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The Return of Christ: Incarnation or Manifestation?

Maya Bohnhoff | Apr 25, 2024

PART 2 IN SERIES Baha’is, the United Nations, and World Unity

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Maya Bohnhoff | Apr 25, 2024

PART 2 IN SERIES Baha’is, the United Nations, and World Unity

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

An essay in an online religious forum, written by a woman I’ve called “Jen,” took exception to the Baha’i Faith’s teachings about human unity. 

Jen claimed that this unity would be brought about by the spirit of an antichrist, which some Christian theologians have personified. 

Because Jen identified herself as a Christian, it surprised me that her deep misconceptions about various aspects of the Baha’i Faith extended into her ideas about what Christ Jesus had actually taught. 

Raised as a Christian myself, I once shared her worldview and expressed myself with equal vehemence, so I generally knew what to expect, but she stunned me a couple of times with assertions that I had not seen before. She stated, for example, that Baha’is were “eagerly awaiting” this antichrist to bring world peace, that we believe the UN is the vehicle which will bring religious unity, that the Baha’i Faith prescribes a “communist-style government,” and that we intend to “eliminate” anyone whose beliefs differ from our own. 

RELATED: Did You Miss the Return of Christ?

Wow. Every one of those assertions is completely and utterly false.

I’ll explore all of these mistaken ideas in the course of this series of essays, but in this article, I want to address another incorrect assertion Jen made based on the misperceptions of some early seekers (famously, the poet and artist Khalil Gibran) that Abdu’l-Baha – the son and successor of Baha’u’llah – was the prophet foretold in revealed scripture. Many people met Abdu’l-Baha, and were understandably in awe of him – but his repeated assertions about not being a prophet didn’t always seem to sway their certainty.

Jen wrote: “The Baha’i incarnation of God, Abdul-Baha, said, religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world.’”  

I first want to make it abundantly clear that the “incarnation of God” is not part of Baha’i belief. Rather, Baha’is consider those gemlike beings whom God sends to reveal Himself as “… the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person,” as described in the New Testament Book of Hebrews (1:3). 

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, the Apostle Paul described the reflection of the Holy Spirit in the mirror of Jesus Christ in this way:

Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

I also shared with Jen this prayer of Christ in Gethsemane, from John 17:6-7, in which he says:

I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.

Baha’is believe that Bahaullah is, like Christ, a Manifestation of the Spirit of God — that is, a perfect reflection of the Holy Spirit as seen in a human mirror. Abdu’l-Baha, on the other hand, was merely” an exemplary human being. In fact, Baha’u’llah exhorted the Baha’is to regard Abdu’l-Baha as our exemplar, for he is literally the sort of human being that would result from following the Word of God in the spirit and the letter. 

Isn’t this what the Apostle Paul spoke of when he said that in beholding ”as in a mirror, the Glory of the Lord” the believers are themselves transformed “into the same image”?

RELATED: What Does “the Rapture” Really Mean?

In his writings Baha’u’llah also used the concepts of reflection and manifestation to describe the relationship between God and His messengers:

These sanctified Mirrors, these Day Springs of ancient glory, are, one and all, the Exponents on earth of Him Who is the central Orb of the universe, its Essence and ultimate Purpose. From Him proceed their knowledge and power; from Him is derived their sovereignty. The beauty of their countenance is but a reflection of His image, and their revelation a sign of His deathless glory. … Through them is transmitted a grace that is infinite, and by them is revealed the Light that can never fade …. These Tabernacles of Holiness, these Primal Mirrors which reflect the light of unfading glory, are but expressions of Him Who is the Invisible of the Invisibles. By the revelation of these Gems of Divine virtue all the names and attributes of God, such as knowledge and power, sovereignty and dominion, mercy and wisdom, glory, bounty, and grace, are made manifest.

So, along with our Christian brothers and sisters, Baha’is affirm their unshakeable belief that Christ is exactly the sort of being that Baha’u’llah describes. Baha’is believe Baha’u’llah to be a primal mirror reflecting the “light of unfading glory.” We believe Abdu’l-Baha, whose name means “Servant of Glory” and whose Father referred to him as the “Mystery of God,” is one who had been, as the Apostle Paul says, “transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

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Comments

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  • Bill Carsley
    Apr 26, 2024
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    Maya, would it be fair to say that the Baha'i concept of "Manifestation of God" might also be understood as "Incarnation of the Logos"? It seems to me that this is the theological understanding of Jesus Christ's incarnation which is presented in the first chapter of John's gospel. Of course Christians believe that this full incarnation of the Logos is unique to Jesus. This is where Christians and Baha'is differ.
    • May 8, 2024
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      I think Incarnation of the Logos/Word is a good way to convey this spiritual reality since John says “The Word became flesh”. The key difference between how I understood incarnation as a Christian was that God’s essence and substance were incarnated, not “just” His Word. “Just” I say, when this Word (He said “Be” and it was) had the power to create the Universe. And, yes, I believed this was unique to Christ. I’ve had very few Christians argue that we can completely grasp the nature of Christ’s manifestation or disagree with Baha’u’llah’s metaphor of the Mirror. Saying that the ...Logos (Holy Spirit) descends into the Mirror and reflects God’s qualities often clears the way for a fuller dialogue, especially since Paul used the same image.
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