In the beginning of the Christian Era, Israel was a fallen nation. The glory of Solomon had long since vanished. Unity of religion was shattered as Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes each had their own views on the meaning of the Law of Moses. Israel was also a captive nation, ensnared in the hands of idolatrous Rome. Why had God allowed His chosen people to become Roman subjects? Many Jews expected that a Deliverer would come, like Moses of old, Who delivered Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh. Moses had Himself promised that “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee...” (Deut. 18:18). People were eager for this Messiah (“Anointed One”) to come. When He came He would drive out the Romans and make Israel the pride of all nations. The prophet Daniel had promised:
“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
“And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 8:13-14)
Isaiah (9:7) said that He would sit “upon the throne of David”. Therefore, the people of Israel expected the coming of a great temporal sovereign, endowed with visible power and might to deliver them from their enemies, and who would come “with the clouds of heaven”. I will now give a short biography of the life of this promised Saviour. This biography only contains some of the stories of His life and some of the prophecies of the Second Coming.
There was a young woman by the name of Mary, who was engaged to a man named Joseph. She lived in a town in Galilee called Nazareth. One day she was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, who said: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Mary was troubled by this message and wondered what he meant. Gabriel continued: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of his father David: And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” Mary replied: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” He said: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (see: Luke 1:26-37)
Mary had a cousin named Elisabeth, who was the husband of Zacharias, a priest in the temple. Zacharias and Elisabeth were both descendants of Aaron. Zacharias had been promised a son in a vision in the temple. When the son was born, he was named John. In the meantime, however, Mary had gone to visit her cousin. When Mary entered, John leaped in his mother’s womb. (see: Luke 1)
When the Emperor Augustus ordered a world-wide taxation Mary and Joseph went up to Bethlehem, the home of Joseph’s ancestors. He was a descendant of King David, but he was not the father of Jesus. It was in this city that Jesus was born. An angel came upon some shepherds who watched over their flock by night. He said: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” The shepherds visited the new-born baby. (see: Luke 2)
There were some Magi, who were followers of the Prophet Zoroaster, who came to Judæa. They said: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” King Herod (the ruler of Judæa) inquired from them where Christ should be born. They told him that the child would be born in Bethlehem. They brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then they departed and returned to their own country (Persia). (see: Matthew 2:1-12)
An angel warned Joseph in a dream to depart from Judæa and go into Egypt. Herod decided to kill all the children of Bethlehem who were two years old and younger. When Herod had died, they returned and settled in Nazareth. (see: Matthew 2:13-23)
Jesus was a remarkable child. When He was twelve, His parents took Him to the Passover Festival in Jerusalem. His parents started home but did not realize that He had stayed behind. He wasn’t with the group. They went back to Jerusalem to look for Him. On the third day they found Him in the Temple. He was sitting with the teachers, listening and asking questions. Everyone was amazed at His innate knoweldge. When asked by His parents why He had lingered, He replied: “How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” They returned to Nazareth. (see: Luke 2:40-51) There are similar accounts of the childhoods of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh.
The cousin of Jesus, named John, grew to manhood and went out into the desert to preach. John called to the people of Israel: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He wore clothes made out of camel’s hair and a leather belt and he ate locusts and wild honey. People came from Jerusalem and all over Judæa to be baptised by John in the river Jordan. (see: Matthew 3:1-6) Isaiah prophesied (40:3):
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
John was also the return of the Prophet Elijah. As Malachi prophesied (4:5-6):
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
This was not a literal or physical return. Rather, it was the return of the qualities of Elijah. It is like a beautiful flower of last year. This year I say that the flower has returned because it has the same beauty and fragrance. The Spring of this year could be said to be the return of the Spring of last year, and it could be said to be a different Spring. When asked by the priests and Levites if he was Elijah, John the Baptist simply replied: “No.” (John 1:21) However, Jesus said: “Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed.” The disciples “understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:12-13) This is not contradictory, because although John is not physically Elijah, he is the spiritual return of Elijah. Thus the meaning of the word “return” in the Bible does not refer to the return of the physical body. It refers to a spiritual return.
