Appendix G: Why did ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu) Suffer and Die?

Why did ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)Suffer and Die?

It must happen

When ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)talked of his own suffering and death both before and after the event, he spoke about it as something that musthappen.

He said, ‘The Son of Man mustsuffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief imāms[1]and the ulemā. He must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life.’(Injīl, Luke 9:21-22)

‘Did not al-Masīh have tosuffer these things and then come into his glory?’ (Injīl, Luke 24:26)

Fulfilling the Scriptures

‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)also claimed that his suffering and death fulfilled the Scripture revealed beforehand:

‘Īsā took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be handed over to the (non-Jewish) nations. He will be mocked, abused and spat on. 33 And they will flog him and kill him. On the third day, he will be raised to life.’(Injīl, Luke 18:31-32)

‘For I tell you, this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted with the lawless.”[2]Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment.’(Injīl, Luke 22:37)

‘Īsā said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have said!Did not al-Masīh have to suffer these things and then come into his glory?’  And beginning with (the Taurāt revealed through) Mūsā, and with all the prophets, he explained to them what was written in all the Scriptures about himself.(Injīl, Luke 24:25-27)

‘Īsā said to them, ‘This is my teaching that I gave to you while I was still with you: everything that is written about me in the Taurāt of Mūsā, the Prophets and the Zabūr must be fulfilled.’Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.He said to them, ‘This is what is written: al-Masīh must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day...’(Injīl, Luke 24:44-46)

These verses make it clear that ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)understood the earlier Scriptures of the Taurāt, the Zabūr and the Books of the Prophets to be prophesying his own suffering and death.

Some examples of al-Masīh’s suffering and death predicted in the earlier Scriptures

Zabūr, Psalm 22

This Psalm is a remarkable prophecy that came through the Prophet Dāwūd (pbuh)around 1000 BC. It relates the experience of appalling suffering and then victory of an individual person, from the point of view of that person. The experience related has no parallel in the life of Prophet Dāwūd (pbuh)himself, about which we know a considerable amount from the Holy Books. It does, however, have striking resemblance to the experience of al-Masīh ‘Īsā (hpbuu), as recorded in the Injīl.

Zabūr, Psalm 22 begins, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (v1). These are the words ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)used to express his own experience of suffering in his martyrdom[3].

This Psalm goes on to describe being mocked and insulted:

 All who see me mock me;
   they sneer and shake their heads.
 ‘He trusted in the Lord,’ they say,
  ‘let the Lordrescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.’
(v7-8)

These words describe so accurately the mockery and derision experienced by ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)[4].

Victims of crucifixion suffered huge loss of body fluid, which caused severe thirst. This is expressed in Sayyidnā ‘Īsā’s words, ‘I am thirsty’[5], which are also recounted in Zabūr, Psalm 22:

  My strength is dried up like sun-dried clay,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death.
(v15)

Crucifixion also involved fixing the victim to a wooden cross by driving nails through their hands and feet. This is also expressed; ‘they pierce my hands and my feet’ (v16) – even though crucifixion was not used as a punishment until many centuries after the time of ProphetDāwūd (pbuh)[6].

The Injīl records how the Roman soldiers divided up ‘Sayyidnā Īsā’s clothing by casting lots[7]. We find this also in Zabūr, Psalm 22:

They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my clothing.
(v18)

The second part of this Psalm relates the experience of victory, joy and praise of Allah SWT after suffering (v22-31). This also foretells the experience of ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu), for whom suffering and martyrdom were not the end, because he rose from the dead in triumph[8].

Book of the Prophet Isaiah 52:13-53:12

This particular prophecy is striking, in that we see its fulfilment in Sayyidnā ‘Īsā (hpbuu), in his suffering and being highly honoured. ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)quotes from this prophecy in relation to his own experience[9]. He clearly saw what was happening to himself as fulfilment of it. Here is the prophecy in full.

See, my Servant will have insight;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly honoured.
14 Just as many were horrified at him –
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any person,
    his form hardly recognisable as human. 
15 In this way he will sprinkle many nations,
    kings will shut their mouths in front of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53 Who has believed our report,
    and to whom has the arm of the LORDbeen revealed?
He grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of the dry ground.
He had no dignity or splendour that we saw in him,
    nothing in his appearance that we desired.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, familiar with sickness.
Like one from whom people hide their faces,
    he was despised, and we considered him worthless.

