07 May 2008

A Biblical Case for Baha'u'llah


“The time foreordained unto the peoples and kindreds of the earth is now come. The promise of God, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, have all been fulfilled. Out of Zion hath gone forth the Law of God, and Jerusalem, and the hills and land thereof, are filled with the glory of His Revelation. Happy is the man that pondereth in his heart that which hath been revealed in the Books of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Meditate upon this, O ye beloved of God, and let you ears be attentive unto his Word, so that ye may, by His grace and mercy, drink your fill from the crystal waters of constancy, and become as steadfast and immovable as the mountain in His Cause. – Baha’u’llah

This is quite a remarkable claim made by Baha’u’llah. As a Baha’i I have come to believe that He is the manifestation of God for this age and the return of Jesus Christ foretold in the Bible. Christians have every right to be skeptical of this claim, for there are many warnings of false prophets in the New Testament. This essay is an exploration of Baha’u’llahs claim in light of the biblical writings concerning the nature of Jesus's return, and the reality of false prophets.

The Return of the Jesus

Throughout the Bible, there are many promises that Jesus will return. Probably the most fantastic mention, one that conjures up images of a sudden and awful cataclysmic event is:

"For just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be...But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory." Matthew 24:27-30

It is quite a leap of faith to interpret these images literally. If stars literally fell from the sky, the planet would be burned up before they made contact....Luckily for those of us who believe in the laws of physics, there is much biblical evidence that this fantastic image of return is not to be taken literally. Consider the story of Elijah. The Old Testament speaks of the ascension of Elijah, much like the ascension of Jesus, in which he gets taken up into heaven:

"Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven" 2 Kings 2:11

This is an important statement because Elijah was prophesied to return before the coming of the Christ:

"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord." Malachy 4:5

One of the major stumbling blocks that the Jews had in accepting Jesus as the Christ is that they believed that Elijah would return in same manner in which he was taken up. Jesus addresses this, saying that in fact Elijah did come, but not as they were expecting. Instead John the Baptist was the manifestation of Elijah. It is clear that Jesus’s definition of Isaiah’s return was inherently spiritual:

"And his disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' And He answered and said, 'Elijah is coming and will restore all things'; but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Babtist." Matthew 17:19

Spiritual vs. Physical Resurrection

If we are to believe that Jesus physically resurrected and will therefore physically return, why is it that the Jews also believed this even though it wasn’t the case. Could it be that the return of Jesus will also be a spiritual return, manifested in a different physical vessel? Paul the apostle hints at the fact that many of God’s teachings can only be understood using a spiritual lens:

"For to us God revealed them through the spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of a man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of god; for they are fo0lishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." 1 Corinthians 2:10-14

He also clearly lays out the difference between the physical body and the spiritual body, and the relationship that they have with each other. In the first part this statement, he talks about how we must sacrifice our physical selves so that our spiritual selves can be liberated:

"But someone will say, how are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come? You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own...There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another...So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body, if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

In the second part, he uses the analogy of the first Adam, who represents the physical self, compared to the last Adam (Christ), who becomes the life giving spirit. He ends the quote by making it very clear that a perishable body cannot inherit the imperishable body; they are two distinctly different things:

"The first Man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam(Christ) became a life-giving spirit. However the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven, heavenly. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. And just as we have born the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." 1Corinthians 15:35-50

This is an unequivocal statement that our physical bodies will not be resurrected, as many Christians believe. They are flesh and blood, perishable; they must be sown like seeds to make way for the tree of the spirit. So than what about Jesus? Was he not resurrected physically? The accounts of him leaving the tomb after the crucifixion and appearing before the disciples are written in a very literal manner:

“And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen…And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, ‘do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here.” Mark 16:2-6

"Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself, touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have…He said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them." Luke 24:38-39

By looking only at the previous accounts, it would seem clear that Jesus's resurrection was literal. This interpretation however is inconsistent with Paul’s description of the natural and spiritual body. One could argue that Jesus is the exception when it comes to physical resurrection. However, this is inconsistent with other passages where it is stated that we will be raised in the same manner as Jesus:

"Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh…Knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you" 2 Corinthians 4:10-14

The appearances of Jesus to his disciples must have been the spiritual body of Jesus. An overpowering spiritual bounty that was so real and amazing that it could only be explained in terms of physical experience, such as touching His wounds and eating with him. Three days after Jesus had been crucified, his body had been sown, the body that his followers had known had disappeared, His spiritual body had been resurrected, and was available to all who sought to abide in the spirit of Jesus, and have that spirit abide in them:

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me." John 15:4

This spirit of Jesus became the spirit of God, and the spirit of love:

"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life". John 6:63

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:24

"The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4:1

Spiritual Return

If Jesus resurrected spiritually, it seems logical that he would also return spiritually, meaning that the spirit would become manifest in a new human form. He speaks about many different entities who will assist the believers in the final days. The "helper" and the "spirit of truth" seem to refer both to the Holy Spirit which will abide within the believers, as well as a guide who will speak forth and tell of what is to come.

