The Quran makes three references to the return of Jesus son of Mary (may peace be upon him) to the earth - i.e. his descent from the sky - in order to accomplish various tasks.
THE FIRST REFERENCE: is in Surah Nisaa’, verses (156-159). As for the context of these verses, Allah, the Exalted, mentions the fabrications of the Jews, their slander of Mary, their rejection of Faith, and claim that they killed Jesus son of Mary - the Messenger of Allah. Thereupon Allah, the Exalted, declares the falsity of these claims and says, "And because of their saying (boasting), ‘We killed Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah,’ - but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it was made to appear to them so." [an-Nisaa’ 4:157] We have learned from the preceding sections about the disciple who resembled Jesus and voluntarily sacrificed and ransomed himself, as has been specifically stated by the leading scholars of Islam.
SO WHAT EXACTLY HAPPEDNED THEN? Allah, the Exalted, raised Jesus son of Mary to the sky. His enemies, the Jews, failed to harm him, let alone kill and crucify him. This is a clear and unambiguous text that carries no room for another interpretation. It states clearly that Allah, the Exalted, raised Jesus to Himself - bodily and his soul - in order to save him from the Jews murdering and crucifying him. Allah, the Exalted, says in the Quran, "But Allah raised him up (with his body and soul) unto Himself; and Allah is Ever All-Powerful, All-Wise." [an-Nisaa’ 4:158]
So, if anyone claims that only the soul was raised, it would be incorrect, as is shown from the two following perspectives.
FIRSTLY, Allah made a mention of this raise in the context of refutation of the claim of the Jews that they killed the Christ. So, if it were that only the soul was raised, then that would actually mean an acknowledgment of the claim of the Jews that they killed the Christ - which is to remove his soul!
SECONDLY, if it were true that only his soul was raised, there would remain no distinction for Jesus above the rest. For all Prophets (peace be upon them), and in fact all believing Muslims, have their souls raised to the sky upon their death. So, does there remain anything that distinguishes Jesus, for which Allah makes a special marked mention in the Quran that He raised him?
After establishing this point, another Quranic verse follows in the same context of the ones that preceded. This one clearly bears evidence on another return of the Christ (peace be upon him) to the earth and that he will descend from the sky. The purpose of this is the crucial role he will play upon his return to the earth. Allah, the Exalted, says, "And there is none of the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) but must believe in him (Jesus son of Mary as a Messenger of Allah and a human being) before his death. And on the Day of Resurrection, he will be a witness against them." [an-Nisaa’ 4:159]
The verse presents the message in a future tense, so it is with regards to the events to come after the raising of the Christ. It informs that some of the People of the Book will believe in the Christ. But when will that be? It will be upon his descent, his return and coming onto the earth once again. Imam Tabari, the renowned scholar of the Quranic exegesis (may Allah cover him in mercy), explained this. He said, “The meaning of the verse ‘And there is none of the people of the Scripture but must believe in him’, that is: in Jesus, ‘before his death’, that is: before the death of Jesus. It is explained as follows: that all of them will affirm and acknowledge him when he descends to kill the Antichrist, thereafter, all the religion will give way to only the one, which is the pure upright religion of Islam - the religion of Abraham (may the peace be him)." [See Tafsir at-Tabari 4:356-357].
THE SECOND REFERENCE in the Noble Quran to the imperative nature of the descent of Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, in order to complete the task that must be done on the earth, is found in Surah Zukhruf in the Quran. Allah, the Exalted, says in it, "And when the son of Mary is quoted as an example (i.e. Jesus worshipped like their idols), behold, your people cry aloud (laugh out at the example). And say: Are our gods better or is he (i.e. Jesus)? They quoted not the above example except for argument. Nay! But they are a quarrelsome people. He (i.e. Jesus) was not more than a slave. We granted Our Favor to him, and We made him an example for the Children of Israel (i.e. his creation without a father). And if it were Our Will, We would have (destroyed you all, and) made angels to replace you on the earth. And he (i.e. Jesus) shall be a known sign for (the coming of) the Hour (i.e. Day of Resurrection). Therefore have no doubt concerning it. And follow Me (i.e. Allah)! This is the Straight Path." [az-Zukhruf 43:57-61]. In another recitation, it is recited as "And he shall be a mark". It means, a symbol, a portent, a sign of the Hour. [See Fathu-l Qadeer of Shawkaani, (4/562) for references of those who read it so.]
