Surah ad-Dukhan (Surah 44 – The Smoke) tells us that the Quraysh tribe rejected the message of the Prophet Mohamed PBUH by giving him the following challenge:
As to these (Quraish), they say forsooth:
“There is nothing beyond our first death, and we shall not be raised again.
“Then bring (back) our forefathers, if what ye say is true!” (Surah Ad-Dukhan 44:34-36)
They challenged him to raise someone from the dead to prove the truth of his message. Surah al-Ahqaf (Surah 46 – The Wind Curved Sandhill) recounts a similar challenge from an unbeliever to his believing parents.
But (there is one) who says to his parents, “Fie on you! Do ye hold out the promise to me that I shall be raised up, even though generations have passed before me (without rising again)?” And they two seek God’s aid, (and rebuke the son): “Woe to thee! Have faith! for the promise of God is true.” But he says, “This is nothing but tales of the ancients!” (Surah al-Ahqaf 46:17)
The unbeliever dismissed the resurrection as a myth since it had never yet happened. Surah ad-Dukhan and Surah al-Ahqaf both reference unbelievers using the test of rising from the dead to scrutinize the prophet PBUH and a basic belief of all monotheists. The prophet Isa al Masih PBUH met with the same kind of scrutiny by his opponents. He used this test to reveal both a sign of his authority and the purpose of his mission.
What was the Mission of Isa al Masih?
Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught, healed, and performed many miracles. But the question still remained in the minds of his disciples, his followers and even his enemies: why had he come? Many of the previous prophets, including the Prophet Musa (PBUH), also performed powerful miracles. Since Musa had already given the law, and Isa himself said he “had not come to abolish the law”, why was it then that he was sent by Allah?
The Prophet’s (PBUH) friend became very sick. His disciples expected that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) would heal his friend, as he healed many others. But Isa al Masih (PBUH) purposely did not heal his friend and in so doing revealed his mission. The Injil records it in this way:
Isa al Masih confronts Death
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days,7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem,19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11: 1-44)
The sisters hoped that Isa al Masih would come quickly to heal their brother. Isa al Masih delayed his trip on purpose allowing Lazarus to die, and no one could understand why he did this. But in this instance, we can see into his heart and we read that he was angry. But who was he angry at? The sisters? The crowd? The disciples? Lazarus? No, he was angry at death itself. Also, this is one of only two times where it is recorded that Isa al Masih wept. Why did he weep? It is because he saw his friend held by death. Death stirred anger as well as weeping in the prophet.
Healing people of sicknesses, good as that is, only postpones their death. Healed or not, death eventually holds all people, whether good or bad, man or woman, old or young, religious or not. This has been true since Adam, who, according to both Taurat and the Quran, had become mortal because of his disobedience. All his descendants, you and me included, are held hostage by an enemy – death.
Against death, we feel that there is no answer, no hope. When there is only sickness hope remains, which is why the sisters of Lazarus had hope in healing. But with death, they felt no hope. This is true for us also. In the hospital, there is some hope but at the funeral there is none. Death is our final enemy. This is the enemy Isa al Masih came to defeat for us and this is why he declared to the sisters that:
“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
Isa al Masih (PBUH) had come to destroy death and give life to all who wanted it. He showed his authority for this mission by publicly raising Lazarus from death. He offers to do the same for all others who would want life instead of death.
Responses to the Prophet
Though death is the final enemy of all people, many of us are caught up with smaller ‘enemies’, resulting from conflicts (political, religious, ethnic etc.) that go on with others around us all the time. This was true in Isa al Masih’s time also. From the responses of the witnesses to this miracle we can see what the main concerns of the different people living in that time were. Here are the different reactions recorded.
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.
So the tension rose. The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) had declared that he was ‘life’ and ‘resurrection’ and would defeat death itself. The leaders responded by plotting to put him to death. Many of the people believed him, but many others did not know what to believe. At this point, it might be worthwhile to ask ourselves if we were witnesses to the raising of Lazarus what we would choose to do. Would we be like the Pharisees, focused on some conflict that will soon be forgotten in history, and lose the offer of life from death? Or would we ‘believe’ in him and put our hope in his offer of resurrection, even if we did not understand it all? The different responses that the Injil records back then are the same responses to his offer that different people make today.
These controversies were growing as the Passover festival was approaching – the very same festival that the Prophet Musa (PBUH) had begun 1500 years earlier as a Sign of death passing over. The Injil continues by showing how the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) decided to accomplish his mission of defeating death- by helping someone shunned by others as a ‘traitor’.