In my last post (The First Will Be Last), I discussed the relationship between Jews and Muslims as offspring of Abraham. Now we will look at the most devisive issue between these Abrahamic faiths, the identity of Jesus. Some Jews still consider him a false Messiah, while others a wise teacher. To Muslims he is a prophet and the Word of God while Christians proclaim him to be the Son of God. So who was Jesus?
Jewish religious leaders of the day were awaiting the prophesied Messiah. They anticipated that the Messiah would conquer the Romans and restore Israel’s former glory, ushering in an era of peace. Needless to say, this expectation did not describe Jesus. However, this description also omits the scripture depicting the Messiah as a suffering servant? (Isaiah 50:5-7; Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53). You can read more about prophecy and Jesus in my post Follow the Breadcrumbs.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.Isaiah 53:3
God has always been known for subverting our expectations. The people desired a conquering King, but God had something else in mind.
“Forget the former things;Isaiah 43:18-19
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
These religious leaders, blinded by pride and jealousy, were unable to see the truth in front of them. Jesus simply wasn’t what they were expecting. He didn’t show partiality or offer them the reverence they felt was due for their position. To the contrary, he often chastised them for their false piety and hypocrisy (Isaiah 29:13). Instead, he preferred to spend his time among the marginalized and rejected. This role reversal must have been quite an insult.
Those valued least among the Jews became the first to recognize Jesus as Messiah. However, for the religious leaders and many others Jesus became a stumbling block.
He will be a holy place;Isaiah 8:14-15
for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.
Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured.”
Even the Gentiles, who were last to know of God, were among the first to spread the gospel and form the early church. Even today, Jesus remains a stumbling block to many. Yet, with further examination, they might see that the apparent stumbling block was really the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22). One day Jesus will return and their eyes will finally be opened.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.Isaiah 35:5
I was surprised to learn that Muslims and Christian hold very similar beliefs about Jesus. The Qur’an affirms Jesus’ virgin birth, his many miracles, his ascension to heaven, and his anticipated return. However, the two faiths diverge on two very critical points. Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, much like the prophets who had come before. But for Christians, Jesus’ unique identity and purpose are inextricably linked.
The Qur’an reveres Jesus as the Word of God. On that we can agree, in the post “I Am Doing a New Thing” I further discuss Jesus as the Word of God. However, the two faiths disagree about what that exactly means.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1:14
For Muslims, Jesus is the Word of God because he was conceived by a word from God- “Be”. He also speaks the Word of God as a servant and prophet. The Qur’an holds that the Christian belief in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a form of polytheism. This was a result of Christianity being corrupted by the, originally pagan, Romans. In a prior post (Learn From the Past: Christianity Pt. 2), I discussed Roman corruption of Christian practices in more detail. However, the belief of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit originated in scripture. It is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These books were written by Jesus’ disciples and contained firsthand accounts of the words he spoke. Jesus clearly tells us who he as he repeatedly calls God his Father. Additionally, Jesus instructed the disciples to baptize believers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.Matthew 28:19
Jesus clarifies the unique and intimate connection between them in the following verses:
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”John 10:29-30
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.John 14:8-21
Jesus is completely unlike anyone who came before. God formed Adam and breathed life into him, but the Messiah was meant to be different…something new. The very Spirit of God lived within him:
“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord”.Isaiah 11:2
I can’t explain to you how this is true. It is not for me to unravel the mystery of Almighty God. However, I accept that it as truth nonetheless. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three in one. This is why Jesus was born. He alone could be the spotless, sacrificial lamb needed to make atonement for our sin. Mankind became slaves to sin through Adam. Ever since human beings have been innately sinful. Try as we might, we could never deserve salvation. In the same way that one man condemned mankind, God allowed us to be redeemed through one man, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:12-21).
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”John 10:14-18
If Jesus didn’t die, as the Qur’an claims, then we remain condemned for our sin. Yet, all four gospel accounts detail Jesus’ suffering, death, burial, and resurrection. Through the blood of Jesus, God offers us a new and everlasting covenant. This covenant, spoken by the prophets was fulfilled in Jesus.(Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 11:19-20; Joel 2:28; Matthew 26:28; Luke 24:44). This new covenant, which redeems us from sin also provides victory over death (Isaiah 53:10-12). This is why Jesus is narrow gate leading back to God. This is discussed in more detail in my post Lessons Learned: Why We Need Jesus. This truth, which defies all reason, can only be accepted through faith.
Does redemption through Jesus require conversion to Christianity? No. Remember that Jesus and his disciples were all Jews. Likewise, Gentiles were not required to become Jewish to follow Jesus. Being Jewish or Muslim not just a religion, it is a culture and a heritage. God does not ask us to turn our backs on the old to accept the new. However, we are asked to adopt two new practices established by Jesus: baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 28:18-20) and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-28). Forgiveness through Jesus does not exempt us from God’s Law. Rather, it changes our motivation. We follow it not to save ourselves, but to honor God. Salvation through Jesus as a gift of mercy and grace, has been successfully reconciled by both Messianic Jews and Muslim Background Believers (MBB).
Who is Jesus? I invite you to read the gospels with open ears, open eyes, and open hearts. Who does your heart tell you Jesus is? You may not be the first, but you don’t have to be the last.