6. The Crucifixion Factor

6. The Crucifixion Factor

The plain teaching of the Bible is that Jesus came to give up his life and that he died on the cross. Yet to prove his survival on the cross, both Ahmadiyya and orthodox Muslims try to interpret some passages of the Bible in their own way. There are Muslims who do not believe that Jesus was ever crucified, but in their criticism they follow the Ahmadiyya position: "He was crucified but did not die." When reminded that this is not the orthodox belief, they try to get around this difficulty by suggesting that to crucify means to kill on a cross. If a man is put on the cross but does not die on it, he cannot be said to have been crucified.

For Mirza Ahmad the death of Jesus on the cross was a defeat. He wrote: "We do not like such a god at all - a god who was overpowered by a debased people like the Jews..."1 He did not want to know that the Bible interpreted the death of Jesus, together with his subsequent resurrection, as a victory (2 Timothy 1:10).

In his writings Mirza alleged that the Bible had been corrupted and was full of interpolation. Yet on the other hand, he used it to support his arguments. His followers employ similar methods. Their boast is that in a discussion or a debate: "A Christian missionary cannot stand before an Ahmadi."2 A Christian may not be able to stand in the face of the belligerent spirit of Ahmadis and those who follow their tactics but the truth of Jesus, in spite of attacks and acrimony, has stood firm for centuries. This chapter examines some of the arguments that are put forward, based on Bible verses.

The sign of Jonah

Jesus said: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). In interpreting this text, the Ahmadiyya claim that Jonah "entered the belly of the whale alive, and remained therein alive and came out thereof alive. Thus, Jesus prophesied that he would enter the heart of the earth alive, would remain there alive and would come out thereof alive."3

According to their theory, Jesus "was to be placed in the earth like one dead, but his case was to be like that of Jonah in the belly of the whale. The latter, while in the belly of the whale was not dead but alive. Similarly, Jesus was to be alive not dead in the bosom of the earth."4 Therefore, in Mirza Ahmad’s words, "As Jonah remained alive for three days in the belly of the whale, so Jesus remained alive for three days in the tomb."5

This is probably the best piece of biblical evidence that they can provide to support their theory. However even this evidence is fundamentally flawed. The Ahmadiyya pick out one aspect of the story of Jonah, that as he was alive in the stomach of the fish, so Jesus would be.

We cannot ignore several other statements made by Jesus. We must come to the conclusion that the similarity Jesus pointed out was that, as Jonah was swallowed by the fish, he would be swallowed by the tomb. The comparison is not between being alive or dead.

On another occasion Jesus said: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (John 3:14). We can see that Jesus is drawing an analogy. We have a pattern: "As Jonah was ... so shall the Son of Man be" and "As the serpent was... so must the Son of Man be." By this comparison we can see that when Jesus gave Jonah’s example he meant he would be swallowed by the earth. When he gave the example of Moses lifting up a brass serpent on a pole, Jesus referred to his crucifixion.

If the main point of the first comparison was the state of Jonah being alive, then in this case the comparison will be with the brass serpent, a lifeless object. If one were to follow the Ahmadiyya method of argument, then one would be forced to conclude that Jesus was dead, even before he was crucified.

The Jews asked Jesus, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." (Matthew 12:38 cf.; Luke 11:29; John 2:18, 6:30). Elsewhere they asked him to show them a sign from heaven (Matthew 16:1). Not only did he tell them about the sign of Jonah, but also that he was greater than Jonah: "Behold, one greater than Jonah is here" (Luke 11:32). Now, if Jesus had come down alive from the cross, having been in a swoon, from which he recovered, this would not be a sign of anything greater. It would not be obvious that Jesus was the Messiah, greater than Jonah, and even greater than Solomon (Luke 11:31). Jesus’ outstanding sign was to overcome death after dying on the cross. If this had not been the case, the sign of Jonah and claiming that he was greater than Jonah would have had no significance.

