Before shifting our gaze to the facts relating to Christ and his crucifixion, perhaps it would not be out of place to mention here, in brief, the Ahmadiyya Muslim understanding of what happened during and after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This issue will be briefly touched upon here and a detailed discussion will follow later.
We believe that the crucifixion of Jesus was an attempt made on his life, like any attempted murder. Crucifixion was only the weapon used in that murderous attempt. However, the attempt to crucify him failed in inflicting death. This is tantamount to saying that they failed to crucify him. When we say this, we express ourselves exactly as we would in any other case of attempted murder. If an attempt is made on someone’s life and the attempt fails, it cannot be said that the intended victim was murdered. For instance, if such an attempt is made with a sword, and the attempt fails, no one can say that the intended victim was put to the sword. So we believe, as Ahmadi Muslims, that only an attempt to murder Jesus was made; crucifixion being the instrument of the attempted murder. After a few hours of intense suffering upon the cross, before death could overtake him, he was taken down from the cross in a state of deep coma from which he was revived later on. As no state can permit a person who is condemned to death, a legal cover and protection to his life if he somehow escapes execution, so also under the Roman law, no immunity could be extended to Jesus beyond the point of the Crucifixion. That provided Jesus with enough cause to escape from Roman territory to a land of freedom. But he also had to perform a commission and had a prophecy to fulfil. There were those lost sheep of Israel, who after their exodus under the Babylonian and Roman invasion, scattered in many eastern lands, were awaiting his ministry. This was the other very strong reason for Jesus to have immigrated from the land of Judea to those foreign lands where the Jews had settled over a period of many centuries. This much should suffice for the time being.
I want to make one thing clear to those who demand from us a proof of the natural death of Jesus Christ after he was saved from the cross. They are shifting the burden of proof on us without justification. There are natural phenomena known to man which are universally understood. We know that the life span of man on earth does not extend beyond a hundred and fifty years or so; certainly not a thousand years or more. This is a common experience relating to the span of human life on earth. If someone thinks that something contradictory to this rule has happened, then the burden of proof would fall on his shoulders, not on someone who believes in the rule rather than the exception. This should be applied to the situation enveloping the life and death of Jesus Christ. Those who believe that he did not die must provide the proof. But those who claim that he must have died, only follow the laws of nature and should not be required to prove it beyond that. Otherwise, anyone could say that his great great great… grandfather has not died. If such a claimant goes around challenging everyone to prove it otherwise, what would be their reaction? How can a poor listener meet such a challenge? Yet he can only point out that the laws of nature operate on every human being and spare no one. So if someone is making claims against the laws of nature, the onus of proof is on him. This is the first answer, but I will now make another humble attempt to try to make things clearer from a different viewpoint.
Whatever his relationship with God, was it beyond Jesus Christ to die? The Christians themselves believe that he died. If it was against his nature to die, this could not have happened in the first place. Yet we all agree that he died at least once. The remaining part of the enquiry would be as to when did he die? Whether on the cross or afterwards.
We prove from the Bible that God did not abandon him and saved him from the ignoble death upon the cross. This can be studied in the light of the facts relating to the period before the Crucifixion, as well as the facts of the Crucifixion itself and after it, as related by the New Testament.
Long before that incident, Jesus promised that no sign would be shown unto the people other than the sign of Jonah.Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him,
Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ He answered, ‘a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.’ (Matt 12:38–41)
So before we determine what happened to Jesus, we must understand what happened to Jonah, because Jesus claimed that the same miracle would be repeated. What was the Sign of Jonah? Did he die in the belly of the fish and was he later on revived from death? There is unanimity among all Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars that Jonah did not die in the belly of the fish. He precariously hung between life and death and was miraculously saved from that situation; while any other person in his place would have died. Yet some subtle laws of nature, under the Divine command, must have conspired together to save him from death. Remember, we are not debating the issue of that being possible or not. We are only pointing out that Jesus, when he pointed out that the like of what happened to Jonah would also happen to him, he could only have meant that what everyone understood to have occurred in the case of Jonah would occur in his case. No one in the entire world of Judaism, whether in the land of Judea or anywhere else the Jews had dispersed and settled, would have received a different message from this claim of Jesus. They all believed that Jonah, miraculously or otherwise, survived for three days and nights in the belly of the fish and did not die in that period for a single moment. Of course we have our own reservations regarding this view. The story of Jonah as told to us in the Quran does not mention anywhere that it was for three days and nights that Jonah suffered his trials in the belly of the fish. However we return to the case in point and try to bring to light the actual similarities which were predicted by Jesus Christ between Jonah and himself. Those similarities spoke clearly of spending three days and nights in extremely precarious circumstances and a miraculous revival from near death, and not of coming back to life from the dead. The same, Jesus claimed, would happen in his case.