How can Jesus son Mary, be a sign of the Hour (Doomsday)? It cannot be except with his descent being in the last stage and period. His descent would then be a great sign and one of the major portents of the Hour - a sign that announces the closeness of its occurrence. This is how the verse has commonly been explained by the scholars of Tafsir (exegesis of the Quran). Amongst them are Mujahid, Suddee, Qatada, Hasan al-Basri, Dahhaak and Ibn Zayd. It is also the saying of Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him). They all have stated this explicitly, that Jesus son of Mary is one of the signs of the Hour in the sense that he will descend and rule the earth and dwell therein for forty years, as is mentioned in the authentic hadith, that will be mentioned shortly. And his descent will be one of the great signs of Allah and one of the supreme portents of the Hour.
THE THIRD REFERENCE TO IT IN THE QURAN The deduction from this text is indeed remarkable. One notes that there is hardly ever a mention of the story of Jesus (in the Quran) except that it is mentioned along with it that, "He will speak to the people in the cradle and in manhood" [Aal `Imraan 3: 46, and al-Maa’ida 5:110]. In this, Allah mentioned two remarkable and rare events, that are also two dazzling signs (proofs) of Allah found in the character of Jesus Christ.
THE FIRST MATTER is that he spoke in the cradle while still an infant. This does not occur except as a miracle from Allah, the Mighty, and the Magnificent. That is why it has never occurred except with three people as has been established in the authentic hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him). [See Saheeh Bukhari (4/201-202)]. So the speaking of Jesus (peace be on him) in the cradle was indeed a sign, and there was a need, and the circumstance called for it as the mother of Jesus came to be held in suspicion due to the birth, `how can a woman give birth without a husband?' They even voiced this explicitly, as reported in the Quran, "Your father was not a man who used to commit adultery, nor your mother was an unchaste woman." [Maryam 19:28]
So, a miracle was required to prove her innocence and to prove that the birth was another such a miracle. Thus the infant spoke in the cradle, an extraordinary, unaccustomed event. But the verse couples this miraculous event, with the mention of another event - of him speaking as a middle-aged adult. But every one speaks at that age. So where is the miracle in that? The Arabic word used in the verse that refers to that stage of his life, is Kuhoola, which is used for a person past the age of forty and up to the age of fifty or sixty years. Is it at all remarkable that one speaks at the age of sixty or even seventy?! So where is the miracle that is alluded to in this section of the verse which mentions that Jesus speaks as a middle aged man?
This shows that just as his speech in the cradle as an infant was a miracle, likewise he will descend and speak to the people as a middle aged man in the last stages of this world, making his descent and speech thereupon, also a miracle. Otherwise, there is no miracle in a sixty or seventy year old communicating by speech!
So the evidence from this section of the verse in the Quran that he will speak to the people as a middle-aged adult is from the following two perspectives.
FIRSTLY, some of the scholars of Islam, amongst them is ibn Musayyab, stated that Jesus son of Mary, was raised to the sky while he was at an age of thirty three years, in the prime of his youth (referred to in Arabic as Shabaab, which is a stage prior to the one mentioned in the Quran, Kuhoola). So he had not yet reached the stage of Kuhoola.
SECONDLY, here comes the aspect of amazement, marvel and the miracle. The aspect, which bears evidence on the point, is that he speaks to the people as a middle-aged man (in Kuhoola) after having been raised, and his being raised is indeed an astonishing event. And he will descend, and his descent is also another astonishing, remarkable event. He will then speak to the people and will live after his descent for forty years. This forty added to the thirty years makes him someone who would have reached the age of Kuhoola, and having spoken at that age. He will then have spoken to the people as he spoke to them in the cradle. This is a clear and unambiguous indication that he (peace be upon him) will certainly complete his role and his part, and will descend towards the last stages and speak to the people as a middle-aged man, just as he spoke miraculously as an infant. Imam Tabari related from Abdurahman ibn Zayd that he said, ‘Jesus did indeed speak to them in the cradle, and he will speak to them when he kills the Antichrist, he will then be a kahl (middle-aged person)." [Tafsir Tabari 3/271]
The Final Conflict Between the Messiah of Guidance and The False Messiah
Transl. A. Abu Ismail