[Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of a multi-part essay called “Questions from a Clergyman”. Click here to read from the beginning.]
Daniel, an evangelical pastor, surprised me with this next question in the course of a “cult night” featuring the Baha’i Faith. I hadn’t considered it in my own investigation of the Faith of Baha’u’llah, but I found the scriptures answer this question as if they saw the question coming a mile off:
If there was a set dispensation for the Faith of Christ, why do the scriptures command us to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things that Christ commanded?”
I believe the passage itself answers the question, when read in its entirety beginning from verse 16:
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:16-20.
First, the verse relates that Jesus is speaking to his remaining eleven disciples, minus the treacherous Judas Iscariot, whom the New Testament says variously committed suicide by hanging or suffered an untimely accident. It is these disciples Christ deputizes to spread His Faith. While one may interpret this as deputizing every Christian by proxy (as the new believers turn around and teach what they have learned), this comes with an obvious end in sight: there must come a point at which everyone has knowledge of the Faith.
More significantly, at the end of the passage, Jesus adds: “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Here Christ, Himself, sets a time span for the disciples’ mission and accords it an end.
What does He mean by “the end of the age”? Both Christians and Baha’is would probably answer that He’s speaking of His return. Both believe that the Mosaic Age ended when Jesus came, fulfilling Moses’ prophecy that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear…” – Deuteronomy 18:15.
Many of the Christians I’ve talked to are literally of two minds about this prophecy. While they take this verse to refer to Jesus, they deny that Christ was, indeed, a Prophet like Moses, notwithstanding His own words on the subject:
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? – John 5:46, 47.
As a Baha’i, I believe the advent of Baha’u’llah fulfilled the prophecies referring to Christ’s Return, just as the early disciples of Christ believed His advent fulfilled this prophecy. Among the signs of this advent, which Jesus cautioned the believers to watch for, were that the Gospel would be taught to all the nations, even as Christ bids His disciples do in the above passage. According to Christian sources, the last frontiers of Africa were opened to Christianity in the mid-1800’s, fulfilling the prophecy.
This milestone contributed to the world-wide expectation in the 19th century that Christ would soon return. The expectation peaked in the year 1844 — the year of The Báb’s proclamation that He was the Herald of the fulfillment of these prophecies, and the date when Baha’is celebrate the beginnings of their Faith.
Baha’u’llah connects the dots between Himself and Christ in passages like this one:
O Pope! Rend the veils asunder. He Who is the Lord of Lords is come overshadowed with clouds, and the decree hath been fulfilled by God, the Almighty, the Unrestrained… He, verily, hath again come down from Heaven even as He came down from it the first time. Beware that thou dispute not with Him even as the Pharisees disputed with Him (Jesus) without a clear token or proof. – Epistle to Pope Pius IX, Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, page 83.
Read the next article in the series: Pentecost and the Spirit of Truth
Read the previous article in the series: The Changeless Faith of God?