The second important piece of evidence is that Jesus told his people that the sheep of the house of Israel who dwelt in and around Judea were not the only sheep, and that he was sent by God not only to them but also to the other sheep of the same flock. Just as he had come to retrieve them he would also go and retrieve the others as well.
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16)
Now according to common knowledge, between the time of his promise and Crucifixion, he never left the land of Judea for anywhere else. The question is, if Jesus ascended to heaven eternally, had the lost sheep of Israel also ascended earlier? The Christian believe that after having been taken down from the cross as dead, his soul returned to his body after three days or so and then he was seen climbing into the clouds and disappearing into the unknown recesses of heaven, only to reach ultimately the throne of his Father and to sit on his right hand eternally from then on. If this is true then we will be faced with a very grave dilemma indeed. We shall have to choose between the two positions. One taken by Jesus himself and the other by his followers. The two positions are so uncompromising that accepting one would certainly negate the other. If Jesus was right as we believe he was, then before ascending to heaven he should have remembered his own promise and sought some more time from ‘God the Father’ to tarry a bit longer on earth so that he could go to the countries where many of the Israeli tribes before him had gone and settled. He could not have ascended to heaven without breaking his promise and trust, blemishing and irreparably damaging his perfect God, perfect Man image. If on the contrary, the Christian theologians are to be considered right and it is accepted that Jesus actually forgot his commitment to the house of Israel and left straight for the heavens, then we must conclude with a heavy heart that the Christian theologians are right indeed but alas Christianity turns out to be false. Because if Jesus is proved to be false Christianity cannot be true.
We believe that he was a true prophet of God and could not have made a false promise. What he meant by the lost sheep were the ten tribes of Israel, who had earlier migrated from Judea and had gone to remote eastern lands. His promise, therefore, was that he would not be killed on the cross but would be given a long life to pursue his mission and that he was a prophet not just for the two Israeli tribes living around him but for all the Israelites. Together, the above two pieces of evidence provide the positive indication of what was to happen to Jesus Christ after the Crucifixion.
Another point relevant to this issue relates to the fixing of the date and time by Pilate for carrying out the Crucifixion. Even before he fixed the date and time we read of other things, which one should not be surprised to believe, might have played an important role regarding his final decision. First of all we know on the authority of the New Testament that Pilate’s wife was strongly averse to her husband passing judgement against Jesus because of the influence of a dream she had the night before Jesus’ trial.
She was so terrified by the effect of the dream, which led her to believe that Jesus was absolutely innocent, that she thought it imperative to disturb the court proceedings to convey the message of the dream to her husband.1 Perhaps it was this urgent protestation by his wife that led Pilate to make a show of absolving himself of the responsibility of his condemnation of Jesus.
When Pilate saw that he was getting no where, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘it is your responsibility!’ (Matt 27:15–17)
It amounted to a confession on his part that Jesus was indeed innocent and that the harsh judgement passed by him was under duress. It is quite clear from the New Testament that the powerful Jewish community had colluded against Jesus and were determined to have him punished. So any decision by Pilate contrary to Jewish wishes could have resulted in a grave law and order situation. This was Pilate’s compulsion which rendered him helpless and was displayed in the act of washing his hands.
