Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Revisiting the Issue of Jesus Receiving All Authority

Sam Shamoun

Muslim apologists are fond of quoting the following text to prove that Jesus cannot be God:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” Matthew 28:18

These polemicists reason that since Jesus was given all authority in heaven and earth, this proves that he initially didn’t have it. And if he didn’t have it initially, but received it from someone else, then this proves that he is not God, since God already possesses such authority and doesn’t need anyone to give it to him.

This objection conveniently ignores the fact that the consistent message of the NT writings is that Christ became a servant when he became a man in order to accomplish the redemption of his people. As such he voluntarily set aside his divine authority so that he could assume his humble status. As Matthew himself explains:

“even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

Matthew also says that Jesus came to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah concerning the Servant whom Yahweh raises up for himself to bring about the salvation of his people:

"Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: will proclaim justice to the nations. 'Here is MY SERVANT whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.In his name the nations will put their hope.'" Matthew 12:15-21

These texts show that Jesus was functioning in the role of a servant/slave while he was on earth, and therefore wasn't exercising his royal authority but set it aside for a period of time.

Matthew isn’t the only inspired author to state this, since several other inspired writers make precisely the same point:

“For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Luke 22:27

“Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy…” Romans 15:7-9a

As such, what Jesus received was the divine authority that was intrinsically his by virtue of being the unique divine Son of God, but which he of his own initiative had chosen to relinquish for a season.

As the blessed Apostle Paul beautifully summed it up:

“Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus ‘every knee shall bow’, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, ‘every tongue shall confess’ that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 J. B. Philips New Testament

Noted Evangelical scholar Robert H. Gundry helps to break this text down for us: 

“… ‘Who though existing in the form of God’ ascribes preexistent deity to Christ, as is confirmed by his ‘being equal with God.’ (‘Form’ refers to a way of being that makes someone who he is.) At the same time, this equality with God differentiates him from God, so that at the end of the passage we read of ‘God’ as ‘the Father’ and of ‘Jesus Christ’ as ‘Lord.’ That Christ Jesus ‘didn’t regard being equal with God as something to take advantage of’ not only confirms his having equality with God because of existing in the form of God, but also models an absence of any ‘rivalry or vainglory’ (2:3)…

“‘On coming to be in the likeness of human beings’ portrays the divine Christ’s incarnation as the precondition of his emptying himself by taking the form of a slave. ‘And on being found in respect to fashion [= mode of existence] as a human being’ reiterates this precondition, and ‘lowered himself by becoming obedient to the extent of death’ reiterates his emptying himself by taking the form of a slave. So death, not incarnation, defines his self-emptying. In other words, incarnation as a human being made possible his self-emptying in death, as confirmed by the correspondence between obedience and the form of a slave… So in compensation for Christ’s having ‘lowered himself,’ God ‘lifted him above [everyone else].’ The gracing of Jesus with the name ‘above every name’ and the listing of ‘heavenly and earthly and subterranean beings’ as those whose every knee will ‘bow’ in Jesus’ name imply the addition of ‘everyone else’ after ‘lifted him above.’ ‘Also’ makes conspicuous the contrastive pairing of God’s gracious uplift of Jesus with Jesus’ obedient comedown. The universal bowing in Jesus’ name and the universal confession, ‘Jesus Christ [is] Lord,’ bring together body language (the bowing of knees) and verbal language (the confession of tongues) in acknowledgement that the human Jesus is also the divine Lord (compare Isaiah 45:23). For ‘Lord’ corresponds to LORD (Hebrew: Yahweh) as the most sacred of divine names in the Old Testament and therefore counts as ‘the name above every name.’ Furthermore, ‘Lord’ connotes the ownership and mastery of slaves and therefore makes the lordship of Jesus compensate for his having taken the form of a slave. But why ‘for the glory of God the Father’ rather than ‘for the glory of Jesus Christ’? Because God the Father is the one who lifted him and graced him with his own name and therefore merits glory for doing so.” (Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation [Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI 2010], p. 786; bold emphasis ours)

