Jesus the Messenger
Another Qur’anic term related to “prophet” is “messenger.” The latter has a broader sense, denoting anyone that God sends on a mission, such as delivering a message or performing a particular task. As a prophet is sent by God to deliver a message to people, every prophet is a messenger. But the opposite is not true. Not every messenger is a prophet, because not every messenger receives from God the kind of knowledge that characterizes prophethood — that is, knowledge of religion and the Day of Judgment — or is charged with the responsibility of acting as a religious teacher to people. Also, unlike the title “prophet,” which is applied to human beings only, “messenger” is a title that is used in the Qur’an for non-humans, such as angels.
Many Muslim scholars have taken the opposite view, thinking that messengers are a special group of prophets whose messages are targeted at a larger number of people than other prophets. There are observations from the Qur’an that refute this view. First, the Qur’an uses the title “messenger” for some prophets, such as Hūd (7.67), whose preaching activities and influence were limited in place and time and could not be compared to those of other prophets, such as Moses and Muhammad, whose messages spread far and survived well beyond their times.
Second, the angels, who are spiritual beings, and who are never called “prophets,” are called “messengers,” because they are sent by God to people on specific missions:
Praise be to Allah, who has created the heavens and the earth, and who has made the angels messengers. (35.1)
The angels who were sent to prophets Abraham and Lot (11.69-83, 15.51-74, 29.31-34), those who attend the dying person (6.61, 7.37), and those who record what people say and do (43.80) are all called “messengers,” but not prophets:
He is triumphant over His servants. He sends recorders over you, until when anyone of you is visited by death, Our messengers take him and they do not neglect [their duties]. (6.61)
Or do they think that We do not hear their secret and their private talk? Yes, and Our messengers are present with them writing down. (43.80)
Third, the Qur’an uses the title “messenger” several times to denote any human spiritual guide inspired and sent to people by God, without any other specific attributes, such as targeting a larger number of people:
We did not send any messenger but that he should be obeyed by Allah’s permission. (4.64)
Fourth, a prophet is a human being but a messenger may or may not be a human being. The following verse indicates that prophets were all human beings, so the term “messenger,” which is applied to the angels also, cannot be included in the term “prophet”:
And We have not sent [prophets] before you [O Muhammad!] but men to whom We gave revelations, [who were] from the people of the towns. (12.109)
So prophets are a special category of messengers, not the other way around.
Being a prophet, Jesus is naturally described as a “messenger” also:
We gave Moses the Book and followed him with a succession of messengers. And We gave Jesus son of Mary clear proofs, and We supported him with the Spirit of Holiness. Is it that whenever a messenger came to you [O Children of Israel!] with what you did not like you grew arrogant, some you disbelieved and some you killed? (2.87)
And [He shall make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel. (3.49)
The Messiah son of Mary was no other than a messenger before whom [similar] messengers passed away. (5.75)
Then We made Our messengers to follow in their (Noah and Abraham) footsteps, and followed them up with Jesus son of Mary. (57.27)
So Jesus is explicitly described as a “messenger” and “prophet” in the Qur’an.
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