Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Chapter Eight

Al Masih: the Messiah

The Son of David, the Son of Abraham


The Implications of the Quranic Title

I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things. John 4:25

The Qur’an gives Jesus a very unique title. It calls him al-Masih, ‘the Messiah’ (Surah 4:172), al-Masihabna Maryam, ‘the Messiah, son of Mary’ (Surah 9:30), and al-Masihu ‘Isa, ‘the Messiah Jesus’ (Surah 4:171). The title appears no less than eleven times in the Qur’an and, on every occasion, it is applied to Jesus. It is given to no other prophet of Islam, not even Muhammad. More than that, it is the only title prefixed to the name of any prophet in the Qur’an. No other prophet has a special title attributed to him jointly with his name. Jesus alone has a special title, al-Masih, and it appears regularly in the Qur’an.

The early Muslim scholars often asked why he should, uniquely, be given a special title and what the title al-Masih might mean. The earliest scholars, including famous personalities like Baidawi and Zamakhshari, openly conceded that it was an arabicized version of a foreign word. Some Muslim scholars have tried to link it to normal Arabic words and interpret it accordingly, but without much success and with virtually no approval from other well-known Quranic scholars. Some said it is connected to the Arabic word sah (to wander, or to go on pilgrimage), suggesting that Jesus was the leader of a group of ‘wanderers’. Unsurprisingly this suggestion has gained virtually no support and has been readily rejected.

A commoner attempt to base the title on an Arabic word is the claim that it is derived from the word masaha meaning ‘to rub, wipe or stroke.’ It has the same root letters as this word, mim, sin and hah, but has no connection with it. The word masaha appears four times in the Qur’an, but there is no record in the Arabic language of it ever being connected to a title given to someone, least of all someone as prominent as Jesus. Once again, the possibility of the word being the root of the title al-Masih has been generally rejected by Islamic scholars.

The Qur’an, somewhat surprisingly, makes no attempt to explain the title. If anything, while giving it no interpretation or significance, it nonetheless deliberately downplays it on more than one occasion. It says: ‘The Messiah does not disdain to be a servant of Allah, nor do the angels nearest (to Allah)’ (Surah 4:172). The implication is that Jesus was only a servant of Allah like the angels and other prophets before him. The unique title, here specially defining him, is left unexplained even though it suggests Jesus held a distinctive office that no other ‘servant’ of Allah has ever held. Another text brings out the same point: ‘The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger; other messengers from those before him had also passed on’ (Surah 5:78). So why would he have been called al-Masihu ‘Isa, why was the special title al-Masih applied to him, if it has no unique significance?

Muslim scholars have also often spent more time trying to avoid identifying any uniqueness in the title than actually explaining it. ‘Ali at-Tabari, a famous scholar from the days of the Abbasid empire, said that the only reason Allah had anointed Jesus was because he was ‘a blessed and chosen human being and because Allah was his Lord’ (ar-Radd ‘ala al-Nasara, p.137). The same, however, can be said of all the prophets who preceded him. Jesus is always regarded in Islamic literature as no different to any of the other messengers of Allah. Invariably the uniqueness implied in the extraordinary title al-Masih is conveniently overlooked and ignored. Jesus is said to have been the historical Messiah indeed, but only in the context of leading his people into the straight paths of Allah as every other prophet had done.

Some Muslim scholars have attempted to expound and propose a Quranic ‘concept’ of the title al-Masih, and to define it in various ways, but once again always with the intention of actually avoiding attributing any special significance to it. Quite frankly there is no way that any scholar can possibly conceptualize the title in the Qur’an, for the book itself gives no meaning or explanation to it and never tries to place it in any kind of interpretive context. It is just a title given to Jesus without any further ado. There is no way that a Quranic ‘concept’ of the title can be offered, for the book itself never elaborates on it in any way.

Yet it stands as a strikingly distinct title in the Qur’an, applied to Jesus no less than eleven times, and one which is not attributed to any other prophet of God. Once again, it needs to be noted that no other similar title is applied to any other personality in the book – Jesus is the only prophet with a specific, independent title before his name.

