B. JESUS THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD.
1. The Qur'anic Rejection of the Deity of Jesus Christ.
The Qur'an shows no awareness that Christians believe in a Triune God being Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While it does on a few occasions show a consciousness that there is some- I thing threefold about the Christian belief, it misinterprets this to be a tritheism of Jesus, Mary and Allah. Declaring yet again that "there is no god but Allah", it dismisses the I Christian belief in the deity of Jesus Christ. It is not surprising therefore to find that it likewise rejects Christian I belief that he is the Son of God. This rejection appears in a number of passages, such as the following:
To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth. How can He have a son when He hath no consort? Surah 6.101
In another piece the charge is specifically levelled against Christians: "The Christians say the Messiah is the Son of God, that is a saying from their mouths" (Surah 19.30) The Qur'an's intention to deny the Trinity may be considerable garbled but its denial that Jesus is the Son of God is quite specific. Nonetheless there is once again nothing like a treatment of the doctrine as it appears in the Bible and we find Muhammad labouring under serious misconceptions about it.
His approach to the whole subject is entirely carnal. Be cause men on earth cannot have sons unless they cohabit with their wives, so the Qur'an supposes that God, too, cannot have a son unless he has a wife. This is the argument in Surah 6.101 quoted above. It appears again in Surah 72.3 where certain of the Jinn are made to say: "And exalted is the Majesty of our Lord; He has taken neither wife nor a son". No allowance is made for God's infinite, spiritual nature as against the finite order he has created, and no possibility was considered by Muhammad that Jesus could be the Son of God in any sense other than that which he beheld among the sons of men on earth. He stuck to his charge throughout the many years of h mission, though one is inclined to question whether it could not have crossed his mind at some time or the other that the belief was not the gross, carnal concept that he took it to but possibly something far higher and more majestic.
He was aware that the Jews and Christians likewise claimed to be the sons of God themselves purely in the sense that they were especially favoured by him (Surah 5.20), yet he did not consider the possibility that Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God might likewise be in a special sense only. A Christian writer, speaking on Surah 5.20, says:
He was also aware that the expression "son of" could be used metaphorically for in the Qur'an itself he speaks of wabnis-sabil - "and the son of the road" (Surah 4.36) so that, although he makes no allowance for anything but a literal, physical "offspring" of God, he nonetheless shows that he is conscious of some of the different ways in which the term can be used. It is a great pity that he did not endeavour to find out precisely what Christians believed about Jesus as the Son of God, in particular the Biblical teaching in this respect.
Christians will find that Muhammad's carnal approach to this subject is invariably that taken by Muslims to this day. "It is hard to understand how Muslims can still hold that Christians believe God had a son by physical conception, but this misunderstanding persists" (Elder, The Biblical Approach to the Muslim, p. 27). It is with much patience that they will have to explain that the relationship is a spiritual one and that the sonship has a very special character as I will very shortly show. There are a number of retorts at the very Muslim level of understanding at this point which have been suggested by Christian writers and although I prefer to raise the level of discussion on any subject such as this one to a consideration of what is really involved in it, nonetheless heartily approve of and recommend the rebuke of the great scholar of earlier centuries, Ricoldo, who "said that to assert that God has no Son because He has no wife is.like saying that He is not living because He does not draw breath" (Daniel, Islam and the West, p. 182). Muslims do indeed need to be prompted into realising the somewhat feeble nature of - the Qur'an's argument that God cannot have a Son when he has taken no wife to himself.
We also need to emphasize that the very concept of God taking to himself a consort to beget offspring, or the charge of associating partners with God, is as reprehensible to us as it is to Muslims. They need to know that the Qur'an rejects its own misconception of the doctrine of Jesus as the Son of God rather than the true nature of that doctrine, and that we likewise will disown it.
We believe that the eternal Son of God, one with the Father from all eternity, united to him in one Spirit, "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1.14), and took "the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2. 7). We do not believe that God took to himself offspring and that he sired a son, another god, when Jesus was born. We believe in the incarnation of the Son of God, we do not believe in adoptionism, a one-time Christian heresy which is, in fact what the Qur'an is actually opposing.
