4.3 Prologue: What Abraham / Ibrahim Believed About Jesus
I want to begin on common ground. If you open the New Testament, Matthew 1:1, you find that Matthew begins his account of the Gospel by saying that Jesus was the son of Abraham / Ibrahim. And later, Paul says the same: the Gospel was preached to Abraham / Ibrahim, in that the promises made to him are the essence of the Christian Gospel (Gal. 3:8). He says that his hope, the Christian hope, was the hope of receiving the promises made to the fathers: Abraham / Ibrahim, Isaac and Jacob (Acts 26:8). The whole of the true Christian Gospel can be understood from the life and faith of Abraham / Ibrahim. He is “the father of the [Christian] faithful” (Rom. 4:11,16). As we shall show in section 2, many bearing the name ‘Christian’ sadly have no appreciation of this at all. Their doctrines and religion is far from Abraham / Ibrahim and the real Jesus. The writer and publishers of this book have no connection at all with these groups. When 4.125 says that “God did take Abraham / Ibrahim for a friend”- did you know, this is exactly what both the Old Testament (2 Chron. 20:7; Is. 41:8) and New Testament (James 2:23) say? A footnote in Daryabadi’s translation of the Qur’an says: “The English word ‘friend’ does scant justice to the idea of khalil which in Arabic denotes the dearest or most sincere friend who has no rival”. Why, then, was God so fond of Abraham / Ibrahim?
It was not only because of what he did, his submission to God. It was because of his faith. And faith is something which occurs within the human heart. It can’t be that just by being literal sons of Abraham / Ibrahim we have any special standing with God: “Not all are children of Abraham / Ibrahim because they are his descendants” (Rom. 9:7). That wouldn’t be fair- that regardless of sin or submission / obedience, some would be blessed because of their ancestry. So: “It is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham / Ibrahim…So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham / Ibrahim who had faith” (Gal. 3:7,9). We must have the characteristics and faith of Abraham / Ibrahim if we are to be his true children: “Those who share the faith of Abraham / Ibrahim, who is the father of us all [who are true Christians]” (Rom. 4:16). And 2.124 says just the same, in saying that Abraham / Ibrahim was to be a model / pattern to all nations. 22.78 says all true believers will follow “the faith of your father Abraham / Ibrahim”. With this we are in agreement as Christians of the Abrahamic faith. 3.67,95 stresses that Abraham / Ibrahim believed in one God, not a trinity or plurality of Gods. And this is indeed so- if we are to be true children of Abraham / Ibrahim, we too must reject the trinity and believe in but one God.
But how can we “share the faith of Ibrahim”? What was that faith? For it must have been faith in something. Faith isn’t just a religious emotion. The Gospel was preached to Ibrahim (Gal. 3:8). If we can understand what God promised to him, then we know the Gospel. And God promised him that:
1. Genesis 17:8 “And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God”. So Abraham was told that he and his children would live for ever on this earth. So, eternal life is an idea that comes up in the Old Testament. Note that- because the essential message of the Bible is the same all the way through. How could this be?
2. Turn on to Genesis 22:17,18 “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice”. Abraham was to have a son who would be the source of blessing for the whole world. Now the way to understand the Bible is to see how the Bible itself quotes itself and gives us the interpretation. Now these words we have just read are quoted in the New Testament- in Acts 3:25,26. Let's go there and
find the interpretation: “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities”. So, who is the seed of Abraham? Jesus. And what are the blessings he would enable for men and women of the whole world? The blessings of forgiveness of sins and salvation. Let's go further. To Galatians 3:16 “ Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ”. So, the seed of Abraham was one man, singular, Jesus. But how could that one man become so many, as many as the stars in the sky? Let's read Galatians 3:27-29 “ For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”. So, only those who have been baptized into Christ have a part in these promises- the promises of eternal life here on earth. This is why we must be baptized if we are going to be saved! It’s not enough to reason that we are the literal children of Ibrahim.
What is baptism, then? It isn't sprinkling. The New Testament is written in Greek, and the word translated 'baptism' means really to dip. It was used about a ship sinking, being submerged, or a piece of cloth being dyed from one colour to another by immersing it. Have a look at Mathew 3:13-16 “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him”. Jesus went " down into" the water and came " up out of it" . He was baptized as an adult, not as a baby; by dipping, not sprinkling. That's why it was done in a river. And if He was baptized, so should we be. This dipping and rising up signifies the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that we have decided to make His death and resurrection our own. This is why it has to be by immersion, not by sprinkling. Have a look at Romans 6:3-5 “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection”. This is why we appeal to you to be baptized- make it your aim in life, to accept Jesus Christ!
By being baptized into Jesus, we become part of Him, and therefore the promises to Ibrahim about his special son apply to us. Therefore when He returns, we will be resurrected, judged and then, if we have lived lives which maintained faith in God’s grace, we will be given the eternal life which He now has. Then we will live for ever in God's Kingdom here on earth. If you believe this, then life has a new meaning. Whatever material problems we have, we will realize that they are only temporary, and when Christ returns He will give us a new and eternal life. This is why in the Bible and in Christ there is real HOPE. The hope ahead is so wonderful that our present problems do not seem so great.
