The Uniqueness and Titles of Jesus in Islam


1. The Power to Give Life to the Dead in the Qur'an.

The Qur'an freely acknowledges that Jesus was a great worker of miracles, saying Wa aataynaa Iisaabna Maryamal-bayyinaat - "And We gave Jesus son of Mary clear signs" (Surah 2.87, so also Surah 43.63). A number of these are recorded in the book, some of which have apocryphal origins, but others are entirely Biblical, such as those in this brief extract where Jesus is recorded as saying:

In a similar passage describing the many signs he was sent to work among the people of Israel we find God himself mentioning the same three miracles, saying to Jesus:

Jesus himself spoke of each one of these three miracles, namely the healing of the blind and the lepers and the raising of the dead, when he sent the messengers of John the Baptist away, saying:

It is well-known and widely accepted among Muslims that Muhammad performed no miracles, notwithstanding fanciful records to the contrary in the Hadith. The Qur'an plainly teaches that he came with no signs and wonders (see the companion volume to this book, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, pp. 260-263) and many Muslims, conscious of an apparent advantage that Jesus enjoys over Muhammad, are quick to emphasize the words found in both our quotations from the Qur'an, namely bi-ithnillaah - "by God's permission" (or leave). Thus they seek to draw attention away from the powers Jesus had to God himself as the author and source of these powers. In so doing they endeavour to show that there was nothing extraordinary in what Jesus could do as he gained his authority to perform miracles from God alone. We accordingly find Yusuf Ali commenting on Surah 5.113 as follows:

A Christian commentator, however, takes the expression to be an intended denial of the deity of Christ which is otherwise plainly implied in the powers attributed to him:

The power to perform miracles is, in our view, not a per se proof of divinity, for many of the prophets before Jesus performed miracles. Elijah raised the son of the woman of Zarephath to life (1 Kings 17.22) while Elisha not only did the same when he raised the Shunammite woman's son from the dead (2 Kings 4.34-36) but also cleansed Naaman the Syrian of leprosy (2 Kings 5.14). It does appear, however, that Jesus was the first to give sight to the blind (John 9.32). Nonetheless the mere power to perform miracles is not of itself proof of divinity, though in old covenant times it was a sure sign of prophethood (yet even here we find that a true prophet need not perform miracles - John 10.41).

In the passages quoted from the Qur'an, however, we find yet another golden opportunity for a Christian witness against the background of the uniqueness of Jesus in the Qur'an. Not long ago I was discussing Surah 3.49 with a Muslim who promptly interjected while I was describing the signs performed by Jesus: "Yet, but notice one thing he says - 'by God's permission"'. He was quite surprised when I replied that this addendum should not trouble a Christian for the Bible also states that it was only by the Father's authority that he performed signs. On one occasion Jesus spoke of "the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish" (John 5.36 - see also John 14.10) and, when he raised Lazarus from the dead, made it plain he had prayed for the power to do so (John 11.41). The Muslim replied that most Christians he knew would usually say emphatically that as Jesus is God, he needed no one's permission or authority to do miracles, to which I responded that, in their zeal to glorify Jesus, some Christians occasionally become dogmatic and say things that are beyond the teaching of our Scriptures.

This gave me an open door, however, for I promptly said I believed the Muslims were doing the very same thing. They dogmatically claim that Jesus was only a prophet like the other prophets, yet in this very same verse (Surah 3.49) we find a power attributed to him which is given to no other man in the Qur'an - the power to raise the dead to life. The key words are wa uhyil mawtaa - "and I give life to the dead". There is a beautiful contrast between hayah (life) and mawtah (death). I suggested that, just as Christians should not attempt to exaggerate the glory of Jesus against Biblical evidences which it make it plain he needed the Father's authority to perform signs, so Muslims should not minimise that glory against Qur'anic evidences of his complete uniqueness, as in this case where he is the only man said to have the power to raise the dead to life.

The expression "to give life to the dead", as found in its various forms in the Qur'an (uhyil mawtaa - Surah 2.260, 22.6, 36.12; hayya minal mayyit - "to bring life from the dead" - Surah 30.19, etc.), is found twenty-one times in the book. On all but two of these occasions the power is ascribed to God alone. He is constantly spoken of as the one who brings the dead to life. It is thus a common statement of his renewing power. Yet we find that on the only two occasions that the Qur'an applies this power to someone else, it applies it to Jesus. In Surah 3.49 it is Jesus who speaks of his power to raise the dead to life and in Surah 5.113 it is God who speaks to Jesus of this power he has given him. Yet throughout the Qur'an we do not find that the power to raise the dead has been given to anyone else. It therefore belongs exclusively to God and it has been given to Jesus alone. Here we have yet another example of how unique Jesus is in the Qur'an and it is not surprising to find a Muslim identifying his power to raise the dead to life as the most remarkable feature of his life on earth during his first coming. While he seeks to establish the humanity of Jesus according to Muslim belief, he is nevertheless constrained to admit:

Let us press on to see the context in which this same power, in a very special way, is vested in Jesus alone in the Bible and how it simultaneously testifies to his deity and superiority over all the prophets who preceded him.