But in fact, he took up our sicknesses
    and carried our suffering.
We thought he was being punished by Allah,
    struck down by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    he was crushed for our sins;
the punishment that brings us peace was upon him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
Like sheep we have all gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORDhas placed on him
    the sin of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb he was led to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
Arrested and sentenced, he was taken away.
    As for his contemporaries, who even considered
that he was cut off from the land of the living,
    that for the rebellion of my people he was struck down?
He was given a grave with the wicked,
    and with a rich man in his death,
even though he had done no violence,
    and his mouth uttered no deceit.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to bring him to weakness by crushing him,
    and though you make his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and live long,
    and the will of the LORDwill succeed in his hand.
11 Because of his suffering,
    he will see the light and be satisfied.
By his knowledge my righteous servant will make many righteous,
    and he will bear their sins.
12 Therefore I will allocate to him the many,
    and he will allocate the strong as plunder,
because he poured out his life in death,
    and was counted with the rebels.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the rebels.

(Book of the Prophet Isaiah 52:13-53:12)

These passages from the the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the Zabūr indicate that al-Masīh ‘Īsā’s suffering and death were in Allah’s will, plan and purpose. ‘Īsā al-Masīh’s death was not a tragic accident; it was not a case of the Jewish leaders gaining victory over him and silencing him. Instead, his suffering and martyrdom were in the purpose of Allah SWT from the beginning. We know this because Allah revealed that these things would happen through his Prophets (pbut)who lived many centuries before the events happened, as we have seen from the examples above.

So Allah’s will was that al-Masīh must suffer, and Sayyidnā ‘Īsā(hpbuu)was obedient to that will. In spite of the unbearable pressure and temptation to avoid this terrible destiny, he submitted to the will of Allah Ta’ālā. We see his absolute submission most clearly in his du’ā on the night before his martyrdom:

He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw away. Then he knelt down and began praying, ‘HeavenlyFather[10], if it is your will, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.’(Injīl, Luke 22:41-42).

Why was it Allah’s will that al-Masīh should suffer?

There is a whole wealth of material throughout the Injīl answering this question. We will focus mainly here on how ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)understood the purpose of his own death as presented in Injīl, Luke.

Exodus

One early glimpse of how ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)understood his martyrdom, which at that time was still in the future, is seen in his conversation with Prophets Mūsā and Ilyās (pbut)on the mountain top.

Suddenly two men were talking with ‘Īsā; and they were Mūsā and Ilyās, 31 who appeared in splendour. They were speaking about ‘Īsā’s departure, which he would soon fulfil in Jerusalem.(Injīl, Luke 9:30-31)

In Greek, the language in which the Injīl was originally written, the word translated ‘departure’ is literally, ‘exodus’. It was used as a way of talking about a person’s death. But ‘Exodus’ is also the name of the second book in the Taurāt, which describes the exodus (literally, ‘going out’) of the Ban-i Isrā’īl from the land of their slavery and oppression in Egypt under Pharaoh. Allah used the Prophet Mūsā (pbuh)to lead them out to freedom.

So al-Masīh ‘Īsā’s death is linked to the Exodus, and it is something Sayyidnā ‘Īsā (hpbuu)‘would soon fulfil in Jerusalem.’ Just as in the original exodus, Allah SWT rescued his people from slavery and oppression, so al-Masīh’s exodus or death in Jerusalem was going to rescue Allah’s people from a different kind of slavery and oppression.

Passover

A central and crucial part of the original Exodus event was the Passover. Allah had sent ten plagues on the Egyptians[11]. The tenth of these plagues was the death of the first-born son in every household in Egypt. To escape this judgement of Allah, the Ban-i Isrā’īl were instructed that every household should sacrifice a lamb and put some of its blood on the door frames of the house. Then when the LORD passed through the land of Egypt striking down every first-born son, he would see the sign of the blood and pass over that house, so that the first-born son of that household would be spared.

On that night, the Ban-i Isrā’īl were to eat the lambs that had been slaughtered along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread (bread made without yeast)[12].

Up to this point Pharaoh had refused to let the Ban-i Isrā’īl leave. After the death of every first-born son in Egypt, Pharaoh now commanded the Ban-i Isrā’īl to go. In this way, Allah SWT brought them out of Egypt, the land of their slavery[13].

At that time, they were commanded by Allah to commemorate this event at the same time every year, eating the Passover meal on the evening of the 14thday of the first month of their calendar, and eating only unleavened bread for the following seven days[14].

In the purpose and will of Allah, it so happened, that al-Masīh ‘Īsā’s martyrdom took place at the Eid of Passover. On the evening before his suffering and martyrdom, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples, and used the meal as a dramatic explanation of the meaning of his own death.

Then he took bread and, giving thanks to Allah, he broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this as a reminder of me.’     

