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From the earliest times in our history prophets have called humanity to God. We call them prophets because they prophesied of future events and a future state of reality.
We could also call them warners, admonishers, lawgivers or exhorters, but they are primarily teachers sharing their knowledge of the unknowable essence of our Creator.
Abdu’l-Baha, in a talk given in Washington D.C. in 1912, said:
Let me ask: What is the purpose of Prophethood? Why has God sent the Prophets? It is self-evident that the Prophets are the Educators of men and the Teachers of the human race. They come to bestow universal education upon humanity, to give humanity training, to uplift the human race from the abyss of despair and desolation and to enable man to attain the apogee of advancement and glory. The people are in darkness; the Prophets bring them into the realm of light. They are in a state of utter imperfection; the Prophets imbue them with perfections. The purpose of the prophetic mission is none other than the education and guidance of the people. Therefore, we must regard and be on the lookout for the man who is thus qualified—that is to say, any soul who proves to be the Educator of mankind and the Teacher of the human race is undoubtedly the Prophet of His age. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 121.
No one knows how many of the greater and lesser prophets God has sent humanity—but they all had a connection to that unknown essence we call the Creator. Moses was “He who conversed with God,” and his Lawgiver. Jesus stated, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End,” signifying his identification with God. Muhammad gave revelations, each known as Ayah, which literally means “the Sign of God.” The Bab, the Herald of Baha’u’llah’s revelation and a prophet in his own right, was more direct, saying, “I am, I am, I am, the Promised One! I am the one whose name you have for a thousand years invoked ….” – quoted by Shoghi Effendi in God Passes By, p. 21.
The sole purpose of these revelators: to transform the hearts and minds of people, and give them a path to understand and accept the life of the spirit. The words of the prophets, as we can best understand them, are words directly from God to us. Those words are intended to win our hearts, expand and open our minds, change our behaviors, and create the kingdom of God on Earth—a kingdom where force is the servant of justice, where cooperation and love exist, and where we all feel compelled to care for our brothers and sisters of all races and backgrounds.
In a real sense, to know the prophet is the same as knowing God.
Unfortunately, in many of the world’s ancient Faiths that love and knowledge of the prophet has become attachment, not understanding. If we understood them as teachers, and life as a school, we would know that our development is contingent on advancing from one teacher to the next, from one grade-level to the next. As history has evolved and we have evolved over that time, new thoughts and actions are required, based on each teacher’s lessons learned.
As long as humanity persists in a parochial and narrow definition of these great teachers, one in which these holy personages are sent to a specific people with a message meant only for them, a message written on stone tablets as it were, a message incapable of change, development and evolution, then we will remain divided in a state of unrest and confusion.
But today we live in an age when that confusion has been resolved by the teachings and example of Baha’u’llah. The Baha’i teachings say that God has sent the next divine teacher in a long line of teachers, with a new book that contains the blueprints and plans to finally achieve the unification of the world’s peoples in universal peace.
That book contains more than mere exposition, describing how we got here and why. It also describes and provides tools for moving forward. Those tools are the laws for this new age, like adopting a universal language and creating a new civilization through an equitable economic and administrative order. It provides a spiritual basis for relating to God and to our fellow human beings in clear and unequivocal language, adapted to the needs of this modern generation and the ones that will follow.
Baha’u’llah told us about the importance of this new revelation:
Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring balance established amongst men. In this most perfect balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it. – The Most Holy Book, p. 56.
The prophets, then, provide an unbroken chain of guidance for humanity. Their books and words inspire great achievements and entire civilizations. By their very existence, they put this question to us: Will you not open the book of God by opening your mind and heart to his knowledge?