As the learned author says in a footnote, "It is clear that, though the Qur'an may intend to exclude 'Incarnation', what it actually excludes is adoptionism" (Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim, p. 209). The problem arises from the environment Muhammad found himself in. The pagan Arabs of his day worshipped female idols such as Al-lat, Al-Uzza and Manat and considered them to be the "daughters of Allah". As the Arabs themselves considered the news of the birth of a daughter to be a cause of grief and shame (Surah 16.58-59), Muhammad was wont to retort:
Muhammad seemed to be unable to distinguish between Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God and pagan Arab belief in their goddesses as daughters of God. He automatically took them to be identical in character without realising that the teaching of the Bible about the incarnation of the eternally-existent Son of God was totally different to the Arab concept.
Another writer suggests, however, that the Christian Arab belief in Jesus was in fact similar to that of the pagan Arab belief in the daughters of Allah and says "But nomad Arabs adopted Christianity, not as allegiance to a Saviour Jesus Christ whom Christians claimed to be one with God, but on the same level as they recognized and used the gods of Arabian life" (Trimingham, Christianity Among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times, p. 310). He gives no authority for this claim, unfortunately, and I know of no evidence for it. Such a practice, if it existed at all, could not have been widespread and certainly was not the norm.
Muhammad's misconception of the true Christian and Biblical doctrine of Jesus as the Son of God argues strongly against his claim that the Qur'an was being revealed to him. Once again the book shows itself to be a victim of the limited knowledge of its prophet. If God was the author of the Qur'an he would have known what the universal belief of the Christians really was and would not have taken a heresy (adoptionism) as the belief of the whole Church (which is in the incarnation of the Son in human form). Muhammad was obviously ignorant of the true Christian doctrine and, seeing only the pagan Arab belief in the generation of daughters of Allah before him, mistook the Christian belief to be one and the same thing. Here, too, as with the Trinity, we see the limitations of Muhammad's knowledge coupled with his contemporary environmental situation dictating the tenor and teaching of the Qur'an rather than the absolute knowledge of the All-Knowing God of the universe. It is not a unique revelation that we find at this point in the Qur'an but an easily explained series of misconceptions, not a universal knowledge but an ignorance conditioned by Muhammad's limited environment.
Christians nonetheless have to be extremely patient at this point for it is the ultimate point at issue between Islam and Christianity. What makes Muslims the hardest people on earth to reach with the Gospel and the most resistant to conversion - is it the cultural differences between them and us as many claim today? Is it the awful consequences of apostasy as Zwemer suggested in his book The Law of Apostasy in Islam (p. 17)? While these are undoubtedly contributory causes, I do believe that the ultimate cause for the relative paucity of conversions from Islam is the Qur'an's vehement rejection of the Christian belief that Jesus is the Son of God such as we find in the following verse:
The Qur'an states that there is only one sin that God will not forgive, namely the associating of a partner with God. From this comes the belief that shirk, "associating", is the only unforgivable sin in Islam:
I believe that this verse is probably the greatest barrier in the way of conversion from Islam to Christianity. The very word "partner" comes from the same root letters as the word shirk, namely yushraku, and in Surah 10.66 we read likewise of shurakaa, "partners", who are worshipped other than God. As it is only two verses lower down that we find the rejection of a son to God in such vehement language (Surah 10.68 quoted above), it is to be presumed that the Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God is one of the express acts of shirk that the Qur'an sets out to denounce as the greatest of all sins. In Surah 2.105 the Qur'an expressly speaks of mushrikiin (associaters) among the Ahlal-Kitaab (People of the Book), a common title for Jews and Christians, and in Surah 9.31 both groups, especially the Christians who take the Messiah to be ibnullaah (the Son of God) and their rabb (Lord), are said to be those above whom Allah is glorified from their yushriknun - what they "associate" with him.