2. The Resurrection and the Life in the Bible.

Whereas prophets like Elijah and Elisha were also given the power to restore men to their normal lives on earth, we find that Jesus enjoyed this power in a unique way. It has rightly been said of him that he upset every funeral that he attended! He raised the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7.54-55) and the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8.54-55), but the incident that must concern us is the raising of Lazarus who had been dead already four days.

When Jesus heard that he was ill, he "stayed two days longer in the place where he was" (John 11.6) and deliberately let him die. I do not believe it is necessary to recount the whole story to my Christian readers but there are a few things in it which make the scene one of contrasting elements and give it considerable drama, and by outlining these to Muslims I know Christians will grip their attention and make the point more emphatically.

John's Gospel is full of irony and there is much of it here. The pall of death hangs over this chapter. Firstly, Lazarus dies (v.14). Then, when Jesus speaks of going to Judea again, his disciples have an immediate foreboding of his own death (v.8) until Thomas suggests that they should all go and die with him! (v.16). When they arrive at Bethany a multitude wails and laments the death of Lazarus (w . 19,33). Both Mary and Martha, the sisters of the dead man, suggest to Jesus that if he had only come in time their brother could have been kept alive and would not have died (w . 21,32). In the same vein the Jews suggest that, having cured a blind man the last time he was there, he could surely "have kept this man from dying" (v.37). When Jesus commands them to remove the stone, Martha thinks only of the odour of death (v.39) which seems to hang irreversibly over the whole scene. Against this setting comes one of the most outstanding declarations ever made by Jesus Christ during his life on earth:

To the crowd Jesus seemed to be a faith healer who could heal sick people while they were still alive provided he was, as we say, "in the right place at the right time". When Jesus spoke to Martha and told her that Lazarus would rise again (v.23), she took this to be an allusion to the Day of Judgement, the Last Day (v.24). She found little comfort in contemplating the purpose of a God who seemed so far off to raise the dead on a coming day that seemed equally remote. Jesus therefore immediately made his famous declaration, "I am the Resurrection and the Life".

In other words Martha should not think so remotely of the resurrection. The God who seemed so far off was standing right in front of her in the person of his Son, and the Day was not in the distant future but had arrived in a very special way already. Lazarus was duly raised there and then as a sign that Jesus had not come ultimately to prolong life on earth while he could postpone the day of death through his healing powers, but to conquer death itself and bring eternal life to the world. Through his crucifixion not long afterwards and his immediate resurrection to life he made it possible for men to be raised to newness of life in this world right now (Romans 6.4) and to enjoy the sure hope of eternal life when the Last Day comes (John 6.40).

In this story we see precisely how Jesus enjoys a unique power to raise the dead to life. He is the Resurrection - though a man die, yet by faith in him he shall be raised alive. He is also the Life - those who have faith in him will indeed never even really die. Christians have a tremendous amount of material here for an effective witness to Muslims of Christ's ultimate life-giving power.

But wherein does this unique power consist? In what way can we capitalise on the teaching of the Qur'an that God's power to raise the dead to life has been given to Jesus alone and show just why it is Jesus who should rightly enjoy it? The answer lies in Jesus' own words:

It is because Jesus is the divine, eternal Son of God that he alone possesses this unique authority. The power to give life, to actually impart eternal life, is surely a divine power that cannot be given to any mere creature. Jesus said that his Father had given him "power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him" (John 17.2). No one else in all history has spoken thus. It is only because he is the eternal Son of the Father that he can have life in himself and give it to whom he will. Christians have here, therefore, not only a testimony to Christ's life-giving power but also to his deity.

The Qur'an contains just a passing hint, a germ of the truth, when it speaks of Jesus as he alone who can give life to the dead with divine authority from above. We see this power unfold in all its fulness in the Bible and discover who Jesus really is and why he enjoys this unique authority. There is, therefore, in the Qur'an, a passing testimony to one of the glorious powers that he, as the Lord of all glory, enjoys over all the earth. It is just another of those unique features in the book which Christians can use to show Muslims that Jesus was not just a prophet but God's own Son who came into the world to bring life to the dead.

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