Friday, April 3, 2015

Did Jesus Die?

The most religiously significant Christian holiday, Good Friday is upon us; celebrated as the day that Jesus was tortured and then crucified by the Roman regime. Many old churches in Europe are decorated with very gory pictures of his suffering, generally called “The Passion of Christ.” While some might view him as one of many prophets who were killed by the government for the political content of his sermons, Christians take a mythical view, that Jesus died for the sins of all mankind, and that understanding his story of sacrifice absolves mankind of their own sins.
The Quranic take on individual responsibility is a bit different.
“Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good, see it! And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil, shall see it.” (Quran, 99:7-8)
The amazing historical legends surrounding the man’s death – or non-death – are incredibly varied. While Catholics believe that Jesus literally died around 3pm and was buried that night, in early Christianity there were many disputes among sects as to whether or not Jesus died and then his soul ascended, or whether he was actually raised up to heaven a moment before death, or whether the entire scenario was staged, and a false person executed in his place, after which Jesus went on roaming the world teaching! Islam is also filled with similar disputes. Many Muslims literally believe that the wrong person got executed and some sects even teach that the real Jesus wandered all the way to India and died a natural death there, though locals claim that grave to be that of a Muslim saint. Regardless of the truth, Jesus is not here to defend himself.
“Behold! Allah said: ‘O Jesus! I will take you and raise you to Myself and clear you (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith, until the Day of Resurrection: Then you will all return unto Me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.’” (Quran 3:55)
The Quran, without describing the event in any detail, confirms that God raised Jesus to Himself. The belief that Jesus is alive with God, then, is common to Muslims and Christians. In response to the enemies of God, the Quran says:
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah” – but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not: Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.” (Quran 4:157-8)
On face value this would appear to be a legal argument or perhaps an emotional reaction, but according to Ibn Kathir, whose work is considered authentic by traditional Sunni scholars:
Ibn Abbas said, said, “Just before Allah raised Jesus to the Heavens, Jesus went to his disciples, who were twelve inside the house. When he arrived, his hair was dripping with water (as if he had just had a bath) and he said, ‘There are those among you who will disbelieve in me twelve times after you had believed in me.’ He then asked, ‘Who among you will volunteer for his appearance to be transformed into mine, and be killed in my place. Whoever volunteers for that, he will be with me (in Paradise).’ One of the youngest ones among them volunteered, but Jesus asked him to sit down. Jesus asked again for a volunteer, and the same young man volunteered and Jesus asked him to sit down again. Then the young man volunteered a third time and Jesus said, ‘You will be that man,’ and the resemblance of Jesus was cast over that man while Jesus ascended to Heaven from a hole in the roof of the house. When the Jews came looking for Jesus, they found that young man and crucified him.” Al-Nasa’i, Al-Kubra, 6:489
While this an interesting scenario, it is not clearly described that way in the Quran. When it is said that he appeared to die but he did not die, one could take a philosophical approach, taking into account another verse from the Quran:
“Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord. They rejoice in the Bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve. They glory in the Grace and Bounty from Allah, and in the fact that Allah suffereth not the reward of the faithful to be lost (in the least).” (Quran 3:169-171)
In a very real sense, every person who is tortured to death or killed by or because of any government died for all of our sins and because of our sins, because we failed to make a decent world.  
Nevertheless, every man is responsible for his own actions and the consequences. Nobody else can die in order to absolve our sins. We are not responsible for the sins of others. What we are responsible for, in this life, is how sincerely we tried to understand and implement Christ’s teachings.
What did he tell us to do? That is key.
“O you who believe! Be helpers of Allah: as said Jesus the son of Mary to the Disciples, “Who will be my helpers for (the work of) Allah?” Said the Disciples, “We are Allah’s helpers!” then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved: But We gave power to those who believed against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed.” (Quran 61:14)

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