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Qur'an teaches that among the acts of shirk, the unforgivable sin, is the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. What to the Christian is the only possible step towards the eternal favour and knowledge of God is to the Muslim the one step down the road of irretrievable distance from him. The key step for salvation to us is, to them, the step off the edge of the precipice towards a sin that cannot be forgiven. Consciously or subconsciously, it is this fear more than any other that keeps Muslims from coming to Christ.
The Apostle John once said "I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5.13), yet to the Muslim such a belief is the one thing that could keep salvation from him. This is the ultimate tragedy of Islam and the chief reason why so many hundreds of millions of Muslims are deluded away from the truth of the Gospel.
We dare not avoid this issue with Muslims and I have no sympathy with Christians who believe the subject should be skirted and that we should avoid discussion on Jesus as the Son of God or the use of the title in our witness. It is going to be the key, thorny issue in the Muslim's ultimate contemplation of the implications of conversion. We must expose the Qur'an's errors at this point, not only in its treatment of the doctrine as adoptionism, but also in its unwillingness to concede the very possibility that God might indeed have a Son. Kenneth Cragg says:
It is interesting to note that the Qur'an does not appear to say absolutely that it is impossible for God to actually have a son but rather that "it is not befitting" to him to do so (Surah 19.35). Once a Muslim concedes the possibility that it is not beyond God's power to have a son, then the only question is whether in fact he does have a son. We shall consider two of the usual Muslim arguments against the doctrine as it appears in the Bible before considering the issue more fully at the end of this section.
2. The Biblical Limitations upon the Son of God.
A common objection found in Muslim writings is based on numerous statements made by Jesus in which he placed limits upon himself, both in respect of knowledge and power, so that it is queried how he could be a divine personality. For example, it is suggested that he could hardly be omniscient when he disclaimed knowledge of the hour of judgment, known to God alone, in the following saying:
It is likewise claimed that he also disowned omnipotence and indeed the power to do anything at all by himself when he said on another occasion:
Yet another saying raised to discredit the deity of Jesus Christ is this one: "The Father is greater than I" (John 14.28). How can anyone believe in his deity if he himself had to acknowledge that there was One greater than he and that there were things he barely knew or could do? So the argument goes, one commonly found in Muslim writings against the Christian faith and doctrine.
A Muslim writer states the charge in the following comment on Matthew 24.36 quoted above:
Whenever such objections are raised I welcome them without reserve for they create an opportunity to witness to just who Jesus really is and to explain what the title Son of God really means. The very title "Son" immediately suggests a limitation - a son is always subject to his father - and it is precisely in this issue of authority that we discover what the title Son of God actually means as it is set forth in the pages of the Christian Bible.
It is perhaps at this point that many Christians get themselves into trouble. Boldly declaring to Muslims that "Jesus is God", they find themselves unable to counter objections such as these. In fact evangelical witness these days has become so simplistic and charged with so many dogmatic cliches that it makes itself a prey to thoughtful arguments which it cannot refute. So widespread is this tendency that a Muslim writer was prompted to suggest in a recent periodical that, whereas the traditional orthodox churches have always held fast to the doctrine of the Trinity, evangelical Christians today claim that "there is indeed only one God and he is called Jesus" (Siddiqi, "Islam and Missions: Mohammed or Christ", Islamic World Review, p. 31). While the author's perception can obviously be questioned, one can understand his dilemma. If you boldly declare "Jesus is God" instead of reasoning carefully with a Muslim about what we mean when we call him the Son of God, you cannot hope to counter the objections we have already mentioned, nor others like them such as "If Jesus is God, to whom was he praying when he said 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Matthew 27.46)"
The expression "Son of God" is principally analogical. It indicates the relationship between the first two persons of the Triune God. They are equal in essence, indeed of one essence, yet one is subject to the other's authority. The human analogy goes no further than this - an earthly father and his son are both human to the full, yet the second must bow to the authority of the first. Muhammad erred when he supposed the likeness to extend to such issues as the taking of offspring, a consort, etc., but we too will err if we do not make it very clear that no matter what we believe about Jesus, he is subject to the Father's authority. When he came to this earth he came as the Father's ambassador to redeem men from sin and, being found in human form, took his subjection to the Father's authority to the point of a servant-to-Master relationship.
