Surah At-Tawbah (Surah 9 – Repentance, Dispensation) generates discussion since it discusses Jihad, or striving. The Ayat give guidance for physical battle so there are different interpretations by various scholars. The Ayat from Surah At-Tawbah that discuss this are:
Go ye forth, (whether equipped) lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle, with your goods and your persons, in the cause of God. That is best for you, if ye (but) knew.
If there had been immediate gain (in sight), and the journey easy, they would (all) without doubt have followed thee, but the distance was long, (and weighed) on them. They would indeed swear by God, “If we only could, we should certainly have come out with you”: They would destroy their own souls; for God doth know that they are certainly lying.(Surah At-Tawbah 9:41-42)
The rebuke in At-Tawbah 42 comes because if the journey to the battle was easy they would have followed, but those willing to ‘strive’ disappear when it was difficult. The succeeding ayat record the excuses and discussion of these half-hearted followers. Surah At-Tawbah then gives this reminder
Say: “Can you expect for us (any fate) other than one of two glorious things- (Martyrdom or victory)? But we can expect for you either that God will send his punishment from Himself, or by our hands. So wait (expectant); we too will wait with you.”(Surah At-Tawbah 9:52)
The admonition comes because normally there are two possible outcomes: Death (Martyrdom) or victory. But what if the struggle is so great that BOTH outcomes come about – both martyrdom AND victory? This was the struggle that the Prophet Isa al Masih PBUH faced on his long journey to Jerusalem – with his arrival there timed by the crescent or hilal moon to fulfil prophecies given hundreds of years earlier by prophets of Zabur.
The Entry to Jerusalem
Surah Al-Isra (Surah 17 – The Night Journey) is well-known since it describes the night journey of the Prophet Mohamed PBUH, where he came alone from Mecca at night mounted on a flying Buraq entering Jerusalem. Surah al-Isra recounts:
Glory to (God) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).(Surah Al-Isra 17:1)
Isa al Masih PBUH was going to the exact same place as the Night Journey. But Isa al Masih had a different purpose. Instead of being shown Signs, Isa al Masih entered Jerusalem to demonstrate Signs. So he came publicly in the daytime instead of at night and mounted on a donkey instead of a Buraq. Though we might not think that as impressive as coming on a winged Buraq, his arrival into Jerusalem to the Temple that day on a donkey was a Clear Sign to the people. We explain how.
The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) had revealed his mission by raising Lazarus to life and now he was on his journey to Jerusalem (Al Quds). The way he would arrive had been prophesied hundreds of years before. The Injil explains:
The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”(John 12:12-19)
The entry of Isa al Masih – according to Dawud
Starting with Dawud (PBUH), ancient Jewish Kings would annually mount their royal horse and lead a procession of people into Jerusalem. Isa al Masih re-enacted this tradition when he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey on the day known as Palm Sunday. The people sang the same song from the Zabur for Isa al Masih as they had done for Dawud:
Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.(Psalm 118:25-27)
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
The people sang this ancient song written for the Kings because they knew Isa had raised Lazarus, and so they were excited at his arrival in Jerusalem. The word they shouted, ‘Hosanna’ meant ‘save’ – exactly as Psalm 118:25 had written long before. What was he going to ‘save’ them from? The prophet Zechariah tells us.
The Entry Prophesied by Zechariah
Though Isa al Masih re-enacted what the former kings had done hundreds of years earlier, he did it differently. The prophet Zechariah PBUH, who had prophesied the coming Masih’s name, had also prophesied that the Masih would enter Jerusalem mounted on a donkey. The timeline shows the Prophet Zechariah in history, along with other prophets who predicted the events of Palm Sunday.
Part of that prophesy was quoted in the Gospel of John above (in blue text). Zechariah’s complete prophecy is here:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!(Zechariah 9:9-11)
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
This King prophesied by Zechariah would be different from other kings. He would not become King by using ‘chariots’, ‘warhorses’ and ‘battle bow’. In fact this King would remove these weapons and would instead ‘proclaim peace to the nations’. However, this King would still have to struggle to defeat an enemy. He would have to strive as in the very greatest jihad.
Who is his enemy?
This is clear when we recognize the enemy this king was to face. Normally, a king’s enemy is another king from an opposing nation, or another army, or rebellion from his people, or people who are against him. But the prophet Zechariah wrote that the King revealed on a ‘donkey’ and ‘proclaiming peace’ was going to ‘free the prisoners from the waterless pit’ (v11). The ‘pit’ was the Hebrew way of referring to the grave, or death. This King was going to free those who were prisoners, not of dictators, corrupt politicians or trapped in man-made jails, but those who were ‘prisoners’ of death.
When we speak of saving people from death we mean saving someone so that death is put off. We may, for example, rescue someone who is drowning, or provide some medicine that saves someone’s life. This ‘saving’ only postpones death because the person who is saved will die later. But Zechariah was not prophesying about saving people ‘from death’ but about rescuing those imprisoned by death – those already dead. The King coming on a donkey prophesied by Zechariah was to face and defeat death itself – freeing its prisoners. This would require an enormous striving – a jihad that had never been seen before. Scholars sometimes refer to the ‘greater jihad’ of our internal struggles and the ‘lesser jihad’ of our external struggles. In confronting the ‘pit’ this King would go through both of these struggles or jihads.
What weapons was the King going to use in this jihad or struggle with death? The prophet Zechariah wrote that this King would only take “the blood of my covenant with you” to his battle in the pit. His own blood would be the weapon with which He would face death.
By entering Jerusalem on the donkey Isa declared himself to be this King – the Masih.
Why Isa al Masih PBUH weeps with sorrow
On Palm Sunday when Isa al Masih entered Jerusalem (also known as the Triumphant Entry), the religious leaders opposed him. The Gospel of Luke describes Isa al Masih’s response to their opposition.
As he (Isa al Masih) approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41–44)
Isa al Masih said specifically that the leaders should have ‘recognized the time of God’s coming’ on ‘this day’. What did he mean? What had they missed?
The Prophets had Prophesied ‘the Day’
Centuries before the prophet Daniel (PBUH) had prophesied that the Masih would come 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. We had calculated Daniel’s expected year to be 33 AD – the year that Isa al Masih entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Predicting the year of the entry, hundreds of years before it happened, is astonishing. But the time can be calculated to the day. (Please review here first as we build on it).
The prophet Daniel had predicted 483 years using a 360-day year before the revealing of the Masih. Accordingly, the number of days is:
483 years * 360 days/year = 173880 days
In terms of the modern international calendar with 365.2422 days/year this is 476 years with 25 extra days. (173 880/365.24219879 = 476 remainder 25)
When was the decree to restore Jerusalem which started this countdown? It was given:
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes …(Nehemiah 2:1)
Which day of Nisan (a month in the Jewish calendar) is not given, but Nisan 1 is likely since it started the New Year, giving a reason for the King to talk to Nehemiah in the celebration. Nisan 1 would also mark a new moon since months were lunar (like the Islamic calendar). New moons were determined in the traditional Muslim way – with recognized men observing the new crescent (hilal) of the moon. With modern astronomy, we know when that new moon marking Nisan 1, 444 BCE was first visible.
Which ‘Day’ was it?
The difficulty is to know if the first crescent was actually seen by the observers that day or if it was missed and the start of Nisan was delayed by one day. Astronomical calculations place the crescent moon of Nisan 1 of the 20th year of Persian Emperor Artaxerxes at 10 PM on March 4, 444 BCE in the modern calendar. If the crescent appearance was missed, Nisan 1 would have been the next day March 5, 444 BCE. Either way, the Persian decree to restore Jerusalem would have been issued on March 4 or March 5, 444 BCE.
Adding the 476 years of Daniel’s prophesied time to this date brings us to March 4 or 5, 33 CE. (There is no year 0, the modern calendar goes from 1BCE to 1 CE in one year so the arithmetic is -444 + 476 +1= 33). Adding the 25 remaining days of Daniel’s prophesied time to March 4 or 5, 33 CE gives us March 29 or 30, 33 CE, illustrated in the timeline below. March 29, 33 CE, was Sunday – Palm Sunday – the very day that Isa PBUH entered Jerusalem on the donkey, claiming to be the Masih. We know this because the coming Friday was Passover – and Passover was always on Nisan 14. Nisan 14 in 33 CE was April 3. Being five days before Friday, April 3, Palm Sunday was March 29.
By entering Jerusalem on March 29 33AD, seated on a donkey, the prophet Isa PBUH fulfilled both the prophecy of Zechariah and the prophecy of Daniel – to the day. This is illustrated in the timeline below.
The death of the enemy
These many prophecies fulfilled on one day shows the clear signs that Allah used to reveal His plan about the Masih. But later that same day Isa al Masih fulfilled yet another prophecy from the Prophet Musa PBUH. In doing so he set in motion the events that would lead to his jihad with the ‘pit’ – his enemy death. We look at this next.
 Some examples on how ‘pit’ meant death for the prophets:
“But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:15)
For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. (Isaiah 38:18)
They draw near to the pit, and their life to the messengers of death. (Job 33:22)
They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die a violent death in the heart of the seas. (Ezekiel 28:8)
Their graves are in the depths of the pit and her army lies around her grave. (Ezekiel 32 : 23)
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. (Psalm 30: 3)
 For conversions between ancient and modern calendars (e.g. Nisan 1 = March 4, 444BC) and calculations of ancient new moons I use the work of Dr. Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. 1977. 176pp.