Back in the 1960s when I was growing up in Saudi Arabia, a local entrepreneur thought he could cash in on a void in the soft drink market left by the Saudi government ban on Coca-Cola, which had just opened a bottling plant in Israel and so become “Cola non grata” in the desert kingdom.
The replacement beverage was called Kaki-Cola, and looked very similar to the “Real Thing.” The difference became clear, however, upon opening a bottle and taking a swig. No one that I knew of who had ever tasted Coca-Cola became a fan of its intended replacement. Thankfully, in 1991, the ban was lifted, and since then Saudis have discovered that “things go better with Coke.”
This seems an apt illustration for the question at hand, “Do Muslims love Jesus just like Christians do? Muslims of course claim they do. They point to the fact that the Qur’an speaks often and highly of Jesus. He is one of Islam’s great messengers. He is recognized as the only sinless prophet (in the Qur’an, Allah commands Muhammad on three different occasions to repent of his sins!). He has more diverse miracles to his credit than any other man sent by Allah. He is the only human being conceived by and born to a virgin woman. He is a sign to the world of Allah’s mercy. Titles given to him surpass those accorded any other prophet: Word of Allah, a spirit from Allah, the Messiah, Word of truth, one highly esteemed here and in the hereafter, one who will be Witness on the Day of resurrection, the one who is blessed wherever he may be. On the basis of one passage in particular, which declares that Jesus is a sign of the (Last) Hour (43:61), most Muslims believe that Jesus, not Muhammad, is the one whom Allah will send back to earth at the end of the age. Even now, Muslim orthodoxy teaches, Jesus is alive in heaven; Muhammad is dead in his grave.
So far, so good. But Islam is a religion which can only justify its existence by denying the message of Christianity. After all, if the New Testament message encapsulated in Hebrews 1:1-3 is true, then Muhammad has become redundant, or even worse, stands out as a false prophet:
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.”
When God sends His very own Son as the fullness of His revelation, what could any mortal servant bring after the Son which could shed greater light? If Jesus is the One in whom the whole fullness of God dwells bodily (Col. 2:9), then any putative prophet who comes along later and points away from Jesus must be a counterfeit.
So, Muhammad found himself in a quandary. He needed to affirm the authority of the Bible in his preaching in order to establish his own standing among his listeners, but he also needed to reject the central message of the Bible in order to justify his existence as Allah’s spokesman. As a result, the Qur’an brings a schizophrenic message: It confirms all that God has previously revealed in the Old and New Testaments, but it denies the central teachings of the Bible which conflict with the message of Muhammad.
Thus, the Jesus of the Qur’an (who is renamed as ‘Isa rather than using the Arabic transliteration Yasu’a) has little of substance in common with the historical Jesus as revealed in the New Testament. He is a prophet, but only human. He is a slave of Allah, as are all human beings. He has no special, ontological union with God as his Father – He is no Son of God, only son of Mary. He was not “crucified, dead and buried,” but it only seemed that way to his enemies. Instead, Allah lifted him up to heaven so that he would avoid death, and now ‘Isa awaits orders to return to earth at the end of time to head up the worldwide Islamic community and bring all the globe under submission to Allah. He will break every cross (showing Christianity to be under Allah’s curse, kill all pigs (unclean animals acceptable only to Christians and pagans) and offer all non-Muslims (including Jews and Christians) a choice: convert to Islam or be executed. After his bloodbath is complete, he will rule over a subjugated world as Caliph until his natural death, where he will be buried in Medina next to the tomb of Muhammad. Then Allah will bring an end to this world with the Day of Judgment.
This is the Muslim ‘Isa. If he is the true Jesus, then Christianity is indeed a false religion. For if Jesus never really died, then there is no atonement and forgiveness of sins for those who follow him. If there is no atonement won by Christ’s sacrifice, then there is no saving grace – we are left with a religion of works, laboring with no confidence to win Allah’s inscrutable favor by our frantic obedience. If the true Jesus never died, then of course there is no possibility of his historical resurrection, and thus no victory over death upon which we can depend for our futures. If this is the case, then as the apostle Paul says, “…we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19).
The Muslim ‘Isa is stripped of any divinity, he is no Savior of the world, he has no power over death. He is not the risen Lord, Head of the Church universal, Son of God seated at the right hand of the Father; he is not Love Incarnate; he is not coming on the clouds in glory and power to gather all humanity before the Throne where he will judge the living and the dead. He may initially look appealing, but he cannot deliver. In short, he is not the Jesus of the New Testament.
He is the Kaki-Cola of messiahs compared to “the Real Thing.”
So when you hear the claim that Muslims love Jesus just like Christians do, remember that they are speaking of a pale imitation, one who can’t hold a candle to the real Jesus. Raised on Kaki-Cola Christology, they are oblivious to the captivating taste of reality, until they get their first swig of Coca-Cola Christology, meeting the real Jesus. Once that happens, they can never go back to the bland and unappetizingly cheap imitation.
It’s the calling of the followers of Jesus today to present humanity’s Lord and Savior to the followers of Islam with the same enthusiasm, wonder and devotion that the first century disciples of Jesus exhibited to the Greco-Roman world. As God used them to radically reorient a pagan empire toward the gospel message, so He can use His Church today to bring hundreds of millions of misled Muslims to the foot of the Cross. All it takes are hearts burning with love for Christ and committed to the extension of his glory. Jesus gave his life for Muslims, as well as for all others. Can we who love and follow him give any less?
(For further material on the difference between ‘Isa and Jesus, check out an earlier blog here.)