Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Wasn’t the God of the Bible strong enough
to save Jesus from being killed?

Roland Clarke

Introduction: Considering the question in its wider context

Christians and Muslims acknowledge that on many occasions Almighty God saved believers from perilous circumstances, e.g. Noah, Lot, Joseph, Abraham's son, Moses, Jonah. Why then didn't he save Jesus from being killed?

Various Rescue Stories

God's oneness as taught in the first commandment is, without a doubt, the cornerstone of all monotheistic faiths. However, if we look carefully we will see that God's saving power is highlighted as an integral part of the first commandment, “I am the LORD your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.” (Exodus 20:2,3)

The theme of God's oneness is evident in the song of praise which Moses' people sang after God had dramatically rescued them at the Red Sea. They sang, “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord – glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)

God's oneness is also highlighted in the report Moses gave to his father-in-law, Jethro, a Midianite priest, a few days after crossing the Red Sea. We read that Moses told him, “about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel as he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians. ‘Praise be to the Lord,’ Jethro said, ‘for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh … I know now that God is greater than all other gods.’” (Exodus 18:8-11)

God's saving power distinguishes him from other so-called gods. For this very reason God saw fit to include this trait in the introduction to the first commandment. But what about the prophets who came after Moses? Did they confirm the importance of this attribute?

Let us look at the well known story of the prophet Jonah who was rescued from a near-death experience. Notice, however, that it was the sailors who were the first to narrowly escape drowning. You may recall that they were praying desperately to their idols as the storm became stronger and stronger. But their gods could not save them. Finally they threw him into the sea as Jonah had instructed them. The raging sea suddenly subsided and their lives were spared. The Bible says, “they were awestruck by the LORD'S great power and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.” (Jonah 1:16)

Jonah barely survived the fury of a killer storm, and then he had another near-death experience – being swallowed by a huge fish. However, God miraculously rescued him. From inside the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed,

But you, O Lord God, snatched me from the jaws of death! ... Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God's mercies. But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise ... For my salvation comes from the LORD alone. (Jonah 2:6-9)

I have put certain words in bold font to underscore the link between God's oneness and his saving power. We also see a close link between these two attributes in the writings of the prophet Daniel. We read in chapter 3 how Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego defied King Nebuchadnessar when he commanded everyone to bow down to a huge idol that he set up on the plain of Dura.

They courageously disobeyed the King who had threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace. They were willing to die rather than deny their Lord. When they were miraculously saved Nebuchadnezzar was amazed. He made this decree,

If any people, whatever their race or nation or language speak a word against the God of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb ... There is no other god who can rescue like this. (Daniel 3:29)

All these stories show that God is ‘mighty to save’. Not only so, in each story idol worshipers recognize the supremacy of the one true God who alone is worthy of worship. Each story reinforces what Jethro said – that God's saving power distinguishes him as utterly unique from and ‘greater than’ idols.

Let us consider Isaiah, another Old Testament prophet, who also recognized a close link between God's oneness and saving power. Isaiah declared the word of the Lord,

There is no other God but me, a righteous God and Saviour. There is none but me. Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God; there is no other. I have sworn by my own name; ... Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me. (Isaiah 45:21-23)

What if God Doesn't Rescue?

The question arises, “Does God always rescue and save his messengers when they are in perilous circumstances?” Shadrack and Meshack, acknowledged that God does not always rescue yet they were confident he has the power to save. Regardless of what the outcome might be, they refused to bow before the idol.

It is a well known teaching in both the Qur'an and the Bible that prophets were often disliked by unbelievers – so much so, that they experienced persecution, even being martyred. Although God's servants are sometimes martyred, God-fearing people do not doubt that he is mighty to save!

Likewise, when believers die in old age, we don't doubt that God is mighty to save. It is interesting to see that Muslims believe God powerfully rescued Jesus from dying on the cross but they don't believe Jesus will be rescued from dying in the end times. They believe he will die a normal death, after getting married and fathering children, etc.

Did God Rescue Jesus Christ?

Did you know the Bible teaches that God rescued Jesus from death – although in quite a different way from the Qur'anic account? We read in Hebrews 5:7,

While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings with a loud cry and tears to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.

Let me try to explain how Jesus was rescued from death by quoting the words of the apostle Peter as recorded in Acts 2:22-24,

God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.

