Knowledge of the final hour is something that is only known to Allah. “Verily, Allah alone has knowledge of the hour” (Quran 31:34). While there is no verse or hadith that mentions the exact timing of it, there are several prophetic traditions that mention signs that would precede it. These signs are generally classified as minor (alamaat al-sugra) or as major (alamaat al-kubra). Minor signs, mostly having to do with the loss of normative ethics and morality in society, are quite numerous and beyond the scope of this article. Major signs, however, are much fewer in number, more eschatologically significant, and often have to do with tangible, physical, even cosmic changes, that begin to occur on earth. Perhaps the most remarkable of these major signs is that one day, Jesus, the son of Mary, will descend back to earth, and fulfill a mission of epic proportions. Thus, this article will focus on the return of al-Masih, Jesus, son of Mary, through textual references in the Quran and Sunnah.
No military might or high-tech weaponry will be able to defeat the Antichrist. But one look from Jesus, a superlative embodiment of truth, sincerity, and piety, will disintegrate him.
But before delving into the details of this return, it is important to answer a couple of questions. What do Muslims mean by the term al-Masih, or Messiah? How was Jesus preserved and protected from death in the first place? And what are the Quranic references, if any, to this major event?
Al-Masih, or Messiah, in the Islamic Worldview
Jesus is given the title of al-Masih in the Quran, but what does that mean? Some commenters such as al-Qurtubi have looked to the root of the word m-s-h (touch) to derive the interpretation that al-Masih is someone who was blessed by the powers of miraculous touch. His touch healed the blind, the leper, and gave life to the dead (through the permission of Allah). But others have looked in a more comprehensive way at the Arabic lexicon to infer the meaning of “abolish” or “one who travels.” These later interpretations could also be in reference to Jesus’ original role as a messenger of God, as he came to abolish much of the practices of the Jewish priests, and he traveled constantly with his companions in spreading his message. But the more significant idea is to have those meanings linked to his return to earth in his second coming, to “travel” in search of the Antichrist, and then “abolish” him and his rule. Hence, while al-Masih has the linguistic potential for various meanings, the connection to the role of wiping out the Antichrist and the corrupt society, in my view, is the most important.
Jesus Was Not Killed or Crucified
Allah (SWT) tells us in the Quran, “…they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it only seemed to them [as if it had been] so. And indeed, those who differ over it are full of doubts. They have no knowledge of it and follow but assumption. And of a surety, they did not kill him” (4:157). The Quran clearly states that the idea that Jesus (peace be upon him) was crucified and killed is based on nothing more than myth, a mental construct that appeared to take hold and solidify in Christian doctrine over a period of time. Bart Ehrman, a canonical scholar, historian, and former evangelist, mentions that the Gospels disagree on nearly every detail in the resurrection narratives. He then mentions several reasons to doubt that there was ever a discovery of an empty tomb as mentioned in the Gospels. If there never was an empty tomb, then there was no bodily resurrection. Such mythologizing could easily have taken place given that the canonical Gospels were not written until several decades after Jesus, by individuals we know nothing about, and in a language, Greek, that Jesus neither spoke or communicated in.
Jesus Raised Towards Allah
In the Quran, we read, “[Mention] when Allah said, ‘O Jesus, indeed I will take your soul and raise you to Myself and purify you from those who disbelieve and make those who follow you [in submission to Allah alone] superior to those who disbelieve, until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return, and I will judge between you concerning that in which you used to differ’” (Quran 3:55). In continuation with the idea that Jesus was not killed, the Quran shows how he was protected from the crucifixion attempts of the Roman government by Allah raising him to Himself. Imam al-Qurtabi (d. 1273) in his Al-Jaami’ lil Ahkaam al-Quran saw this as an indirect proof for the return of Jesus (AS). In his interpretation, he makes note that the construct in Arabic of “take your soul and raise you” could also mean raise you first and then take your soul later. In other words, the verse is saying that Allah first raised Jesus towards Himself, into the celestial realm, protecting him from those who were trying to kill him, and purifying him from those who would attribute any divinity to him. Then, He will send him back to earth to kill the Antichrist, at which time he will live out the remainder of his normal life, after which Allah will “take his soul” as the verse says, where he will die a natural death. Hence, while the verse reads “take your soul and raise you,” the nuance of the Arabic grammar allows for the interpretation of raising Jesus first and then taking his soul,
suggesting a return back to earth to live out his life and then die a natural death for his soul to be taken.
Other commentators have understood the word “take your soul” (mutawaffika) in the above verse the same way that Allah says he takes the souls of people who are asleep and “not yet dead,” as the same Arabic term (yatawaffa) is used (see, for example 39:42 and 6:60). This means that Allah took the soul of Jesus, and raised it to himself, but he has not yet actually died any more than you or I die when we sleep. Hence, because every soul must taste death, there must be a return for Jesus to this world in order for him to have a natural death.
