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When I was first a Baha’i, I used to go with my Baha’i friends to the local Christian coffee shop, in order to teach the Baha’i Faith. Of course, the purpose of the coffee shop was for Christians to try to “save” me from my heterodox and religiously wayward ways.

Friends at a coffee shopIn conversations, I would mischievously ask my Christian friends this question: “When Christ returns, what will His name not be?”

Sensing a riddle, my Christian friends’ faces would draw quizzical blanks, question-mark furrows above their knitted eyebrows. Of course, they were curious as to my answer.

So, what’s the answer, you ask? I’ll give you my answer at the end of this short series of three articles. But first let me explain what the Baha’i perspective on the “return of Christ” is — and what it does not mean!

As I understand it, “return” means a recurrent pattern, which the Baha’i teachings describe as the reappearance of qualities, not of essences or identities:

We will begin to elucidate it from the Gospel, for there it is plainly said that when John, the son of Zacharias, appeared and gave to men the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God, they asked him, “Who art thou? Art thou the promised Messiah?” He replied, “I am not the Messiah.” [John 1:19–20, paraphrase.]

Then they asked him, “Art thou Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” [John 1:21, paraphrase.]

These words prove and show that John, the son of Zacharias, was not the promised Elias. But on the day of the transfiguration on Mount Tabor Christ said plainly that John, the son of Zacharias, was the promised Elias.

In chapter 9, verses 11–13, of the Gospel of Mark, it is said:

“And they asked Him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And He answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that He must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.”

In chapter 17, verse 13, of Matthew, it is said: “Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist.”

They asked John the Baptist, “Are you Elias?” He answered, “No, I am not,” although it is said in the Gospel that John was the promised Elias, and Christ also said so clearly. Then if John was Elias, why did he say, “I am not”? And if he was not Elias, why did Christ say that he was? – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, pp. 132–133.

You can see the potential for confusion here. When the Baha’i writings describe “return,” they say that a prophet’s inner qualities and spiritual realities return—not the actual body or identity of the former messenger of God.

In the second installment of this short series, let’s look at the three questions asked of John the Baptist—as they bear directly on this important theme of return.

5 Comments

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  • Thomas W. Yale
    Jul 19, 2016
    Since we don't have an actual picture of Jesus, but only artistic depictions of what others imagine He may have looked like, how would anyone know it was Him? Only by His attributes.
    Besides, a lot of these depictions show Him as a blonde white man when he was clearly of Middle Eastern origin.
  • Aug 29, 2014
    This is a very difficult thing to explain, at least for me. You did a very nice job and I thank you for the new(to me) perspective!
  • Aug 29, 2014
    I would be careful of being so sure he will not return in body. You are putting doubt in the minds of those who are seeking the truth. Are you doubtful that God is that powerful. If you are putting yourself in a teaching position you cannot sway people to what you do not know.
    • Jul 19, 2016
      The Pharisees were obsessed with the physical characteristics that the Messiah would display. They expected Him to come down physically from heaven. They expected Him to come from an unknown place. They expected Him to come as a warrior king. Jesus failed to fulfill their expectations literally but instead fulfilled them spiritually. The same principles apply today. There is no doubt that God is powerful. Those who are seeking the truth should follow the example of the early Christians who also sough the truth. They looked beyond the literal teachings of the Torah and sought the truth in its spiritual ...meanings. Jesus himself gave us many hints on how to recognize His Return, including John 16:13 "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come." and Rev 3:12 "...I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name." and Isaiah 35:2 "It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God." FYI, Baha'u'llah is Arabic for 'The Glory of God' and He was exiled and spent the last 24 years of His life on the plain of Sharon in the shadow of Mount Carmel. Israel has blossomed abundantly since He came in the late 1800's.
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    • Thomas W. Yale
      Jul 19, 2016
      Since we don't have an actual picture of Jesus, but only artistic depictions of what others imagine He may have looked like, how would anyone know it was Him? Only by His attributes. Besides, a lot of these depictions show Him as a blonde white man when he was clearly of Middle Eastern origin.