Subject: Christianity and Islam Part 1 – Who is Jesus Christ
John 8:58 “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
France is home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities. France is also a culture of public opinion, where no topic is safe from open satire, even religious leaders like the Christian’s Jesus Christ and Islam’s Muhammed. But this cultural model of religious diversity and open sarcasm was destroyed on January 7th, in two coordinated events that put on display the extremist ideology of radical Islamic beliefs.
Two Islamic terrorists named Said and Cherif Kouachi armed themselves with AK-47 assault rifles and walked into the headquarters of the French magazine Charlie Hebno, known for its satirical depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammed. As they shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) they opened fire, killing twelve innocent people as well as two police officers arriving at the scene.
At the same time, another Islamic terrorist named Amedy Coulibaly, who was working with the Kouachi brothers, entered a Jewish supermarket and murdered four people and took five hostages. CNN reported that Coulibaly told the French media he was part of ISIS and he targeted the supermarket because it was Jewish. French President Francois Hollande denounced the attack as “an anti-Semitic act.”
Most of us in the West are not very knowledgeable on Islam. And when the media and the wave of new atheism portray all religion, especially Christianity and Islam, as bad and promoting violence, we don’t know how to respond because we don’t understand the differences between Christianity and Islam. On the other hand, the differences became even cloudier since 1962, when Vatican Council II published this statement on Islam as a religion that closely aligns in many ways to Catholic theology:
“The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devotedly evoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.”
There are approximately 1.1 billion Catholics in the world, 700 million evangelical Christians, only 14 million Jews, and 2.1 billion Muslims and growing. In all these monotheistic religions, it is true that they all claim the same ‘father’: Abraham. But that is where any similarity between Islam and Christianity ends. As our verse this week demonstrates, Jesus Christ Himself claims to have existed before Abraham was even born, making Him God in the flesh. In our first of a 4-part series, let’s examine the difference in Islam’s view of who Jesus Christ is versus the Christian worldview.
In Islam, Jesus is highly respected as the prophet of Allah, but not as the God who revealed Himself in the flesh. As Ian Richard Netton explains in his book ‘A Popular Dictionary of Islam’: “Jesus is a major prophet for Muslims who has a prominent place in the Qur’an. Islam regards Jesus as purely human and not as the Son of God.” In his article ‘Islam and Christianity Today: A Contribution in Dialogue’, Muslim scholar Ahmed Zaki Yamani makes the Islamic position of the humanity of Jesus Christ very clear: “In the great debate between Christians and Muslims… there are areas of fundamental principles where no amount of logical discourse can bring the two sides nearer to each other and where therefore the existence of an impasse must be recognized… issues like the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ and the Crucifixion, so central to Christian beliefs, have no place in Islamic faith, having been categorically refuted by the Qur’an.”
For the Christian, John 8:58 could not be more clear on how Jesus viewed Himself. The words ‘I AM’ are the Greek words “ejgwV eijmiv”. What Jesus said is this: “Before Abraham came into existence I, the “I AM,” eternally was, am now, and shall be.” Here is an explicit claim by Jesus Himself to deity. Christians believe in the divine Son of the God of the Old Testament, whom Abraham also worshipped, who was sent to die on the Cross for everyone’s sins, regardless if you are Muslim or Jewish or anyone else. Why would God do this? Because He loves each of us and wants to forgive you for the sins you’ve committed. That’s what the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross is about. And that is next week’s topic.