Explaining Jesus to a Muslim

From IH 4/21: The people where we live believe that on everyone’s shoulders sit two angels. One records our good deeds. The other one records our badness. The annual books are closed at the end of Ramadan and stored until Judgement Day when they will be weighed in a balance. Which side tips in your favor determines your destiny. When I told my friend that Isa, the Son of God, came to take away the list of our sins so that our record of wrongs is no more, and then He added all His goodness to our good list, my she asked, “all Isa’s goodness is ours?” I nodded my head, reassuring her that Isa gave us all His righteousness.That’s why we are righteous before God. Whoever believes this will become the children of God. I will never forget her immediate reaction. She cupped her hands and wiped her face, saying “Amen” the way the people here receive a prayer and blessing.

From AL 3/03:  .  It is important that the one you are speaking with does not misunderstand the incarnation of Christ as God having had sexual relations with Mary rather, that God has clothed himself in humanity.  As Christians, Muslims also perceive God to be all-powerful and thus it would be inappropriate to say that God cannot do something, including manifesting himself in human form.

“Another approach is to ask your Muslim friend, ‘Are you not limiting God by saying that He is unable to express himself through human form?  Are you not saying that something is then impossible with God? Remember that the angel declared to Mary that ‘nothing is impossible with God’ (Luke 1:37).’” (Kateregga and Shenk, 114).

Once these things are discussed one can then address how Christ is connected with the felt need of the Muslim. Although Muslims view the love of God in a different way than Christians, Christ can be used to redefine that love of God for them. God came to the world in a tent of flesh and felt all of the pain and frustration that is here on earth. “Empathy: Because the Word became flesh and lived among us, we know that God, through Jesus, is able to empathize with our suffering (Philippians 2:6-8; Hebrews 4:15)” (Kateregga and Shenk, 115). The longing for a life of no pain can then be received because Christ (God) suffered pain and defeated it through his resurrection from the dead.  This could then be turned into an opportunity to speak concerning the responsibilities of the sanctified life being a response to the love of God and not to merit or gain God’s approval.

From KB 4/01: There does not seem to be anything in Islam that is like a savior. In their view, no savior is needed. Salvation depends on man’s actions, not on the action of God. God only invites men to accept his guidance. Each person is judged according to his situation and those who live according to the truth to the best of their abilities will achieve heaven. As explained on pages 54 and 46 of “We Believe, Therefore We Speak” the concept of  Jesus Christ as Savior would be offensive to a Muslim. Islam teaches that there is a complete unity of God’s essence and personality. This explicitly excludes Jesus as a part of a Trinity, since God is one person, not three. The greatest sin for a Muslim is to equate anything at all with God. Therefore to say that Jesus is a God/Man is total blasphemy, the greatest sin. Needless to say, this would cause a complete cutoff in the conversation.


Muslims believe that God guides through words, not people (First Facts of False Teaching).Therefore no personal God will help them in the task of getting to heaven. Allah is merciful, but his mercy consists of sending prophets to tell people how he wishes them to live their lives. People can cultivate their divine spark “taqua” or suppress it. Thus they are even responsible for being deserving or undeserving of God’s guidance .To explain the idea of a savior, I think I would begin with a story about a young boy who was washed away in a flash flood. He is being carried down the river and is drowning. I would ask which person would be of the most assistance to the boy, a loving person who  gave the boy information or a person who jumped in the water and pulled him out? I would ask if the person had ever felt overwhelmed trying to do what Allah required.  Then I would ask if he wanted to know about someone who would be willing, like the person in the story, to care for him and help him, save him, so that he could be sure that he had done all that was required of him.


Muslims have several different approaches to salvation. One of them is the idea that men are saved by means of both faith and works. It is stated in the Koran, ”Then, as for those who believed and did good works, their Lord will bring them in unto His mercy. That is the evident triumph.”(Koran 46:30) Each individual is responsible for his own salvation. In addition, “Some Muslims will say that human salvation is hidden in the mystery of God’s will. It is controlled by his eternal decree.” Others will place the question of human salvation in the arena of God’s mercy and grace. (Muslim Friends, Their Faith and Feeling” page 201). Nevertheless, the idea that anyone else could take the person’s responsibility for his life and actions and receive the punishment for his sins does not seem to have entered Muslim thought. A Muslim might find it acceptable in human life, however, it would be contrary to the justice of God in the case of Jesus. In the “Handbook of Today’s Religions on page 396 we read: “The death of Christ at the hands of the Jews is rejected by Muslims on a priori grounds, …It is impossible that God should so desert a prophet in the fulfillment of his mission. It would be contrary to his justice to permit the suffering of an innocent on behalf of others.

In addition, the Muslim believes that God has given him the moral ability to know what is right and wrong and submit to God’s way. Furthermore, man is fundamentally good, so the death of Jesus as a substitution for us is not even necessary.

One of the biggest problems with presenting the idea of Christ as a substitution for us, dying on the cross, bearing our sins and our punishment, is that Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the cross. They believe someone who looked like him, possibly Judas, died on the cross. (Compact Guide to World Religions) In the “Handbook of Today’s Religions on page 396 we read: “The death of Christ at the hands of the Jews is rejected by Muslims on a priori grounds, …It is impossible that God should so desert a prophet in the fulfillment of his mission. It would be contrary to his justice to permit the suffering of an innocent on behalf of others.