Jesus Himself came to His cousin, John, to be baptised. According to Matthew (3:14-17): “But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee and comest Thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered Him. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
This is similar to the Burning Bush of Moses and the Siyáh-Chal of Bahá’u’lláh. It was the moment when Jesus became the Messiah (‘Anointed One’). Although He was always a perfect, infallible being, the Word of God, His Baptism was the physical Manifestation of His glory in the world. ‘Abdul-Bahá says:
“Then it is evident that the dove which descended upon Christ was not a material dove, but it was a spiritual state, which, that it might be comprehensible, was expressed by a sensible figure. Thus in the Old Testament it is said that God appeared as a pillar of fire: this does not signify the material form; it is an intellectual reality which is expressed by a sensible image. . . .
“Briefly, the Holy Manifestations have ever been, and ever will be, Luminous Realities; no change or variation takes place in Their essence. Before declaring Their manifestation, They are silent and quiet like a sleeper, and after Their manifestation, They speak and are illuminated, like one who is awake.” (“Some Answered Questions”, pp. 85-86)
Jesus then went into the wilderness for forty days and nights without food. There He prepared Himself for His Mission and resolved Himself for the task He was to perform. (see: Matthew 4:1-11)
According to the Gospel of Mark, after John the Baptist had been imprisoned, Jesus began to preach in Galilee. He said: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the first four disciples of Jesus were fishermen on the sea of Galilee: “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him. And going on from thence, He saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:18-22)
The Gospel of John, however, records that the day after His baptism John and two of his disciples saw Jesus walk by: “And looking upon Jesus as He walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto Him, Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest Thou? He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two which heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother, Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, He said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.” (John 1:36-42)
Then Jesus found two other disciples: “The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow Me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found Him, of Whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto Him, Whence knowest Thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto Him, Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And He saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” (John 1:43-51)
According to John, these were the first four disciples to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, while Matthew records James and John. The angels of God are not physical creatures which the Apostles saw. He did not claim that He would raise a physical army and be a temporal sovereign, but that spiritual beings, the angels, would ascend and descend upon Him. This is an indication of the spiritual sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Similarly, Christ Himself descended from heaven on the clouds, His physical body, which obscured His true sovereignty. Only those who had ears to hear and eyes to see could recognise that He was the Messiah descended from heaven.
Jesus went around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and giving life to the heedless and sight to those who could not comprehend. He healed the leprosy of perversity and ignorance and sanctified the souls of those who would hear Him and believe. (see: Matthew 4:23-25) Throughout the Gospels it mentions these miracles, in which He cured people by giving them a new Message. Although He doubtless performed some actual healing miracles, these are unimportant, and do not prove the validity of His Message. In reality, His miracle was giving a spiritual life to those that would repent and believe. Bahá’u’lláh says that “Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him, the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of the sinner sanctified. Leprosy may be interpreted as any veil that interveneth between man and the recognition of the Lord, his God.” (“Gleanings”, p. 86)
The most famous speech of Jesus is the sermon on the Mount. In a speech of tremendous power and relevance, He glorifies the downtrodden and teaches a way of living. It is significant because it is the way in which He directed His followers to behave, towards others and in private. It contains the famous Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12): “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the Prophets which were before you.”
He teaches His followers that they “are the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”. He assures those that are listening: “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled.” (see: Matthew 5:13-18) Here, Jesus confirms that He has not come to destroy the teachings of Moses. In fact, He has fulfilled them, because He has brought those self-same teachings. He abrogates the physical laws of the Torah, but the divine Torah, the spirit which Moses brought, remains. Thus the Mosaic Dispensation ended and the Christian Dispensation began, but the essential religion is the same. The teachings of Moses are like the morning Sun and the teachings of Christ are the Sun at a higher point in the sky. The Sun is the same, but they only differ in the degree of their intensity. In the words of Shoghi Effendi, “Divine Revelation is progressive, not final.” (“World Order of Bahá’u’lláh”, p. 58)
In the Law of Moses, it is forbidden to kill. Christ takes this one step further. He forbids being angry with someone. He teaches that it is best to be reconciled with others, and not breed anger and contempt. This is also the spirit of Mosaic teachings, but Christ renewed the Law and gave a new spirit to the world. Elaborate rituals will not save you, it is what is in your heart and the way you behave that counts. Moses had forbidden adultery. Christ says (5:28): “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” In the Law of Moses, divorce was allowed, but Christ says (5:32): “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” This was a new law suited to the time and conditions in which Christ appeared.