Thus, Jesus was perfectly doing that which he had commanded his followers to do, namely, to humble oneself in order to be exalted by God:

“He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.” 1 Peter 5:6

So in answer to the question of how could God be given authority, God could be granted such dominion if he happens to be a multi-personal Being, with one of the divine Persons of the Godhead voluntarily setting aside his divine sovereignty in order to humble himself to become a slave by being born as a human being. As such, God (the Son) could then be granted the authority that he once had by one of the other divine Persons, which in this case happens to be the Father.(1)  

However, this now raises a major problem for Muslims since the Quran emphatically proclaims that the entire dominion of the heavens and the earth belongs only to Allah, and that he does not share it with anyone:

And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and Allah has power over all things. S. 3:189 Hilali-Khan

The One to whom belongs all sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. He never had a son, nor does He have any partners in sovereignty. He created everything in exact measure; He precisely designed everything. S. 25:2 Khalifa – cf. 2:107; 5:17-18, 40, 120; 7:158; 9:116; 17:111; 24:42; 38:10; 39:44; 43:85; 45:27; 48:14; 57:2, 5; 85:9

Therefore, since the Quran teaches that Jesus and his followers were basically Muslims (cf. Q. 5:52; 5:110), this means that the last thing that they would have went around proclaiming is that Christ possesses all authority in heaven and earth. Nor would they have preached that God is the Father and Christ is the Son who, together with the Holy Spirit, share the same divine name. And they definitely wouldn’t have gone around teaching that the Son is present with every single one of his followers till the end of the age, no matter where they happen to be, since this would mean that Christ is omnipresent and omnipotent, divine characteristics which belong uniquely to God.

And yet this is precisely what Jesus and his followers did proclaim, just as the immediate context of Matthew 28:18 itself confirms!

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Here Jesus commands his followers to go around making disciples who will obey all of his commands, and have them show their willing submission to his rule over their lives by receiving baptism in the name of the Triune Godhead. Jesus then reassures them that they will be successful in carrying out his commission since he will personally be with all of them wherever they go. These statements show that Jesus claimed to be the unique divine Son of God who possessed all of God’s essential omni-attributes.

Here is what Gundry says in respect to this passage:

“…  Usually others approach Jesus. But because the disciples are kneeling on the ground in worship, he approaches them. His claim to have been given all authority in heaven as well as on earth contrasts with the Devil’s having offered to give him ‘all the kingdoms of the world and their glory’ if only he’d fall down and worship the Devil (4:8-9 [compare Daniel 7:14]). ‘Therefore’ makes this claim of universal authority the basis for the Great Commission. The passages 7:29; 9:8; 11:27; 21:23 show that Jesus has had this authority all along. But the present passage confirms that authority and lifts geographical restrictions on his exercise of it. ‘All nations’ corresponds to ‘all authority.’ No nation lies outside the sphere of Jesus’ authority, and therefore nobody is exempt from the obligations to follow his example of getting baptized (see 3:13-15 with comments) and to learn and keep his commands…