It stands, however, as an admission in the Qur’an that there was something very distinctive about Jesus, that he was in some way exalted above all the other prophets of Allah. This is clearly its implication, for why would the title otherwise be applied to him? A more taxing question, perhaps, is why the Qur’an so freely uses a foreign word with no specific Arabic meaning qualifying or explaining it? It appears that the Qur’an assumes that its readers will be familiar with the title and its frequent use to define Jesus.

The overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars throughout Islamic history have conceded that the word Masih is obviously an arabicized form of the Hebrew word Mashiah, meaning God’s ‘anointed’ one, possibly being derived more directly from the Syriac translation of the word, m’shiha. By the time Jesus was born the Jews were already anticipating the coming of a mashiah, a specially promised figure who would be vastly superior to any of the prophets who had gone before him. His coming was anticipated as the climactic conclusion of God’s promises to the nation of Israel. The nation looked forward to his appearance as a king of Israel who would rule over the nation forever and who would bring all her enemies into subjection to it (Psalm 2:6-9).

The title was already in common use among Christians who referred to the founder of their faith as Jesus Christ, or just as commonly Christ Jesus, as their earliest scriptures did (Galatians 3:22, 4:14), ‘Christ’ being the Greek translation of the Hebrew word ‘Mashiah.’ The Quranic al-Masihu ‘Isa is simply an Arabic transliteration of this same name and title, meaning literally ‘the Christ, Jesus’ or more specifically ‘the Messiah Jesus.’ This explains why the Qur’an makes no attempt to explain the title – its use alongside the name Jesus was extremely common among Christians and was simply accepted and admitted.

But why, in an Islamic context, would the Qur’an call him al-Masih, namely ‘the Messiah,’ using the definite article to distinguish Jesus from all the other prophets of Islam? In using this grammatical structure the Qur’an indicates that Jesus is the unique Messiah, the only one, the Messiah. Nothing can be gained, however, from any attempt to look for an answer anywhere in the Qur’an itself, for while the Qur’an freely attributes the title to Jesus, it makes no attempt whatsoever to define it. One has to turn to its Jewish origins to find the answer.

The Promised Messiah in the Jewish Scriptures

The Jewish belief in a coming Messiah (the title in Hebrew, ha mashiah, means ‘the Anointed One’) began with the promise God made to King David when he wanted to build a temple to his glory. God said to him through the prophet Nathan: ‘When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son’ (2 Samuel 7:12-14).

When David’s son Solomon duly built the first great temple of God in Jerusalem and ruled over a highly prosperous and peaceful kingdom, the highpoint of Israel’s relationship with God, the people of Israel knew he was the promised son but, when he duly passed away forty years later, the nation realised that God was speaking of a greater son of David to come and it was not long before the people began to look forward to his coming. They knew this figurehead, the Son of David, would be vastly superior to any prophet in Israel and that he would rule over an everlasting kingdom.

The new title given to the awaited Son of David, ha mashiah (‘the Messiah’), was initially derived from this passage in Psalm 89 where the Lord said: ‘I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him’ (Psalm 89:19-20). The coming one would be the ‘anointed’ of God, the mashiah. This is the real meaning of the Quranic title al-Masih. From its original Jewish source it means the uniquely ‘anointed’ one. The Lord continued: ‘He shall cry to me, “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!” I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth ... I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure’ (Psalm 89:26-27,29).

The proclamation concluded with these words: ‘I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun. It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies’ (Psalm 89:34-37). It was given in very similar words to the original promise and from it the Jewish people knew that the greater Son of David to come would be the Messiah, who would rule for ever.

By the time of Jesus about a thousand years later Messianic expectations among the Jews were feverish. No prophet had appeared for many centuries and the nation correctly concluded that the time of the Messiah’s appearance was at hand. But when he came he was hardly the ‘messiah’ the Jews were expecting. Instead, although he was indeed born of David’s line, he grew up in humble obscurity in Galilee and when he began to perform miracles and teach the people, he hardly looked like the great anointed King of Israel that the nation was waiting for. When he was arrested, condemned and crucified, the Jews mocked him as a parody of what they were anticipating: ‘He saved others, he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him’ (Matthew 27:42).