Even though all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the Son (Matthew 11.27, 28.18), yet when all things are finally subjected to him, "then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one" (1 Corinthians 15.28). The subjection to the Father's authority will continue through all eternity.
Some say we should refrain from talking about Jesus as the Son of God while others say we should boldly declare that he is God and Lord of all. I disagree with both extremes. We should concentrate on his Sonship, on the one hand because it ensures that we will properly speak of who he really is, and on the other because it will enable us to circumvent objections levelled against his declared limitations. The great advantage such objections unintentionally give us is the opportunity to explain who Jesus really is - the divine second person of the Trinity but, as the Son, subject completely to the authority of the first person, the eternal Father who is the source of all things.
In my view the ideal passage to use as a basis for handling this subject is Philippians 2.5-11. Although he was "in the form of God", he took the "form of a servant . . . human form" and became obedient, not only as the eternal Son to the Father, but as a man towards God, obedient "unto death, even death on a cross", an obedience he would never have experienced had he not come in our likeness.
It is his very subject status that enabled him to assume this relationship. Although he is divine, yet because he is, I say it reverently, only the Son, the knowledge of the hour, determined by the Father, could be kept from him. This also explains why he said he could do nothing on his own authority. Here we have a golden opportunity to explain to a Muslim just what the title Son of God, when applied to Jesus, really means.
Let me close, however, by taking this subject back to the level of the Muslim's own arguments. All the objections I have mentioned can be turned to specific advantage in discussion with those who raise them. In Matthew 24.36 Jesus claimed he did not know the hour and Muslims say he thus placed himself among all the other creatures of God who do not know it in contrast with God himself to whom alone it is known. Challenge such an argument with an appeal to examine the text more closely. What, exactly, is Jesus saying? "No one knows" the hour, no man that is, in fact "not even the angels of heaven", nor the Son but the Father only. Where does Jesus place himself in this ascending scale of category of persons? He puts himself above men and angels, describing himself purely in relation to God alone - as the Son of the eternal Father. It is the very title Son here that identifies him - related to the Father alone but subject to him and thus kept unaware of the hour. He does not place himself at the level of God's created beings but on a divine level alone - the very title Son relating him solely to the Father.
The arguments based on John 5.19 and John 5.30 can be turned on their heels in the same manner. Any Muslim who raises them must be made to read the full text of John 5.19: "The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise". Once again the meaning of the title Son of God is so harmoniously brought out in the statement - as the Son he is limited to the Father's authority and so does nothing of his own accord, but as the divine Son of God he does exactly what the Father does. Far from being a denial of omnipotence, the whole statement is an emphatic declaration of it. As one writer puts it:
A third saying we mentioned, namely "The Father is greater than I" (John 14.28), likewise begs further scrutiny. If this is indeed a declaration of limitation, it is at the same time an awesome claim to greatness. Coming from anyone else the statement would have sounded dreadfully presumptuous - "this sentence would have a touch of blasphemy were it not for the fact that it is spoken by a being existing on a level comparable to that of God the Father, who must necessarily also himself be of divine rank" (Frieling, Christianity and Islam, p. 121). Jesus must have considered himself to possess an eternal greatness to deem it necessary to inform his disciples that God the Father was, in fact, actually greater than he. Once again he measures himself on a divine level alone, relating himself solely to the Father, and expresses a limitation found solely in the fact that he is the Son of God.
It is in answer to these objections that we can show Muslims just what the title Son of God really means, not that God took a wife and obtained offspring through her, but that the second person of the Trinity possesses the same essence as the first, yet is subject to him in authority as the sons of men are to their fathers, and voluntarily became the man Christ Jesus so that he might reconcile us in one Spirit to the Father.