The scripture says Jesus was “killed” but ultimately God “released” him from ... death because it was impossible for death to “keep him in its grip”.

Some readers who have a skeptical attitude toward the Bible may regard this explanation as simply a clever word-play that somehow twists the real meaning of words. I will leave you to be the judge. I simply ask that you take a few moments to read this prophecy of Isaiah as found in chapter 25:7-9 and the following brief explanation.

In Jerusalem the LORD ... will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. ... In that day the people will proclaim, ‘This is our God! We trusted in him and he saved us! This is the LORD in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!’

Notice in bold font two key words in this prophecy that correlate with the main theme of our discussion, i.e. power to save from death. Another key word is salvation as it brings to mind Jonah's near-death experience in which he acknowledged that it was God who saved him. It is significant that he said, “my salvation comes from the LORD alone.”

The connection between rescue and salvation is obvious. When we speak of being saved from death we usually think of being rescued in a temporal or physical sense. However, we should also understand that being saved from death has a spiritual meaning with a view to the hereafter. In this sense salvation encompasses eternity so it is appropriate to call it eternal life.

Isaiah's prophecy implies the final destiny of believers in heaven/paradise. He was foretelling how death will come to an end and God will wipe away tears. There is another scripture that describes heaven in precisely these terms. It says that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death”. (Revelation 21:4)

Isaiah's vision of the eternal home of believers corresponds interestingly with how the Qur'an portrays paradise, (1) a place where there is no death (Surah 44:56), (2) a place where there is no grief (tears) (e.g., Surah 2:62; 46:13-14), (3) a place of salvation. We read in Surah 39:61, “God will deliver the righteous to their place of salvation: no evil shall touch them, nor shall they grieve.” (bold font added for emphasis)

It has been helpful to see a significant correlation between Bible prophecy and the Qur'an. However, let us now consider how Isaiah's prophecy shows God pre-planned and foreknew the Messiah's miraculous rescue from death (as quoted earlier in Hebrews 5:7 and Acts 2:24.)

This prophecy begins by identifying the place – Jerusalem – where God will destroy death and decisively bring it to an end. Jerusalem was also foretold by the Messiah to be the place where he would perform a momentous death-defying act, i.e. rising from the dead!

Jesus said, “Listen, we are going up to Jerusalem where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)

Throughout his life Jesus performed miraculous signs by healing/saving those who were terminally ill (lepers) and people who were “near death”. (Luke 7:2) Now, at the climax of his earthly life, Jesus performs an even more powerful sign of rising from the dead.

Can there be any doubt that Jesus Christ overcame and abolished death? As it is written, “He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.” (2 Timothy 1:10)

Bearing in mind the two prophecies we have cited (re. Jerusalem): Doesn't the Bible make sense when it says that “death could not keep him [Messiah] in its grip”? (Acts 2:24) Does it not make sense to say that God rescued Jesus “from death?” (Hebrews 5:7)

Conclusion: Salvation comes from God alone

Do you remember how the prophets Jonah and Isaiah acknowledged that salvation comes from God alone? It is significant that Isaiah foretold God's salvation would come through the LORD'S Servant, the Messiah. Interestingly, the Qur'an (implicitly) acknowledges this truth when it tells how the angel instructed Maryam what name she must give to her virgin born son – a name that means God is salvation. It is noteworthy that Muhammad I. A. Usman, a highly respected Muslim leader and author from Pakistan, acknowledged this is precisely what Jesus' name means. (p. 77, Islamic Names, enlarged and revised edition)

Rather than repeating myself, allow me to point you to another short online article exploring this vital truth. Notice also: The Bible fittingly describes this foundational truth as the cornerstone. “For Jesus is the one refered to in the Scriptures, where it says, 'The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.’” (Acts 4:11,12; compare Luke 20:17 where Jesus identified himself as the cornerstone)

If you have decided to accept God's salvation in and through God's special Servant and Messiah I would love to hear from you. You can contact me here. (Also feel free to write me if you have any questions.)

If you want to read a fuller explanation of God's saving power as it relates to death I suggest you read the article, Is Death the End? which is available online here.

You may also like to read an excellent explanation of Hebrews 5:7 by Keith Thompson or hear Sam Shamoun's explanation in a recorded Paltalk session.

Note: All Bible quotations are taken from the New Living Translation. All Qur'an quotations are taken from the Yusuf Ali's translation.