People uneducated in Islam are often startled upon hearing Muslims say, “We believe in Jesus.” Even more, they will protest, “We accept Jesus as a true prophet, exalted in many ways beyond most of Allah’s prophets.” They point to the teachings of the Qur’an, which declare that Jesus was conceived miraculously by the virgin Mary and was able throughout his lifetime to do many miracles (far more than are attributed to any other prophets mentioned in the Qur’an). He is a messenger, who, like Muhammad and a few other prophets, was given a “book” of revelation to bring to his generation. The Qur’an grants him unique titles far surpassing those of any other holy figure, including Muhammad: Word of Allah, Spirit from Allah, Messiah (though none of these titles are defined with any clarity). Inexplicably, the name for Jesus in the Arabic Qur’an is ‘Isa, rather than Yasu’a (the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew Yeshua). I contend that Muhammad knew the given name of Jesus (even in Arabic) means “God saves,” and sought to eliminate this fact from the ears of his listeners. Consequently, the “Isa” he presents is not the “Jesus” of the New Testament.
Muslims will often say to Christians, “We honor your prophet Jesus as a true prophet. Why won’t you honor our prophet Muhammad as a true prophet?” The primary answer to this is that our Scripture prohibits the notion that God would send any further (and lesser) revelatory figures after He has already given us the fullness of revelation in and through His Son (see Hebrews 1:1-2).
But secondly, we must respectfully point out to Muslims that the ‘Isa they revere is not the Jesus of history, but a fabricated, emasculated invention of Islam meant to undermine the message of the gospel and therefore legitimize Muhammad as a true prophet and Islam as the final revelation of God. Contrary to the message of the Bible, the Qur’an teaches that Isa is:
Not the Son of God/God the Son, so there is no Incarnation of God into human flesh. The conception of ‘Isa was a miracle, but has no significance for the salvation of the world. Indeed, for Islam there is no logical reason why ‘Isa should be conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary other than that Allah did it on a whim, and no one can question Allah. Why haven’t any other prophets been brought into the world in this same miraculous way? Silence is Islam’s only answer. Jesus shared his Father’s glory as God the Son before the foundation of the world (John 17:5), but ‘Isa makes clear in the Qur’an that he would never claim for himself the glory that belongs to Allah alone (5:116).
Not the final and full revelation of God. Though Jesus declares that “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27), and John makes it clear that “No one has ever seen God; the only God [i.e., the Incarnate Son] who is at the Father’s side,he has made him known” (Jn 1:18), the ‘Isa of the Qur’an is made to prophesy that a final apostle will come after him. “Children of Israel,” the Son of Mary says, “I am indeed the Messenger of God to you, confirming the Torah that is before me, and giving good tidings of a Messenger who shall come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.” The name Ahmad linguistically is an intensified form of Muhammad, and so the Qur’an conveniently confirms that Muhammad is indeed a true prophet, since the prophet ‘Isa predicted his coming.
Not the Savior of the world. Since ‘Isa is merely human, he cannot bear the punishment of humanity’s sins. John the Baptist was mistaken when he pointed ‘Isa out to his disciples and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). ‘Isa’s death could have no atoning significance. In fact, according to the Qur’an ‘Isa never died – he was not crucified, but it only appeared that way to his Jewish enemies; instead, Allah raptured ‘Isa to protect him from death and ignominy, and right now ‘Isa is alive in heaven either in a state of suspended animation, or twiddling his thumbs passing the time until Allah summons him and sends him back to earth as caliph to lead the forces of Islam to triumph over the rest of the world and so usher in the Day of Judgment.
Not the resurrected Lord of glory. ‘Isa has not personally conquered death, and so cannot conquer death for others. Peter was misled in his opening sermon on the Day of Pentecost when he declared, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). Paul also apparently fell for the same deception, for he says in Rom 6:9, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” ‘Isa plays no central role in God’s plan of salvation for the human race, for he is merely a human being subject still to a coming death.
Not the Mediator between God and humanity, because according to the Qur’an, there can be no mediator for human beings other than Allah himself (32:4). Again, apparently, Paul missed the boat when he wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim 2:5-6, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and human beings, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…” ‘Isa provides himself as a ransom for no one.
Not the Judge of the living and the dead. The biblical Jesus sits on the throne of God and will judge all humanity (see Mt. 25:31-46), as the Apostles’ Creed reminds us (“He will come again to judge the quick and the dead”), but the Islamic ‘Isa is merely the servant of Allah who in the end will stand before the divine judgment seat along with every other human being. He does not “hold the keys of death and hades” in his hand (see Rev. 1:18). In fact, his hands are impotent except as Allah permits him to act.
For these and a host of other reasons, the ‘Isa Muslims say they believe in is not the Jesus revealed in the New Testament. ‘Isa has no power to save, and the message he is said to have brought (identical to that of Muhammad) is not “good news” but rather the onerous teaching of legalism binding humans with even heavier chains than those draped over the ghost of Christmas past.
In this coming Yuletide season, if you happen to hear Muslims say that they too celebrate the wondrous birth of Jesus, please gently let them know that the Jesus we celebrate can free them from the bondage under which they labor, and that if they come to know him, they can join the song with full-throated worship, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her King!”