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[Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of a multi-part essay called “Questions from a Clergyman”. Click here to read from the beginning.]
Daniel, an evangelical pastor, surprised me with this next question in the course of a “cult night” featuring the Baha’i Faith. I hadn’t considered it in my own investigation of the Faith of Baha’u’llah, but I found the scriptures answer this question as if they saw the question coming a mile off:
If there was a set dispensation for the Faith of Christ, why do the scriptures command us to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things that Christ commanded?”
I believe the passage itself answers the question, when read in its entirety beginning from verse 16:
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:16-20.
First, the verse relates that Jesus is speaking to his remaining eleven disciples, minus the treacherous Judas Iscariot, whom the New Testament says variously committed suicide by hanging or suffered an untimely accident. It is these disciples Christ deputizes to spread His Faith. While one may interpret this as deputizing every Christian by proxy (as the new believers turn around and teach what they have learned), this comes with an obvious end in sight: there must come a point at which everyone has knowledge of the Faith.
More significantly, at the end of the passage, Jesus adds: “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Here Christ, Himself, sets a time span for the disciples’ mission and accords it an end.
What does He mean by “the end of the age”? Both Christians and Baha’is would probably answer that He’s speaking of His return. Both believe that the Mosaic Age ended when Jesus came, fulfilling Moses’ prophecy that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear…” – Deuteronomy 18:15.
Many of the Christians I’ve talked to are literally of two minds about this prophecy. While they take this verse to refer to Jesus, they deny that Christ was, indeed, a Prophet like Moses, notwithstanding His own words on the subject:
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? – John 5:46, 47.
As a Baha’i, I believe the advent of Baha’u’llah fulfilled the prophecies referring to Christ’s Return, just as the early disciples of Christ believed His advent fulfilled this prophecy. Among the signs of this advent, which Jesus cautioned the believers to watch for, were that the Gospel would be taught to all the nations, even as Christ bids His disciples do in the above passage. According to Christian sources, the last frontiers of Africa were opened to Christianity in the mid-1800’s, fulfilling the prophecy.
This milestone contributed to the world-wide expectation in the 19th century that Christ would soon return. The expectation peaked in the year 1844 — the year of The Báb’s proclamation that He was the Herald of the fulfillment of these prophecies, and the date when Baha’is celebrate the beginnings of their Faith.
Baha’u’llah connects the dots between Himself and Christ in passages like this one:
O Pope! Rend the veils asunder. He Who is the Lord of Lords is come overshadowed with clouds, and the decree hath been fulfilled by God, the Almighty, the Unrestrained… He, verily, hath again come down from Heaven even as He came down from it the first time. Beware that thou dispute not with Him even as the Pharisees disputed with Him (Jesus) without a clear token or proof. – Epistle to Pope Pius IX, Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, page 83.
Read the next article in the series: Pentecost and the Spirit of Truth
Read the previous article in the series: The Changeless Faith of God?
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Even though the scripture that contains Christ’s command to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” contains a reference to
“the end of the age” that may not have been the gist of his question. You see, in his mind “the Faith of Christ” will never end even when Christ returns at the “end of the age”. I can testify to this ...reality within my own heart because my faith in Christ did not end when I recognized Bahá’u’lláh. All too often when we speak of the dispensation of Jesus Christ’s "having ended" when the dispensation of Muhammad began, what people hear is a call to switch the allegiance of one’s heart to a different being. “I used to believe in Jesus Christ but now I believe in Muhammad” or “I used to believe in Jesus Christ but now I believe in Bahá’u’lláh.”
As Bahá’ís, of course, we understand the transcendent nature of the Manifestation of God, which is voiced within this same scripture: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” The “Me” in this scripture was not Jesus of Nazareth, the man, but rather the Supreme Manifestation of God that appears in every age, under different names and within different “dispensations”. As such the
command to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” is a universal command that the Bahá’ís are themselves engaged in carrying out as we too seek to make all nations disciples of the Supreme Manifestation of God, whatever the details of His most recent
Indeed, did not the Universal House of Justice in its most recent letter extol ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s efforts to “go therefore and make disciples
of all the nations” when he traveled to America? Did not the House also affirm this command to us all when they said in that same letter, “In our prayers at the Sacred Threshold, we will entreat the Almighty to sustain all those who would be a part of this immense undertaking, who prefer the true prosperity of others over their own ease and leisure . . . all this, that ‘those who walk in darkness should come into the light’ and ‘those who are excluded should join the inner circle of the Kingdom’?” (UHJ Dec 2013) Is not "this immense undertaking”, to which the Universal House of Justice is today calling us, the completion of the task that Christ, the Supreme Manifestation of God, laid at the feet of His disciples some two thousand years ago?
Earlier in the book of Matthew Christ said, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to
all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14- New American Standard Version) Perhaps “the gospel of the kingdom” is not just the Words uttered by Jesus Christ, but rather the ongoing age-to-age revelation of the Word of God and “the end” of which Christ spoke is not the end of Jesus Christ's specific dispensation (which occurred in the 7th century with the coming of Muhammad) but rather is the end of the task at hand--the building of the Kingdom of God on Earth, the Kingdom of Bahá’u’lláh, the establishment of the Most Great Peace. Even as Shoghi Effendi said, “in the fullness of time [our Crusade] will culminate in the establishment of the World Bahá’í Commonwealth, functioning in the plenitude of its powers, and which will signalize the long-awaited advent of the Christ-promised Kingdom of God on earth—the Kingdom of Bahá’u’lláh—mirroring however faintly upon this humble handful of dust the glories of the Abhá Kingdom.” Messages to Bahá’í World p. 156
One of the misconceptions that is being taught within Christianity today is the notion that Christ’s return will mark the end of the
work that is to be done, rather than it being an event that upgrades the Divine Guidance under which the disciples of the Supreme Manifestation of God labor. Within this greater context the question, “If there was a set dispensation for the Faith of Christ, why do the scriptures command us to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things that Christ commanded,’” becomes an opportunity to invite those who believe in Jesus Christ to assist in the completion of the work in which the disciples of Jesus Christ were engaged.
Beyond that, one of the more intriguing phrases within the scripture under discussion is this: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son . . .” We know that the name of “the Son” is Jesus Christ, but what is the name of the Father?
Bahá’u’lláh said, “Say, Lo! The Father is come, and that which ye were promised in the Kingdom is fulfilled!” (Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh p.12) and “Tell Me then: Do the sons recognize the Father, and acknowledge Him, or do they deny Him, even as the people aforetime denied Him (Jesus)?" (Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh p. 15)
Shoghi Effendi said, “To Israel He [Bahá’u’lláh] was neither more nor less than the incarnation of the ‘Everlasting Father,’ the ‘Lord of Hosts’ come down ‘with ten thousands of saints’; to Christendom Christ returned ‘in the glory of the Father’ . . . “ God Passes By
Therefore, when Christians pray, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name" are they not are praying to Bahá, the hallowed name of the Father; and when they go on to plead, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven?" are they not praying for a rapid establishment of the Kingdom of Bahá’u’lláh?