Pilate had also made another attempt to save Jesus. He gave the enraged crowds an option either to save Jesus’ life or that of a notorious criminal called Barabbas.2 This provides us with a significant clue to the state of Pilate’s mind at that time. He was quite obviously against the idea of sentencing Jesus. It was in this psychological state that he fixed Friday afternoon to be the day and time of the execution. What actually happened, leaves one to believe, was a clear indication that he did it on purpose because the Sabbath was not very far from Friday afternoon and he, as the custodian of law knew better than anyone else that before the Sabbath began by sunset, Jesus’ body would have to be taken down; and that is exactly what happened. What normally took three days and nights, approximately, to finally inflict a torturous death upon a condemned man was subjected to Jesus for a few hours at the most. Hardly enough, one is compelled to wonder, to actually kill a man of Jesus’ physique whom an austere life had toughened physically.
Could this incident not be a key to the enigma of Jonah? As it was a common practice for a condemned person to hang on the cross for three days and nights, this rings a bell indeed in one’s mind about the similitude between Jesus and Jonah as mentioned earlier. He is also supposed to have remained within the body of the fish for three days and three nights. Maybe he too was delivered alive by God’s design within three hours instead of three days. So what happened in the case of Jesus becomes a mirror reflecting and replaying the tragic drama of Jonah.
Now turning to the events during the Crucifixion. Even at the last moment Jesus stood firm to his protestations: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?,’ How deeply tragic, how painfully expressive of his disillusionment. How subtly pointing at some earlier promise and assurance which God the Father must have given him, otherwise, no sense whatsoever can be read in this exclamation. It is a denial both of his wish and willingness to carry, by volition, the load of other people’s sin and of the view that he was looking forward to that hour of death. Why this deep cry of anguish when the punishment was demanded by him in the first place. Why should he reproach God, or even pray for deliverance? It should be read in the context of what happened before. He was praying to God throughout to take the bitter cup from him.
We as Ahmadi Muslims believe that the pious and holy person that Jesus was, it is impossible that God did not accept that prayer. He must have been told that the prayer had been accepted. I do not believe that he gave up the ghost on the cross. With me there is no contradiction and everything is consistent. His death was only the impression of an observer who was neither a physician nor had he any opportunity to medically examine him. An onlooker, watching with such anxiety and concern lest death should overtake his beloved master, merely observed the dropping of the tired head with chin resting against the chest of Jesus. And ‘Lo,’ he exclaimed, ‘He gave up the ghost.’ But as we explained earlier, this is not a treatise to discuss the merits and authenticities of the Biblical account from the point of view of genuineness or otherwise, or to dispute any interpretations attributed to them. We are here only to critically examine the very logic and commonsense of Christian philosophy and dogma.
The point which is roundly established therefore is that whether he swooned or died, his painful surprise at what was about to happen strongly proves that he expected otherwise. If death it was that he sought then the surprise that he showed had no justification at all. Our interpretation as Ahmadi Muslims is that Jesus was only surprised because he was given a promise of deliverance from cross by God during his supplications the night before. But God had other plans, He caused Jesus to merely swoon so that the sentries on guard could be misled to believe that he had died and as such to release his body to Joseph of Arimathea, to be delivered to his kith and kin. The surprise which we notice in the last words of Jesus Christ was also shared by Pilate himself: ‘Already dead,’ is what he exclaimed when the incident of death was reported to him.3 He must have had a long experience of crucifixion during his tenure as Governor of Judea and could not have expressed his surprise unless he was convinced that it is unusual for death to overtake a crucified person, within the short period of only a few hours. Yet he had to accept the plea to release the body under mysterious circumstances. That is why he is forever accused of conspiracy. It is alleged that under the influence of his wife he saw to it that the execution of Jesus took place at an hour very close to the hour of Sabbath. Secondly, he conceded to the request to release the body despite doubtful reports of Jesus’ death. This decision of Pilate caused grave concern among the Jews who petitioned to him and expressed their doubts and suspicions regarding the death of Jesus.4
We also observe from the Bible that when his body was taken down his legs were not broken. Whereas the legs of the two thieves, hanging along with him, were broken to make sure that they died.5 This act of sparing Jesus would certainly have helped his revival from the coma. It cannot be ruled out altogether that the sentries had been instructed by some emissaries of Pilate, not to break the legs of Jesus Christ. Perhaps as a mark of respect for him and the innocent Christian community.
