How Does the Current Reign of Jesus Bring Hope to the World in the Age of ISIS?
HE WENT UP ON HIGH!
Part Six of a Seven-Part Series on the Ascension of Christ
[Editor’s Note: Christ Is NOW!—that’s the title of David Bryant’s latest book, which will be published later this year. “Now” is the operative word because many Christians look back at what Jesus did, and look ahead to what he will do, but do not necessarily look UP at what he is doing at this very moment. But in a world full of various terrors, more than ever the Church needs a vision of who Christ is today and how he’s directly involved in our current challenges—especially in the face of the increased radicalization within the world’s second largest religion.]
Do you know that the Quran calls Jesus “the Word of God” and records that God took Jesus bodily up on high? The Quran teaches the Ascension!
Furthermore, do you know Islam teaches that Jesus will return to deliver the earth from cataclysm and bring all Abrahamic faiths together to inaugurate an age of peace and prosperity? Half of the world’s one billion Muslims belong to sects that believe his return is imminent!
Interestingly, Muhammad, Islam’s founder, declared, “God will not disgrace a community of which I am the beginning and Jesus is the end…” (emphasis added).
But there are gaping holes in Islam’s “Christology,” misinformation and omissions that directly impact an age that’s rattled by Islamic extremism and global terrorism. Unfortunately, one of the most glaring holes in Islam’s view of Jesus plagues much of the Church today, as well.
Reversing this failure of vision could totally transform how Christians survive and thrive in the face of Islamic extremism—and every other fear.
In this blog post I want to look with you not only at what’s missing in Islam’s view of who Jesus is today but also at what may be missing in your view of him in the very same way.
First, Let’s Look at the Muslim Jesus Christians Never Knew
In his new book, The Islamic Jesus, Mustafa Akyol—himself a devout Muslim, a sought-after expert on contemporary Islam, and a columnist for leading newspapers and journals—shows us views on Jesus from inside the Quranic world. These are perspectives most Christians have never heard. For example, three of the chapters are titled: ‘The Qur’anic Jesus,” “An Islamic Christology,” and “The Second Coming.”
Disturbingly, Akyol subtitles his book “How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims,” reflecting accepted Islamic doctrine that soundly downgrades the deity, uniqueness, and supremacy of our Savior. Akyol demotes Jesus first of all by diminishing our Lord to be merely one ruler of one people (the Jews), and then reassigns him the position of a holy prophet who is subsequently superseded by the final and greatest prophet of all, Muhammad.
And yet amazingly, as Akyol points out, in many places without equivocation the Quran bestows on Jesus higher honors than it ever places on Muhammad, or that the founder himself would have ever dared to claim for himself.
The Quran actually exalts Jesus on a number of levels. Most importantly for our purposes in this blog post, Islam’s holy book teaches that Jesus skipped death in order to physically ascend into the arms of God.
Muslims believe Jesus is currently in safe keeping in some metaphysical realm until the day arrives for him to return to earth, victoriously, to usher in “the End.” Muhammad taught that after Christ’s judgments against the forces of evil, Jesus himself will comprise the end of all things, as he unleashes the golden age for which the world has longed.
Second, Let’s Look at the Biblical Jesus Muslims Never Knew
Apart from leaving out many facets of the Bible’s testimony to Jesus’ divine nature, redemptive mission, atoning sacrifice, and irreversible defeat of death, Muslims’ view of his subsequent ascension distorts that truth in two unfortunate ways:
- The Quran teaches that Jesus went up on high in order to escape the cross and be placed “on hold” until a future “Act 2” when he reappears. At the time Jesus comes back to earth he will take charge of the world for a while, then die and be buried side by side with Muhammad. Yes, Muslims believe Jesus finally dies. A space is already reserved at Muhammad’s tomb for Jesus’ future burial!
- Consequently, Muslims also believe there is no involvement of Jesus at this moment in world affairs or individual lives. Despite how he is honored by their faithful as a chief messenger of God, they regard him as currently irrelevant to our generation. There’s no hint in Islam that Jesus was enthroned and right now is ruling proactively and redemptively as king of the universe.
