The holy books of all the major religions contain numerous promises and prophecies concerning the coming of a messianic figure.
This messianic figure, those predictions say, will appear at the Day of Judgment, the day of God, or the “time of the end” to establish the kingdom of God on Earth. Each religion has a different name or title for this messianic figure—but the prophecies are remarkably alike.
Christians await the Return of Christ. Jews await the Messiah. Muslims await the Mahdi. Buddhists await the Maitreya Buddha. Zoroastrians await the Shah Bahram. Hindus await the Tenth Avatar of Krishna. Even the North and South American indigenous religions contain such prophecies. For example, the Shoshone Indians await the Great Redeemer.
If you try to understand all of these prophecies literally, they seem to conflict with each other, and conflict with science and reason. However, if you interpret these prophecies symbolically, not only do they agree with science and reason, but they all fit together congruently.
Baha’u’llah made two bold claims. First of all, he declared he was God’s messenger for this age, having the same divine authority, the same Holy Spirit, the same divine power, as Moses, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, and the other founders of the world’s major religions.
His second claim is even more challenging. He declared he was the promised messiah foretold in all the prophecies, in all the Holy Books, of the religions of the world.
Baha’u’llah declared his mission as nothing less than the establishment of God’s kingdom on Earth—the unification of the entire human race into an all-embracing, spiritual global civilization based on divine principles of justice and love, and whose watchword will be “unity in diversity” not uniformity.
If we take this second claim by itself, what we Baha’is are saying is this: the religions of the world have been consummated and fulfilled with the coming of Baha’u’llah. Christ returned over 150 years ago, and the world missed out, just like they missed out the first time he came.
Because of these claims and teachings Baha’u’llah the Muslim clergy condemned him as an apostate, a madman, a heretic. They intensely persecuted Baha’u’llah and his followers. His possessions were taken away, he was spat upon, ridiculed, stoned, poisoned, bastinadoed (whipped on the soles of his feet). He was imprisoned in a pitch-black underground dungeon, which was icy cold, damp, and infested with vermin. His neck was put into a heavy chain; his feet were put in stocks. He was exiled four times from Tehran in Persia to Baghdad in Iraq, to Constantinople and Adrianople in Turkey, then to a terrible penal colony in Akka, Palestine. He spent most of his life as a prisoner, solely because of his teachings.
It’s not that he did anything wrong. Rather, the Muslim clergy collaborated with the Persian and Turkish governments to do everything in their power to try to destroy what they felt was a dangerous, fast-growing heresy. In spite of this intense persecution, Baha’u’llah wrote over one hundred volumes revealing God’s plan for the achievement of a universal, lasting peace.
Today his Faith has expanded enormously—the Baha’i Faith has spread all around the planet, and has become the world’s second-most widespread religion. But in the second half of the nineteenth century, Baha’u’llah’s teachings were seen as revolutionary: the oneness of God, the oneness of humanity, the oneness of religion, elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty, elimination of prejudice of all kinds, equality of men and women, harmony of science and religion, independent investigation of truth, a universal auxiliary language, universal compulsory education, and above all, the spiritual transformation and unification of the entire human race.
Baha’u’llah wrote letters to all the rulers of his time: Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX, and others. In his letters, Baha’u’llah proclaimed he was the Promised One, and commanded the kings and rulers to peacefully unite and disarm. He warned them of the grave consequences if they failed to heed his command, and he made it clear that irrespective of their response, the will of God would ultimately prevail. World peace, he said, was inevitable.
People everywhere have been waiting and praying for thousands of years for God to send His messiah, the coming of a Promised One to unite the human race and establish the kingdom of God on Earth. Baha’is believe that time has arrived.
Quite a claim, isn’t it? Baha’is recognize the magnitude of those claims, but don’t press them on anyone. Instead, the Baha’i teachings invite everyone to examine those claims, and decide for themselves whether they ring true or not. Anyone can believe in the Baha’i teachings, of course, but to become a Baha’i means to accept this two-fold claim made by Baha’u’llah as being true. Baha’u’llah declared:
The time foreordained unto the peoples and kindreds of the earth is now come. The promises of God, as recorded in the holy Scriptures, have all been fulfilled. … 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 your 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, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 12-13.