3. Was Jesus the Son of God in a Metaphorical Sense?
We come to another common argument found in Muslim writings. The Qur'an teaches that it is only the followers of Jesus who have made him the Son of God but, when Muslims authors discover that in the New Testament who claims this title, they suggest that this claim in a limited sense, namely in sense in which all true believers can be God. The following quotations are typical of the argument as it appears in Muslim writings:
The Quran not only excludes all idea of any equal or partner with Allah, it specifically excludes all idea of His having a son except in the purely metaphorical sense in which all mankind are his children, and in which the peacemakers are spoken of, in the Bible as "the children of God" (Matthew 5.9). (Zafrulla Khan' Islam: Its Meaning for Modern Man, p. 93).
Islam also rejects the Divine sonship of Jesus. He may be called a son of God in the sense in which all righteous human beings may be called the children of God, but not in a literal or unique sense. (Aziz-us-Samad, A Comparative Study of Christianity and Islam, p. 66)
In each case there is an implied admission that Jesus could be regarded as one of the sons of God in the way in which all believers can be called children of God, but the possibility that he could be the unique eternal Son of God expressly denied. The Qur'an, on the other hand, disallows the possibility that anybody could be regarded as a child of God in any sense whatsoever (God is nowhere called "Father" in the book, the expression "children of God" likewise nowhere appears, and it is expressly stated in Surah 6.100 that he has neither sons nor daughters), yet once Muslims discover that Jesus, as quoted in the Gospels, regularly called himself the Son of God, they feel constrained to admit that he applied the title to himself in some sense.
Whenever a Muslim argues that Jesus never claimed to be the absolute Son of God but only took the title in an allegorical or metaphorical sense, the Christian should immediately place him on terms to admit that Jesus did in fact claim to be the Son of God in some form. The Muslim argument has no force unless this admission is made. The issue then is purely to determine in what sense the title was used. Very often the argument is based on the following text:
It is suggested that, by quoting Psalm 82.6 where all true believers are called sons of the Most High God, Jesus was only saying that he was likewise simply one of the children of God when he said "I am the Son of God". The following quotation, based on the above passage, typifies the Muslim conclusion at this point:
The important thing here is the admission that Jesus did call himself the Son of God in one or other sense. The issue then is purely to establish the sense in which the claim was made. The Church has never held that it should be taken literally as the writer claims (a typical Muslim error based on the Qur'an's misconception of the title as it is used by all true Christians). Rather, as already stated, we believe it was made analogically. It defines the status of Jesus in relation to the Father - absolutely one with him in essence and form (John 10.30) but subject to him in authority (John 5.30). Which, then, is the correct interpretation - was it made analogically in the sense that he is the absolute, unique, divine Son of God, or was it made metaphorically in the sense in which all true believers can be called the sons of God?
There can be no doubt that the first interpretation is the only possible one that can be made from an objective study of the Scriptures. When the Jews said to Pilate "We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God" (John 19.7), it was in consequence of their conviction that he had spoken blasphemy when he acknowledged before Caiaphas that he was indeed the Son of God (Mark 14.61-62). If he had only claimed to be one of the children of God in a metaphorical sense he would never have been brought to trial on such a charge.
There are a number of sayings of Jesus that make it quite plain that he claimed to be the Son of God in an absolute, eternal sense, for example:
Likewise, when Jesus has given all judgment to said "The Father judges no one, but the Son, that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him" (John 5.22, 23), it is well nigh impossible to see how such a claim to be the Son of God could have been made in a metaphorical sense. The statement that all should honour the Son even as they honour the Father cannot be watered down into a suggestion that he was anything less than the eternal, absolute Son of God. One could fill a book with similar quotations but to conclude here let me cite what I believe is the most effective way of handling this objection.