Because Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the cross and that God would have let him die, I do not think I would directly talk about the concept of Christ’s death as a substitution for us for the forgiveness of our sin. This would be a cutoff. Because Muslims do revere the Bible, and like stories, I think I would approach the problem from the idea of the Old Testament practice of sacrifice of the ram on the day of atonement and the idea that the ram was sacrificed after the sins of the people were laid upon it.  At least I would be able to introduce the idea of a substitution without cutting off the conversation.

Then I would tell the story of Abraham and Isaac, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. I would talk about Genesis 228 where Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” From there I would move to Isaiah 536-7. There Isaiah speaks about God laying all our sin on his servant, and “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter”. I would ask that person if he knew to whom this referred. Then I would point to the Scripture in John 129, where it says, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” I would tell the person that this is why I believe that Jesus was sacrificed for my sin and the sin of the world.

In “Reaching Muslims for Christ” (p.34-35) we find the following: ”The last day is the time when God will judge all men, spirits, and animals according to what they have done. Known variously as the hour, the day of resurrection, and the day of judgment, its reality is denied by unbelievers. At death, the soul enters a state of unconsciousness until resurrection.” Thus Muslims clearly have a concept of resurrection for humankind. Since they also believe that Jesus did many miracles, and they have reverence for the Bible, they would also most likely agree with the Bible’s description of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.


Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the cross, but that He was taken up by Allah to himself .(Reaching Muslims for Christ, p 120). Therefore He would not have been resurrected. Since this is true it would be a premature cutoff to talk immediately about Christ’s resurrection. I think I would start to work with the idea of resurrection as a common belief. Both the Muslim and the Christian believe in a resurrection. We would be able to agree that humans will be resurrected at the judgment day, and that we will all be judged. Then I would speak to the person about the fact that he could go to heaven or hell. I could  then share that I am sure that I will go to heaven.  I would then tell the person that I know that because there was another very special resurrection from the dead. I would ask if they would permit me to share that story. I would then share Acts 1 22-28.

On the question of whether Christians have changed the Bible and doctrine over the years, please see Unchanging Teachings.

On the question as to whether Jesus did not die because someone took his place on the cross, please consider the following:

This was not a new idea. Already In the first century, years before Muhammad, a teacher named Basilides began to teach that someone, possibly Simon of Cyrene, substituted for Jesus on the cross. (

This was recognized as incompatible with Christianity, since a central point of Christianity is that “God’s Son took on flesh, so that through death” he might defeat Satan and deliver us from fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15, also see verse 9).  Those who adopted Basilides’ ideas therefore had to flee the Roman Empire. . A quote from one of their documents written around 190 or shortly after is found at

Groups of non-orthodox Christians were living in Arabia, though I did not see documented that the Christian groups Muhammad encountered during his years of leading caravans held this particular teaching.

Another incompatibility with Christianity is that if there had been no real death, there could have been no real resurrection, and then it is hard to imagine how Christianity could have gotten started, since the disciples, being Jews, were monotheistic, and would not have ordinarily accepted the idea that that God could have a Son, but they believed because Jesus was “proclaimed to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). It is also hard to think that people would face death for proclaiming a resurrection if they knew it had not taken place. That’s why is was fitting for Peter in his sermon on Pentecost to emphasize both points: “God raised him from the dead, for it was impossible for death to hold him” (Acts 2:24).

What does the Qu’ran actually say about this? The verse is in An-NIsah’ verse 157. It reads that the Jews said they had killed the Messiah, but they could not kill him or crucify him, though it appeared that way.  See    Note that it does not say anything about a substitute person, but it is not hard to see how someone who knew about the teaching of Basilides might have assumed that meaning.

Explaining the sacrificial death of Christ to a Sufi

From AL, 3/03:  The gospel can be applied to the belief the Sufis hold concerning Christ as model of perfection by expressing why he had to be perfect.  The cross is a wonderful example of selflessness and supports their understanding of Christ as a model of perfection.  “The Messiah himself gave his life; no one could take it from him, for certainly no one could slay the eternal Word of God.  Although he gave himself unto death on the cross at the hands of evil people, they could not destroy him” (Kateregga and Shenk 176).  Because this paper assumes that they have at least heard the truth about the sinful nature of mankind, the completion of that truth is mankind being made pure through the death of the one perfect man who then rises in defeat of the sin that had killed him.  Although the beliefs of Islam do not work with the action of the cross they do teach that God is both loving and just.  These two concepts can be applied to the action of the cross as God being loving us as well as justice being accomplished through the death of Christ.


Kateregga, Badru and Shenk, David, A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, Herald Press, Scottdale, PA, 1997

Martinson, Paul, Families of Faith, Augsburg Fortress, Mpls., MN, 1999

McDowell, Josh,and Stewart, Don, Handbook of Today’s Religions, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983

Miller, Roland, Muslim Friends, Their Faith and Feeling, Concordia,1995

Saal, William J., Reaching Muslims for Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1991

Valleskey, David J., We Believe, Therefore We Speak, Northwestern, Milwaukee WI 1997


To World religions links