It must come as something of a surprise to Christians to hear that the return of Jesus to earth is as much a basic belief of the Muslims as it is ours. Once again the vast majority of the Muslims of the world hold to this belief. As with the ascension the Quran does not treat the subject at any length and, as with so much of its teaching about Jesus, it is somewhat ambiguous. The one passage invariably brought forth to justify the doctrine is this one:
And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): Therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way. Surah 43.61
The key words in the original Arabic are Wa innahuu lailmil lissaaati la’ilmil-lissaa’ati which, literally interpreted, mean only “And there is knowledge (ilm) of the Hour (saah sa’ah)”. Arberry thus translates it, viz. “It is knowledge of the Hour”, as does Pickthall: “Verily there is knowledge of the Hour”. At first sight Yusuf Ali’s interpretation in the quote above, to the effect that Jesus himself is the sign of the Hour of Judgment to come, appears to be broadly read into the text which would not otherwise yield it.
Another writer, however, accepts that if the pronoun built into the word innahuu refers to Jesus, then it may well be that this text is intended to allude to his return to the earth towards the end of time.
It is also significant that Christ is spoken of as a sign of the “Hour” (Sure xliii.61) which would appear to be a reference to His second advent (in which Muslims believe) if the pronoun refers back to Christ. (Sweetman, Islam and Christian Theology, Part One, Vol. 1, p. 34).
Commenting on the same verse a Muslim writer seeks support for the interpretation in favour of the return of Jesus to earth in some of the expressed views of some of Muhammad’s own followers as they have been recorded in the traditions:
Distinguished Companions of the Holy Prophet Sallallaho alaihe wasallam, such as Hazrat Ibne-Abbas, Hazrat Hasan and Hazrat Qatawa have opined that there is a specific allusion in the above quoted wordings to the appearance of Jesus Christ before the Last Day. (Alam, Nuzul-e-Esa: Descension of Jesus Christ, p. 28).
In another place, referring to the opinions of the early Muslim interpreters of the Quran, he says:
Another commentator, Ibne-Atya, goes on to state that Moslem theologians are unanimous in holding that Jesus Christ is physically alive at present in Heavens and is destined to return to this world in the same condition towards the approach of the Last Day. (Alam, Nuzul-e-Esa: Descension of Jesus Christ, p. 37).
When the text is placed in its context in the Surah there does appear to be much to support the argument that it is Jesus himself who is spoken of as the knowledge or sign of the Hour. The passage begins by saying that Muhammad’s people ridicule him when he seeks to hold up the son of Mary as an example (Surah 43.57), goes on to quote their objection that their gods are better than he (v.58), and asserts In huwa illa abdun – “He was no more than a servant” – who was made an example to the Children of Israel (v.59). Thereafter Jesus himself is quoted (w .63-64) and, analysing the key verse in this context, it is hard to see what else could be the “knowledge” or sign of the Hour of Judgment if it is not Jesus himself, the subject of the whole passage. Yusuf Ali has the following comment appended to the text:
This is understood to refer to the second coming of Jesus in the Last Days just before the Resurrection, when he will destroy the false doctrines that pass under his name, and prepare the way for the universal acceptance of Islam, the Gospel of Unity and Peace, the Straight Way of the Quran. (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran, p. 1337).
Another Muslim translator of the Quran has a similar comment on this verse: “The reference is to the second advent of Jesus” (Daryabadi, The Holy Quran, Vol. 2, p. 493B). Going on from the Quran to the Hadith we find that there are a wealth of traditions in support of the doctrine of the return of Jesus to earth. There are no less than seventy in fact and they are regarded as mutawatir, “universally attested” traditions of unquestioned reliability. One reads:
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: By Him in Whose hand is my life, the son of Mary (may peace be upon him) will soon descend among you as a just judge. He will break crosses kill swine and abolish Jizya, and the wealth will pour forth to such an extent that no one will accept it. (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 1, p. 92).
Another tradition states that “spite, mutual hatred and jealousy against one another will certainly disappear” during his reign when he returns (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 1, p. 93) and in yet another tradition we read that Surah 4.159, which teaches that “there is none of the People of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) but must believe in him before his death”, is also a proof that Jesus will return to earth to receive the homage of all to whom the Scriptures have been given (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, p. 437). Throughout the various works in the Sirat and Hadith literature we find similar traditions supporting the return of Jesus, another of which reads:
Islam teaches that he will return from heaven, that he will destroy the Antichrist and all his host, that he will lead all true believers into an era of unprecedented bliss and prosperity, that he will rule over all the earth, and that he will establish a universal faith in God during his reign.
The return of Jesus to earth at the end of time is yet another of those unique features that implies that Jesus was far greater than the other prophets. Christians and Muslims may differ in what they expect Jesus to accomplish on his return but both expect him in any event to take control of all the earth with himself as Judge of all. This alone puts him head and shoulders above all other men in accomplishment and again makes him unique among men – a uniqueness which is vested in heavenly majesty and glory.