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Who, Biblical scholars have long asked, is “the Prince of this world” (John 14:30)? Christians universally identify the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) as Jesus Christ. This article explores a possible connection between these two messianic titles, primarily by addressing the vexed question of the identity of “the Prince of this world” in Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John.
Of the five key prophecies by Jesus Christ fulfilled by Baha’u’llah, cited by Shoghi Effendi in God Passes By, Baha’u’llah’s messianic identification as the “Prince of this world” is presumably based on this tablet from Abdu’l-Baha:
Thou didst ask as to chapter 14, verse 30 of the Gospel of John, where the Lord Christ saith, ’Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the Prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.’ The Prince of this world is the Blessed Beauty [Baha’u’llah]; and ’hath nothing in Me’ signifieth: after Me all will draw grace from Me, but He is independent of Me, and will draw no grace from Me. That is, He is rich beyond any grace of Mine. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 171.
The verse in question is John 14:30:
Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. – John 14:30.
In the received Christian interpretation this verse and its parallels are often interpreted as referring to Satan. So the Baha’i identification of Baha’u’llah as the “prince of this world” is controversial, to say the least. This article will take this exegetical challenge head-on, with the disclaimer that the following opinion is mine, and does not reflect any official Baha’i position.
According to Christian interpreters, John 14:30 has two parallels, which are as follows:
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. – John 12:31.
Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. – John 16:11.
Suffice it to say that Abdu’l-Baha has interpreted John 14:30 only, not John 12:31 or John 16:11. One reason may be that, elsewhere, Abdu’l-Baha makes clear that no Satan exists:
The reality underlying this question is that the evil spirit, Satan or whatever is interpreted as evil, refers to the lower nature in man. This baser nature is symbolized in various ways. In man there are two expressions, one is the expression of nature, the other the expression of the spiritual realm … God has never created an evil spirit; all such ideas and nomenclature are symbols expressing the mere human or earthly nature of man. It is an essential condition of the soil of earth that thorns, weeds and fruitless trees may grow from it. Relatively speaking, this is evil; it is simply the lower state and baser product of nature. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 294-295.
The meaning of the serpent is attachment to the material world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 139.
God has created all in His image and likeness. Shall we manifest hatred for His creatures and servants? This would be contrary to the will of God and according to the will of Satan, by which we mean the natural inclinations of the lower nature. This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan—the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 287.
… all are the children of God, fruit upon the one tree of His love. God is equally compassionate and kind to all the leaves, branches and fruit of this tree. Therefore, there is no satanic tree whatever—Satan being a product of human minds and of instinctive human tendencies toward error. – Ibid., p. 230.
So, according to this view, the “Prince of this world” cannot be Satan since no purely evil being exists, whether defined as “Satan,” “Lucifer,” or any other of the myriad “demons” that enchant the traditional Christian universe or worldview of other religions.
Given the fact that Abdu’l-Baha categorically denied the existence of Satan, it is hardly surprising that Abdu’l-Baha’s interpretation of John 14:30 excludes Satan as well. To interpret otherwise would lead to a stark contradiction. Moreover, Abdu’l-Baha’s interpretation of the coming of the “Prince of this world” is consistent with the context of the Bible’s Farewell Discourse itself. John 14:30, after all, is part and parcel of Jesus’s Farewell Discourse
The “prince of this world” is “coming”—that is, will arrive presumably after Jesus departs from this world. From the Biblical perspective, since Satan is already in this world, whoever is meant by Jesus by “the prince of the world” must perforce be distinct from Satan. In other words, Satan already has a kingdom, in the present—during the lifetime of Jesus, not afterwards, as would otherwise be indicated by this prophecy in John.
In John 14:26, just four verses earlier, Jesus foretells the coming of “the Comforter.” Of course, the text defines the Comforter as the “Holy Spirit.” However, this is the only occurrence of the term “Holy Spirit” in the Farewell Discourse. In every other occurrence of the “Comforter,” the “Spirit of Truth” is closely associated. It may well be that the original text, before the final editing of this passage by the author of the Gospel of John, was the “Spirit of Truth” as well.
As for the first of the two presumed parallels to John 14:30, John 12:31—which is not part of the Farewell Discourse—is set in the present tense, not in the future tense: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” So how can “the prince of this world be cast out”—as of “now”—be reconciled with the future prediction: “for the prince of this world cometh” (John 14:30)? According to Strong’s Concordance, the adverb, νῦν (nýn, or nun), means: “of time: just now, even now; just at hand, immediately.”
The Greek word for “prince” (or “ruler”) here is the very same word is used for Jesus in Revelation 1:5a: “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince (Greek: ἄρχων, archōn) of the kings of the earth.”
This reading is consistent with Matthew 12:26: “And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?” – Matthew 12:26.
So, depending on context, the Greek word “archōn” can refer to Christ (john 14:30; Rev. 1:15), or to Satan (12:31; John 16:11), or to an earthly ruler.
The other “parallel” to John 14:30 is said to be John 16:11, is actually in the past tense: “Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged (κέκριται, kekritai).” – John 16:11.
Here, the literal meaning of the verb “kekritai” is “has been judged.” As explained by Strong’s Concordance, what Jesus means is this:
… of the devil it is said ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτουκέκριται, because the victorious cause of Christ has rendered the supreme wickedness of Satan evident to all, and put an end to his power to dominate and destroy, John 16:11.
So we can see that Abdu’l-Baha’s interpretation of John 14:30 is coherent, consistent with the context of Jesus’s Farewell Discourse, and textually supported as well. True, this exegesis is radically different from the received Christian interpretation.
In the Bible, princes may be good or evil—it depends. Isaiah 9:6 foretells the “Prince of Peace.” In this connection, Abdu’l-Baha predicts:
Rest thou assured that in this era of the spirit, the Kingdom of Peace will raise up its tabernacle on the summits of the world, and the commandments of the Prince of Peace [Baha’u’llah] will so dominate the arteries and nerves of every people as to draw into His sheltering shade all the nations on earth. From springs of love and truth and unity will the true Shepherd give His sheep to drink.
O handmaid of God, peace must first be established among individuals, until it leadeth in the end to peace among nations. Wherefore, O ye Baha’is, strive ye with all your might to create, through the power of the Word of God, genuine love, spiritual communion and durable bonds among individuals. This is your task. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 246.
According to Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, Baha’u’llah is both the “Prince of this World” and the “Prince of Peace.”
The fact that this does not agree with the traditional Christian understanding is to be expected. The Baha’i interpretation offers an alternative perspective on Jesus’s prophecy in John 14:30, which those who are investigating the Baha’i Faith may want to take into consideration.