Did someone else die in Jesus’ place?
My Muslim friends often tell me, “Jesus was taken up to heaven by Allah, before they could kill him. He was not crucified. A person who looked like Him was put in His place by Allah, and the people thought it was Jesus. Glory be to God, the all-powerful, all-wise.”
Think about it!
I am truly mystified: how would a fake crucifixion bring any glory to God, especially if nobody knew about it until 600 years later at the time of Muhammad?
If God really wanted to rescue His prophet, why didn’t He just lift him up to heaven in full view of everyone? It would have been even more wonderful for people to see with their own eyes what God was doing, and see God being vindicated! Why did He have to do it secretly? Why did He have to give an innocent person to the Jews to die in the place of Jesus? It makes no sense.
God would not deceive people by making them think that it was Jesus whom they were crucifying, when in fact it was someone else. God doesn’t lie!
Would God allow the foundation of the Christian faith to be based on a deception and misidentification that He Himself had orchestrated? If so, it would make God the biggest hoaxer in human history. This cannot be. He is a just and holy God who always does what is right.
Now, I know that my Muslim friends think that it would be a defeat if a prophet was killed by his enemies. For this reason, I’d like to ask you three questions:
First, which of the following would be a greater act by God? Which one of these would best show God’s mighty power?
- To deceive people and snatch Jesus up without letting Him die, or
- To let Jesus die and then raise Him from the dead.
Raising someone from the dead is surely the greater act. So whereas Muslims say that Allah is so great that he wouldn’t have allowed his prophet to die, Christians say, “Well, our God showed even greater power by raising Jesus from the dead.”
Secondly, which is the greater victory?
- To escape death by allowing someone else to die in your place, or
- To defeat death, by dying for others and rising from the dead?
Surely it is the second option.
Thirdly, which of the following would best honour Jesus and bring most glory to God?
- For Jesus to use violence to attack the people that were arresting him, or
- For Jesus to escape from his enemies, or
- For Jesus, out of love for His enemies, to take the worst that they could inflict on Him (death on the cross), and then for Him to publicly conquer death by rising from the grave.
Obviously the third action would bring the most glory to God, and that is exactly what the Bible says that Jesus did.
Let us return to the scene of the cross and question the eyewitnesses:
- Could not the crucified substitute have complained loudly and vigorously during his public ordeal that he was not Jesus?
- What kind of God would allow Mary (Jesus’ mother) and the beloved friends of Jesus to suffer as they watched the agony of one whom they thought to be Jesus? Would God allow His followers to go through this tortuous experience because of an illusion that He Himself had orchestrated?
- The centurion in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion later confessed faith in Him because Jesus exhibited such holiness. A sinful traitor like Judas would never have left such an impression.
- The gospel accounts record seven statements that Jesus made while on the cross. No one else could have said such remarkable words. For example, how could anyone other than Jesus pray (while He was going through excruciating pain) that God would forgive His persecutors? How could such merciful and compassionate sentiments come from the lips of Judas, the traitor?
- The criminal executed alongside Jesus would not have called on Him for salvation, nor would he have received salvation, if Jesus was just another sinner there on the cross beside him.
- There is also another important issue that Muslim commentators have failed to resolve: the case of Jesus’ body. Muslims claim that the substitute (the Shabih) resembled Jesus in His face only. His body was not subject to any change. They say, “The face is the face of Jesus, but the body is not His body.”
If this statement is true, how then did Mary fail to recognize the difference between the body of her son and the body of the crucified substitute? What about Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret believer in Jesus? In the context of the crucifixion story it is stated that they were able to obtain official permission from the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to lay Jesus in a tomb that Joseph had prepared for himself. If the crucified one was not Jesus, how did these two men fail to distinguish between Jesus’ body and the body of an impostor? Did Judas have, for instance, the same height, weight and skin colour of Jesus? Did he have the same hair and other visible characteristics of his holy Master?
Furthermore, we learn that on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, in the evening, He appeared to His disciples and showed them His hands, where they could see the marks of the nails, and His side, where He’d been pierced by the spear of the Roman soldier (John 20: 19-20). In this way He proved to them that He was the One who was crucified and that no-one had taken his place. These are tangible evidences that are hard for any objective researcher to overlook.
Besides, what would you think of God if for hundreds of years He had promised that the Messiah would come to die for the sins of the world, but at the last moment, when Jesus was about to be put on the cross, He took Him alive and changed someone else to look like him? Does this description fit God? Not only would this have made God out to be a liar, but there would have been no salvation from sin!
Why was Jesus’ death necessary anyway?
Because death is our problem! When God made Adam, He appointed him to represent us in the Garden of Eden. The Hebrew name “Adam” means mankind. My relationship with God depends on my representative’s relationship with God.
God commanded Adam, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) God’s warning was clear: disobedience leads to death.
Adam and Eve ignored God’s warning and deliberately disobeyed Him. The consequence was death – spiritual and physical, as God had warned. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” They were expelled from the Garden of Eden. This illustrated the breaking of their relationship with God because of their sin.
And so when our representative, Adam, disobeyed, all mankind disobeyed! Sin, like a deadly poison, entered into our world and into human life. When God punished Adam by causing him to die, we were all likewise punished – we all die too.
So death is man’s big problem. If anyone were to save us, he would have to solve this problem. He would have to conquer death. He would have to restore our broken relationship with God. This is something you and I could never have done for ourselves or for others. God in His kindness says that the way we are to be saved is for Christ to take death, spiritual and physical, upon Himself in our place. What is the evidence that Jesus defeated death? The evidence is His resurrection from the dead, as the Bible says, “O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Here is how the Bible summarizes the parallel between Adam and Christ:
“Since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15: 21, 22)
“Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)
So, the Bible asks us, “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?”
Fakhradin Al-Razi: Al-Tafsir Al-Kabir p.102; vol. 11; Dar al Fikr, Beirut, Lebanon, 1981. Also refer to the Commentaries of the Jalalayn and theBaydawi concerning the interpretation of verse 157 of Surah 4.
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