Although Jesus did not explicitly predict on this occasion that he would be put to death, he did so on many other occasions. For example, in Matthew 17:22-23, Jesus said to his disciples: "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day" (cf. Matthew 16:21 and Mark 10:33-34).

John’s Gospel recounts the story of Jesus in the temple. He became very angry when he saw tradesmen doing business there and overthrew their tables. The Jews were upset and asked him: "What sign have you to show us, to prove your authority to do this?" Jesus answered: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it" (John 2:18-22). The temple he referred to was his body.

The Jews remembered such predictions about his death and resurrection and therefore, on the day after his death, they went to Pilate and said: "Sir, we remember that , while he was still alive, that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead" (Matthew 27:62-64).

It is obvious that the Jews did not doubt that Jesus had died. There was no reason for them to believe that he had escaped death. Their words "while he was still alive" could only mean that Jesus was no longer living. They wanted to seal his tomb, not because Jesus might recover from his wounds, but because they feared that his disciples might steal his body and spread the rumour that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Not only before, but also after his resurrection, Jesus reminded his disciples: "This is what I told you while I was still with you; everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. ... This is what is written: ‘The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,’ and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:44-47).

In conclusion, there is a wealth of evidence in the Gospels to support the argument that Jesus knew that he was going to die on the cross. To argue and draw some other conclusion from his words therefore is a serious misrepresentation of the Scriptures.

The lost sheep of Israel

Once, when Jesus sent his disciples out, he advised them not to go among the Gentiles, or enter any town of the Samaritans. "Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6). This was not something unusual. The good news of the Kingdom of God was first to be preached to the Israelites and later to others.

Ahmadis acknowledge Jesus to be a prophet of God, but claim he was sent only to the Israelites. When they want to prove the universality of Mirza Ahmad’s prophethood, their general proposition is that "a prophet or messenger does not belong to one community,"6 i.e. he is for all. Yet in the case of Jesus’ prophethood they claim that his ministry "did not extend beyond the Children of Israel".7

Once Jesus said to a woman of Canaan: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). Mirza Ahmad’s son, Bashir-ud-Din, builds up his argument on this verse in isolation, saying: "From the Bible we learn that the message of Jesus Christ was meant for Israel, not for others."8

If Jesus’ ministry were only for the Israelites, then what of other passages in the Bible which speak about his universal ministry (John 8:12; Matthew 12:15-21; Isaiah 42:1)? If Jesus’ mission was only for the Jews, he could not have given the great commission before his ascension: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). The apostles understood this command to preach the truth to all nations. They did not hesitate because they knew that the gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles" (Romans 1:16).

Both orthodox and Ahmadi Muslims agree that one of the best principles of interpreting the Qur’an is to check all references on the subject and then draw a conclusion. However in interpreting the Bible, they often fail to apply this principle. Rather, they often ignore both the specific context of a passage and the general teaching of Scripture.

If one wishes to be selective about biblical references to show the limitation of Jesus’ ministry, then a similar selective standard could also be used to prove the limitation of Muhammad and the message of the Qur’an. One could easily select a few passages from the Qur’an, leaving all others out and declare that the Qur’an was in Arabic ONLY for the Arabs (Surah 43:3) and Muhammad was a prophet ONLY for the Arabs. Surely such an approach is not worthy of consideration. Yet many Muslims approach the Bible with such an attitude.

