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Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, fulfilled the Christian prophecies.

How does Baha’u’llah fulfill the prophecies of Jesus? Here’s Shoghi Effendi’s answer, in a nutshell:

To [Baha’u’llah] Jesus Christ had referred as the “Prince of this world,” as the “Comforter” Who will “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment,” as the “Spirit of Truth” Who “will guide you into all truth,” Who “shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak,” as the “Lord of the Vineyard,” and as the “Son of Man” Who “shall come in the glory of His Father” “in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory,” with “all the holy angels” about Him, and “all nations” gathered before His throne. – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 95.

We see five messianic titles here, all of them prophesied by Jesus Christ in the Bible:

  1. The “Prince of this world.”
  2. The “Comforter.”
  3. The “Spirit of Truth.”
  4. The “Lord of the Vineyard.”
  5. The “Son of Man” Who “shall come in the glory of His Father.”

We’ve already discussed Baha’u’llah’s identification as the “Comforter” and the “Spirit of Truth” in this series about prophecy. Now let’s consider Shoghi Effendi’s claim that Baha’u’llah fulfills Christ’s prophecy as the “Lord of the Vineyard.”

The Gospels include fifty or so parables: “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.” – Matthew 13:34. Parables—short, simple stories that teach moral lessons—appear in all scripture.

Remarkably, though, Christ’s parables have no overt religious or theological elements. In fact, God appears only in one of them. Let’s take a brief look at the parable of the Lord of the Vineyard, known as the “Parable of the Tenants”—also known as the “Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen” (Mark 12.1–12; Matthew 21.33–45; Luke 20.9–19; Gospel of Thomas 65–66):

And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.

And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.

And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.

And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.

Having yet therefore one son, his well beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.

But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.’

And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.

What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. – Mark 12:1–9.

Jesus’s parable is based, in part, on the “The Song of the Vineyard” in Isaiah 5:1–7. What follows is the present writer’s brief interpretation of this parable, purely an individual exegesis, not an official Baha’i interpretation:

The “certain man” in verse 1 refers to “the lord of the vineyard” in verse 9. Here, this is generally taken by Biblical scholars to mean God, the Creator of the vineyard, which symbolizes the world at large. Although many Christian interpreters have identified Israel as the vineyard, there are other possible interpretations, such as the kingdom of God, the people of God, or the covenantal relationship between God and His people.

The “husbandmen”—the cultivators of the vineyard—are those who are in charge of the vineyard, i.e. the religious leaders of each prophetic day and age.

In verse 2, the Lord of the vineyard sends a “servant” to “receive” the “fruit of the vineyard.” Here, “fruit” is a common Biblical metaphor for good works and righteous deeds.

The “servant,” being sent by God, is widely understood to be a prophet of God. Having been caught, beaten, and sent away (verse 3), God then sends “another” servant, who is stoned, “wounded” and sent away, “shamefully handled” (verse 4). But then God sends another prophet, who is also “killed,” followed by “many others,” by prophets who suffer similar fates, after the people or their religious leaders end up “beating some, and killing some.”

As a last resort, God then sends his “well beloved . . . son,” who was the “last” prophet to be “sent” to the world (verse 6), but God’s son, understood by most Christian interpreters to be Jesus Christ, is “killed” and “cast … out of the vineyard” (verse 8).

Thereupon, the “Lord of the vineyard” will himself appear and “will give the vineyard unto others” (verse 9). Interpreted literally, this would, of course, mean that God would somehow come to the vineyard in person. Baha’is reject this literal interpretation, however, since God is not a “person” (even though we experience God personally) and, in any case, is infinite and therefore cannot appear in a finite place, bound by time and space. Instead, God will appear by proxy—by sending another representative. This time, Baha’is believe, God’s representative is Baha’u’llah.

This interpretation, in its general contours, appears to be confirmed by the great Baha’i scholar Mirza Abu’l-Fadl:

That is, the Sovereign of the universe and Creator of the peoples brought the world into existence, adorning it with the most perfect form, and set the human race over it as a tenant. In every age He appointed one of His servants as a messenger to inquire into the welfare of the creation. But the people, ignorant wrongdoers, refused to recognize or accept him, greeting him with derision and haughtiness. Finally, He sent the perfect, divine Word in the name of Sonship, and they slew him as well. Naturally, the Lord of all horizons on the Day of Encounter will manifest Himself [as Baha’u’llah], and deliver the world, the divine vineyard, over to the just and trustworthy. – Mirza Abu’l-Faḍl Gulpaygani, “Why Moses Could Not See God,” Letters & Essays, 1886–1913, pp. 24–25. 

As “Lord of the Vineyard,” Baha’u’llah proclaimed that Mt. Carmel in Israel—the site of the Baha’i World Center—would become God’s Vineyard:

Carmel, in the Book of God, hath been designated as the Hill of God, and His Vineyard. It is here that, by the grace of the Lord of Revelation, the Tabernacle of Glory hath been raised. Happy are they that attain thereunto; happy they that set their faces towards it. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 145.

4 Comments

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  • Christopher Buck
    Nov 07, 2018
    Belete Worku: Thank you for pointing out that error, which the webmaster just fixed! In recent news, I note that Ethiopia is making great strides in promoting gender equality, a basic Baha’i social principle, as you know. Your strong background in Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity is indeed interesting. I've had an interest in Ethiopian Jewish Christianity and in the “Octateuch of Clement,” etc. (See: Cowley, R. W. “The Identification of the Ethiopian Octateuch of Clement, and Its Relationship to the Other Christian Literature.” Ostkirchliche Studien 27 (1978): 37–45.) Please send me an email via Baha’i Teachings, which will then be ...forwarded to me, and I’ll reply from my personal email address. I look forward to corresponding with you!
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  • Christopher Buck
    Nov 07, 2018
    Rosslyn: Yes. Baha’u’llah’s role as the eschatological “Father” is discussed in other articles in this “Figuring out Prophecy” series. In connection with the Lord of the Vineyard parable, Cambridge Orientalist, Edward Granville Browne, also commented that Muhammad is missing (not to mention the Bab) in this line of interpretation. I’ve written about this in a forthcoming article: “The First Recorded Bahā’ī Fireside.” Baha’i Studies Review 21 (2015 [2019]). This similarly occurs whenever Baha’u’llah is proclaimed as any other tradition-specific messianic figure, such as Kalki (Hinduism), where the prophetic “blanks” need to be filled in as well. No scriptural “proof-text” and ...its interpretation are perfect, but are merely persuasive at best.
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  • Belete Worku
    Nov 07, 2018
    Dr. Buck, thank you so much for this explanation which I always quote as my coming from the strong Ethiopian Orthodox Christian background. May I have your private email to communicate with you please? As a humble suggestion, this is repeated in the last quotation you mentioned of "It is here that, by the grace of the Lord of Revelation, the Tabernacle of Glory hath been raised." Belete Worku
  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Nov 07, 2018
    Interesting line of thought on both yours and Mirza Abu’l-Faḍl Gulpaygani on this parable as I had also understood it as being along the same theme. Just one thing (and this being my own thought here) that when Jesus Christ spoke of the Father to come after Him, I assumed this personage to be Baha'u'llah. But He also told his disciples that He would not leave them comfortless... Now I have taken that as there was going to be a manifestation of God who would be in between Jesus and Baha'u'llah and thus I took the comforter to ...be Muhammad. Thank you. Ros
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