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In the previous essay, we asked this question: What if the Day of Judgment has actually happened already?
To answer that question, let’s consider what those prophecies—from the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an—might really mean.
In the popular imagination, many people think of the Day of Judgment as an apocalyptic end time, when the Lord will appear to chastise all sinners, and only the pure will be admitted into heaven. Biblical verses like this one buttress that perception:
Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! – Matthew 13:40–43
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. – Revelation 20:11–12.
These frightening prophecies, though, seem physically impossible—it’s pretty unlikely that both the Earth and the sky will flee, for example. We’ve learned, throughout this entire series of essays on prophecy, that the physically impossible usually points to the symbolic, spiritual interpretation as the correct one. If we interpret these kinds of apocalyptic “furnace and fire“ prophecies in a more allegorical way, we can see that they take on a much more profound inner meaning—that they refer to each individual soul and the spiritual struggles we all go through.
But beyond that interpretation, we can see in these prophecies the promise of the coming of a new age of humanity itself. The prophecies all refer to an end of one age, which always signals the beginning of the next. They refer, the Baha’i teachings say, to the advent of a new prophet of God, and the great spiritual challenge that prophet always brings to each soul. This understanding of the Day of Judgment, directly from the Baha’i teachings, explains a great deal:
Only those will attain to the knowledge of the Word of God that have turned unto Him … Thus God hath reaffirmed the law of the day of His Revelation, and inscribed it with the pen of power upon the mystic Tablet hidden beneath the veil of celestial glory. Wert thou to heed these words, wert thou to ponder their outward and inner meaning in thy heart, thou wouldst seize the significance of all the abstruse problems which, in this day, have become insuperable barriers between men and the knowledge of the Day of Judgment. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, pp. 122-123.
Baha’u’llah taught that only one unfolding eternal religion exists. This one continuous, progressive Faith, Baha’is believe, comes from one God, who periodically throughout history renews His religion. When that renewal occurs—when a new prophet of God appears and begins to spread that new Faith, just as Moses and Christ and Buddha all did—that era ushers in a new day, the Day of Resurrection and the Day of Judgment. Baha’u’llah wrote that the Day of Judgment has come to pass:
… The heavens have been folded together, and the earth is held within His grasp, and the corrupt doers have been held by their forelock, and still they understand not. They drink of the tainted water, and know it not. Say: The shout hath been raised, and the people have come forth from their graves, and arising, are gazing around them. Some have made haste to attain the court of the God of Mercy, others have fallen down on their faces in the fire of Hell, while still others are lost in bewilderment. The verses of God have been revealed, and yet they have turned away from them. His proof hath been manifested, and yet they are unaware of it. And when they behold the face of the All-Merciful, their own faces are saddened, while they are disporting themselves. They hasten forward to Hell Fire, and mistake it for light. Far from God be what they fondly imagine! Say: Whether ye rejoice or whether ye burst for fury, the heavens are cleft asunder, and God hath come down, invested with radiant sovereignty. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 41–42.
Abdu’l-Baha explained it this way:
This period of time is the Promised Age, the assembling of the human race to the “Resurrection Day” and now is the great “Day of Judgment.” Soon the whole world, as in springtime, will change its garb. The turning and falling of the autumn leaves is past; the bleakness of the winter time is over. The new year hath appeared and the spiritual springtime is at hand. The black earth is becoming a verdant garden; the deserts and mountains are teeming with red flowers; from the borders of the wilderness the tall grasses are standing like advance guards before the cypress and jessamine trees; while the birds are singing among the rose branches like the angels in the highest heavens, announcing the glad-tidings of the approach of that spiritual spring, and the sweet music of their voices is causing the real essence of all things to move and quiver. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 351.
The aim of Baha’u’llah, the Prophet of this new and great age which humanity has entered upon—He whose advent fulfils the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments as well as those of the Qur’an regarding the coming of the Promised One in the end of time, on the Day of Judgment—is not to destroy but to fulfill the Revelations of the past, to reconcile rather than accentuate the divergences of the conflicting creeds which disrupt present-day society.
His purpose, far from belittling the station of the Prophets gone before Him or of whittling down their teachings, is to restate the basic truths which these teachings enshrine in a manner that would conform to the needs, and be in consonance with the capacity, and be applicable to the problems, the ills and perplexities, of the age in which we live. His mission is to proclaim that the ages of the infancy and of the childhood of the human race are past, that the convulsions associated with the present stage of its adolescence are slowly and painfully preparing it to attain the stage of manhood, and are heralding the approach of that Age of Ages when swords will be beaten into plowshares, when the Kingdom promised by Jesus Christ will have been established, and the peace of the planet definitely and permanently ensured. – Shoghi Effendi, Summary Statement – 1947, Special UN Committee on Palestine.
So what’s the takeaway here? The Day of Judgment may not be what people expected. Although expected by prophecy, it’s unexpected by its fulfillment. The Day of Judgment happens which the truth is made clear, when the divine standards are made manifest, and when one’s deeds are judged, not by the Book of Deeds, but by the new standards of truth set forth in the new holy books that Baha’u’llah has revealed.