The lost tribes

Jesus said: "I have other sheep which are not of this fold; I must bring them also" (John 10:16). The Ahmadiyya claim that Jesus was referring to the ten lost tribes of Israel. Mirza Ahmad relates the following story:

Jesus, coming out of the tomb, went to his tribes who lived in the eastern countries, Kashmir, Tibet, etc. viz. the ten tribes of Israelites who 721 years before Jesus, had been taken prisoner from Samaria by Shalmaneser, King of Assur, and had been taken away by him. Ultimately, these tribes came to India and settled in various parts of the country. Jesus at all events must have made this journey; for the divine object underlying his advent was that he should meet the lost Jews who had settled in different parts of India; the reason being that these, in fact, were the lost sheep of Israel who had given up even their ancestral faith in these countries, and most of whom had adopted Buddhism, relapsing gradually into idolatry.9

His theory is based on 2 Kings 17:6 and 18:11 which describe how the King of Assyria captured Samaria and carried the Israelites away to Assyria. The idea that these Israelite tribes were "lost", does not originate in the Bible, but in England in the 18th century. At that time, people who later became known as "British-Israelites" reasoned that the descendants of these ten tribes migrated westward through Europe and became the ancestors of the Saxons, who invaded England. From here they colonised America. This doctrine is currently being taught by Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. However Mirza claimed that they travelled eastward instead and settled in present Afghanistan and India.

Mirza Ahmad may claim to have received this revelation, but Muhammad, whom Mirza calls his "Master" and the source of "all knowledge", thought that those Israelites were turned into rats. Abu Huraira alleges that Muhammad said: "A group of Bani Israel was lost. I do not know what happened to it, but I think it underwent a process of metamorphosis and assumed the shape of rats."10

These theories have no basis in Scripture. Biblical evidence does not suggest that these tribes were "lost" in the sense Mirza, Muslim traditions and some western counterparts allege. For example, when Ezra made a sin offering to the Lord, for those who returned from captivity, he sacrificed twelve goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel (Ezra 6:17, 8:35). Before the exile, the nation of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms, but the prophets of God were told that one day these kingdoms would come together and live as one nation (Jeremiah 3:18; Hosea 1:11). We see the prophecy fulfilled in the Old Testament. The ten tribes were consolidated (2 Chronicles 11:14,16; 15:9).

There are examples in the New Testament which confirm that the Jews never considered the ten tribes of Israel to be lost, even though their numbers were depleted:

  1. Anna, the prophetess, was said to be of the tribe of Aser or Asher. (Luke 2:36).
  2. Jesus told his disciples that they would sit on twelve thrones to judge the tribes of Israel. How could they do this if they did not preach the gospel to the other ten tribes? (Matthew 19:28).
  3. In his testimony before King Agrippa, Paul said: "And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day" (Acts 26:6-7).
  4. The letter of James is addressed to Jewish Christians from the twelve tribes of Israel. This shows that the church in Jerusalem knew about the existence of members of each of the tribes.

The word ‘lost’ in the Gospel

What did Jesus mean, then, in using the word "lost" and when he referred to "the lost sheep of Israel"? In Matthew 9:36 Jesus describes the crowds following him as "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd". That is, lost, not knowing which way to go. In Luke 19:10 Jesus said to the tax collector, Zacchaeus: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." In the Gospels, the "lost" included sinners, tax collectors, adulterers, outcasts, lepers and all those who were spiritually blind or deaf.

When Jesus said to the Canaanite woman that he had been sent to "the lost sheep of Israel", he was referring to the Jewish people who were living round about and not to some lost tribes in the east. In addition when Jesus advised his disciples to go only to the "lost sheep" (Matthew 10:6), on this preliminary mission they did not journey to Syria, Persia or India to preach to the supposedly lost tribes. Instead, they went to the villages and towns around them and later returned to tell Jesus of the difficulties and success of their ministry.

It was not simply Jews but also many Gentiles who were blessed through Jesus. God had promised Abraham that he would bless all nations through him (Genesis 18:18), and not just the twelve tribes of Israel. This was the promise to which Jesus referred in John 10:16 when he said: "I have other sheep which are not of this fold; I must bring them also ... and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." Indeed the words "which are not of this fold" refer to non-Jews.