Yet Islam sees the righteousness of Abraham / Ibrahim consisting in that he submitted to God: that he did good works. But this is not the complete picture. The New Testament points out that although he was “justified by works when he offered Isaac”(1) he was also justified by faith in the promises which God had made to him. Genesis 15:6 says that his faith “was counted to him as righteousness”. His righteousness was thus counted to him- it wasn’t in that he did a long list of things. And God by grace reckoned, counted, this man as righteous. It was in this that Ibrahim was our great example. God saw him as righteous because he believed. Romans 4:18-22: “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness”. This was not blind resignation to the will of God. It was an active faith in what was not then visible. And this is what so pleased God. Abraham / Ibrahim is our father in the sense that we too have righteousness imputed / counted to us: “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:23-25).
Abraham / Ibrahim’s offering of Isaac showed his faith- but in what? He said: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8). His faith was that God would provide a future sacrifice. Thus he built the altar Jehovah-Jireh: Jehovah / Allah will provide. And who was this lamb? It was Jesus, of whom it was said later: “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29 cp. Is. 53:10). And so we read in Hebrews 11:17-19: “By faith Abraham / Ibrahim, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure”. It wasn’t just blind obedience, he showed faith. [in the promises, in the future Jesus, in the resurrection]. He believed that because God’s promises through Isaac would be fulfilled, therefore there must be a resurrection of Isaac if he killed him. And he associated the possibility of this resurrection with “the lamb of God”, whom God would provide. He saw that Isaac’s resurrection would somehow be enabled by this Messiah figure, who would die as a sacrifice and through that death enable resurrection, in that death and the power of sin behind it would be broken. He clearly didn’t see this “lamb of God” as just another in a long line of prophets. Jesus said: “Your father Abraham / Ibrahim rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad” (Jn. 8:56). When was Abraham / Ibrahim glad? The only time when he laughed was when he was told that he would have a son (Gen. 17:17). He believed that promise, and saw in it the promise of Jesus. He knew that the birth of Isaac meant that the promised Messiah would therefore come- because he would be a descendant of Isaac. This totally disproves the idea that Jesus was already personally existing in Heaven at this time. He couldn’t have been, for Ibrahim to look ahead to the day of Jesus, who would be a literal descendant of Ibrahim through Isaac. And so we can understand Paul’s inspired logic: “Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son” (Rom. 9:7-9 cp. Gen. 21:12).
There was something else in which Ibrahim showed faith. “I have made you the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:17) required faith. Ibrahim had to look ahead to the day when his special descendant, Jesus, would have become as many as the stars in the sky. This plural ‘seed’ would not just be one nation; but of many nations. Men and women of all nations would come to see Ibrahim as their spiritual father, because they accept “the faith of Ibrahim”. They too would believe that Jesus was the special son of Ibrahim, knowing that He therefore hadn’t pre-existed, wasn’t God Himself; but was a real son of Ibrahim who was also “the lamb of God”, which Ibrahim believed would be provided by Jehovah. And they would be looking for that son, Jesus, to enable them to inherit the land promised to Ibrahim for ever. And they would believe that if they died, the promises of God would surely be fulfilled through their resurrection.
Ibrahim didn’t just blindly submit to God (see Gen. 18:23-25). He had a reasoned faith. Indeed, other men of faith likewise questioned with God, and didn’t just submit (e.g. Moses, Ex. 32:11,12; Jeremiah, Jer. 12:1-4). Abraham / Ibrahim considered his infertility, Sarah’s barren womb; and yet despite this “without being weakened in faith” he believed still (Rom. 4:19 RV), just as he “considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead” (Heb. 11:19). And 2.260 admits too that at this time Abraham / Ibrahim had faith in resurrection: “Abraham / Ibrahim said, My Lord! Show me how thou givest life to the dead”.
And yet there is something the matter with Qur’an when we read: “Why dispute ye about Abraham / Ibrahim, when the Law and the Gospel were not revealed till after him?” 3.65. But, they were…The essence of the Gospel, as Paul says, was taught to Abraham.
(1) Muslims claim that it was Ishmael, not Isaac who was offered in sacrifice. They claim that the command to sacrifice his “only son” meant that as Ishmael was born before Isaac, therefore it must refer to Ishmael. However, Genesis 22:2 states clearly that this was “thine only son, Isaac” (see too Heb. 11:17,18; James 2:21). Significantly, the Qur’an itself does not say that Ishmael was sacrificed- the name of the son isn’t given ( 37.100-113). The argument is based upon the Hebrew text of the Bible. But if the Bible is to be appealed to, then Genesis 22:2 must be also accepted. The Muslim cannot just quote some verses and not others. Hagar, Ishmael’s mother, was not the wife of Abraham / Ibrahim but rather his “maid”, as she is repeatedly called (Gen. 16:2,3,6,8,9). Isaac was the only legitimate son of Abraham / Ibrahim. Ishmael had parted from Abraham / Ibrahim some years before, along with Hagar (Gen. 21:14). If indeed the Qur’an was inspired by God, why then did He not correct the idea that the sacrificed son was Isaac? Ishmael is mentioned in the Qur’an elsewhere (2.127). It is also significant that the Qur’an never mentions Hagar in any way. And the Qur’an really contradicts Islamic beliefs about Ishmael in that it says that the son to be sacrificed was the one promised to Abraham / Ibrahim ( 37.101) and yet it also says that Isaac was the son promised to Abraham / Ibrahim ( 37.112).