In our last blog post on this topic, we examined the Qur’an’s denial of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ:
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” (Surah 4:157-158).
Apart from that textual stumbling block—the text of the Qur’an denies that Jesus was crucified—the Muslim stumbles over another matter: it is not fitting that God’s holy prophet should suffer such terrible shame by being crucified. What the Muslim needs to understand is that the sufferings of Jesus Christ were voluntary and necessary.
The idea that Jesus was a tragically misunderstood moral leader whose life was cut off in his prime by the malice of His enemies is false. Yes, Jesus had cruel and malicious enemies, who desired His death. Certainly, many conspired against Him to destroy him, but Jesus was never a helpless victim.
Jesus makes it very clear throughout the gospels that he came to perform his Father’s will. Throughout His life, He operated according to a divine, and not a human, plan and timetable. As early as twelve years old, Jesus declares, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). Throughout the gospel according to John, reference is made to His “hour,” an hour that had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20), but which at the end of His life had finally come (John 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). In John 5:19, Jesus declares, “The Son can do nothing of himself,” which means that the Son cannot act independently of the Father or in opposition to the Father, for they are one. In John 6:38, He explains, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” The Father’s will was for the sufferings, death, and resurrection of His Son, something Jesus clearly knew and understood.
Therefore, Jesus was not forced against His will—either by men, or by His heavenly Father—to suffer and die on the cross. He willingly embraced the cross as the way of obedience. He steadfastly resisted anyone and anything that would deflect Him from that purpose. When Peter tried to persuade Jesus not to go to the cross, Jesus sternly rebuked him: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt. 16:23). As the time of the end drew near, Jesus “stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), knowing full well what awaited Him there. When Peter attempted to prevent Jesus’ arrest, Jesus rebuked him again, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (John 18:11). Even when Jesus was on the cross, He refused to come down and rescue Himself, despite His ability to do so, because He willingly gave His life.
In all of this, Jesus is unique. Only Jesus, as the Son of God, has power (authority) over His own life and death. As creatures, we cannot determine the moment of our death—and the sixth commandment forbids us to try. Listen to what Jesus declares, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).
Jesus willingly laid down His life on the cross out of love—love for the Father and love for His people. “Greater love,” says Jesus, “hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “The Son of God … loved me, and gave himself for me” is the confession of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20. “Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it,” declares Paul in Ephesians 5:25 In Titus 2:14, Paul describes the Savior this way, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
Notice the constant refrain of the New Testament—He gave Himself; He offered Himself; He laid down His own life for those whom He loved. That is the Christian gospel of salvation.
The sufferings and death of Jesus Christ were necessary. If they were not necessary, the infinitely wise and good God would not have ordained them for His Son; and the infinitely wise and good Son of God would not have willingly submitted to them.
Jesus knew from the beginning that they were necessary. In Matthew 16:21, just after Peter made the famous confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16), Jesus confessed the necessity of His sufferings: “He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” When His enemies came to arrest Him, He declared, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matt. 26:53-54). He added in verse 56, “But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Later, after His resurrection, Jesus explained the necessity to His disciples: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26) and “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (v. 46).
The sufferings and death of Christ, therefore, were necessary, first, because God decreed them as part of His eternal purpose; and, second, because the Scriptures prophesied them.
There is a third necessity. The sufferings and death of Christ were necessary for our salvation. Without the sufferings and death of Christ, we cannot be forgiven, and we must perish. But because of the sufferings and death of Christ, all those who believe in Him are saved.
To that subject we turn next time, DV.
This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.