Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Solomon and Jesus: Eternity & Immortality

Roland Clarke

One of my favourite topics that I enjoy exploring with Muslim friends is a fascinating proverb by the wise man Solomon (Sulaiman Hakim). In fact, wisdom is one of the traits for which he is most admired by Muslims and Christians. A couple wise sayings of his from Scripture read as follows;

There is a season for everything, a time to be born and a time to die. God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, yet even so, people cannot see the whole scope of what God has done from beginning to end. ... A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume and the day you die is better that the day you are born. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2,11; 7:1)

Solomon noted that humans long for eternal life but there's a problem. “People cannot see the whole scope of what God has done from beginning to end.” So what does this phrase mean, “beginning to end?” No doubt it encompasses all of history, but more particularly, it applies to the life span of individual people. No one knows the number of our days, that is, how long each of us will live, except God. Consider also, “Is anyone capable of seeing what their destiny is beyond the grave?” Can anyone boast that they know for certain they will end up in paradise? The reason people are unsure is obvious: “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) The Hadith confirms this, saying that “every son of Adam is a sinner.”

The anxious uncertainty humans feel about the hereafter, coupled with our instinctive fear of death, often drives us to offer some kind of payment, as if God might accept our currency. But the psalmist says that such attempts are futile. Godless people “boast of great riches but they cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live forever and never see the grave... But as for me, God will redeem my life … from the power of the grave.” (Psalm 49:6-9,15)

Likewise the Qur'an teaches that wrongdoers “will have no protector or intercessor other than God. Even if they were to offer every 'possible' ransom none will be accepted from them.” (Surah 6:70, The Clear Qur'an)

On one occasion Muhammad's companions asked him about the hereafter. He freely admitted, “I know not what will be done with me or with you.” (Surah 49:6) This outlook contrasts starkly with Jesus Christ, who was totally confident that he was going to paradise. We read in the Injil, Luke 23:41-43 that Jesus spoke with a thief who was crucified next to him. This criminal humbled himself admitting that he deserved to die, but he added: “this man [Jesus] hasn't done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” What a stark contrast! Muhammad gave his followers no assurance that they would go to paradise, but Jesus confidently told a repentant thief, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

How could Jesus Christ say this? Think carefully of various occasions where Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5; Luke 7:48-50) Consider also how he taught in John 8:51-53 that “anyone who obeys my teaching will never die.” The Jews who heard him replied, “Even Abraham and the prophets died … Are you greater than our father Abraham? … Who do you think you are?” (compare, John 5:24; 11:21-27)

If you look carefully at the latter two passages where Jesus tells his followers that they will “not die,” you see that they also speak of Jesus promising eternal life to his disciples. In fact, on one occasion Christ acknowledged that God his Father, “granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life. ... Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) Did any other prophets ever make such claims? When we consider these sayings of Jesus, it makes sense that he would say to the repentant thief, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:41-43)

If you carefully consider what the early prophets foretold about God destroying death, you realize that the Messiah's unusual teaching about “not dying” is not so strange or unexpected. For example, look at Isaiah 25:6-9 where the prophet Isaiah foretold God will swallow up death forever. Notice how those witnessing this astonishing event will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” (NIV)

I encourage you to pay special attention to the words save and salvation, bearing in mind that throughout the Old Testament God declares he is worthy to be worshiped because he alone saves from death. (Exodus 18-8-11; Daniel 3:28-29; Psalm 68:19-20; Isaiah 45:21-24) The prophet Jonah (Yunus) also testified, “Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God's mercies. But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, … for my salvation comes from the LORD alone.” (Jonah 2:9-10) And it is very clear in both the Bible (and the Qur'an) that Jonah was saved from certain death by God!

Scripture repeatedly foretells that God would send his servant the Messiah to “bring his salvation.” (Isaiah 49:6) Was it coincidental that the angel instructed Mary to name her virgin born son, Jesus? Of course not! God chose the name Jesus purposely. It means, God is salvation. Furthermore, throughout the Gospel (Injil) Jesus repeatedly demonstrated the meaning of this name. (see for example, Luke 19:1-10; Luke 7:48-50) Muslim scholar, Muhammad I. A. Usman, acknowledged in his book, Islamic Names, that the name “Jesus is the equivalent of Yeshua in Hebrew which means 'God is salvation'.” (p. 77, revised edition, bold font added)

Whereas Solomon observed humans have a heartfelt longing for eternity no other prophet claimed to be able to satisfy that longing except Jesus Christ. Having abolished and triumphed over death by rising from the dead, Jesus declared that he holds the key to the grave. Jesus the Messiah was the only person who lived a sinless life. Did God give any other priest or prophet the authority to forgive sinners, even promising them eternal life?

We conclude by reading two Scriptures: “When I saw him [Jesus], I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, Don't be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died but look I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Revelation 1:17-18) “And now God has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Saviour. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.” (2 Timothy 1:10, bold font added)

A more detailed examination of eternal life and salvation is available online.

All Bible quotations are taken from the New Living Translation unless indicated otherwise.

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