What was most important, however, is not what the Jews were expecting but what the prophets had actually been foretelling when they foresaw the coming of the Messiah. The nation had conveniently overlooked the second half of Psalm 89. It begins: ‘But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed’ (Psalm 89:38). The Jews thought the focus had shifted and that the lament which followed had the nation’s own distresses in mind. But the terminology continued to be the same and it is quite clear that the person spoken of in the following verses is the same one as the glorious King of Israel mentioned earlier. Notice these distinctive similarities:

1.      The Person is still Described in the Masculine Gender

‘But now you have spurned him’ (v.38), ‘you have broken through all his walls’ (v.40), ‘all who pass by plunder him’ (v.41), ‘you have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame’ (v.45). It is the same individual male who was spoken of consistently in the triumphant passage who continues to be described in the forlorn passage which follows.

2.      Once Again He is the Lord’s Anointed

As God had said ‘with my holy oil I have anointed him’ (v.20), so now the psalm says ‘you are full of wrath against your anointed’ (v.38). It is the same mashiah who is being spoken of, the one whose foes would be crushed before him, who is now described as suffering even the wrath of God on himself. For the first time, and the Jews missed this entirely, the coming Messiah, ha Mashiah, is described as a suffering Messiah as well as a glorious Messiah.

3.      He is the same Servant of God

In the triumphant passage anticipating the coming Son of David the Lord said: ‘I have found my servant David, with my holy oil I have anointed him’ (v.20). In the lament which follows, the speaker says: ‘You have renounced the covenant with your servant’ (v.39). It is the same ‘servant’ who is the subject of the psalm throughout.

4.      God Continues to Speak of his Covenant with Him

The Lord, speaking in his triumphant declaration, says: ‘My covenant with him shall stand firm’ (v.28) and ‘I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips’ (v.34). In the subsequent lament, the speaker says: ‘You have renounced the covenant with your servant’ (v.39). It is the same covenant made with the same person throughout of which the psalm speaks.

5.      His Regal Crown will be Thrown Down

In glorious triumph the Lord declared: ‘I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people’ (v.19). But then comes the anguished response: ‘you have defiled his crown in the dust’ (v.39). Once again, it is the same crown on the head of the same anointed Son of David that is spoken of – he will one day be crowned with eternal glory, but now his crown has been torn from him. All he has in its place is a crown of thorns.

6.      His Royal Throne will Likewise be Cast Down

Initially the Lord said: ‘I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure’ (v.29). The lament responds: ‘You have removed the sceptre from his hand, and hurled his throne to the ground’ (v.44). Yet again, it is the same person of whom God said his throne will ‘endure before me like the sun’ (v.36) whose throne is now torn from him and thrown to the ground.

7.      His Enemies will Rejoice, and then be Crushed

The speaker of the lament declares: ‘You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice’ (v.42). In the triumphant passage, however, speaking well into the future God says: ‘The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him’ (v.22-23). It is the same enemies, his enemies, that may now mock and scorn him, who will eventually be trodden down under his feet.

This psalm, one of the definitive passages of the prophetic messianic scriptures, clearly sees two contrasting periods when the anointed one will appear. The lament is in the past tense to show that the Messiah’s sufferings, trials and humiliations will long precede his second coming in glory and triumph. They will be history long before he is revealed as the King of kings. The Jews missed their Messiah because they failed to see that the Messiah would not enter his glory, nor would he appear as the ruler of God’s eternal kingdom, before he would first be rejected, defiled, cut short and covered with shame. In acknowledging that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Qur’an joins the Christian scriptures in declaring that the nation of Israel had missed the Anointed One, the Messiah, when he came.

The Messiah himself finishes the lament with his own words: ‘Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted; how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples, with which your enemies taunt, O Lord, with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed’ (Psalm 89:50-51). Jesus himself said to some of his own disciples: ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ (Luke 24:26).

The Qur’an admits that Jesus was the Messiah, but it misses the impact of the title completely. It is unaware that the Messiah was not to be an ordinary prophet but the one of whom God said to David: ‘I will be his father, and he shall be my son’ (2 Samuel 7:14). In the same psalm the Lord said of him: ‘He shall cry to me, “You are my Father”’ (Psalm 89:26). The Messiah was to be God’s own Son of whom David’s son Solomon had been merely a shadow.