Whenever confronted by the argument that Jesus only claimed to be the Son of God in a lesser sense I immediately turn to the parable of the tenants of the vineyard recorded in Matthew 21.33-43 and also in Mark 12.1-12 and Luke 20.9- 18. Jesus spoke of a number of servants who were sent to the tenants of the vineyard to obtain some of the fruit of the vineyard, but they took them and beat them, wounded yet others and killed them, "so with many others, some they beat and some they killed" (Mark 12.5).
The parable builds up to a climax which we find in the following verse which is also the key one for our purposes:
The sequence shows quite plainly the interpretation of the parable. God sent numerous prophets to the people of Israel to call them to produce the fruits of righteousness, but they mistreated them all, killing some and wounding others. ("Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?" - Acts 7.52). No Muslim will deny that the prophets are the highest of God's chosen faithful on earth, yet in this parable they are all regarded as nothing more than servants. When they had all been sent the owner of the vineyard had still one other - a beloved son - and he sent him, only to see him killed by the tenants as well - a clear prediction of the pending crucifixion of Jesus himself.
In this parable Jesus clearly distinguished himself as the beloved Son of God in contrast with the prophets who were only his servants. It is in this distinction that Christians can show Muslims just how Jesus claimed to be the unique, eternal Son of God, and never used the title in the sense in which all true believers can be called the sons of God.
"This is my beloved Son", the voice said from heaven when Jesus was transfigured (Matthew 17.5). "God so loved the world that he sent his only Son", the Scripture further testifies (John 3.16), and in another place calls him "the only Son who is in the bosom of the Father" (John 1.18). There can be no doubt that Jesus always used the title for himself in a unique, divine sense and never used it metaphorically as Muslims claim. Christians have a wealth of evidence here to show Muslims just who Jesus really claimed to be and who he truly was - the eternal Son of God.
4. "Flesh and Blood has not Revealed this to You . . ."
We come back to the question of whether God does indeed have a Son and whether that Son became the man Christ Jesus. We have already considered some Muslim arguments discounting the possibility and shall conclude this section by analysing one other, namely that it is not possible for God to be manifest in human flesh, before finishing with a brief assessment of the real issue here - what has ultimately been revealed by God concerning this subject.
Very often one finds Muslims arguing that Jesus could not be the eternal, divine Son of God since he was a human being and, as such, needed to sleep (Mark 4.38), became hungry (Luke 4.2) and thirsty (John 19.28), and so on. Because he needed to eat, drink and sleep like all other men it is claimed he could not have been divine for God is self-subsistent and depends on nothing. The following quote, speaking of Surah 5.114 in the Qur'an but perhaps equally applicable to the Biblical verses quoted, states the argument in a nutshell:
Another similar quotation, but one which within itself tends to expose the weakness of the argument, reads:
The weak link is found in the words "God does not have to do any of these human things". We might just as well say that God did not have to create man, did not have to create woman from man, did not have to do anything at all. The point is God chose to do these things and, in Philippians 2.5-8 we find likewise that the eternal Son, who was in "the form of God" which, in the original Greek, means he was divine through and through, chose to empty himself of his glory and voluntarily assumed human form. So likewise no one could take his life from him and he did not have to lay it down, but he willingly laid it down of his own accord (John 10.18).
A king does not have to take on the clothes of a servant in his kingdom and submit himself to another master, but what if he chooses to do so for a time to discover the needs of the servants in his kingdom and feel with them in their hopes and sufferings that he might alleviate them? What Muslim is there that would place limitations upon God's power and will by suggesting that God, likewise, cannot choose of his own accord to act in this way? Assfy adds that he does not have to be "associated in any way with man". It is here that we come to the heart of the matter. What if he chose to meet man at his own level and in grace associate very closely with him? The Qur'an says in one place:
If, therefore, God wished to relate to man himself from heaven, how would he come to earth? Even the Qur'an expressly admits that angels appear in human form when they come to men with messages from God ("We sent to her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects" - Surah 19.17). Is it too hard to accept that the Father would send his own Son in human form if he desired, of his own accord, to relate directly to men on earth? There is nothing to stop him voluntarily assuming human limitations and being subject to our natural dependences while on earth.