"'And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.'" John 14:16-17

"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me." John 15:26

"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you." John 16:7

"I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you" John 16:12-14

In addition, he also speaks of his own return in which he will speak plainly of the Fath, and the arrival of one with a "new name".

These things I have spoken to you in a figurative language; an hour is coming when I will speak no more to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the father." John 16:25

"He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My 'new name'" Revelation 3:12

False Prophets

Jesus was very clear that there would be many false prophets:

"For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many." Matthew 24:5

He also warned His followers to be skeptical of any rumors of a promised one:

“Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. For false christ’s and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. If therefore they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go forth, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them." Matthew 24:23-26

He clearly states that he is the only Christ:

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me." John 14:6

And his followers assert that Jesus is the only name which can be followed: "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" Acts 4:12

Peter, who was the foundation of the early church, also admonished the followers to stay clear of false prophets and destructive heresies:

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves." 2 Peter 2:1

John, another core follower of Jesus, describes the king of false prophets, the Antichrist, and provided the criteria by which to judge:

"Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son." 1 John 2:20

Criteria for Discernment

So how will we know when Jesus does return, how can we avoid being led astray? This is not an easy question. The Bible says that Jesus will come at a time when we do not think he will:

"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think he will." Matthew 25:42-44

When he comes, it will be like a thief in the night. When do we know when our house has been robbed? We know the morning after the fact. We do not know when Jesus will return. He might already be here:

“For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.” 1 Thessalonians 5:2

Fortunately, the Bible gives ample guidance as to what to look for. We must look to the fruits:

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they" Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits." Matthew 7:15

So how can we discern a prophet bearing good fruit from a prophet bearing bad fruit? We must test the spirits to see if they are from God. They must bear good fruits, and they must testify that Christ has come in the flesh and is from God:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world" 1 John 4:1-3

This implies an independent investigation of truth. This means that we cannot just believe something because our families or friends believe it. We do not want to be of those mentioned in the following verse, who persecuted the prophets just as our fathers might have:

"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did you fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who have received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it." Acts 7:51-53

A Case for Baha’u’llah

The Baha’is believe that the Spirit of Jesus has returned in the human temple of Baha’u’llah. We do not expect anybody to believe this because we say so, but we do exhort people to independently investigate the truth of Baha’u’llahs claim and to judge him by his fruits. First look at the life of Baha’u’llah, which was defined by selfless love and service in the face of extreme adversity and opposition. Any seeker who would meet Him would be so transformed and humbled by the overpowering spirit and power of His presence, that many would go on to dedicate their lives, and even face martyrdom, to advance the cause of Baha’u’llah.

Second, look at the world community that Baha’u’llah has set up. Every day, Baha’is coming from every corner of the globe arrives on pilgrimage to the Baha’i world center on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. Throughout the world, the Baha’is are devoted to establishing the kingdom of God on earth, where all peoples, regardless of race, religion, culture, or gender will become united and establish peace on earth described in the Bible:

“In the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many people’s will come and say, ‘come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decision for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.” Isaiah 2:2-4

The Baha’i faith is the first religion in the history of the world that has not broken up into competing sects. Baha’u’llah establish a clear covenant by which the authority is clear, and yet there is room for flexibility and organic growth. In every Baha’ i community with at least 9 members, a local spiritual assembly is elected to guide the community. This election is done by secret ballot, there is no campaigning. People are encouraged to vote in a prayerful manner for those that will best guide their community. No one person has more spiritual authority over anybody else, there is no clergy. The assembly comes to decisions as a body through a process of consultation. This pattern is replicated on a national level, and on a global level. Every 5 years, 9 members are elected by Baha’is from all over the world to serve on the Universal House of Justice. While this body is obligated to follow the guidance explicitly set down by the founders, they are tasked with guiding the world community, and deciding on matters that have not already been revealed.

Third, Baha’u’llah constantly speaks of Jesus as the Son of God, who came to earth to bring salvation to the souls of men. Here is but one of many verses where Baha’u’llah praises Jesus:

“Know though that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things…We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all created things…Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of the sinner sanctified.” –Baha’u’llah

Putting Baha’u’llah’s praises of Jesus within a larger context, he taught a concept called progressive revelation. This means that God has been with humanity at all times, giving guidance through manifestations of God. The core spiritual message is always the same, ancient and eternal:

“It is clear and evident to thee that all the Prophets are the Temples of the Cause of God, Who have appeared clothed in diverse attire. If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold Them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith.” - Baha’u’llah

Nevertheless, this Spirit of God is revealed using concepts and establishing laws relevant to the culture and evolutionary capacity of the people. Jesus speaks of progressive revelation using the parable of the wineskins:

"And he was telling them a parable: 'No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts in on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But the new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.'" Luke 5:35

Today is the day where the new wine of the spirit is reviving the hearts of humans, recreating the very foundation of civilization. It is not an instant event that is beyond our reach. Instead, we have been given the spiritual tools to build this new civilization ourselves, and thereby realize and manifest our true spiritual self, which mirrors the Spirit of God:

“This is the day in which God’s most excellent favors have been poured out upon men, the Day in which His most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care and loving kindness…Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth, and is the knower of things unseen.” –Baha’u’llah.