In one of the most famous messianic texts, the prophet Daniel says: ‘And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary’ (Daniel 9:26). Al-Masihu ‘Isa, the Messiah Jesus, was the one of whom these words were spoken, but in the context of his first appearance as the suffering servant of God. He would be ‘cut off’ (he was crucified and killed), he would have ‘nothing’ (he would be buried without leaving an inheritance), and the city (Jerusalem) and its ‘sanctuary’ (the Temple) would be destroyed as it duly was just forty years after the nation of Israel had overlooked and rejected its Messiah.

But did the messianic prophecies not speak of only one man’s son, namely David’s son Solomon? The Jews of Jesus’ time spoke of the Christ, the Son of David in interchangeable terms (Matthew 22:42, John 7:42) – how then could the suffering servant spoken of in Psalm 89 be the Messiah when David’s son Solomon ruled in power, peace and undisturbed good health over the nation of Israel all his days and could not be remotely connected to, or be a type of a humble and humiliated servant who died a violent death in weakness and apparent failure? We will look to another son who was promised, one whom the Jews missed completely as the one who prefigured the coming of the Messiah the first time in suffering and rejection before he would return as the glorious Son of David a second time many centuries later.

The Messiah Jesus: Son of David, Son of Abraham

The apostle Matthew commenced his gospel with these words: ‘The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Matthew 1:1). He also takes the genealogy of Jesus back, not just to David, but also to Abraham (Matthew 1:2). Why would he have said that Jesus the Messiah was not only the Son of David (whom the Jews of his day thought him exclusively to be), but also the Son of Abraham?

The answer is very simple – God had promised two sons in the history of the patriarchs, prophets and kings of Israel. To David he said: ‘I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever’ (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Solomon was the promised son who would come from his body, but he only foreshadowed and prefigured the greater Son of David to come whom the Jews eagerly anticipated at the time when Jesus began his ministry.

But God had also promised another unique son when he said to Abraham, speaking of his wife Sarah: ‘I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her: I will bless her; and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her’ (Genesis 17:16). The son duly appeared, Isaac, but he likewise only prefigured and foreshadowed the greater Son of Abraham to come, who would fulfil everything that the life of Isaac typified and anticipated. Like Jesus, Isaac had a unique birth. He was born of a man who was a hundred years old (Abraham) and a woman who had never borne children during her fertile years (Sarah). Isaac was ‘born of the Spirit’ in contrast to Ishmael who was conceived in a purely natural way, ‘born of the flesh’ (Galatians 4:29).

God had promised to Abraham that his son would become a blessing to all the nations (Genesis 18:18). But, when his son was only a young boy, too young to bear any offspring at all, God said to Abraham: ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’ (Genesis 22:2). Abraham wondered how the promise of God (that his wife would be ‘a mother of nations’) could possibly be fulfilled if he was to slaughter his son and then cremate him long before he could ever have any offspring of his own, but he never lost his faith in God. On the premise that ‘Every word of God proves true’ (Proverbs 30:5), he believed that Isaac would rise from the dead and, having conquered death, would thus become the blessing to all the nations that would follow him. ‘He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back’ (Hebrews 11:19).

But when Isaac questioned him about the sacrifice as they approached the mountain, Abraham answered him: ‘God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son’ (Genesis 22:8). He was effectively saying to him: ‘My son, you will be the sacrifice, but take heart, you are only foreshadowing God’s own Son who will be sacrificed for the redemption of the world.’ Isaac was born uniquely, but was to be sacrificed first as a sin offering (always the intention of a burnt offering) before he would rise from the ashes and become a blessing to the nations. In this he prefigured the first coming of the Messiah, the suffering Messiah, who would become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). When God called off the sacrifice and provided a ram in Isaac’s place, Abraham knew that he would not be the one who would bring redemption to the world.

Abraham realised that his son Isaac had merely foreshadowed the greater Son of Abraham to come just as Solomon, many centuries later, would represent the second coming of the Messiah, to reign eternally over the kingdom of God, the greater Son of David also yet to come. This is why Matthew calls the Messiah Jesus (al-Masihu ‘Isa) the son of David and the son of Abraham. When the Messiah came into the world and became the man Jesus of Nazareth, he fulfilled every prophecy of the coming suffering Messiah, lamented so intensely in Psalm 89:38-51, and became the ultimate fulfilment of the promised Son of Abraham to come.