“Baptism is the rite of initiation into Jesus’ school. Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit puts a trinitarian cast on this baptism, especially in that all three are included in ‘the name,’ and thus highlights Jesus’ deity by sandwiching ‘the Son’ between ‘the Father’ and ‘the Holy Spirit.’ ‘In the name of’ indicates acceptance that God is both Jesus’ and your Father, that Jesus is his Son in an unrivaled sense, and that the Holy Spirit (not Beelzebul [12:22-28]!) empowered Jesus. As a whole, this trinitarian formula distinguishes this baptism from John’s baptism, which had to do only with repentance in view of the soon coming of the kingdom of heaven (3:1-12). ‘All things … that I’ve commanded you’ links up with ‘as many as they are’ to underline the obligation of complete obedience (compare Exodus 7:2; Deuteronomy 1:3; 30:8; Joshua 1:7; Jeremiah 1:7). ‘Behold’ underscores Jesus’ presence with the disciples wherever they go throughout the inhabited earth in fulfilling their commission (compare 24:14). He won’t be physically present with them, as he has been heretofore, but he’ll be with them in the way the Lord was with his people to help them in the past (compare 18:20; Genesis 26:24; 28:15; Exodus 3:12; Joshua 1:5, 9; Judges 6:12, 16 and so on) and in this sense will continue to be ‘Immanuel … God [is] with us’ (1:23). (So as to not call such presence into question, Matthew omits an account of Jesus’ ascension to heaven, though the return from heaven in 10:23; 16:28; 24:30; 26:64 implies an ascension.) In line with the deity of Jesus, his ‘I’ in ‘I am with you’ replaces ‘God’ in the echo of ‘God [is] with us.’ ‘All the days’ assures the disciples of Jesus’ uninterrupted presence and implies an extended period of time such as a worldwide making of disciples will take. ‘Till the consummation of the age’ assures the disciples of Jesus’ untruncated presence. They’ll need it especially throughout the time of unprecedented affliction just before the second coming (24:15-30).” (Commentary on the New Testament, pp. 135-136; bold emphasis ours)       

Now in order to help Muslims see for themselves that Jesus was making explicitly divine claims for himself, we invite them to make the following declaration:

All dominion of the heavens and the earths has been given to Muhammad. Therefore, all nations must take shahadah, or bear witness, and get circumcised in the name of Allah, and of his messenger Muhammad, and of the angel Gabriel, and the believers must then teach them to observe all that Muhammad has commanded them; and lo, Muhammad shall be with all the Muslims till the end of the age.

Obviously, no Muslim would dare make such a statement since this is outright blasphemy. It commits the unforgiveable sin of shirk, or of associating a creature with Allah in Allah’s exclusive rule and attributes (cf. Q. 2:22; 4:48, 116; 39:65). And yet this is what Jesus said of himself!

This basically leaves Muslims with the following two choices. Jesus is a creature who was given such divine characteristics, and therefore proves that the Quran is simply mistaken for claiming that Allah would never grant such prerogatives to any creature. Or Jesus is God in the flesh, which explains why he could be given such authority, and actually possesses divine characteristics and abilities such as omnipresence and omnipotence. If so then the Quran is again in error, since it asserts that Jesus is nothing more than a messenger of Allah (cf. Q. 43:57-59).  Either way, the Quran ends up being mistaken, thereby proving that it is not a revelation from the true God.

What’s more, Jesus’ commission further introduces the problem of his having proclaimed God to be the Father, with himself being the Son, when the Quran emphatically denies that Allah is anyone’s father, let alone the father of Jesus Christ (cf. Q. 5:18; 6:101; 9:30; 19:88-93; 39:4; 72:11).

Thus, the text of Matthew 28:18-20 poses major problems for the Muslims, since what they thought was a text disproving the divinity of Jesus turns out to be a passage which actually confirms Christ’s absolute Deity and essential coequality with the Father and the Holy Spirit, thereby establishing that Islam is a false religion and that Muhammad was a false prophet!

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(1) This same objection can be leveled more forcefully against the Islamic deity since the Muslim scripture emphatically teaches that Allah is given an inheritance from his creatures:

And most surely We bring to life and cause to die and We are the heirs. S. 15:23 Shakir

It is We Who will inherit the earth, and all beings thereon: to Us will they all be returned. S. 19:40 Y. Ali – cf. 19:80; 21:89

Now this obviously raises the question of how could Allah be given an inheritance, and therefore be someone else’s heir, when he is supposed to the creator and owner of all things? We will leave it to the Muslim dawagandists to solve this mess for themselves. In the meantime, we recommend reading the following articles and rebuttals for more on the issue of Allah receiving an inheritance and the problems that this raises for Muslims: