Day 2: Isa al Masih selected – where Al-Aqsa & Dome of the Rock are today

Why is the location of Al-Aqsa (Al-Masjid al-‘Aqṣā or Bayt al-Maqdis) and Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhrah) in Jerusalem so special? Many holy events have occurred there but few know what happened to the prophet Isa al Masih PBUH at this holy location.

To better understand the challenge that the Prophet Isa al Masih PBUH faced in Jerusalem we  compare it with the challenge for the Prophet Mohamed PBUH in Mecca.  Surah Al-Fath (Surah 48 – The Victory) says about the Quraysh who guarded access to the Kaaba.

They are the ones who denied Revelation and hindered you from the Sacred Mosque and the sacrificial animals, detained from reaching their place of sacrifice. Had there not been believing men and believing women whom ye did not know that ye were trampling down and on whose account a crime would have accrued to you without (your) knowledge, (God would have allowed you to force your way, but He held back your hands) that He may admit to His Mercy whom He will. If they had been apart, We should certainly have punished the Unbelievers among them with a grievous Punishment. (Surah Al-Fath 48:25)

The Quraysh hindered the prophet PBUH and his followers from the Sacred Mosque and the place of sacrifice in Mecca.  At the sacred Temple and place of sacrifice in Jerusalem something similar was occurring in the time of Isa al Masih PBUH.  The religious leaders had created a system of buying and selling of sacrificial animals, requiring money exchange for the worshipers coming from far away. This hindered true worship at the Temple.  But the Temple had been built to make the LORD known among the nations – not hide Him from them.  Isa al Masih PBUH proceeded to fix the situation, which resulted in his facing the challenge of unbelievers recounted in Surah Taghabun (Surah 64 – The Mutual Disillusion).

The Prophet had just entered Jerusalem at the exact day prophesied hundreds of years before, revealing himself as the Masih and a light to the nations.  That date, in the Jewish calendar, was Sunday, Nisan 9, the 1st day of a Holy Week.  Because of regulations in the Taurat, the next day, 10th of Nisan, was a unique day in the Jewish calendar.  Long before, the Taurat recorded the Prophet Musa (PBUH) preparing the 10th plague against Pharaoh when he was directed by Allah:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.  Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. (Exodus 12:1-3)

In that time Nisan was the first month of the Jewish year.  So, every Nisan 10 since the prophet Musa, each Jewish family would select a lamb for the upcoming Passover festivalit could only be done that day.  In the time of the Prophet Isa al Masih  the Jews selected the Passover lambs in their Temple in Jerusalem – the same location where 2000 years before the Prophet Ibrahm (PBUH) had been tested in the sacrifice of his son.  Today, this is the location of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.  So at one specific location (where Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock are today and where the Jewish Temple was in the time of the prophet Isa al Masih), on one specific day of the Jewish year (Nisan 10), Jews would select the Passover lamb for each family (the poor would select doves).  As you might imagine, the vast number of people and animals, the noise of the bartering, the foreign exchange (since Jews came from many locations) would make the Temple on Nisan 10 like a frenzied market.  The Injil records what the Prophet Isa al Masih did that day.  When the passage refers to the ‘next day’ this is the day after his royal  entry into Jerusalem, the 10th of Nisan – the exact day that Passover lambs were selected in the Temple.

11Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

12The next day (i.e. Nisan 10) … they were leaving Bethany… 15On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:11-17)

At the human level the prophet Isa al Masih went into the Temple on Monday (Day 2 of the holy week), Nisan 10, and stopped the commercial activity.  The buying and selling had created a barrier for prayer to heaven, especially for the other nations.  The prophet was a Light for these nations, so he broke the barrier between earth and heaven by stopping the commercial activity.  But something unseen also happened at the same time.  We can understand this from the title that the Prophet Yahya (PBUH) had given to Isa al Masih.  In announcing him the Prophet Yahya had said:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

The Prophet Isa al Masih was ‘the Lamb of God’.  In the sacrifice of Ibrahim, Allah was the one who had selected the lamb for Ibrahim in place of his son by catching it in a bush.  This is why Eid al-adha is celebrated today.  The Temple was at this location where that lamb had been selected – where al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are today.  When the Prophet Isa al Masih went into the Temple on Nisan 10 he was selected by Allah as His Passover Lamb.   He had to be in the Temple on this exact day in order to be selected – and he was.

The Purpose of Isa as Passover Lamb

What was he selected for as Passover lamb?  Isa’s teaching provides the answer.  When he said, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ he was quoting from the Prophet Isaiah (PBUH).  Here is the full passage (what the prophet spoke is in red).

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,…

and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;

for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”  (Isaiah 56:6-7)

Historical Timeline of Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) with some other prophets in Zabur
Historical Timeline of Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) with some other prophets in Zabur

The ‘Holy Mountain’ that Isaiah had written about was Mount Moriah, where the Prophet Ibrahim had sacrificed the lamb selected by Allah in place of his son.  The ‘house of prayer’ was the Temple which Isa al Masih entered on Nisan 10.  For Jews, the location and date of the festival combined the sacrifice of Ibrahim and the Passover of Musa.  However, only Jews could sacrifice at the Temple and celebrate Passover.  But Isaiah had written that ‘foreigners’ (non-Jews) would one day see that ‘their burnt offerings and sacrifices would be accepted’.  In quoting the prophet Isaiah, Isa announced that his work would obtain an acceptance for non-Jews .  He did not explain at this point how he would do this.   But as we continue the account we will learn even as we recognize now that Allah had a plan to bless you and me

Next days in the Holy Week

After the Jews selected their lambs on Nisan 10, the regulations in the Taurat commanded them to:

Take care of them (the selected lambs) until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. (Exodus 12:6)

After that first Passover at the time of the prophet Musa, the Jews sacrificed their Passover lambs every Nisan 14.  We add ‘taking care of the lambs’ and their sacrifice to the Taurat Regulations in the timeline for the week.  In the lower half of the timeline we add the activities of the prophet for Day 2 of the week – his cleansing of the Temple and his selection as Allah’s Passover lamb.

Activities of the Prophet Isa al Masih on Monday - Day 2 - compared to regulations in Taurat
Activities of the Prophet Isa al Masih on Monday – Day 2 – compared to regulations in Taurat

When the prophet Isa al Masih PBUH entered and cleansed the Temple, this also had an impact at the human level.  The Injil continues by stating:

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 11:18)

In cleansing the Temple he was targeted by the Jewish leaders to be killed.  They started by confronting the prophet.  The Injil recounts that the next day…

They arrived again in Jeruslaem, and while Jesus was walking in the Temple courts the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the elders came to him.  “By what authority are you doing these things?”, they asked, “And who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:27-28)

Surah at-Taghabun reminds us that this kind of challenge was given to the Prophets at that time.

Has not the story reached you, of those who rejected Faith aforetime? So they tasted the evil result of their conduct; and they had a grievous Penalty.

That was because there came to them apostles with Clear Signs, but they said: “Shall (mere) human beings direct us?” So they rejected (the Message) and turned away. But God can do without (them): and God is free of all needs, worthy of all praise.

The Unbelievers think that they will not be raised up (for Judgment). Say: “Yea, By my Lord, Ye shall surely be raised up: then shall ye be told (the truth) of all that ye did. And that is easy for God.” (Surah at-Taghabun:64 5-7)

Isa al Masih PBUH, would have to prove his authority with the hardest test, one that unbelievers regularly challenged the prophets with, as Surah at-Taghabun recounts. This would be the Clear Sign showing that the prophet was not simply acting from ‘mere human’ authority.  As at-Taghabun makes clear, the test was to be raised from the dead.  But first, a few more events had to unfold that fateful week.

We follow how the plots of the authorities, the actions of the prophet, and the regulations from Taurat combine together as we look at the events on Day 3&4 next.

Day 1: Isa al Masih- Light to the Nations

The Palm Sunday Entry of Isa al Masih into Jerusalem began his final week.  Surah Al-Anbya (Surah 21 – The Prophets) tells us that:

And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples. (Surah Al-Anbya 21:91)

Surah al-Anbya clearly says that Allah made Isa al Masih PBUH a sign for all peoples, not just some people like Christians or Jews.  How was the prophet Isa al Masih made a ‘sign’ for us all? Allah’s creation of the world was universal for all peoples. So on each day of this final week Isa al Masih PBUH spoke and acted in a way that pointed back to the six days of Creation (The Qur’an and Taurat teach that Allah created everything in six days).

We begin going through each day of the final week of Isa al Masih, noticing how all his teaching and actions are signs pointing to Creation.  This would show that the events each day of this week were foreordained by Allah from the beginning of time – not by any human idea since man cannot coordinate events separated by thousands of years.  We start on Sunday – Day One.

Day One – Light in Darkness

Surah An-Nur (Surah 24 – The Light) gives a parable of ‘Light’.  It states:

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star:  Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! God doth guide whom He will to His Light: God doth set forth Parables for men: and God doth know all things. (Surah An-Nur 24:35)

This parable refers back to the First Day of Creation when Allah created Light.  The Taurat states:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Genesis 1: 3-6)

Allah spoke Light into existence on Day One of Creation to dispel darkness.  As a sign to show that the events of that hour were planned since Day One of Creation, the Masih spoke of his being a Light dispelling darkness.

The Light shines on the Gentiles

The Prophet Isa al Masih PBUH had just entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey as the prophet Zechariah PBUH had prophesied 500 years earlier, doing so on the exact day that the prophet Daniel PBUH had prophesied 550 years earlier.  The Jews had been arriving from many countries for the upcoming Passover festival so Jerusalem was crowded with Jewish pilgrims (like Mecca at the time of Hajj). Therefore the arrival of the prophet had caused a stir among the Jews.  But it was not only the Jews who noticed the arrival of Isa al Masih.  The Injil records what happened right after he entered Jerusalem.

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. (John 12:20-22)

 The Barrier between Greeks and Jews in the time of the Prophet

It was extremely unusual for Greeks, (that is the Gentiles or non-Jews), to be at a Jewish festival.  The Greeks and Romans of that time, since they were polytheists, were considered unclean and shunned by the Jews.  And most Greeks considered the Jewish religion with only one (unseen) God and its festivals to be foolish.  At that time, only Jews were monotheists.  So these peoples regularly stayed apart from each other.  Since the Gentile, or non-Jewish, society was many times larger than the Jewish society, the Jews lived in a sort of isolation from much of the world.  Their different religion, their halal diet, their exclusive book of the prophets created a barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles, with each side hostile to the other side.

In our day, with polytheism and idolatry rejected by much of the world, we can easily forget how different this was in the time of this Prophet.  In fact, in the day of Ibrahim PBUH, almost everyone apart from that prophet were polytheists.  In the time of the Prophet Musa PBUH, all the other nations worshiped idols, with the Pharaoh himself claiming to be one of the gods.  The Israelites were a little island of monotheism in the ocean of idol worship of all the surrounding nations.  But the prophet Isaiah PBUH (750 BCE) had been permitted to see into the future and he foresaw a change for all these nations.  He had written:

Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name….
And now the Lord says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:1, 5-6)

“Listen to me, my people;
hear me, my nation:
Instruction will go out from me;
my justice will become a light to the nations. (Isaiah 51: 4)

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

So the prophet Isaiah had foretold that the coming ‘servant’ of the Lord, though Jewish (‘the tribes of Jacob’) would be a ‘light for the Gentiles’ (all the non-Jews) and this light would reach to the ends of the earth.  But how could this happen with this barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles lasting hundreds of years?

That day when the prophet Isa entered Jerusalem the light began to draw the first Gentiles as we see some approaching the prophet.  Here at this Jewish festival were Greeks who had journeyed to Jerusalem to learn about the prophet Isa al Masih PBUH.  But would they, considered haram by the Jews, be able to see the prophet?  They asked Isa’s companions, who brought the request to the prophet.  What would he say?  Would he permit these Greeks, who knew so little about proper religion, to meet him?  The Injil continues

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

Belief and Unbelief Among the Jews

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

44 Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

47 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12: 23-50)

In this dramatic exchange, including even a voice from heaven, the Prophet said that he would be ‘lifted up’ and this would draw ‘all people’ – not just the Jews – to himself.  Many Jews, even though they worshiped only one God, did not understand what the prophet was saying.  The prophet Isaiah had said it was due to their hard hearts – their unwillingness to submit to Allah – that was at the root, even as others believed silently because of fear.

The prophet Isa al Masih boldly claimed  that he had ‘come into the world as a light’ (v.46) which the previous prophets had written would shine on all nations.  On the day when he entered Jerusalem, the light first began to shine on the Gentiles.  Would this light spread to all nations?  What did the prophet mean by being ‘lifted up’?  We continue through this last week to understand these questions.

The following chart goes through each day of this week.  On Sunday, the first day of the week he fulfilled three different prophecies given by three previous prophets. First he entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey as prophesied by Zechariah.  Second, he did so in the time prophesied by Daniel.  Third, his message and miracles started to light an interest among the Gentiles – which the prophet Isaiah had foretold would shine as a light to the nations and grow brighter to peoples around the world.

Events of Passion Week - Day 1 - Sunday
Events of Passion Week – Day 1 – Sunday

Isa al Masih declares Jihad – in a startling way, to a different enemy, at the exact time

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 fulfill 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 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,

“Hosanna!”

“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.
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.  (Psalm 118:25-27)

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 into 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.

The Prophets who foresaw Isa’s entry to Jerusalem on 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!
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.  (Zechariah 9:9-11)

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.

