The Baha’i Faith—a world religion with the purpose of uniting the diverse peoples of the world into one universal cause —offers a central teaching, called progressive revelation, which fosters that unity.
Progressive revelation basically means that God has continually revealed His spiritual teachings to humanity over time, through a progressive succession of prophets and messengers who have all taught the same essential message. Like teachers who instruct sequential grade levels in a school, these great teachers of humanity have guided us toward our collective educational maturity.
The Baha’i teachings say that progressive revelation represents the grand design, the overall strategy, the divinely-ordained process, that from the beginning has had as its purpose the guiding and training of humanity to develop God’s kingdom on Earth:
… to lead every soul on earth to concord, to fellow-feeling, to oneness; to make known amongst all peoples the sign of the singleness of God, so that at last the primal oneness deposited at the heart of all created things would bear its destined fruit …
Let us turn our eyes away from empty fantasies of this world’s divergent forms, and serve instead this pre-eminent purpose, this grand design. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 263.
We human beings will continue, forever and ever, to develop our spirituality, both here on Earth and in the next life; however, in the collective sense, the development of God’s kingdom on Earth represents the highest level of human society and the ultimate goal of all religion.
Even though God is far beyond our understanding, the Baha’i teachings say He demonstrates His love through His ancient and eternal Covenant with humankind. In that Covenant, stated clearly in the Old Testament, God promised that He would never leave humankind alone:
And they shall be my people, and I will be their God … And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good … – Jeremiah 32:38, 40.
As our part of the Covenant, the prophets and messengers of God have counseled us to recognize and follow the guidance given by His divine teachers. When we respond to these manifestations of God, we respond to the call of God. These prophets and messengers first appeared long before recorded history to guide humankind to live a spiritual life, to make us aware that another life awaits us after this one:
… praise be to God, the world of existence does not culminate here. If this were so, existence itself would be sterile. There are many worlds of light. …
That is why the prophets of God forfeited this world, renounced everything material and gave their hearts to the heavenly world. Were there nothing after death, Christ would not have accepted the cross; the prophets of all time would not have sacrificed their lives. They were in touch with the celestial world and they overlooked this transitory life. This is the fruit of the tree of creation—to be freed from the darkness of the planet in order to enter the worlds of light. This is the object of existence; this is the fruit of the tree of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 122.
Our forefathers lived in what the Baha’i writings call the “Adamic Age” or the age of prophecy. During that era of human history, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad became the most familiar prophets in the Western world, and Krishna, Buddha, and Zoroaster rose to prominence in the Eastern World.
The Baha’i teachings say that the age of prophecy ended in 1844 when the Bab (the Gate) announced the beginning of his revelation—and the beginning of the “Age of Fulfillment.” His role was to prepare the way for Baha’u’llah, who fulfilled the prophesies of the previous prophets by revealing a new Faith designed to guide us to the next stage in the development of civilization—an age of worldwide peace, harmony, and prosperity for all humankind.
Baha’u’llah brought the message that the purpose of the religion of God is the education of humanity and the unity and fellowship of humankind. The Baha’i world view is audacious, comprehensive, and detailed. In the following statement Baha’u’llah asserted:
The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. The religion of God and His divine law are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquility of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 129.
We do not grow materially, intellectually, and morally based only on our own intellect and physical strength, the Baha’i teachings tell us. We need a divine teacher who provides new knowledge for our growth:
… in the kingdoms of earth and heaven there must needs be manifested a Being, an Essence Who shall act as a Manifestation and Vehicle for the transmission of the grace of the Divinity Itself, the Sovereign Lord of all. Through the Teachings of this Day Star of Truth every man will advance and develop until he attaineth the station at which he can manifest all the potential forces with which his inmost true self hath been endowed. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 67-68.
The same applies to the collective when we consider humankind as a whole. This spiritual development toward more advanced civilizations has not been a linear and steady process, but instead is marked by abrupt and periodic revolutionary changes that advance humankind to ever-broadening levels of unity and spiritual and material well-being. The most important advances came about when manifestations of God reveal the word of God to humankind, with all of its creative power and energy.