There seems to be no lack of Jesus movies but a new one has come out that should capture some attention. It is called the Messiah and it was made by Iranian filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh. You can get some more information on this film and read an interview with Talebzadeh here. This film attempts to show audiences the Muslim view of Jesus.
In many ways, Muslims have a high view of Jesus. Jesus is one of the greatest prophets, perhaps second only to Muhammad. Muslims affirm the virgin birth, Jesus’ role as the Jewish Messiah and his ministry of healings and miracles. However, Muslims do not accept Jesus as the Son of God. That is not surprising as most non-Christians, religious or non-religious would deny Jesus’ deity. What is surprising is that Muslims do deny something that most people would accept – that Jesus died on the cross. This is based on a passage from the Qur’an. This passage is a response to Jewish claims to have killed Jesus.
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—Nay, Allah raised him unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Sura 4.157-158)
The idea is that God substituted someone else on the cross for Jesus, as Jesus was too good to suffer thus. Many Muslims believe it was Judas who died on the cross, while God took Jesus to heaven without dying, similar to what God did for Elijah in the Old Testament. There are a number of problems with this. First of all, there is not agreement in the Qur’an on this. In Sura 19.33 we read these words of Jesus: “So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day I shall be raised up to life (again)!” This seems to affirm the traditional three-fold stage of birth, death and resurrection that Christians hold for Jesus. Qur’anic translator A. Yusuf Ali comments on this passage by saying “Christ was not crucified. But those who believe that he never died should ponder over this verse.” This goes against what Muslims say about Jesus’ escape from death.
Secondly, Jesus’ death is not a minor aspect of his ministry in the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark has been described as a Passion Narrative with an extended introduction. The story of Jesus dying for his people is firmly planted in an Old Testament tradition that includes Passover traditions, Day of Atonement theology, Psalm 22 and the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ death on the cross is the foundation of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
Another problem with this film is that it is based on something called the Gospel of Barnabas. While on the surface, we might wonder why we should trust the New Testament Gospels and not another Gospel that just happened to not get included in the canon. That is because most people do not know what the Gospel of Barnabas really is.
The so-called Gospel of Barnabas, [is] a text written by a fourteenth-century monk in southern Italy who converted to Islam. In the form of a gospel, he wrote the life story of Jesus, in which he summarized the Islamic conceptions of Jesus and at the same time battled the Christian traditions where they conflicted with the Islamic. Thus, according to Islamic conviction, he lets Jesus prophesy the appearance of Muhammad and warns his community to follow the new prophet, whom he—in contradiction to the Qur’an—calls Messiah (compare Sura 61.6). (Islam: An Introduction for Christians edited by Paul Varo Martinson, p. 191)
While I affirm people’s freedom of religion and their right to portray Jesus the way they want, it is also important that people have the correct information by which to judge each interpretation.