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.[1]

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 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 BC was first visible.  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 BC in the modern calendar[2].  If the crescent appearance was missed, Nisan 1 would have been the next day March 5, 444 BC.  Either way, the Persian decree to restore Jerusalem would have been issued March 4 or March 5, 444 BC.

Adding the 476 years of Daniel’s prophesied time to this date brings us to March 4 or 5, 33 AD. (There is no year 0, the modern calendar going from 1BC to 1 AD 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 AD gives us March 29 or 30, 33 AD, illustrated in the timeline below.  March 29, 33 AD, was SundayPalm 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 AD was April 3.  Being 5 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.

Daniel had predicted 173 880 days before revealing of Masih; Nehemiah had started the time. It concluded on March 29, 33AD when Isa entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

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.


[1] 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)

[2] 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.

The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) saves a ‘lost’ traitor

Surah Ash-Shuraa (Surah 42 – The Consultation) tells us:

That is (the Bounty) whereof God gives Glad Tidings to His Servants who believe and do righteous deeds. Say: “No reward do I ask of you for this except the love of those near of kin.” And if any one earns any good, We shall give him an increase of good in respect thereof: for God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Ready to appreciate (service). (Surah Ash-Shuraa 42:23)

And He listens to those who believe and do deeds of righteousness, and gives them increase of His Bounty: but for the Unbelievers their is a terrible Penalty. (Surah Ash-Shuraa 42:26)

Likewise Surah Al-Qasas (Surah 28 – The Stories) declares:

But any that (in this life) had repented, believed, and worked righteousness, will have hopes to be among those who achieve salvation. (Surah Al-Qasas 28:67)

But what if we have not ‘worked righteousness’, done ‘righteous deeds’ and have fallen short on good service?  The Law of Musa explained the absolute obedience required and the ‘terrible penalty’ for any who fall short, which these ayat in Surah Ash-Shuraa and Surah Al-Qasas confirm.  The glad tidings of the Prophet Isa al Masih PBUH was for those people who miss in righteous deeds as described in these ayat.  Are you one who has not worked righteousness perfectly?  Then read the encounter of Isa al Masih with a man who did not work any righteousness– who was a traitor even.

The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) had brought Lazarus back to life from death – revealing the purpose of his mission – to destroy death itself.  Now he was on his way to Jerusalem to complete his mission.  On the way he passed through Jericho (which is today in Palestinian West Bank).  Because of his many miracles and teachings a large crowd came out to see him.  In that crowd was a rich but despised man – Zacchaeus.  He was rich because he was a tax collector for the Romans who occupied Judea with military force.  He would collect more taxes from the people than Rome required – and keep the extra for himself.  He was despised by the Jews because, though a Jew himself, he was working for the Roman occupiers in this way and cheating his own people.  He was viewed as a traitor to his people.

So Zacchaeus, being short, could not see the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) in the crowd, and no one there was willing to help him.  The Injil records how he met the Prophet and what was said:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19: 1-10)

The people did not like what the prophet had done – inviting himself to Zacchaeus’s home.  Zacchaeus was bad and everyone knew it.  But Zacchaeus recognized that he was a sinner.  Most of us hide our sins, cover them up or pretend that that we have no sins.  But not Zacchaeus.  He knew that what he was doing was wrong.  Yet when he took the first step to meet the Prophet, Isa al Masih’s response was so warm that it surprised everyone.

Isa al Masih (PBUH) wanted Zaccheus to repent, turn away from sin, and to turn to him as ‘Masih’.  When Zaccheus did this he found that the Prophet (PBUH) pardoned him – declaring that he was ‘saved’ from being ‘lost’.

How about you and me?  We probably have not done such shameful things as Zacchaeus.  But because we are not so bad, we think that, like Adam, we can hide, cover up or pretend away the ‘little’ sins and ‘mistakes’ that we do.  We hope we can do enough good things to pay for our bad deeds.  That was what the crowd who came to see the prophet thought.  Therefore, Isa did not invite himself to any of their homes, nor declare that any of them were ‘saved’ – only Zacchaeus.  It is far better for us to admit our sins before Allah and not try hiding them.  Then as we ourselves reach out for the mercy of Isa al Masih we will find that forgiveness and pardon will be given to us beyond what we can imagine.

But how could Zacchaeus’s bad actions be erased so that he could have assurance of forgiveness from that moment – without waiting for Judgment Day?  We follow Isa al Masih (PBUH) as he continues to Jerusalem to complete his mission.

Isa al Masih’s Mission in the Raising of Lazarus

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. (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.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

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.”Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days,and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

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 understood 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 Quran, had become mortal because of his disobedience.  All his descendants, you and me included, are held by 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.

(John 11:45-57)

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’.