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Whenever a messenger of God has appeared, people have denounced that messenger as a false prophet. Throughout Christ’s ministry, for example, those who thought of him as false were many, while believers were few.
The Gospel of John, verse 7:2, says: “And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said he is a good man; others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people.”
Christ’s Warnings about False Prophets
Christ himself repeatedly warned us about false prophets, including this passage in Mathew 24:
If any say, “Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; inasmuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”
To keep history from repeating itself we have to be able to assess and then recognize divine messengers when they appear. In the Book of Mathew, Christ gave us the unerring standard by which we can determine true from false:
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
You do not need to drink the entire ocean to know it is salty, just as you do not need to eat all of its fruit to know the tree is good. In other words, you do not need to know everything about God’s messengers – you just need to taste their fruit. If the fruit is good, Christ said, then the message is true.
So what are some of the fruits that can tell us we’ve encountered a true messenger of God? In this essay, we’ll look at four specific ways to evaluate those fruits and taste their truth.
1. A True Messenger Reveals the Word of God
John 16:13, speaking of the divine messengers, says “He shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak.”
All of the founders of the world’s great Faiths unleashed a revelation from the Creator by leaving us the word of God, usually in the form of a holy book or books. They also universally said that those words and teachings came not from them but from a higher Source, from a divine repository of wisdom and spiritual truth, just as Baha’u’llah wrote in this passage from his writings:
This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing. And He bade Me lift up My voice between earth and heaven, and for this there befell Me what hath caused the tears of every man of understanding to flow. The learning current amongst men I studied not; their schools I entered not. Ask of the city wherein I dwelt, that thou mayest be well assured that I am not of them who speak falsely. This is but a leaf which the winds of the will of thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Praised, have stirred. Can it be still when the tempestuous winds are blowing? Nay, by Him Who is the Lord of all Names and Attributes! They move it as they list.
2. The Character of a True Messenger Manifests Love
Galatians 5:23 says that every one of the messengers of God evince an inner character that perfectly manifests the spiritual qualities of “love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” Each of those prophets met hatred and persecution with love and kindness.
Baha’u’llah was exiled like Abraham, stoned like Moses, and scourged like Jesus. For nearly half a century Baha’u’llah underwent imprisonment and exile, during which he was poisoned, beaten, chained in a dungeon, and subject to the most brutal and continuous indignities. In the depths of his suffering, he pointed out the oneness of his own mission with Christ. Baha’u’llah called out to all humanity:
If ye be intent on crucifying once again Jesus, the Spirit of God, put Me to death, for He hath once more, in My person, been made manifest unto you. Deal with Me as ye wish, for I have vowed to lay down My life in the path of God.
3. He Shall Glorify Christ
John 16:14 says, when speaking of Christ’s return, “He shall glorify Christ.” Baha’u’llah did exactly that, repeatedly, when he declared the oneness and unity of all the prophets and founders of the world’s religions:
Contemplate with thine inward eye the chain of successive Revelations … I testify before God that each one of these Manifestations hath been sent down through the operation of the Divine Will and Purpose, that each hath been the bearer of a specific Message, that each hath been entrusted with a divinely-revealed Book and been commissioned to unravel the mysteries of a mighty Tablet. The measure of the Revelation with which every one of them hath been identified had been definitely fore-ordained. …
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In the beginning, how small is the seed, yet in the end it is a mighty tree. Look ye not upon the seed, look ye upon the tree, and its blossoms, and its leaves and its fruits. Consider the days of Christ, when none but a small band followed Him; then observe what a mighty tree that seed became, behold ye its fruitage.
4. A True Prophet’s Teachings Transform Lives
A true prophet’s teachings transform the lives of millions of people, and ultimately affect the entirety of humanity. That mysterious transformational power, when manifested among the masses of the followers of a new prophet of God, is one of the most clear and obvious ways to assess the validity of a holy messenger. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote about Baha’u’llah’s ability to transform lives in his book God Passes By:
The ascendancy achieved by Baha’u’llah was nowhere better demonstrated than in his ability to broaden the outlook and transform the character of the community of his followers. He was able to inculcate a standard which emphasized the principle of non-violence; banned back-biting, retaliation, and dispute; stressed godliness, kindliness, humility and piety, promulgated honesty and truthfulness, chastity and fidelity, upheld justice, toleration, sociability, amity and concord, encouraged the acquisition of arts and sciences, praised self-sacrifice and detachment, patience, steadfastness and taught resignation to the will of God.
These four evaluative tools, when used together, lead to an obvious conclusion: Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, meets all of the criteria of a true messenger of God.