This verse concerns the Prophet 'Isa and the People of the. Book and as to whether it is intended to refer to the time of the Mahdi's reappearance or not. Shaykh Tabarsi, 2 after having translated the verse, reports several interpretations in this regard :
1- According to ibn 'Abbas, Abu Malek, Hasan, Qatadeh, and ibn Zaid, the two pronouns hi in "Bihi qabla mawiihi" ("in him before his death") refers to the Prophet 'Isa. It means that all the Christians and Jews will accept Islam as their religion, and will believe in him (`Isa) before his (`Isa) death, at which time God, during the time of the reappearance of the Mahdi, will send down 'Isa for killing the Antichrist (Dajjal) and when all the world's nations will be united and will come to an agreement.
1 æ Åä ãä Çåá Çá˜ÊÇÈ ÅáÇ áíÄãää Èå ÞÈá ãæÊå æ íæã ÇáÞíÇãÉ í˜æä Úáíåã ÔåíÏÇ
2 Majma' al-Bayan, Vol.6 p.137
2- Tabarsi adds that Tabari has also given the above interpretation and that according to Tabari the verse is intended for the group of Jews and Christians who are living at the time of the Mahdi. The author then mentions a tradition in favor of this view and says that Ali ibn Ibrahim reports in his tafsir from Shahr ibn Hushab who reports from Hajjaj ibn Yusuf 1 who said: "This verse surprises me. When I order the death of Jews and Christians and when their throats are being slit, I wait for them to say something but I never hear anything from them on this subject before their death. Their lips do not even move." I said: "May God guide the Amir (leader), the meaning of the verse is not this." He asked: "What is the meaning then?" I said: "`Isa ibn Maryam will descend to the earth before the Day of Judgment and will pray behind the Mahdi." 2 He said: "From which source do you state that?" I said: "Imam Baqir (fifth Imam) related this to me". Some asked to Shahr: "What was your purpose in saying this to him?" He said: "I wanted to irritate him".
3- Abu al-Qasim Balkhi has also given the same interpretation.
1 Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi (d.259 AH/ 873 CE) was the governor of Iraq designated by the Caliph Abdul Malek. He is known for the massacre and torture of thousands of people in Iraq.
2 Úä ÈÇÞÑ Èä Úáí Èä ÇáÍÓíä Èä Úáí ÇÈä ÃÈí ØÇáÈ ÞÇá : Åä ÚíÓí ÇÈä ãÑíã íäÒá ÞÈá íæã ÇáÞíÇãÉ Åáí ÇáÏäíÇ æ áÇ íÈÞí Ãåá ãáÉ íåæÏí Âæ äÕÑÇäí Ãæ ÛíÑå ÅáÇ æ Âãä Èå ÞÈá ãæÊ ÚíÓí æ íÕáí ÎáÝ ãåÏí ...
4- Zajjaj considered this view as weak. He says: "Those who remain until the return of 'Isa are of a small number and the verse refers to the faith of the totality of the people of the Book. But it is possible to say that the totality of the People of the Book say, 'We believe in that `Isa who will come at the End of Time'.
5- According to ibn 'Abbas -according to another tradition-, Mujahid, Dhahhaq, ibn Sirin, and Juwaybir, the pronoun hi in "bihi" ("in him") refers to `Isa and the pronoun hi in "mawtihi" ("his death") refers to a book, which means that each and every Jew or Christian who leave this world believe in `Isa before their death, and this is when there are no longer any duties or obligations and when death is certain. But this belief does not bring any advantage or benefit to them. The reason why the Jews and the Christians are both referred to here is because they are both on the wrong path, the Jews because of their blasphemy and the Christians because of their exaggeration and excess.
6- The meaning of the verse is that the people of the Book will believe in the Prophet Muhammad before their death ("bihi" then would refer to Muhammad). Tabari considered this view as weak. He says that if this is true, then the People of the Book should not be considered as unbelievers.
To this, Shaykh Tabarsi answers that "Tabari's comment is not pertinent because their belief occurs after the obligations and duties of this life but before death and at a time when it no
longer offers any advantage for them. On the other hand, the weakness of this view lies in the fact that the name of the Prophet does not occur in these verses and there is no reason to refer the pronoun hi to the Prophet when the name of `Isa is pronounced in these verses. It is then reasonable to refer the pronoun to `Isa."