But when they came to Jesus and found him already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. (John 19:33,34)
If he was dead and his heart had stopped beating, such active bleeding as causing the blood to rush out or gush out would be impossible. At most coagulated blood and plasma could have passively seeped out. But that is not the picture which the New Testament presents, it says that blood and water rushed out. As far as the mention of water is concerned it should not be surprising for Jesus to have developed pleurisy during the extremely exacting and punishing hours of trial that he spent upon the cross. Also, the stress of the Crucifixion could have resulted in exudates from the pleura to collect likes bags of water, which is medically termed as wet pleurisy. This condition, which is otherwise dangerous and painful, seems to have turned into an advantage for Jesus because when his side was pierced the swollen pleura could easily have played the role of a cushion protecting the chest organs from being directly penetrated by the spear. Water mixed with blood rushed out because of an active heart.
Another piece of evidence is as follows. According to the Biblical account, after the body was handed over to Joseph of Arimathea, it was immediately removed to a secret place of burial, a sepulchre with enough room not only for Jesus but also for two of his attendants to sit and take care of him.
Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent down over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been. (John 20:10–12)
That is not all, we are informed in the New Testament that an ointment, which had been prepared in advance was applied to Jesus’ wounds.6 This ointment, prepared by the disciples of Jesus, contained ingredients which have properties of healing wounds and subduing pain etc. Why was there all this fuss about going through the laborious exercise of collecting twelve rare ingredients to prepare an ointment at all? The prescription used is recorded in many classical books such as the famous medical textbook Al-Qanun by Bu Ali Sina (see appendix for a list of such books). So what was the need of applying ointment to a dead body? This could only make sense if the disciples had strong reasons to believe that Jesus would be delivered alive from the cross and not dead. St. John is the only apostle who has ventured to offer an explanation justifying the act of preparing and applying an ointment to Jesus’ body. This further supports the fact that the act of applying ointment to a dead body was considered extremely odd behaviour, inexplicable to those who believed that Jesus was dead when ointment was applied. It is for this reason why St. John had to offer an explanation. He suggests that it was done so merely because it was a Jewish practice to apply some sort of balm or ointment to the bodies of their dead. Now it is a very important fact to note that all modern scholars who have researched into this, are in agreement that St. John was not of Jewish origin, and he proved it by this statement of his. It is known for certain that Jews or the Children of Israel have never applied any ointments whatsoever to the bodies of their dead. As such the scholars contend that St. John must have been of non-Jewish origin otherwise he could not have been so ignorant of Jewish customs. So there has to be another reason for this.
The ointment was applied to save Jesus from near death. The only explanation lies in the fact that Jesus was neither expected to die by his disciples nor did he actually die upon the cross. The body which was taken down must have shown positive signs of life before the application of the ointment, otherwise, it turns out to be an extremely stupid, unwarranted and futile exercise on the part of those who indulged in it. It is unlikely that those who had prepared this ointment in advance had done so without a very strong indication that Jesus would not die upon the cross but would be taken down alive seriously wounded, very much in need of a powerful healing agent.
It should be borne in mind that the location of the sepulchre where Jesus lay was kept a closely guarded secret, known to a few of his disciples. Obviously for the reason that he was still alive and was yet not beyond danger.
As for what happened in the sepulchre, this is debatable on many counts; it cannot stand critical examination or prove that the person who walked out had really died and then been resurrected. The only evidence we have is the belief of Christians that the Jesus who walked out of the sepulchre possessed the same body which was crucified, bearing the same marks and wounds. If he was seen walking out in the same body, then the only logical conclusion which could be drawn would be that he had never died.
