If Christ gave his life to redeem the world, I asked myself as a teenager, did other messengers of God do the same?
The Baha’i teachings answer that question with a resounding Yes. This example of sacrifice is front and center with the revelations of Abraham and Muhammad as well:
That which thou hast heard concerning Abraham, the Friend of the All-Merciful, is the truth, and no doubt is there about it. The Voice of God commanded Him to offer up Ishmael as a sacrifice, so that His steadfastness in the Faith of God and His detachment from all else but Him may be demonstrated unto men. The purpose of God, moreover, was to sacrifice him as a ransom for the sins and iniquities of all the peoples of the earth. This same honor, Jesus, the Son of Mary, besought the one true God, exalted be His name and glory, to confer upon Him. For the same reason was Husayn offered up as a sacrifice by Muhammad, the Apostle of God. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 75.
Here the sins of the world are taken away by the supreme sacrifice of God’s messengers, who all faced rejection and suffering from the actions of men.
This same kind of suffering, according to the testimony of Baha’u’llah, happened through Abraham’s, Christ’s, and Muhammad’s sacrifices. Studying this consistent historical pattern, it becomes clear that a mysterious divine process of spiritual purification rests on the sacrificial actions of a sequence of God’s messengers—not on one of those messengers, but on all of them.
According to the declaration of Baha’u’llah, mortal men cannot understand the secret of the mystery of this supreme offering:
No man can ever claim to have comprehended the nature of the hidden and manifold grace of God; none can fathom His all-embracing mercy. God’s hidden and most loving providence, however, hath, through both visible and invisible agencies, protected and will continue to protect it from the penalty of its wickedness. Ponder this in thine heart, that the truth may be revealed unto thee, and be thou steadfast in His path. – Ibid.
The evidence supplied by the writings of Baha’u’llah verifies the reality of divine redemption for people of the world. This plan for removing the sins of the world comes down through the ages as God reveals His prophets and messengers:
Every one of them is the Way of God that connecteth this world with the realms above, and the Standard of His Truth unto every one in the kingdoms of earth and heaven. – Ibid., p. 50.
Fix your gaze upon Him Who is the Temple of God amongst men. He, in truth, hath offered up His life as a ransom for the redemption of the world. – Ibid., p. 315.
So the nature of each ransom is unique to the circumstances to each particular revelation, though the overall principle remains consistent—to demonstrate the immortality of the human spirit:
If the spirit were not immortal, how could the Manifestations of God endure such terrible trials?
Why did Christ Jesus suffer the fearful death on the cross?
Why did Muhammad bear persecutions?
Why did the Bab make the supreme sacrifice and why did Baha’u’llah pass the years of his life in prison?
Why should all this suffering have been, if not to prove the everlasting life of the spirit?
Christ suffered, He accepted all His trials because of the immortality of His spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 93-94.
What about the role of sacrifices in the lives of the Bab and Baha’u’llah? The Bab made a unique claim for his very short revelation, which released powerful forces for the coming age as he foretold his own death:
O thou Remnant of God! I have sacrificed myself wholly for Thee; I have accepted curses for Thy sake; and have yearned for naught but martyrdom in the path of Thy love. … Do thou sacrifice the thing which Thou lovest most in the path of God … – The Bab, quoted by Baha’u’llah in The Book of Certitude, p. 231.
Baha’u’llah verified the role of his forerunner’s martyrdom—and spoke of human redemption through the tribulations of his own ministry and his active role in this divine plan for universal remission of sins:
The Ancient Beauty [Baha’u’llah] hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 99.
We, verily, have come for your sakes, and have borne the misfortunes of the world for your salvation. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 10.
Attempting to understand this spiritual mystery takes me back to my father bowing his head beside the bed and clasping his hands in humbleness to God in prayer.
To this day not one of the children in our family knows for certain why our father, a committed non-churchgoer, earnestly turned to God in prayer every night. Nobody thought to ask him that question. Did some sweet, loving person give him inspiring advice to make his life more meaningful? In much the same way, Baha’u’llah described all the messengers of God as a loving ransom for us all:
I am he, O my God, who hath embraced Thy love and accepted all the adversities which the world can inflict, who hath offered up himself as a ransom for the sake of Thy loved ones, that they may ascend into the heavens of Thy knowledge and be drawn nearer unto Thee, and may soar in the atmosphere of Thy love and Thy good-pleasure. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. 25.
The prophets tragically and willingly undergo denial, suffering, and even death to give us a free path to our own awakening, our own awareness, our own salvation. This mysterious reward reaches down to the very purpose of God’s creation for humanity, and ultimately reaches down to each one of us who sincerely prays to our Creator.
In time, I’m happy to report, our noble father also took up the Baha’i Faith. Like his children before him, he saw no contradiction with the God that he spoke to at his bedside and the one who sent down the messengers. I can never forget that our dear father joined his family in firm belief in the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. He enriched our lives as well as his own. Dad found great solace to the end of his days with the daily reading of the beautiful words in the Baha’i prayers, prayers given by messengers from God who sacrificed their lives for us and took away the sins of the world.