- Reza Aslan, author of the new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” has been interviewed on a host of media outlets in the last week. Riding a publicity wave, the book has surged to #2 on Amazon’s list. Media reports have introduced Aslan as a “religion scholar” but have failed to mention that he is a devout Muslim.
Why are these media outlets systematically omitting any mention that Aslan is a devout Muslim? Instead, they are touting him as if he is a scholar in the area of New Testament studies. However, this is not the case:
- His book is not a historian’s report on Jesus. It is an educated Muslim’s opinion about Jesus — yet the book is being peddled as objective history on national TV and radio. Zealot is a fast-paced demolition of the core beliefs that Christianity has taught about Jesus for 2,000 years. Aslan is not a trained historian.Its conclusions are long-held Islamic claims—namely, that Jesus was a zealous prophet type who didn’t claim to be God, that Christians have misunderstood him, and that the Christian Gospels are not the actual words or life of Jesus but “myth.”
How would Aslan know “that Christians have misunderstood” Jesus? Where does he derive his evidence that Jesus “didn’t claim to be God?” Well, from the Koran, compiled about six hundred years after the New Testament!
Did Jesus claim to be God? He did in many cryptic ways! Why was He not more explicit about His identity? Well, he wasn’t explicit about many things. Not only were His disciples unable to comprehend much of what He had taught, His adversaries were all too eager to catch Him making indictable statements. Nevertheless, Jesus did say many things equating Himself with God. Here are several examples:
- For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth… For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.  Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,  that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.  I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.  I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.  And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.  “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice  and come out–those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:18-29)
Notice that the religious leadership correctly understood that Jesus was “making himself equal with God,” and Jesus never contradicted their impression.
In verse 21, Jesus claimed that He gives eternal life. In the Hebrew Scriptures, this is something only possible for God to do. Therefore, Jesus cryptically claimed to be God.
In verse 22, Jesus claimed that He is the judge. Once again, Scripture informs us that only
God can judge.
In verse 23, Jesus claimed that the same honor due to God was also due to Him, equating Himself with God. No human can claim anything distinctly close to this. It would be the worst blasphemy, and the Muslim knows this.
In verse 24, Jesus claimed that His word brought eternal life. Only God could say such a thing.
In verses 25-29, Jesus claimed that He would call forth the dead. This is something that only God can do. Therefore, Jesus was equating Himself with God.
Jesus also proclaimed that eternal life was a matter of trusting in Him:
- “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
- Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)
The Hebrew Scriptures demanded that trust be placed only in God:
- This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5)
If Jesus were a mere human, trusting in Him would make us accursed. Therefore, if Jesus isn’t God, He is a false teacher – not a position that a devout Muslim wants to take!!
Jesus equated Himself with God in many other ways. He taught that He is pre-existent, and only God is pre-existent:
- “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:58-59)
The Jewish leadership knew that He was equating Himself with God – a blasphemy which deserved stoning. Therefore, they tried to kill Him. (I trust the Jewish understanding of Jesus’ self-revelation far more than I do the Muslim understanding, six hundred years after the fact!) Jesus had not only indicated His pre-existence, He also applied to Himself the divine name of God – “I am.” This was how God had identified Himself to Moses (Exodus 3 and 4).
Afterwards, the leadership pressed Him to tell them explicitly if He was the Messiah. Jesus answered:
- “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me,  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:25-28)
Once again, Jesus claimed for Himself powers and authority that only God can have. It is Jesus who gives “them eternal life” and is able to protect them against any adversity (verse 28). Only God can do this. Therefore, anyone else saying this would be stoned.
The leadership understood His words and wanted to stone Him to death. They explained that they were doing this because Jesus, “a mere man, claim[s] to be God” (John 10:33).
Instead of correcting their “misunderstanding,” Jesus continued to affirm what they already understood:
- “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)
This doctrine of the Deity of the Messiah is not an invention of the Apostles. There is even a lot of evidence for this in the Hebrew Scriptures:
- “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
- For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
This type of evidence is important because the Muslim, when backed into a corner, will claim that the NT has been altered, even though the Koran doesn’t support this claim. How then can he explain the fact that the OT teaches the very same theology as does the NT!