Another piece of evidence pointing to the continuity of Jesus’ life is as follows. After three days and three nights he is seen, not by the public, but only by his Disciples. In other words, by people whom he trusted. He avoids the light of day and only meets them under the cover of darkness at night. One may safely infer from the Biblical account that he seems to be moving away from the source of danger with a sense of urgency and secrecy. The question is, if he had been given a new and eternal life after his first death, and was not to suffer another, why was he hiding from the eyes of his enemies; that is both the government agencies and the public? He should have appeared to the Jews and the representatives of the Roman Empire and said: ‘Here I am, with an eternal life, try and kill me again if you may, you will never be able to.’ But he preferred to remain hidden. Not that the idea of appearing in public was not suggested to him, on the contrary, it was specifically suggested to him to reveal himself to the world, but he refused and continued to distance himself from Judea so that no one could follow him.
Then Judas said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ (John 14:22)As they approached the village to which they were going , Jesus acted as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. (Luke 24,28–29)
This very strongly presents the case of a mortal who is not beyond the reach of death or injury to his person. It only signifies that Jesus had not died in the sense that he was delivered of the human element in him but he remained exactly the same in his nature, whatever it was, and there was no death separating his old self from the new. This is what we call continuity of life in human experience. A spirit or a ghost belonging to another world certainly does not behave like Jesus behaved during his secret meetings under the cover of night with his close friends and followers.
The question of Jesus being a ghost is emphatically ruled out by none other than Jesus himself. When he appeared to some of his disciples, they could not hide their fear of him because they believed him to be not Jesus himself, but a ghost of Jesus. Jesus Christ understanding their difficulties dispelled their fears by denying being a ghost, asserting himself to be the same Jesus who was crucified and invited them to examine his wounds which were still fresh.7 His appearance to his disciples etc, by no means established his revival from the dead. All that it established was simply his survival from the throes of death.
As if to remove any misunderstanding that might still have lurked in their minds he asked them what they were eating. When he was told that they were eating bread and fish he asked for some of it because he was hungry and ate some.8 That certainly is a proof beyond a shadow of doubt, against his revival from death, that is, a revival of the nature of a human being having died once and brought to life again. The problems arising out of such an understanding of revival of Jesus Christ would be two fold.
If Jesus was still of the god-human species, as he is previously claimed to be, then he could not have got rid of the man inside him. This presents a very complicated and problematic situation. What did death do to him, or them, that is the man in Jesus and the god in him? Did the souls of both man and god depart together and return to the same earthly body again having visited the same hell together, or was it only the soul of the god in Jesus which returned to the human body without the soul of man? Where did that soul disappear to, one is left wondering. Was his journey to hell a journey of no return? While that of the godly soul in him was confined therein only for three days and nights. Was God the father of the man Jesus or the Son Jesus? This question that has to be settled for once and for all to give us a clear picture. Was the body of Jesus, partially a body of God and partially a body of man?
The concept of God which we have been granted by the study of both the Old Testament and the New Testament is that of an incorporeal infinite being, with matter having played no role in the making of His person. Having understood this much, let us look back at Jesus as he was going through different stages of development as an embryo in the womb of Mary. All the matter which went into the making of Jesus has to be contributed by the human mother with not even an iota of it being supplied by God the Father. Of course God could have created him miraculously. But from my point of view, creation, whether it appears to be miraculous or natural, is still creation. We can only accept someone to be the father of a son if the substance of the father and the substance of the mother are both shared equally or partially so that at least some of the substance of the body of the child is derived from the substance of the father.
From this it should become very clear to the reader, that God did not play any fatherly role at all in the birth process of the human embryo and the entire corporeal body with all its cardiac, respiratory, elementary, portal, cellular and central nervous systems were the unaided product of the human mother alone. Where is the element of sonship in Jesus who was merely a receptacle for the soul of God and no more? This new understanding of the relationship between God and Jesus can be sensibly described as anything but a father-son relationship.
- Matthew 27:19
- Matthew 27:15–17
- Mark 15:44
- Matthew 27:62–66
- John 19:31,32
- John 19:39–40
- John 20:19–27
- Ibid 24:41–42