I wonder how many Christians, for all practical purposes, regard God’s Son with a similarly agnostic, passive, even indifferent response to him on a daily basis. How many of us seek to stay consistently, devotedly alert to all he is doing day by day as ruler of all?
The Extremely Active Jesus All of Us Need to Know
In the midst of existential fear, many today feel helpless before the global proliferation of violent extremists bent on destroying the modern world order—a prime target being Christianity, which they perceive as heretically anti-Muslim. Although many Muslims see the jihadis’ vision as a total distortion of Quranic teachings, these revolutionaries are convinced Allah has called them to fulfill a globally eradicating, hatred-fueled apocalyptic mission, often requiring suicidal martyrdom.
At such a time as this, even so, Christians have every reason to be encouraged!
That’s because we find ourselves under the sway of a far more radical redeemer—the Son of God residing on the throne of heaven. He too is “revolutionary.” He too gave his life for his “cause.” He too is committed to the regeneration of a new world order covered with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as waters cover the seas (Habakkuk 2:14)—as his dominion of truth and grace saturates the world in power and permanence.
He too is fanatically unbending—zealous and unrelenting in the exercise of his direct, dynamic, determined, decisive kingship, which is unfolding daily over every square inch of planet earth. That means he will ultimately bring every Muslim on planet earth—including those in the Islamic State (ISIS)—to confess his rule and bow before him as Lord of all.
Talk about extremism! At this very moment everything about who our Lord Jesus Christ is in terms of his majesty, and what he is doing in terms of his sovereignty, is so extreme that he himself defined it as a “ forcefully advancing kingdom” made up of “forceful people” (Matthew 11:12, GW/ISV).
What Great Hope We Find in the Extremism of Jesus Today
Synonyms for “extreme” include: intense, maximum, extraordinary, outrageous, uncompromising, boundless. Accordingly, here are a few ways Jesus’ reign today is all of this and more:
- Right now, Jesus is filling the universe with his presence, his power, and his proactivity. Scripture tells us: “The One who came down is the same as the One who went up higher than all the heavens. He did it in order to fill all of creation” (Ephesians 4, emphasis added). The ascended Master of the Universe is extending his scepter over all. Since Jesus was installed as Messiah the work of universal restoration and regeneration clearly is underway. Jesus’ reign is that extreme.
- Jesus has not been put “on hold” in some far off heavenly anteroom (as the Quran suggests), awaiting his auspicious reentry at the end of history to claim his rightful place. Quite the opposite: Right now, the world turns beneath the feet of an intensely involved Judge of all. Jesus is exercising unrelenting sway over the destiny of peoples and nations, over the flow of history and the forces of darkness. Scripture tells us in Psalm 110 that at this very moment the Father’s mandate to the Son is to “rule in the midst of your enemies” making them “a footstool for your feet.” Jesus’ reign is that extreme.
- The expansive claims in Colossians 1 verify that Jesus’ current reign impinges on two realities: (1) who Christ is (there we read of him as Son, creator, sustainer, reconciler); and (2) what Christ does (create, control, inherit, triumph, redeem, restore). None of this can be countermanded by the claims of millions of Sunni or Shia devotees. Jesus is relentlessly working to bring everything back to the Father so that God might be “all in all.” Furthermore, Colossians 1 teaches that his supremacy over all things is inherent in his headship of the Church. Nothing in Scripture suggests the Body of Christ should fear ever being swallowed up in some eternal, global Islamic caliphate. Not now. Not ever. Jesus’ reign is that extreme.
- From the mighty arm of the Ascended One, God’s purposes are streaming forth with absolute precision. As Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 28, not only has he received all authority over heaven and earth, but wherever his followers reach out to earth’s peoples with his offer of salvation, he promises to be involved with them personally in those transactions, as his kingdom advances in all directions. Jesus’ reign is that extreme.
