The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger; surely, Messengers like unto him had indeed passed away before him. And his mother was a truthful woman. They both used to eat food. (5:76)
This verse makes the following assertions:
Jesus was a messenger; messengers before him have passed away.
Jesus and his mother used to eat food i.e. they don’t anymore.
In this verse taken from the chapter Al-Maidah both statements independently assert Jesus’ death.
The first part of this verse is a classic syllogistic construct. So before proceeding, a word or two about Syllogism may be appropriate. It is a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two given or assumed propositions (premises): a common or middle term is present in the two premises but not in the conclusion, which need not be expressed but is assumed deductible from the premises. For example if it is said: All swans are white; Henry is a swan. Syllogism dictates that Henry is white. This is very much a reasoning primitive, like a, b, c of logic.
In this verse that middle term is Rusool (messenger) connecting the two propositions: 1. The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger and 2. Messengers before Jesus have passed away. Given this, the conclusion is self-evident and need not be explicitly stated in the verse itself: that Jesus has passed away as well.
It may be argued that with syllogism it is possible to reach an invalid conclusion despite individual propositions being independently true. As in: All trains are long; some buses are long; therefore some buses are trains. But the question is why did Allah choose a well known tool of reasoning if the conclusion was to be invalid? Is it to mislead the reader, one may ask? That is inconceivable. So it must be accepted that the conclusion is valid. Jesus is indeed dead like all prophets before him.
The above conclusion is further supported by what follows in the same verse. That Jesus and his mother used to eat food. The reason why his mother stopped eating is, indisputably, her encounter with death. Since both mother and the son have been joined together in a single statement. It can only be deduced that Jesus has stopped eating for the same reason, which is his own encounter with death.
There is not much wiggle room in interpreting this verse another way, yet it may be argued that it is possible for Jesus to have stopped eating but be still alive by some special decree of God. That avenue of escape is also blocked by the Quran. Once Quran decides that Jesus dies there is no way for him to survive. The following lays to rest the notion that Jesus is sitting hungry in the fourth heaven, but is somehow surviving:
And we did not give them (Messengers) bodies that ate no food, nor were they to live for ever. (21:9)
Let us assume that Jesus is still alive and is, one day, going to descend from the heavens. Envisage the day of his return. After a fast of over two thousand years he would of course be looking forward to eating something. And would perhaps request his hosts, the ulema, for food to break his fast. How surprised he will be when instead of laying a sumptuous dinner in his honour, the ulema will present him with verse 76 from Al-Maidah. Jesus will be told that according to the Holy Quran he used to eat food. And in absence of any mention of his eating food in the future the ulema find themselves duty bound to deny him much deserved hospitality. Al-Maidah:76 stands in the way of Jesus eating anything. No amount of protestations from Jesus will be allowed to prevail. On one hand Ummah stands to lose the integrity of the Qur'an and on the other a starving man in need of food! Of course the Ummah cannot lose the Qur'an. So Jesus would have to save the world on an empty stomach.
With little reflection it can become amply clear that the belief in a living Jesus as is in fact a grave insult to the person of our Holy Master, Muhammad saw. If there was someone who deserved to live and to return, it had to be Muhammad saw. How can it be that our Holy Master lies buried while a Bani-Israeli prophet lives in the heaven? It is an abomination to consider that a prophet who received nothing by way of spiritual training from the Holy Prophet would get to spiritually rejuvenate Holy Prophet’s ummah in the later days. Remember that Jesus is not a spiritual pupil of the Holy Prophet. As far as Jesus is concerned he is not indebted to the Holy Prophet in any manner whatsoever. On the other hand, if the scenario of Jesus’ return is true, Holy Prophet would find himself greatly indebted to him. It would be Jesus who would save the ummah of the Holy Prophet from destruction. A generous favor, indeed, extended from Jesus to the Holy Prophet, which the Holy Prophet will have no way of returning, even partially. So Jesus's declaration in the New Testament that “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last”, would prove correct in a much larger context than its original import, which was limited to certain people and was confined to that period in time. Ultimately, it would be Jesus alone who would save the world. The fact that there was Muhammad saw somewhere between the first and second appearance of Jesus, would only be a footnote in religious history. Jesus would indisputably emerge as the ultimate savior. There is no escaping this sad conclusion for those who accept and await the literal reappearance of Jesus as part of their belief system. But, thankfully and mercifully, this concept is nipped in the bud by the Holy Quran with its unequivocal declaration that Jesus has died. May his soul rest in peace.
“Your Imam from amongst you”
Holy Prophet saw said that Issa (Jesus) to come will be from within the Ummah. He used the words Imamokum Minkum: that he will be “your imam from amongst you”. This hadith is sourced from Bukhari and Muslim and is therefore of the highest reliability:
Abu Huraira narrates that the Holy Prophet saw said that (O Muslims!) how would you feel when son of Mary will descend amongst you and he will be your imam from amongst you.
This narration rules out the possibility that the ‘son of Mary’ who is to come is the old Jesus. The one to come and lead the Muslims will be from amongst them, the people of Muhammad saw. Whereas Jesus was a Bani-Israeli from the people of Moses. In the Holy Qur'an his charter is described as limited to a particular race: the Children of Israel (see 3:50, 61:7). A prophet sent to the Children of Israel would be an outsider to the Muslims. Muslims being the followers of the Universal Prophet Muhammad saw come from all races of the world, not just the Children of Israel. Jesus is simply not qualified to address the Muslims and a global audience. If he were to return in person, Muslims on the authority of the Holy Qur'an, would be justified in refusing his leadership.
Also the word nazala, which means ‘to descend’, needs to be clarified. It happens to be one of the principal stumbling blocks for those who approach this issue with pre-conceived notions. In Arabic, this expression is used to signify high importance, usefulness or glory. The Holy Quran uses it in relation to the creation of clothing, iron and cattle (see 7:27, 57:26 and 39:7). Each of which is described as having ‘descended’ and each has, without doubt, played a critical role in the progress of human civilization. The same word is used in relation to the Holy Prophet saw himself (see 65:11-12)! Of course no one understands it to mean that the Holy Prophet descended from the heavens. Therefore ‘descending’ of the messiah only signifies his high status and the critical role he would play in bringing about the rejuvenation of Islam. His advent would be a source of great blessing for the Muslims. He would be born within the Ummah, and is metaphorically given the name Jesus son of Mary to indicate his remarkable similarity with that prophet, even though he would be a completely different person.
The question arises as to why has he been called Jesus? Why not by some other name? To understand this one needs to be attuned to the language of scriptures and prophets, which is always high in metaphors and analogies especially when it comes to prophecies. Since the Holy Prophet Muhammad saw was a prophet like Moses therefore the messiah who was to appear among his people has been given the same name as the messiah who came to the people of Moses. That beautifully completes the analogy between Muhammad saw and Moses. Furthermore, in naming him Jesus, a whole gamut of clues and signs is provided which would prove invaluable in his identification when he comes. His time of coming, his circumstances, the state of the Muslims of his time, and a whole host of other indicators are all succinctly conveyed by naming him Jesus.
In conclusion, that messiah, the saviour of the people of Muhammad saw, would be from amongst them. He would entirely owe his spiritual excellence to the Holy Prophet and all his victories and achievements would in fact be victories of the Holy Prophet saw.