20 ‘Īsā did the same with the cup after the meal and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’.(Injīl, Luke 22:19-20)

The bread broken up and the cup were signs or symbols of al-Masīh ‘Īsā’s body which would be broken and his blood that would be shed the next day.  The Ban-i Isrā’īl ate the Passover lamb, by whose death they had escaped the judgement of Allah. In the same way, the disciples ate the bread and drank from the cup as symbols of al-Masīh’s body and blood, and by ‘Īsā al-Masīh’s death, they escape the judgement of Allah. Eating the bread and drinking from the cup were signs that they gain the benefit of his death – that his death was for them – that by his death they gain life.

Prophet Ibrāhīm’s Sacrifice

The Passover sacrifice was to some extent modelled on an earlier event in which a sheep was killed in the place of a son. That event was the great sacrifice of Prophet Ibrāhīm (pbuh) which is commemorated every year at Eid ul-Ādhā. Allah had commanded Prophet Ibrāhīm (pbuh)to sacrifice his son[15]. At the last second Allah stopped Prophet Ibrāhīm (pbuh)and provided a sheep caught in the bushes as a sacrifice in place of his son. In the Qur’an, Allah SWT says,

            Then We ransomed him with a great sacrifice(as-Sāffāt 37:107)

These animal sacrifices were signs that pointed forward to the ultimate, final and truly effective sacrifice of al-Masīh. The Taurāt account of Prophet Ibrāhīm’s sacrifice ends with a prophecy:

So Ibrāhīm named that place ‘The LORD Will Provide’. And it is said to this day, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.’(Taurāt, Genesis 22:14)

Al-Masīh ‘Īsā (hpbuu)fulfils this prophecy. He is Allah’s provision of the great sacrifice that ransoms his people. ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)said about his own mission,

‘the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Injīl, Mark 10:45)   

Covenant and Sacrifice

Al-Masīh ‘Īsā’s words, This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you’ (Injīl, Luke 22:20), allude to the time whenAllah made a covenant with the Ban-i Isrā’īl at Sinai, after he had brought them out of Egypt[16].

In Taurāt, Exodus 24:1-8 we read of the covenant-making ceremony which involved the ritual of animal sacrifice. When Allah made a covenant with the Ban-i Isrā’īl, animals were sacrificed and their blood collected in bowls. Prophet Mūsā (pbuh)then read the covenant to the people and they promised to obey[17]. We then read,

Then Mūsā took the blood and sprinkled it on the people. He said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lordhas made with you according to all these words.’(Taurāt, Exodus 24:8).

The New Covenant

The history of the Ban-i Isrā’īl was characterised by their repeated breaking of Allah’s covenant demands. This resulted in Allah’s judgement, and eventually led to their being exiled in Babylon in the 6thCentury BC. During that time, when the Ban-i Isrā’īl experienced Allah’s judgement and curse for their rebellion against him, the Prophet Jeremiah (pbuh)prophesied these words of hope:

‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Isrā’īl
    and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took hold of their hand
    to bring them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was their Master,’
declares the Lord.
33 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Isrā’īl
    after that time,’ declares the Lord.
‘I will put my Taurāt within them
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will someone teach their neighbour,
    or say to a brother or sister, “Know the Lord,”
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,’
declares the Lord.
‘For I will forgive their offences
    and will remember their sins no more.’
(Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 31:31-34)

When ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)says, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood...’ he is claiming that he himself is the one who fulfils Prophet Jeremiah’s prophecy.

This prophecy also helps answer a question which may arise:

‘If ‘Īsā al-Masīh’s followers are forgiven and saved from jahannam because Sayyidnā ‘Īsā (hpbuu)has given his life as a ransom for them, does that mean his followers can live lawless and shameful lives because they’ll be forgiven anyway?’

The answer is ‘no’, because as we see in this prophecy from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, Allah’s people not only have their offences forgiven; Allah SWT also says,

‘I will put my Taurāt within them
    and write it on their hearts.’

Allah’s Taurāt which contains his sharī’ah is written on the minds and hearts of believers, so that their minds and hearts are changed and they want to and are enabled to keep Allah’s commands. Now they know and love Allah SWT and want to please him.