The issue is not whether men have to eat and drink, etc., it is purely this - can the human form bear the divine image? If anyone was to suggest that God had become incarnate in a plant, insect or animal, we would reject the idea immediately. None of these creatures can be holy, honest, righteous, just or forgiving, and therefore cannot possibly bear his image. But the Bible says that at the beginning of creation God decreed "Let us make man in our image" (Genesis 1.26) and thus he created him. Only to man can it be said "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19.2), "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5.48). Man was so made that he could possess and manifest all God's characteristic attributes - holiness, love, purity, justice, righteousness, compassion, etc. There is nothing in the moral character of God's holiness that cannot be manifested in human form.
The question is not whether God can be confined in human form, it is purely whether humanity can bear the divine image. The answer is an unqualified yes. Jesus Christ manifested every one of God's perfect attributes to the full when he lived on earth as a man. There is no reason why the Son of God could not become the Son of man. In no way was his divine character blurred while he walked among us. On the contrary God's love, grace, forgiveness and compassion were all revealed to the full when he laid down his life to redeem us from all iniquity and prepare us for a heavenly dwelling.
The final issue, then, is simply this - was Jesus revealed to be the Son of God while he was on earth? He constantly claimed to be nothing less than the eternal Son from the Father and it was for this reason that he was crucified and killed (John 19.7). Yet when he was "raised from the dead by the glory of the Father" (Romans 6.4) he was "designated Son of God in power" (Romans 1.4). All his claims proved to be true. We cannot get around the fact that Jesus himself claimed to be the Son of God. ("He has made himself the Son of God" - John 19.7) and the events following endorsed this claim completely. If Jesus did not take this honour upon himself, let Muslims explain why we duly agree with them that all God's messengers who went before him were nothing more than prophets and hold this man alone to be the Divine Saviour from heaven.
The heart of the matter, perhaps, is found in the occasion when Jesus asked his disciples as they were gathered together away from the crowds, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" (Matthew 16.13). The answer was that he was generally considered to be one of the prophets - John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah perhaps - but nothing more than a prophet. Thusfar the perceptiveness of the Jewish crowds, thusfar the perceptiveness of the Muslim masses.
Jesus went on, however: "But who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16.15). Peter's answer was: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16.16), that is to say, "The people say you are a prophet but I say you are far more than a prophet, you are the Son of God". The response of Jesus has acute relevance to the very subject we are discussing:
"My Father has revealed this to you", was his reply. The realisation that he was the Son of God came not through ordinary "flesh and blood", that is, human wisdom and perceptiveness, but by a direct revelation from heaven. It was also a proof that Jesus was not one of the children of God in a metaphorical sense but the Divine Son who could only be known by a revelation from the Father himself.
There is no reason why God cannot have a Son, why he could not be manifested in human form, and why he could not redeem us by voluntarily laying down his life and taking it again. The only reason the Qur'an denies that Jesus was the Son of God is that Muhammad had no more perceptiveness than the Jews who concluded that Jesus was simply one of the prophets. The teaching of Jesus himself that it requires a revelation from the Father himself before any man can see with the eye of faith that he is truly the eternal Son of God must make us deeply sympathetic towards Muslims in their inability to perceive his true greatness and we need to pray fervently that, while the Prophet of Islam may not have discerned his glory, his followers might yet do so.
Muslims have trod the via negativa to the bitter end and even their acceptance of a doctrine of revelation is limited by the acceptance that here is only a revelation from God and not a revelation primarily of Himself; the Christian comes along the same road as we have seen, but at the end he reaches out with a new confidence because of the Incarnation, to an ultimate and firm persuasion that God has spoken from the midst of human experience, and that He speaks and speaks of Himself, revealing not only His will but Himself, in such a way that man can throw himself with confidence on God. (Sweetman, Islam and Christian Theology, Part 2, Vol. 2, p. 327).
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