Muslim apologists also claim that Jesus never taught that He should be worshipped. However, as these verses point out, He did teach this. In fact, He never forbade people from worshipping Him (Matthew 9:18; Matthew 14:33; Matthew 15:25; Matthew 20:20; Matthew 21:9; Matthew 28:9; Matthew 28:16-17; Mark 3:11; Mark 5:6-7; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 4:41; Luke 5:8; Luke 23:42; Luke 24:52; John 5:23; John 9:38; John 12:13). Even kings worshipped Him:
- And [the Magi] asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2, 11)
In contrast to the worship of Jesus, Paul and even an angel had strictly forbade others from worshipping them.
There are many more lines of reasoning in support of the claim that Jesus is God, especially the more explicit affirmations found in the Epistles and the wealth of OT evidence. However, I am equally impressed with the implicit New Testament evidence that Jesus is both God and Messiah. Take, for example, the way the NT applies to Jesus OT verses that refer to “Yahweh,” thereby cryptically indicating that Jesus is Yahweh!
For instance, Matthew writes of Jesus:
- This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” (Matthew 3:3)
However, Isaiah had identified the coming “Lord” as “Yahweh.” In essence, Matthew asserted that Yahweh would come in the Person of Jesus, equating Jesus with Yahweh!
There are many such verses, and they are very significant. They answer Aslan’s charge that the Gospels do not reflect the true words of Jesus but instead represent later embellishments. However, if the NT wanted to make the case that Jesus is God, it wouldn’t have resorted to such cryptic references. Instead, it would have trumpeted, “Jesus is God,” loud and clear!
John records Jesus as saying that He is “the First and the Last”:
- When I saw him [Jesus], I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” (Rev. 1:17; also, 22:13)
This is a title that only God uses in regards to Himself (Isa. 44:6)! In using this title, Jesus is equating Himself with God!
The Book of Hebrews also applies OT quotations regarding God to Jesus:
- “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12)
Implicit references to Jesus’ deity make up the very fabric of the NT. These references are so intimately woven into everything that Jesus did and said that they couldn’t have been mere insertions, as many so glibly charge. Instead, it can be argued that virtually everything that Jesus said reflected His divinity. Here are several examples:
- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16; KJV)
This phrase is derived from Psalm 2, widely regarded as Messianic in Jesus day. However, Jesus wasn’t merely equating Himself with the Messiah by referring to Himself as the “only begotten son.” He was also proclaiming His divinity, because, at the end of the Psalm, the nations must do homage before Him.
Matthew records Jesus comforting His disciples with these words:
- For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
In order to accomplish this feat of omnipresence, He would have to be God! Even the more “mundane” things that Jesus taught pointed to His divinity. Implicit within his reference to “My Father,” was the assertion that He had always had a special relationship with God. He told His disciples that He would send them the Holy Spirit (John 15:26). Only God could presume to make such a promise! Then He claimed that the Spirit “would testify of Me” (15:27)! It would have been bold heresy to claim this Jesus isn’t God!
In many ways, Jesus proclaimed that He was greater than Moses and the Mosaic Covenant:
- I tell you that one greater than the temple is here…For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:6-8)
Only God could proclaim Himself greater than the Sabbath and the Temple. He was also greater than the Covenant. He initiated the New Covenant with His own blood (Mat. 26:27-29). In the end, when He commissioned and sent out His Apostles, He claimed that He had been given all authority in heaven and earth, and He commanded them to preach Him:
- “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Once again, Jesus claims to be omnipresent. He will remain with them always! Also, it is no longer Moses who will be taught but Jesus. Perhaps most astonishing is His command to baptize into the three Persons of the Trinity, of which He is One. He doesn’t say to baptize into the names of the Three but into the name, signifying that they each partake of the same essence.
The fabric of the NT is impregnated with a Divine Jesus. His miracles, His forgiveness, His authority, and His self-revelations all proclaim the same message. However cryptically they might have been delivered, they all partook of the same message – Jesus is God!
It is not at all surprising that the Muslim Reza Aslan would write such a book. He is merely reflecting traditional Islam. However, what is surprising is the evident media enthusiasm for anything that will denigrate the Christian faith – a hatred that is evidently so intense that they embrace and promote a Muslim’s critique of Jesus. When have you heard the media promote a Christian’s critique of Muhammad?