Christ tells His followers not to make oaths. He teaches the famous concept of ‘turning the other cheek’. He says (5:39): “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Moses taught that you should love your neighbour and hate your enemies. Christ says (5:44): “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” He forbids hypocrisy and urges His followers to seek after perfection. He forbid His followers to give alms for the purpose of being seen as generous and noble, and praying in public or the synagogue to seem holy. People should pray privately, without “vain repetitions, as the heathen do.” He gave them one short and simple prayer (6:9-13): “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy Will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen.” The words “Thy kingdom come” calls God to bring about the kingdom of God on earth, when war will end and a peaceful and just society will be established. This is the promise that Christians have awaited, the promise of the Day of God Himself.
Christ says that during the fast, people should not look sad and dejected. No one should be able to tell that they are fasting. He forbids the storing up of riches. True riches are pure and holy deeds. He says (6:20-21): “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He called upon people to have total reliance on God. Possessions are unimportant. He forbids judging others and hypocrisy. He says (7:1-5): “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye... Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote of thy brother’s eye.”
He advises His followers to seek out truth. If they truly seek, they will find. He says (7:7): “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Therefore, if one becomes a true seeker of truth, that person should find the truth. A true seeker must be detached from all things. Bahá’u’lláh says: “When a true seeker determineth to take the step of search in the path leading unto the knowledge of the Ancient of Days, he must, before all else, cleanse his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of satanic fancy.” (“Gleanings”, p. 264)
Christ says that His followers must enter “in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (7:13) He warns His followers of false prophets, who produce bad fruits. He says (7:20): “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” He says that a good tree does not produce bad fruit. Therefore, a true prophet can be distinguished from a false prophet by the fruits of their teachings. He prophecies the coming of false prophets, but also allows for the possibility of true Prophets to come after Him. He says that in the end many of His followers will say “Lord, Lord” but He says (7:23): “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Thus not every one will be saved, but only those who follow the straight path and seek after the truth. Many times Christ taught that His followers must keep on their guard lest they do not believe at the last Day, the Day of Judgement. They must have discerning eyes and attentive ears lest they fail to recognise the truth.
One day, Jesus saw a man named Matthew, a tax-collector, sitting in his office. Jesus said to Him: “Follow Me.” And Matthew followed Him. While Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples: “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” Jesus heard what they had said and replied: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (see: Matthew 9:9-13)
The followers of John the Baptist came one day to Jesus and asked: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but Thy disciples fast not?” Jesus said to them: “Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (see: Matthew 9:14-17)
Jesus gathered His twelve disciples together and gave them power to heal the spiritually sick, opening their eyes and ears to the truth. According to the Gospel of Matthew, these twelve Apostles are: (1) Simon called Peter, (2) his brother Andrew, (3) James the son of Zebedee and (4) his brother John, (5) Philip, (6) Bartholemew, (7) Thomas, (8) Matthew the publican, (9) James the son of Alphæus, (10) Lebæus, whose surname was Thadæus, (11) Simon the Canaanite and (12) Judas Iscariot. He commanded them not to go forth unto the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but to gather “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. He said (Matthew 10:7-14): “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into a house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet...”
He told the Apostles that they would be rejected by the kings and rulers of the world and would suffer in His name. He told them that those that kill the body are not to be feared, only those which kill the soul. Spiritual life is life in nearness to God, but spiritual death is being far from God. He said that those who reject Him shall be held accountable before God in heaven. Bahá’u’lláh says:
“It follows, therefore, that every man hath been, and will continue to be, able of himself to appreciate the Beauty of God, the Glorified. Had he not been endowed with such a capacity, how could he be called to account for his failure? If, in the Day when all the peoples of the earth will be gathered together, any man should, whilst standing in the presence of God, be asked: "Wherefore hast thou disbelieved in My Beauty and turned away from My Self," and if such a man should reply and say: "Inasmuch as all men have erred, and none hath been found willing to turn his face to the Truth, I, too, following their example, have grievously failed to recognize the Beauty of the Eternal," such a plea will, assuredly, be rejected. For the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself.” (“Gleanings”, p. 143)
Christ also told them (10:34-39): “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me. He that findeth His life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.”
Jesus has not come as the “Prince of Peace” spoken of by Isaiah, Who shall usher in a great age of universal peace and tranquillity. The Prince of Peace is the Return of Christ in the Glory of the Father, Who shall establish the principles of a new world order. Following Christ means following Him regardless of the views of one’s family. Christ must be loved above all.