- “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13). This assures us that his robust regency today expresses the same heart of mercy and forgiveness and deliverance he exhibited toward repentant people in the days of his flesh. Everywhere, all the time, Jesus continues to restore broken lives, heal the sick, dispatch demons, and defy every form of false religion just as he did then. To this hour, his kingship reflects his concern for the poor, the meek, the sorrowing, the oppressed. To this moment, he receives little children who draw near to him and extends the hope of eternal life to all who receive him. Jesus’ reign is that extreme.
- As incredible as it seems, on top of all that, believers get to be directly engaged with Christ’s reign every time we gather to worship. Reinforced by choirs of angels, saints on earth join with saints in heaven to surround the Lamb and proclaim his worthiness. Every Sunday with much affection we cast our lives, like crowns, before our King. Already, long before Jesus returns in victory, we find ourselves daily living in the drama of Revelation 5, dwelling around the throne, part of the eternal celebration of our sovereign:
Then I looked and heard the voice of millions and millions of angels . . . In a loud voice they were saying: ‘The Lamb, who was put to death, is worthy! He is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength! He is worthy to receive honor and glory and praise! (NIRV).
Jesus’ reign is that extreme!
- Such direct involvement with our Savior’s regal enterprise is possible in this present age because since Pentecost the Church is being conquered by his Spirit. As we saw in the third installment of this series, at the time our Lord first occupied his dais in heaven his Spirit took up residence among his people on earth. This gift propels the Church into outward ministry among the nations (including among Muslim peoples in many lands) to move history toward the consummation of all things. Jesus’ reign is that extreme.
- Today, crowned King of kings, our Lord summons all nations into loving submission to himself—to give him the obedience of faith in all things (Romans 1). As we spread the gospel, therefore, we are delivering (as it were) a royal decree from earth’s sovereign deliverer. We are announcing that the kingdoms of this world have become his indisputable domain, and that’s why salvation is found in him alone. Even the emirs of the United Arab Emirates cannot avoid the implications for themselves of God’s sovereign determination as expressed in Ephesians 1:
. . . he showed us the mystery of his plan. It was in keeping with what he wanted to do. It was what he had planned through Christ. It will all come about when history has been completed. God will then bring together all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (NIRV, emphasis added).
Jesus’ reign is that extreme!
In the Face of Islamic Extremism We’re Invited to Dance With Jesus
In The Islamic Jesus we’re told that “if there is one single concept in Christian theology that will never be accepted by Muslims, it is the doctrine of the Trinity. It violates the absolute oneness of God.” As the Quran proclaims: “God is only One God. He is too Glorious to have a son!” (emphasis added).
By contrast, early church fathers not only taught on the Trinity but spoke of the exquisite “dance of the Trinity,” referring to such passages as 1 Corinthians 15 combined with other texts like Philippians 2 or Revelation 11. This dance, they said, has been in motion from eternity. The promenade goes like this:
The Father puts everything under the feet of the Son, giving him the supremacy in everything. Then, the Son turns around immediately and offers everything back to his Father for the glory of his Father. These actions form a circular, unending choreography.
Throughout the “dance,” moment by moment the Spirit is summoning sinners from across the globe to join the festivities, as he weaves believing hearts into the dance, to submit to and harmonize with the Son.
Every day endless joy in our Monarch and Mediator draws Christians into this symphony of incomparable love simulcast through the One who is the “glory of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1). Its melody draws on the promises of God. Its revelers abound in hope.
So, my brothers and sisters, let’s determine to be done with our terror over terror.
Instead, let’s jump with joy over Jesus on the throne. Let’s join him in the “dance of the Trinity.”
At the same time, let’s pray for ways to invite our Muslim friends to this celestial ball.
After all, since “Islam” literally means “submission” (to God), joining this dance with the Savior offers them the ultimate experience of true, saving, life-giving surrender!
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ-proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI) and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely-read book at www.ChristIsAllBook.com.