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Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah’s claims must be approached in a manner similar to that with which we approach Christ’s teachings.
Christ and Baha’u’llah both appeared in the world during times of great expectation; but both, for very similar reasons, experienced persecution rather than general acceptance. Like Christ, Baha’u’llah not only claimed to have fulfilled prophecies, but he also explained their true meaning, which was far different from conventional interpretations, thereby opening for all to see and understand the “vision and prophecy” referred to in Daniel 9:24. Neither Baha’u’llah nor Christ ever said or implied that the scriptures of earlier prophets and messengers of God were untrue, but both redefined certain spiritual concepts and revealed new concepts, challenging the prevailing understandings of the scriptures.
Baha’u’llah clarified prophecies largely by interpreting prophetic passages from the Bible and the Koran in allegorical terms. For example, in the Book of Certitude Baha’u’llah explained that the concept of “return” is symbolic, meaning the return of the same spiritual qualities.
Baha’u’llah is thus the return of Christ in the sense that he is also the manifestation of God’s eternal spiritual attributes, although clearly he is not the same individual as Jesus. As we have seen, this interpretation of the concept of “return” has precedent in Christ’s own explanation of the return of Elias in the person of John the Baptist. By this Jesus clearly did not mean that the two were one and the same individual.
Other signs of truth given in the Bible allow a believer to “test” the truth of any claim of prophethood. Earlier in these essays, we mentioned that there are several ways to identify a true prophet. To be of God, a spirit must confess that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,” must be able to clearly foretell future events, and should embody “fruits” that are in accord with what is good, and not evil.
Baha’u’llah asserted in unequivocal terms his belief in Christ. As we have seen, Baha’u’llah clearly foresaw the events that eventually overtook the dominions of those rulers who rejected his announcement; and he told about a lethal force that would be discovered in the years to come, foreshadowing the discovery of nuclear power.
The fruits of Baha’u’llah’s revelation can be seen in his life, in his teachings, and in their impact upon his followers. Each individual must decide for himself or herself whether these live up to the standard set by Christ.
In the Book of Certitude Baha’u’llah also gives many “proofs” of prophethood. Among them is the rejection of the prophet’s message by the people, and especially by religious leaders. He returns to this theme in other writings, saying that the greatest proof of his station is his own person, in the sense that he is the embodiment of divine qualities, and that the second greatest proof is the body of his written teachings.
Jesus as a Manifestation of God
Baha’u’llah’s assertion that Christ was a manifestation of God might seem at first to contradict the Bible. But this is not the case at all. Indeed, Baha’u’llah’s assertion is completely compatible with scripture.
Baha’u’llah maintains that God could never incarnate His own essence. God, the Creator, is infinitely exalted above His creation, and such an act is, therefore, an impossibility. Instead, God reveals Himself through His prophets, messengers and manifestations, who are the perfect reflections of His qualities and attributes.
Baha’u’llah used the metaphor of the sun and a mirror to explain this concept. The sun can never descend to Earth in its full glory, for the world would be incapable of sustaining such an event. But the sun can be seen in the reflection of a mirror. The manifestations of God are like perfect mirrors reflecting the image of the sun. To see the reflection of the sun in the mirror is, for all intents and purposes, the same as seeing the sun itself.
In this way it is possible for a manifestation of God to say, “I am God,” and at another time to assert that God is greater than he and that he is but a man. It also explains how one manifestation of God can be understood to be the return of a previous one, for they all reflect God’s glory.
In the Bible, Jesus made various statements that can be understood in the light of this metaphor. He says, “I and my Father are one.” Yet He also says, “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” We also find a statement referring to him as the “image of the invisible God.” – John 10:30, 8:28, Colossians 1:15.
The holy spirit revealed by the manifestations of God is like the rays of the sun, which enlighten the world and bring life to those who turn to it. With these understandings, Abdu’l-Baha sheds new light on the concept of the Trinity:
… the reality of Christ was a bright and polished mirror of the greatest purity and clarity. The Sun of Truth, the Essence of the Divinity, appeared in that mirror and manifested its light and heat therein, yet it did not descend from the heights of holiness and the heaven of sanctity to reside within it. No, it continues to abide in its loftiness and sublimity, but has been revealed and manifested in the mirror in all its beauty and perfection.
Now, if we were to say that we have beheld the Sun in two mirrors—one Christ and the other the Holy Spirit—or, in other words, that we have seen three Suns—one in heaven and two upon the earth—we would be speaking the truth. And if we were to say that there is only one Sun, that it is absolute singleness, and that it has no peer or partner, we would again be speaking the truth.
The purport of our words is that the reality of Christ was a clear mirror wherein the Sun of Truth—that is, the divine Essence—appeared and shone forth with infinite perfections and attributes. It is not that the Sun, which is the Essence of the Divinity, was ever divided or multiplied—for it remains one—but it became manifest in the mirror. That is why Christ said, “The Father is in the Son”, meaning that that Sun is manifest and visible in the mirror.
The Holy Spirit is the outpouring grace of God which was revealed and manifested in the reality of Christ. Prophethood is the station of the heart of Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the station of His spirit. It is thus evident and established that the Essence of the Divinity is absolute oneness and has no peer, equal or likeness.
This is the true meaning of the three Persons of the Trinity. Otherwise, the foundations of the religion of God would rest upon an illogical proposition which no mind could ever conceive, and how could the mind be required to believe a thing which it cannot conceive? Such a thing could not be grasped by human reason—how much less clothed in intelligible form—but would remain sheer fancy.
Now, this explanation clarifies the meaning of the three Persons of the Trinity and establishes at the same time the oneness of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp.128-129.