Reasons for al-Masīh’s suffering and death in the Isaiah Prophecy

Just before he was arrested, al-Masīh ‘Īsā (hpbuu)told his disciples,

‘I tell you, this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted with the lawless.” Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment.’ (Injīl, Luke 22:37)

The Scripture he quotes is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 53:12. This is part of the larger passage, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which is quoted in full above. It seems that ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)was reflecting on this prophecy as he enters his intense and extreme suffering, and although it was written centuries earlier, he understands it as written about himself.  Some of the verses in this passage explain the reasonfor al-Masīh’s sufferings:

But in fact, he took up our sicknesses
    and carried our suffering…
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    he was crushed for our sins;
the punishment that brings us peace was upon him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
Like sheep we have all gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORDhas placed on him
    the sin of us all…

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to bring him to weakness by crushing him,
    and though you make his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and live long,
    and the will of the LORDwill succeed in his hand.
11 Because of his suffering,
    he will see the light and be satisfied.
By his knowledge my righteous servant will make many righteous,
    and he will bear their sins…

For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the rebels.
(Book of the Prophet Isaiah 53:4-6, 10-12)

In the last line of the prophecy, it speaks of the LORD’s servant making intercession for the rebels. We see a fulfilment of this when ‘Īsā al-Masīh(hpbuu)prayed to Allah for those who were guilty of his martyrdom, ‘…forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.’ (Injil, Luke 23:34).

But the fulfilment of this prophecy is not restricted to those who actually betrayed, handed over and put al-Masīh ‘Īsā (hpbuu)to death. Its fulfilment is much broader than that. ‘Īsā al-Masīh’s intercession, or shafā’at, is for everyone in every age who puts their faith in him. Injīl, Hebrews 7:25 says that ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)

is able to save completely and for ever those who come to Allah through him, because he always lives to make intercession for them.

Resurrection and Honour

Lastly and most importantly, ‘Īsā al-Masīh’s martyrdom was not the end. As the Injīl says,

‘Allah raised him (‘Īsā) from the dead, setting him free from the agony of death, because it was impossible for him to be held captive by death.’ (Injīl, Acts 2:24)

Allah SWT bestowed on al-Masīh ‘Īsā (hpbuu)the highest honour and glory through raising him from the dead, and through that resurrection ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)emerges victorious over Shaytān, sin and even over death itself.

 

[1]Often translated, ‘chief priests’ – this type of imām was descended from Prophet Hārūn (pbuh)and served in al-Bayt ul-Muqaddas. Their role is summarised in 1stBook of Chronicles 23:13:

Hārūn was set apart, he and his descendants for ever, to dedicate the most holy things, to offer qurbānī in the presence of the LORD, to serve him and to give blessings in his name for ever.

[2]Book of Prophet Isaiah 53:12.

[3]Recorded in Injīl, Matthew 27:46,

About three in the afternoon, ‘Īsā cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli lema sabachtani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’

See also, Injīl, Mark 15:34.

[4] Injīl, Luke 23:35-37, Matthew 27:41-43, which says,

In the same way, the chief imāms along with the ulemā and the elders were mocking him, 42‘He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Isrā’īl! Let him get down off the cross now, and we’ll believe in him! 43He trusted in Allah! Let Allah rescue him now if he wants him…’

[5] Injīl, John 19:28.

[6]‘Crucifixion (was) an important method of capital punishment particularly among the Persians, Seleucids, Carthaginians and Romans from about the 6thcentury BCE to the 4thcentury CE’ (britannica.com/topic/crucifixion-capital-punishmentaccessed 8thJanuary 2019).

[7] Injīl, Luke 23:34, ‘The soldiers also divided up his clothes by casting lots.’

See also, Injīl, Mark 15:24, Matthew 27:35, John 19:23-24.

[8]Injīl, Luke 24.

[9]See Injīl, Luke 22:37 where ‘Īsā al-Masīh (hpbuu)quotes from the final verse of the prophecy (53:12),

‘For I tell you, this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted with the lawless.” Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment.’

[10]When al-Masīh ‘Īsā (hpbuu)uses the language of ‘Father’ for Allah, he is in no way saying that Allah’s fatherhood is physical or biological. Rather it is a spiritual relationship about which he is speaking.  To highlight this, we have translated into English as, ‘heavenlyFather’. For more on this see Appendix B, ‘The Translation: “spiritualSon of Allah”‘.

[11]Taurāt, Exodus 7:14 – 12:30, Qur’an, al-A’rāf 7:134-135,

And when the torment came down upon them, they said, “O Moses! Call upon your Lord for us by the covenant He has made with you. If you lift this torment from us, we shall surely believe in you, and we shall surely send forth the Children of Israel with you.” 135But when We lifted the torment from them, for a term they were to fulfill, behold, they reneged.

[12]Taurāt, Exodus 12:1-13.

[13]Taurāt, Exodus 12:31-36.

[14]Taurāt, Exodus 12:14-20, 24-27.

[15]Taurāt, Genesis 22:1-19, Qur'an, As-Sāffāt 37:83-113.

[16]Taurāt, Exodus 19:1-24:18.

[17]Taurāt, Exodus 24:1-7.