"How do You Deal with the Cross in Witness
Since I first began sharing the gospel with Muslims in North Africa about
thirty years ago, I have found that often the moment I mention Jesus'
crucifixion, they begin to quote the Qur'an to me in Arabic: "they did
not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared so to them. ...
But God took him up to Himself" (Sura 4:157-8). But what does that ambiguous
little phrase "it appeared so to them" [shubbiha la-hum] mean? It has
been the subject of voluminous Muslim speculation over the years. Suffice
it to say that the most popular explanation has it that in the last minute
confusion someone else [Judas?] was somehow put in Jesus' place, while
God spirited Him away to heaven. Usually you're told that this is what
Muslims believe, without a hint that it's just conjecture.
Actually, the Qur'an is ambiguous on the matter. One passage denies unequivocally
that Jesus was ever crucified, but several others might seem to indicate
otherwise. In Suras 3:55 and 5:117, God is said to have "taken" Jesus
[it's a technical term meaning cause to die], and in 19:33 we find these
words on His lips: "Peace be upon me the day I was born and the day I
die and the day I shall be raised alive." Muslim exegetes, however, interpret
these passages to refer to the Last Day, when it is believed that Christ
will return, kill the anti-Christ, break the Cross, and die a natural
death! But nowhere does the Qur'an say so clearly.
Is it possible that such passages indicate that, all things considered,
the Qur'an actually supports the crucifixion, as some would argue? There
may be some truth to it, but it gets us nowhere because of the Qur'an's
ambiguity on the subject. One Muslim writer acknowledges a certain "mystery"
to the Qur'anic account, but argues: "The denial of the death of Christ
is in perfect line with the logic of the Qur'an and with the constant
elements of its teaching," which is "the final triumph of faith over the
forces of evil and adversity... . In such a perspective the death of Christ
would have been a contradiction of the constant doctrine of the Qur'an";
it "would have meant the triumph of his executioners, whereas the Qur'an
unquestionably affirms their failure." Here is the crux of the problem:
on the basis of the Qur'an's teaching, Muslims assume that the Cross would
have meant God's defeat. The crucifixion is one of the most well attested
facts of history, but that does not faze most Muslims who go so far as
to rewrite history to maintain the "truth" of Islam.
I do not therefore recommend appealing to the Qur'an in support of the
crucifixion. It is better lovingly and positively to affirm the biblical
witness to the Cross. As Jesus' once did with some Jews (Matt. 22:29)
you might tell your friend: "You err, not knowing the Scriptures or the
power of God." You might ask why he or she believes God would not let
Jesus be put to death when the Qur'an says that the prophets were slain
(Suras 2:61; 3:21, 112, 181ff; 4:155). Above all, explain that the "defeat"
at the Cross was only apparent; it was just a skirmish, the necessary
first step toward winning the war with Satan, sin and death by His resurrection
from the dead. Jesus had to die to do that.
Arab World Ministries
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