People of the Book Believing in Him
The Quran states, “And there is none from the People of the Scripture but that he will surely believe in him [Jesus] before his death. And on the Day of Resurrection he will be against them a witness” (4:159). Similarly, this verse has a grammatical nuance that allows for a dual interpretation. The pronoun “his” in the phrase “before his death,” could refer to the people of the book themselves, in which case, the meaning becomes there is not a single person from the people of the book, except that before they die, they will believe in Jesus as he really was, a messenger and prophet of Allah. But there is no prophetic statement or teaching to back up this interpretation. The more likely interpretation is that the pronoun “his” refers to Jesus, meaning there will not be a single person from the people of the book who, at the time of Jesus’ return, does not believe in Jesus before he (Jesus) dies. This then suggests that there will be a second coming of Jesus (AS) on earth in which he will die a natural death. This was the opinion of Abu Huraira (R) and Ibn Abbas (R), and according to them, an indirect reference to the return of Jesus.
Jesus as a Sign of the Hour
We are further told in the Quran the following: “And verily, he [Jesus] is a sign for [or knowledge of] the Hour, so have no doubt about it and follow Me. This is the straight path” (43:61). Imam al-Zamakhashari (d. 1144) in his commentary (Al-Kashshaaf) on this verse said it means Jesus is a sign from amongst the signs of the day of Judgement (shartun min ashraatiha). He then quotes a hadith mentioning that Jesus will descend in Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, join the fajr prayer of the Muslims, stand behind the imam in the congregation, follow the sharia of Muhammad (pbuh), and kill the Antichrist. He says that the term “ilm,” meaning knowledge, is used in the verse because the descent of Jesus (pbuh) will be knowledge for people of the coming of the hour. Imam al-Baghawi (d. 1122), in his commentary (Tafsir al-Baghawi), stated that the verse was in direct reference to the descent (nuzul) of Jesus and as a sign that the hour is close. Ibn Abbas had a similar opinion, but with a slight variation in the reading.
Hadith References to the Return of Jesus
It should be noted that none of the above Quranic references make a direct and clear statement about the return of Jesus. Some scholars have taken this to mean that the return of Jesus cannot be taken as absolute dogma. However, the combination of the above verses with references in the hadith literature have been enough for others to make the matter a part of the basic Islamic creed. Imam At-Tahaawi, for example, mentioned in his famous articulation of creed, widely accepted by Sunni Muslims, “…and we believe in the signs of the final hour, including the appearance of the Antichrist, and the descent of Jesus, the son of Mary, from the celestial realm.”
In one of these particular hadith, found in Bukhari, al-Tirmidhi, and the Musnad of ibn Hanbal, Abu Huraira narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “By God Almighty, in Whose hand my soul is, Jesus, the son of Mary, will soon descend among you [Muslims] as a just ruler. He will break the cross, kill the swine, and abolish the jizya. He will distribute wealth and there shall be so much wealth that no one will accept it anymore.” From this hadith, we know that Jesus’ return to earth will be as a just ruler, rather than as a prophet. He will return as a follower of Muhammad (pbuh).
In allegorical reference to this, the hadith states that he will break the cross and kill the swine, meaning, followers of Christianity will break their attachment to the cross which symbolically represents resurrection and divinity, and will follow Jesus into the fold of Islam, worshipping one God. Killing of swine should also be seen metaphorically, as it represents a return to observing the law, something that Jesus came to fulfill, but which Paul ended up abolishing after developing his trinitarian theology. Thus, the connection to the above verse (4:159) comes full circle, explaining how Jesus will bring into his fold millions from the People of the Book, and not one of them will die except that they will have believed in Jesus. In fact, other traditions mention that upon his decent, Jesus will find the Muslims in congregational prayer and will approach to join. The Muslims will motion him to lead, but he will instead insist on the leader of the Muslims at that time (commonly believed to be the Mahdi) to lead in the prayer. Jesus will then pray behind the Imam, showing he has returned under the banner of Islam, and not a new movement or religion.
In another hadith found in Sahih Muslim, narrated by Nawwas bin Saman, there is a long description by the Prophet (pbuh) of the Antichrist, and that he will stay on earth for 40 days, one day like a year, one day like a month, one day like a week, and the others like normal days. He will spread like rain backed by wind, going to each nation until they believe in him. The Prophet (pbuh) continues the description, saying that he gives nations wealth or poverty instantly, based on whether they believe in him. And he will take a man, full of youth, cut him in two and then bring him back to life. “At that moment, Allah sends Jesus, the son of Mary, from heaven. He descends on the top of the white minaret at the east of Damascus, putting his hands on the wings of two angles. When he bows his head, it is as if water drops, and when he lifts his head his hair shines like pearls. Any nonbeliever who receives his breath will die; his breath reaches as far as his sight. He pursues the Antichrist and finds him at the gate of Lod; then he kills him…” The way this death occurs is rather fascinating. Ibn al-Maajah mentions in his Sunan collection that “When the Antichrist sees Jesus, he will melt as salt melts in the water.”
No military might or high-tech weaponry will be able to defeat the Antichrist. But one look from Jesus, a superlative embodiment of truth, sincerity, and piety, will disintegrate him. This is because only truth can defeat falsehood, and only sincerity and piety can defeat trickery and godlessness. In the end, faith and believing genuinely in one’s cause are the greatest weapons that Muslims can possess, something that is beautifully elucidated in the imagery of the reign of Jesus.