Messiah (Greek: Christos) Does Not Mean Savior (Greek: Soter)
The word “messiah” in Hebrew (mashiakh), comes from the same triliteral root as the Arabic m-s-h, meaning “to rub” or “anoint;” this denotes that he has a special quality and exalted status. Therefore, “messiah” does not mean “savior” linguistically; however orthodox (trinitarian) Christians interpret his special quality to be that of a savior (Greek: soter). This is a Christian interpretation. We should remember that the entire concept of the Messiah was borrowed by the Christians from Judaism, then radically reinterpreted in light of Pauline Christology.
Messiah: A Jewish Concept
Jews also call God “Father” (Isa. 64:16), refer to devout Jews as God’s “children” (Psalms 82:6), and have a concept of a holy spirit (ruach qadosh). These terms and concepts are today almost exclusively Christian signifiers due to what post-colonial scholars call linguistic imperialism. In Judaism, however, the Messiah is not divine, begotten of God, nor does he vicariously atone for sin; he is a human being in all respects; terms such as father and son are purely figurative.
However, his special quality is that he ushers in a period of global peace and collects and unites all diasphoric Jews under his banner of justice. In fact, there are orthodox rabbis who say that the Messiah isn’t a person at all; for many it is rather a “messianic age” or “messianic polity” that is anticipated.
The Lukan Jesus Does Not Die forSin
It should also be noted that not all early Christians considered Jesus (peace be upon him) to be a savior in the sense of him dying for the sins of humanity. In fact, most New Testament scholars contend that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is only a savior in the same sense as Moses was, namely, as one who teaches us how to 1) recognize sin and 2) avoid it. The Lukan Jesus does not die for the sins of anyone; he is the great “prophetic exemplar” whose virtues of patience, compassion, and sacrifice must be cultivated into the lives of all who believe in him.
For Luke, it is repentance (Tashuvah) that makes us right with God, not the death of a savior of some sort. For instance, the pericope of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 demonstrates exactly the opposite teaching of vicarious atonement; the lost son leaves his life of sin with contrition and his father welcomes him back with open arms. The lesson here is repentance not atonement.
Special Quality of Jesus in Islam
So to answer your question: Jesus (peace be upon him) is only a “savior” in the sense that his teaching is a means by which we reorient ourselves toward God; identical to the Lukan Jesus in fact, and identical to all prophets for that matter. His special quality according to Islam is that he heralded the final and greatest Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and will return near the end of time to usher in that earthly kingdom of peace by defeating the forces of the anti-Christ.
And Allah knows best.
By: Shaykh Faraz Rabbani