For Christians, springtime means Lent and Easter, a season when the faithful remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Churches adorn wooden crosses with purple cloth and crowns of spring lilies. It is a time of celebrating life out of death, Christ’s ultimate victory on the cross.
But the truth most central to Christianity may just be the biggest stumbling block to belief for Muslims. Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross to take away the sins of the world. However, in the eyes of a Muslim, how could Jesus the prophet of God be defeated in such a humiliating way?
Muslims believe Jesus was, indeed, a prophet of God. Herein lies the dilemma. How could He then lose to men by dying the death of a criminal? Was God not able to protect His prophet?
Of course He was. And He did, according to Islamic teaching on the subject.
Some teach that Jesus was lifted up to heaven to escape and that even today He is alive in His physical body. (Masri, 2016). This leads to the question, Who really died on the cross?
This question is commonly answered several different ways. In Who Died on the Cross? Fouad Masri examines what the Qur’an says, what the Injeel says, and the traditional possibilities of who died on the cross.
The Qur’an states very clearly “…for of a surety they killed him (Jesus) not,” (see Qur’an 4:157-159) It further purports that not only was Christ not crucified but that Allah raised Him to Himself and those present were full of doubt. This has led many Muslim scholars to interpret that someone else died on the cross instead of Jesus, the Messiah.
Islamic Traditions: A Replacement for the Messiah
Judas Iscariot. Judas, a known traitor and thief, seemed to deserve death. If he had been the one killed in Jesus’ place, this would make sense from the perspective of human justice. However, the Injeel describes Judas’ actual death in two different passages, with great detail (See Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:16-18). The Injeel makes it clear that Judas, full of regret, took his own life by hanging himself.
A Jewish Bystander. Christians know the story of Simon the Cyrene, the man who stopped to help Jesus carry His cross (see Luke 23:26). One Islamic tradition postulates that God confused the minds of the soldiers so that they crucified Simon of Cyrene instead of Jesus. (Masri, 18). =
Peter. Another possibility presented for substitution on the cross is Peter. Although passionate in his declaration of commitment to Christ, Peter ends up denying Jesus three times during the last hours of Jesus’ life. However, history records that Peter not only lived but was instrumental in spreading the Gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
A Roman Soldier. A final suggestion for who might have likely taken Jesus’ place on the cross is a Roman soldier who escorted Him to execution. Although poetic, there is no record of this happening either in the Qur’an or in the Injeel.
Islamic Traditions: Jesus Swooned
Another popular theory among Muslim scholars is that Jesus was indeed on the cross, but rather than dying there, He fainted. The logical time for this would have been at the moment everyone is reported to have thought He died. The problem is the Injeel records another injury that happened after this moment, when a soldier pierced his side with a spear (see John 19:33,34).
The Injeel gives a full account of Jesus death in four different places (see Matthew 27:32-36, Mark 15:16-47, Luke 22:66-23:56, and John 19:1-42). All agree that Jesus died on the cross and was buried, and rose from the dead. (Masri, 2016, p. 31).
The question that troubles Muslims is, why would God have allowed His prophet Jesus to die on the cross? Would that not bring shame to God?
If Jesus’ death were the end of the story, this could be understandable. However, the Messiah’s death was not the end of the story. In the Injeel, we read that Jesus was resurrected from the dead (see Matthew 28:5-7).
As Christians, we have the opportunity to share with our Muslim friends the remaining possibility: that Jesus did, in fact, die on the cross, and by conquering death through the resurrection we celebrate on Easter, Jesus brought greater glory to God than any escape from the cross could ever do.
To read more, get a copy of Who Died on the Cross? The Final Days of the Victorious Messenger, linked below.
Qur’an: The sacred text of Islam, considered by Muslims to contain the revelations of God to Muhammad.
Injeel: Arabic for the Book of Jesus, or what Christians call the New Testament.