October 21, 2012
A Muslim Asks about Jesus
Hi Dr. Craig,
I am a Muslim from Pakistan and an elementary level student of comparative religions. I have following questions about the issue of alleged crucifixion of Jesus Christ (pbuh) as portrayed in the Gospels: (Please note that I am asking these questions to enhance my understanding and I don't mean to attack or degrade your beliefs. If you find anything offensive, I apologize before hand)
1) The Gospels seem to suggest that when Roman authorities tried to get hold of Jesus, he avoided them and it seems that he does not want to get caught. Now if Crucifixion (and resurrection) is the ultimate goal of Christ's mission, then why is he avoiding the Roman authority? The Gospels seem to suggest that Christ did not avoid just once but multiple times. Infact If I recall correctly, Gospel of John suggests that when Jesus Christ came to know that Jews and Romans are after him, he limited his public appearances. Why is Jesus doing that ? Should not Jesus feel excited and thrilled when the first time Romans tried to capture him ? Should not he readily give himself up to the Romans ?
2) For Christians, Crucifixion & resurrection of Christ represent a victory for mankind, then why don't the Christians consider those people who were instrumental in Christ's crucifixion (Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate) as heroes of Christian faith ? I have seen no statues of Judas and Pontious Pilate in churches and no Christian seems to praise these people. Why is it so ?
3) If Crucifixion and Resurrection is the ultimate goal of Christ's ministry then what exactly was he doing in his 3-year (a rather long period) ministry ? I mean, Isn't this time period seems too long to achieve a rather simple task like this ?
4) In Gospel of John, there is a prayer attributed to Jesus before his alleged crucifixion in which he says that (rough paraphrasing and Bold done by me) "...and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do ". What is finishing means here ? If crucifixion is the ultimate goal, how could his work get finish before it ?
I shall be obliged if you can answer above queries. Thanks a lot
I’m always delighted to get questions from our Muslim readers, Mohammad, and you needn’t worry in the least about offending me! I’m glad that you’re thinking about Jesus. I’ll take your questions in order.
1. Several times in the Gospels we read that the authorities seeking to do Jesus harm were foiled because “his hour had not yet come” (John 7. 30; cf. 6-8). But when his time had come, Jesus actually provoked his arrest by his bold entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey during the Passover festival in fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah’s prophecies concerning Israel’s coming King (see "The Triumphal Entry"). It may well be the case that Jesus wanted his death to coincide with the sacrifice of the Passover lambs in the Temple, since he saw his death as a sacrificial offering to God. Moreover, don’t assume too quickly that Jesus’ sole purpose was to come and die. His overriding purpose was to inaugurate the Kingdom of God among mankind. He looked beyond his death and resurrection to the spread of the message of the Kingdom to all the nations. The success of that mission necessitated spending time teaching a hand-picked group of disciples who would carry that message to the world. What is amazing is that he accomplished this task in such a relatively short time.
2. Christians, like all right thinking people, do not admire Judas or Pilate because what those men did was terribly evil: they betrayed and sent to his death an innocent man, indeed, God’s Son. Don’t fall into the wrong thinking of ethical consequentialism, Mohammed! Just because the consequences of some action are good doesn’t make that action right or good. The end doesn’t justify the means. When a martyr voluntarily gives up his life to save others, we admire the martyr, but we don’t admire the people who killed him. Similarly, what Judas and Pilate did was morally wrong, even if, in God’s providence, good came out of it.
3. Your third question, like the first, assumes too quickly that Jesus’ sole and ultimate goal was to die and rise again. That is incorrect. The ultimate goal is the establishment of God’s Kingdom, and subsidiary goals included teaching about the true nature of that Kingdom (e.g., it is not political) and equipping his immediate disciples to carry the message to the world.
4. The work which God the Father had entrusted to Jesus was much broader than simply giving his life (see John 4.34; 5.36). Jesus had proclaimed the advent of God’s Kingdom and performed works of healing and exorcisms as signs of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in his person. Just a few sentences after the statement you quote, Jesus says,
I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you and they have believed that you sent me (John 17. 6-8).
Here Jesus speaks of his successful work in teaching and preparing the disciples for his departure. His prayer of thanksgiving to God expresses gratitude that Jesus has completed that work.
I hope that God will give you insight as you continue to study!