Did Jesus really die on the cross?

Last updated on October 24, 2023

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an extremely important part of the Christian faith. Christians believe that by dying on the cross, Jesus saved sinners and earned eternal life for all who believe in Him. However, Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified at all. So who is right?

Islamic opinion on the crucifixion

The Quran contains a passage clearly stating that Jesus was not crucified. Surah An-Nisah says: “And for their saying, ‘Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.’ And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but (another) was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself.” (Surah An-Nisa, 4:157-158)

As with many Quranic verses, the exact meaning of this passage is vigorously discussed. Some understand it to suggest that someone else was mistakenly crucified in Jesus’ place, while others propose that it was a divine illusion.

Muslims revere Jesus as an important messenger of God, second only to Muhammad. Muslims regard it as inconceivable that God would allow one of His prophets to endure such a humiliating and painful death. They believe, like the above passage states, that Jesus was raised to the heavens by God before the crucifixion could occur, thereby preserving His honor and sparing Him from such a fate.

The Bible about Jesus’ crucifixion

The Quran was written about 600 years after Jesus’ lifetime. Does it contain reliable information about Him, or is the Christian tradition right? The Christian Bible contains four gospels that describe Jesus’ life. All of them describe how Jesus was crucified:

  • Matthew writes: “And when they had crucified Him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over Him there. And over His head, they put the charge against Him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’” (Matthew 27:35-37).
  • Mark writes almost the same words in Mark 15:22-25.
  • Luke writes: “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left” (Luke 23:32-33).
  • Finally, the last evangelist, John, writes: “So they took Jesus, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:17-18).

What is the truth?

So the Bible and the Quran contradict each other. Are the gospels, written by Jesus’ disciples within decades after Jesus’ death, right, or is the Quran, that was written 600 years later, right? It is clear that Christians, from the beginning, believed that Jesus died on the cross. It is part of the central message of the Bible. All the early church leaders preached and wrote about Jesus’ crucifixion. So historically, there is no reason to doubt the crucifixion of Jesus.

However, the Quran claims a revelation that denies the crucifixion. They claim that people thought Jesus was crucified, but in reality, it was someone else, or something else. That is an interesting take. The Quran does not provide any historical evidence that Jesus was not crucified. It implies that all the gospel writers and all Jesus’ disciples wrote and preached what they saw happen. It implies that all Christians have good reasons to believe Jesus was crucified. Yet it is not true, for God tricked them by showing a crucifixion that did not really happen.

How can you evaluate a claim like that? The main way to do it is to investigate whether the Bible or the Quran is more likely to be God’s revelation to man. It is clear they cannot both be, as they contradict each other on this crucial point. But in this article, we will limit ourselves to an evaluation of what information about the crucifixion is more likely to be God’s revelation: the Bible version or the Quran version?

The problem with the Quran’s claim

There is one big, glaring difficulty with the account of the Quran. If it were true, we would need to assume that God tricked everybody into believing Jesus was crucified, and would tell nobody about it until He revealed it to Muhammed 600 years later. So Christianity came into being because people believed what God showed them, but God lied to them! That is an obviously ridiculous assumption. Even worse, even if that were true, Muslims could never be sure about God’s revelation, for who knows someday He will reveal that He lied to Muhammed as well!
Christians cannot take the claim of the Quran seriously, since they believe that God does not lie. The Bible says: “God is not man, that He should lie” (Numbers 23:19).

Moreover, the position of most Muslims lacks logic. They claim God preserved Jesus’ honor by saving Him from crucifixion. But if for 600 years nobody knew God saved Him, Jesus’ honor was not preserved at all.

An equally important reason to dismiss the claim of the Quran, is that Jesus’ crucifixion is not just a tragic ending to His life story. No, the Bible clearly teaches that His whole life was meant to lead to crucifixion. Even before Jesus was born, there were prophecies about the crucifixion, e.g. in Psalm 22 and in Isaiah 53:5: “He was pierced for our transgressions.” Jesus Himself foretold that He would be killed: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed” (Luke 9:22). So rather than dishonor, the Bible talks about Jesus’ crucifixion as His honor. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake [on a pole] in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him” (John 3:14-15, compare Numbers 21:9).

The rejection in the Quran of the crucifixion of Jesus is based on a lack of understanding. There is no lack of honor in Jesus’ death on the cross. It is His highest honor that He died on the cross, for in that way He carried the sin of the world. Everybody who believes in Him, will receive eternal life. Therefore, denying the crucifixion of Jesus is the most dangerous thing you can do. It cuts you off from eternal life.

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