Triumph Over Death: The resurrected King

C. S. Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. Among many, his book ‘The Chronicles of Narnia‘ is my all time favourite. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures. One of the most powerful scene from the movie is about Aslan’s sacrifice and return (Spoiler Alert). Allegorically, Aslan’s sacrifice represents Christ’s crucifixion – the great act of sacrifice by which Jesus is supposed to take on the sins of the world. We can think of the Deeper Magic as symbolic of the grace, mercy, and sacrifice emphasised in the New Testament. But there are a lot of parallels in the way the sacrifice happens. Like Jesus, Aslan knows what he has to do and is sad about it. Like Jesus, Aslan is tormented and humiliated before being killed. Also, like Jesus, Aslan appears first after his resurrection to some of his faithful female followers.

Clip from movie “The Chronicles of Narnia”

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Quid est veritas (What is truth) ?

Pontius Pilate’s question is one of the most famous ever asked. It is also one that has proved difficult for many people to answer. The first step in answering the question, “what is truth?”, is to ask the preparatory question: How do we know what is truth? Jesus replied to His disciples that He is the way, life and truth. But did Jesus really raise from the death? The principle of proportionality demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find.

N. T. Wright, Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar, summarises the resurrection of Jesus and the importance it holds in Christian faith with following words:

“The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven. The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you are now invited to belong to it.”

– N. T. Wright

In the Bible, the word translated as “resurrection” comes from the Greek a·naʹsta·sis, which means “raising up” or “standing up again”. Both the Old and the New Testament speak of the truth of Jesus being raised from death – Jesus testified of his resurrection before he died on the cross and his disciples witnessed his body after the resurrection. The First Epistle to the Corinthians, contains one of the earliest Christian creeds referring to post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and expressing the belief that he was raised from the dead, Apostle Paul writes:

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remains to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:3-9

When Jesus was on the earth, he raised four people from the dead. He raised the widow’s son in the village of Nain (Luke 7:15). He raised the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue (Mark 5:42). He raised Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha in Bethany after he had been dead four days (John 11:44). Finally, he raised himself from the dead after he had been crucified. In the New Testament, we see that God the Father (Romans 6:4; Acts 2:32-33) and God the Spirit (Romans 8:11, 1 Peter 3:18) raised Jesus from the dead. But it is also true that Jesus himself was acting to bring about his own resurrection (John 2:18-19).

The sacrifice and resurrection of the Messiah are throughout in the Old Testament. Psalm 22, written by King David a millennium before Christ, gives us the very perspective of the Lord hanging on the cross. It describes how the people mocked Christ (Psalm 22:7-8; Mat 27:41-43), how they cast lots to divide up his clothes (Psalm 22:18;Mat 27:35), how his bones were out of joint (Psalm 22:14), how the wicked had surrounded him and pierced his hands and feet (Psalm 22:16) – the scars of which Thomas later got to touch and feel (John 20:27). Psalm 22 ends by saying God’s righteousness would be declared to “a people that shall be born” (Psalm 22:31).

Lee Strobel, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and a graduate of Yale Law School, published “The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus.” He for two years, embarked on a journey that lead him from border to border and coast to coast. He became convinced at the end that the evidence for the identity of Jesus as the Son of God is rock solid. He interviewed, with merciless thoroughness, some of the leading religious scholars of the nation. Dr. Craig Bloomberg, a professor in Denver, argued persuasively that the Gospel accounts were written within the lifetimes of those who were witnesses to the life of Christ. By way of contrast, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written more than four hundred years after the Greek ruler’s death—yet they are considered reliable.

When Strobel interviewed eighty-four year-old scholar, Dr. Bruce Metzger of Princeton Seminary, he pointed out that there is a mountain of manuscript data for the authenticity of the New Testament documents, while the writings of Tacitus and Josephus, for instance, are anthills by way of comparison. Edwin Yamauchi, a university professor in Oxford, Ohio, brought thundering evidence to bear on the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth. When Strobel talked with Chicago-based professor, Dr. John McRay, an archaeologist and author of a massive textbook on the subject, he was overwhelmed by the fact that the science of archaeology “has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible”.