That is why Jesus said: ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad’ (John 8:56). He at no time said the same of David simply because David foresaw the day of his return to earth as the heavenly Messiah in eternal glory, an advent yet to take place. While Jesus fulfilled none of the promises of the coming Son of David, the glorious Messiah, during his first coming to earth, he did fulfil every one of the prophecies of the coming Son of Abraham, the suffering Messiah.

The coming of the Messiah, whom the Qur’an acknowledges was Jesus, was foretold in many prophecies where God himself was the speaker. For example: ‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations’ (Isaiah 42:1). The Christian scriptures confirm that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 12:18). In another text we hear God again speaking: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute righteousness and justice in the land’ (Jeremiah 23:5, repeated in Jeremiah 33:15). And again: ‘Behold, I will bring my servant the Branch ... I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day’ (Zechariah 3:8,9).

Isaiah was very familiar with these prophecies, he knew the coming Branch, the Messiah who would rule as king forever, was the promised Son of David. He looked forward to the great day when he would bring justice and righteousness to the earth. So Isaiah was not surprised when God spoke to him again and said: ‘Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high’ (Isaiah 52:13). ‘Ah yes,’ Isaiah would have responded, ‘I know this language – predicting the coming of the great servant, the promised Messiah, the glorious Son of David.’

But then he immediately heard these words: ‘As many as were astonished at him – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men’ (Isaiah 52:14). Isaiah was stopped in his tracks. It was also familiar language, a lamentation about the unfortunate suffering servant predicted in Psalm 89 and other passages, and it graphically portrayed him as totally humiliated in stark contrast to the words he had just heard about the coming servant who would be raised up and exalted in eternal prosperity. Before he could even contemplate this contrast, however, he heard the Lord add these words: ‘so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand’ (Isaiah 52:15).

Isaiah was stunned. It went from a prophecy of the glorious Son of David (‘he shall be exalted and lifted up’) to the humiliated Son of Abraham (‘his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance’) and back the glorious Son of David (‘kings shall shut their mouths because of him’) in one smooth, continuous flow. Isaiah saw the implication of this immediately – the glorious Son of David and the humble Son of Abraham would be one and the same person! He also realised that the Son of Abraham, the suffering Messiah, would come in relative obscurity first (the prophecy, as usual, is in the past tense) long before he would return as the Son of David, the glorified Messiah (as the prophecies here, also as usual, were in the future tense).

Even in his day many centuries before the time of Jesus, the Jewish nation was only looking for the Son of David to come, the nation’s promised Messiah, who they believed would establish the Jewish nation as the greatest on earth in an age of eternal prosperity with himself as king of God’s everlasting kingdom. Isaiah knew this and, when he got the full impact of the prophecy, it shocked him! He cried out: ‘Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ (Isaiah 53:1). He knew the nation would miss its Messiah when he came the first time in relative anonymity to suffer and be rejected. The Jews had forgotten that God had promised two sons, one to Abraham through whose sacrifice all the nations of the world would be blessed, and one to David, who would rule over God’s eternal kingdom forever.

From there on, in one of the most famous prophetic passages in the Jewish scriptures, Isaiah concentrated exclusively on the words ‘his appearance was so marred’ rather than the words ‘he shall be exalted and lifted up’ and ‘he shall startle many nations.’ Isaiah overlooked the predictions of the coming glorious Messiah, the Son of David, to focus solely on the coming suffering Messiah, the Son of Abraham. He did this because he knew that if the nation failed to recognise the Son of Abraham when he came, it would never know him or be accepted by him when he eventually reappeared in glory as the promised Son of David.

Isaiah proceeded to speak in the plainest language possible so that no one could say he wasn’t warned or properly informed beforehand. He began: ‘For he grew up before him like a young plant. And like a root out of dry ground; he had no form of comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not’ (Isaiah 53:2-3). Then he proceeded to concentrate on why the Son of Abraham would be a suffering Messiah, rejected in relative obscurity.

