there would seem to be a huge problem with the character of Allah. This would mean that Allah intentionally deceived the disciples into thinking Jesus was dead, causing them to preach the death and resurrection of Jesus and create the largest religion to ever exist! And according to the Qur’an, Christians are destined for hell because they claim Jesus is God, which is the greatest sin in Islam. On this view however, it would be Allah’s fault for tricking them!
  3. Although it is not wise to argue from authority, it should be at least notable that there are no New Testament scholars – Christian or non-Christian – who deny the death of Jesus, and many of these people are not friendly to Christianity.
  4. There are several non-Christian historical sources from the first and second century that also confirm the death of Jesus by crucifixion:

The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, who wrote in the first century about the history of the Jews, talks specifically about the death of Jesus as a well-known event in history.

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, His conduct was good and was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became His disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who became His disciples did not abandon His discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets recounted wonders.”

Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, writing in 116 AD, described the persecution of the early Christians within Rome during the reign of the emperor Nero, who was responsible for the executions of people like The apostles Peter and Paul. Nero blamed the Christians for the fire which destroyed most of the city. He wrote:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.  Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but also in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”

These guys are not trying to argue for the accuracy of the Bible – they are not even Christians – but are merely reporting history as it had happened, with no dispute from anyone until the Qur’an was written. There are many more non-christian sources that speak about the death of Jesus.

In addition, we have the New Testament writings, which are extremely early historical sources, all declaring that Jesus died. These documents are universally seen as the earliest writings about Jesus, and they all occur within a period of no more than 60 years after Jesus’ death. The Gospels obviously describe Jesus’ death, but some give specific details that point very strongly to them being eye witness testimony. The Gospel of John in particular, describes the point at which Jesus’ has just died, and mentions something very interesting:

 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him;33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. John 19:32-35

John’s mention of blood and water would seem to be a bit of an unnecessary detail. In fact, many of the early church fathers thought that John had written this part to make some kind of theological point, because they could see no other reason for him mentioning it. However, our more modern medical knowledge has shed major light on this passage, and shows that John was simply recording exactly what he saw happen.

We know now of a condition called pleural effusion, which happens to a person who dies of suffocation. The heart becomes surrounded by pleural fluid as the person suffocates, and if the person were to be stabbed – maybe with a spear – blood and water would come out. Since the cause of death in crucifixion is suffocation, and Jesus died that way, then it seems only natural that when John witnessed the soldier stab Jesus, he reported it accurately. In other words: John was there, Jesus appeared to die from suffocation, a soldier stabbed Him to make sure He was dead, blood and water came out to show He was, and John wrote it down the way he saw it, even though it made no sense to him at the time.

As we can see, there are many reasons that a person should reject the Qur’an’s claim that Jesus did not die. For a Muslim, this should also cast some doubt on the Qur’an itself, as it shows a huge inaccuracy in its claims. We must do our best to show our Muslim friends the errors of Islam, especially when it comes to the person and work of Christ. We must also do so with love, not just trying to win an argument, but trying to win them as a person who is loved by God. Our character, love, and prayer – along with our arguments – may be the tool that God uses help them accept the claims of the Bible, and maybe save their souls in the process.

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