Former atheist and sceptic Josh McDowell spent more than seven hundred hours researching the evidence for the resurrection. He explains in his book “The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict” that, “I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history” Persuaded by the evidence, Josh’s research led him to the conviction that Jesus’ resurrection is “the most fantastic fact of history”.

However, Islamic view on the death and resurrection of Jesus is quite different. The Biblical account of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus (Isa) is rejected by Muslims, but like Christians they believe that Jesus ascended to heaven and he will, according to Islamic literary sources, return before the end of time. In my faith journey, the point which convinced me that Christianity is the true religion was when I understood the Cross. For Muslim-background believers, the hardest thing to understand is Jesus’s death and resurrection. Another difficult topic for them is to understand, whether Jesus was just a prophet or Son of God. I will try to cover the later topic in the next blog.

Jesus’ death is mentioned once in the Quran, in a past sense and in a future sense. Jesus directly appears several times in the Quran. He is also indirectly referred to in other locations. Of the major theological divides that separate Islam and Christianity, one of the most difficult to pin down is the denial of the crucifixion of Jesus in Muslim tradition. The majority view within Islam is that the verse (Surah 4:157-158), affirms categorically that Christ did not die on the cross and that God raised him to Godself. But does the Qur’an deny the death and resurrection, or it is misunderstanding by Islamic theologians which is forced on the majority?

After close examination of Quran, we find that Quran does not explicitly deny the possibility of Jesus’ death in principle (regardless of his special status) but, rather, strongly implies “that he can die a ‘normal biological death’” just like any other Messenger. If Jesus could in principle die, the focal question becomes whether crucifixion was the cause. The locus classicus of the debate is Surah 4:157. This notoriously difficult verse is the only reference to the crucifixion in the Qur’an. There are several obvious errors in this passage. For instance, non-Christian Jews would never call Jesus “Christ” (i.e. “Messiah”), for they reject Jesus as the Messiah. Similarly, very few non-Christian Jews would call Jesus “the Messenger of Allah.” Moreover, no Jew who believes that Jesus is the Messiah would boast about crucifying him.

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.”

– Qur’an, 4:157-158, Yusuf Ali

The irony is that Muslims who read these words seem to have absolutely no clue what happened to Jesus. Some confidently proclaim that God disguised Judas and made him look like Jesus, then allowed Judas to be crucified. Other Muslims claim that Jesus was replaced by someone other than Judas. In my personal study, I have spent hours trying to solve this mystery. This issue is the focal point between Muslim-Christian divide. Quran has explained about Jesus’s death if we closely analyse the Arabic text. The answer to this mystery lies in not chapter 4 of Quran, but in Surat Al Imran 3:55:

Behold! Allah said: O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall ye all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.

– Surat Al Imran 3:55

The key Arabic word here is Mutawafik , which has many Arabic meanings:

  1. It means receive you after death, that’s why in Arabic when you say someone is dead you say he is Mutawafi , from the verb Tawafa
  2. It also means receive completely, that’s why in Arabic when someone receives a payback for a debt it is said ‘Tawfa AlDayn’, Tawafa means receives completely, and AlDayn means the debt.
  3. Also the verb Tawafa was used at the time of Muhammad, as to sleep, so when you say he is mutawafy kaleelan , mutawafy means sleeping, and kaleelan means for a short period.

But this verb is not used at all in modern Arabic with reference to the third meaning, only in classic Arabic it is used. However, when checking Quran’s meaning, we have to return to classic Arabic. If we read the verse 55 again, you will actually see that Quran accepts that Jesus died for a short period of time and then he was raised again. Let us pray together and then I have shared a worship song by Jeremy Riddle at the end. Whenever, I listen to this song, I am taken to another realm. I hope, you are experience the same glory.

Dear Lord,
How can we ever thank You enough. You endured more pain, more shame, more sorrow, more grief than we can possibly fathom. Help us remember why You gave Your life.
Thank you Lord, that you make all things new. Thank you for the victory and power in Your Name. Thank you that You hold the keys over death, You rose from the grave, paving the way for us to have new life with you.
Thanks be to you Lord, for your indescribable gift.
To you be all glory and honour.
Amen

Worship Song – All Hail King Jesus

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