‘We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted’ Isaiah began, but he added that he was not suffering for his own sins or as a hapless and helpless victim of other men’s evil devices. He said: ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’ (Isaiah 53:4). He was suffering for us, to redeem us from our own sins. Isaiah continued: ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5). He concluded his lament very clearly, specifically and unambiguously: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6).

Isaiah was not talking about the nation of Israel, nor was this just some plaintive servant song of the Israelites, as those who cannot accept the obvious would wish us to believe. Isaiah, throughout, is speaking of the one spoken of at the beginning, ‘Behold, my servant,’ the same servant called the Branch, etc., in the other passages mentioned earlier from Jeremiah and Zechariah. Isaiah is speaking of the Messiah, but is concentrating solely on the Messiah’s first coming as the promised humble Son of Abraham. He explains exactly how he would become a blessing to the nations – by laying down his life for their transgressions so that they might be part of his eternal kingdom when he returns as the promised Son of David.

For the rest of the chapter Isaiah outlines with incredible prophetic accuracy and in correct order just what would happen when the suffering Messiah would lay down his life for our transgressions. Some of the predictions and their fulfilment follow:

1.      He would be Slaughtered like a Silent Lamb

Isaiah says: ‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7). When Jesus was falsely accused before the high priest who asked him if he had no answer to make, we read that ‘he was silent and made no answer’ (Mark 14:61). When Herod, the King of Judea, also questioned him, again ‘he made no answer’ (Luke 2:9). Before Pilate as well, when facing the accusations of the Jews, the governor said to him: ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you,’ but ‘Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate wondered’ (Mark 15:4-5).

2.      He would be Buried in a Rich Man’s Tomb

Isaiah later continues: ‘And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:9). All four gospels tell the story of the rich man Joseph of Arimathea who asked for the body of Jesus and laid it in his own new tomb which had been hewn out of a rock (Matthew 27:59-60, etc.). John records that Pilate three times declared to the chief priests and those around them: ‘I find no crime in him’ (John 18:38, 19:4,6). One of the thieves crucified alongside Jesus said to the other opposite him: ‘this man has done nothing wrong’ (Luke 23:41). He had done ‘no violence,’ there was ‘no deceit’ in his mouth.

3.      He would Come back to Life

Isaiah says: ‘when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied’ (Isaiah 53:10-11). The Christian scriptures unanimously testify to his resurrection from the dead three days after his crucifixion.

4.      He would Pray for those Crucified with him

Isaiah concludes: ‘he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus was crucified between two criminals (he was ‘numbered with the transgressors’), and immediately prayed ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (he ‘made intercession for the transgressors’, in this case being those who had crucified him) – Luke 23:33-34.

The whole passage focuses on the suffering Son of Abraham and not only states why he was suffering (he was ‘stricken for the transgression of my people’ – Isaiah 53:8) but how the events would unfold on the day that he would be offered up as a sacrifice. Isaiah knew that the nation of Israel would miss its Messiah if it failed to see why he was first coming in weakness and travail, and so he concentrated exclusively on God’s word to him ‘his appearance was so marred’ rather than the predictions of his eventual exaltation, glory and enthronement.

From the Jewish and Christian scriptures we can see why Jesus was indeed the Messiah to come, a fact which the Qur’an readily admits. But it is the whole purpose for which he received his anointing that is missed in the Qur’an. The Anointed One, ha mashiah, the Messiah, was to come into the world as the climactic figurehead, the Son of God, in human form. He was to be no ordinary prophet as the Jews themselves knew – he is yet to become the sovereign Lord of God’s eternal kingdom over which he will rule forever. But he came the first time into the world to lay down his life and open the door so that, by faith in him, countless millions would be able to receive the forgiveness of their sins and become heirs of his eternal kingdom.

Once again the Qur’an attributes too much to Jesus for Muslims to sustain the argument that he was only a prophet, one no different to those who went before him. The Qur’an readily admits too many of the unique features of his life that prove him to be the very person that the Qur’an vehemently denies him to be – God’s own Son who took on human form, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, returned to heaven whence he came, continues to live in the glory of the heavens above, and is the Messiah whom God promised to Abraham and David centuries before his time. We will conclude this book by looking at two other descriptions of Jesus in the Qur’an that, yet again, identify him as far more than just a prophet and which both concede that he came from above, from the throne of God himself.