When Jesus told his disciples: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans," he knew that this was the first occasion where they would preach. So he wanted them to concentrate initially on preaching to the house of Israel. Later, however, Jesus did send them to a village of the Samaritans (Luke 9:52). He preached to a woman of Samaria and subsequently to the whole town, staying with them for two days (John 4:1-42). We can see that Jesus did not consider his ministry to be restricted to the Jews. When the right time came, he commanded the disciples to preach to all the world (Matthew 28:18-20).

Some Muslims, following the teachings of the Muslim commentators, think that Jesus was a messenger sent only to the Children of Israel, but in the Qur’an, Jesus is not described in this way. Rather, he is described as "a sign to all the worlds", ayatan lil-alamin and "a sign to mankind", ayatan lin-nas (Surah 21:91, 19:21).

Jesus’ prayer before the crucifixion

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud crying and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7).

This is an obvious reference to Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane (John 12:27; Matthew 26:39-44). Ahmadi followers suggest that because of Jesus’ supplications "to be delivered from death upon the cross", he was assured that "God would deliver him from such a death".11 Orthodox Muslims say that Jesus was taken up bodily into heaven and someone else was crucified. The Ahmadiyya, however, say that his prayers were heard; he suffered on the cross, but did not die.

An escape after such pain and suffering was unnecessary if God was going to deliver him anyway. It could have been no comfort to Jesus to be delivered after facing the horrors of the crucifixion. Anyway, it was God’s will that Jesus be crucified, in fulfilment of prophecy. In Gethsemane Jesus ended his prayer with the words: "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). This showed that he did not oppose his Father’s will, but he did shrink from the agony of taking the sin of the world on his shoulders and being separated from God. His cry from the cross, using words of the prophecy in Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" confirms this.

When the Bible says Jesus was heard, it does not mean that God would prevent his death on the cross. God answered Jesus’ prayer by giving him the strength to go through an agonising death, to fulfil the promise of atonement - Kaffâra for the whole of the world. To endure separation from his Father and then being raised from death to life was God’s will for Jesus, thereby making salvation and forgiveness available to all believers, with assurance and a sure hope. Mirza’s own judgement regarding prayer is that God sometimes accepts supplication and at other times he wants to fulfil his will through the supplicant.12

In the same letter to the Hebrews, Jesus’ crucifixion, his sacrificial death and resurrection are all mentioned (Hebrews 9:11-28; 10:8-15; 13:9-12,20). There it becomes quite clear that the writer of Hebrews never intended to imply that Jesus escaped death, as the Ahmadiyya have inferred from Hebrews 5:7 quoted above.

Some people claim that when Jesus realised that there was no other way of escaping the cross, he turned to God to save him. This idea is completely wrong. Jesus never tried to run away from death on the cross. Rather we see him deliberately going to Jerusalem to face death (Luke 9:51; Matthew 16:21; Mark 10:33).

Jesus’ death and resurrection was the climax of his mission on earth. At the start of his ministry, Jesus said: "My time has not yet come" (John 2:4). Later he repeated this saying: "My time is not yet at hand" (John 7:6). Just before his crucifixion, he prayed: "Father! The time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you ... I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world" (John 17:1,6). Finally, on the cross, Jesus’ last words were: "It is finished." His mission on earth had been accomplished. The promise God had made to Abraham centuries before was fulfilled in the work of Jesus on the cross.

Notes on Chapter 6:

  1. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Fountain of Christianity, p.18.
  2. Bashir-ud-din, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, p.132.
  3. Zafrullah, Deliverance from the Cross, p.25.
  4. Shams, Where did Jesus die?, p.26.
  5. Ahmad, Jesus in India, p.26.
  6. Bashir-ud-Din, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, p.137.
  7. Zafrullah Khan, Deliverance from the Cross, p.48.
  8. Bashir-ud-Din, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, p.142.
  9. Ahmad, Jesus in India, pp. 22-23.
  10. Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, p.1541.
  11. Zafrullah, Deliverance from the Cross, pp. 27-28.
  12. Ghulam Ahmad, Haqiqat-ul-Wahi, p.19.