“For life is of two kinds: that of the body and that of the spirit. The life of the body is material life, but the life of the spirit expresses the existence of the Kingdom, which consists in receiving the Spirit of God and becoming vivified by the breath of the Holy Spirit.” (“Some Answered Questions”, p. 241)
After He had finished teaching the Apostles, Jesus went to teach and preach in the cities. When John the Baptist heard about His activities, He sent two disciples to see Jesus. They said: “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered: “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” (see: Matthew 11:3-6)
The Gospel continues (11:7-15): “And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A Prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a Prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send My Messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus says that John is the return of Elias (Elijah), though not literally or physically. John is the spiritual return of Elijah. He says (11:15): “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” This phrase is repeated throughout the Gospels. Those that have the spiritual capacity to hear will know that John is the return of Elijah. ‘Return’ in the New Testament is not a literal return but a symbolic return, the return of the spiritual traits and station of Elijah. ‘Abdul-Bahá says: “In the same way, if we regard the return of the individual, it is another individual; but if we regard the qualities and perfections, the same have returned.” (“Some Answered Questions”, p. 134)
It is reasonable to assume that the return of Jesus Christ is also a return of the qualities and perfections of Christ. The return of Christ would have the same Station as Jesus Christ and would be a perfect Mirror of God. The Sun is manifest in the Mirror, but the Sun does not descend into the Mirror. Similarly, Jesus Christ is a perfect Mirror of God. His Face is the Face of God, His Will is the Will of God, but He is not the Essence of God Himself. Thus does He say (John 14:28): “If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for My Father is greater than I.” Moses was also a divine Mirror of God, but He is not the Essence of God. God has no partners, and is not divided into separate beings. There is only one God. Bahá’u’lláh says: “To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery.” (“Kitáb-i-Íqán”, p. 98)
One Sabbath day Jesus and His disciples were walking through a field and they picked heads of wheat to eat the grain. When the Pharisees saw them doing this, they said: “Behold, Thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.” Jesus replied: “Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; how he entered the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the Law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.” (Matthew 12:2-8)
Jesus healed a man and the Pharisees asked Him: “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?” He replied: “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” When the people heard of the miracles of Jesus they exclaimed that He is the Son of David. The Pharisees, envious of His power and influence, said that He casts out devils by the power of Beelzebub, prince of the devils. (see: 12:10-24) Jesus knew their thoughts and He said:
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you... O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgement. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (see: Matthew 12:10-37)
The scribes and Pharisees wanted Him to show them a sign to prove Himself. Jesus responded:
“An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (12:39-40)
There were some Pharisees and scribes who came to Jesus and asked why His followers did not wash their hands before they ate. Jesus replied (Matthew 15:3-6): “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”
Then He called the crowd to Him and said: “Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” His disciples came to Him and said: “Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard Thy saying?” Jesus replied: “Every plant, which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” Peter asked: “Declare unto us this parable.” Jesus answered: “Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” (see: Matthew 15:10-20)
Many evil things can be spoken and their results will be evil. Words can be a source of great good, but also of great suffering. Jesus teaches that we must be as careful in what we say as in what we do. As Bahá’u’lláh says: “The essence of faith is fewness of words and abundance of deeds; he whose words exceed his deeds, know verily his death is better than his life. The essence of true safety is to observe silence, to look at the end of things and to renounce the world.” (“Tablets”, p. 156) And He says: “For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century.” (“Gleanings”, p. 265)
The Pharisees and Sadducees tempted Jesus, asking for a sign from heaven, but He did not give it to them. When the disciples had crossed over to the other side of the lake, they realised that they had forgotten to take bread. Jesus said unto them: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” Discussing this among themselves they believed that He had said this because they didn’t bring any bread. Jesus knew what they were saying, so He asked them: “O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?” Then they realised that He had told them to beware of the doctrines of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. (see: Matthew 16:6-12)
The disciples had taken the words of Jesus literally. Jesus was not pleased and associated this understanding with a lack of faith. ‘Leaven’ means the false doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but they had understood it literally. If even the disciples of Jesus Christ, who knew Him personally, could make such a mistake, what about His followers two thousand years after Him? Through His use of symbols to represent deeper meanings and many other examples Jesus taught His disciples the importance of not giving a literal interpretation of Scripture. He said that John the Baptist was the return of Elijah, but not literally. Jesus said He had descended from heaven, even though He was born of a woman. This theme runs throughout the Gospels. If we take the prophecies and symbols of the New Testament literally, we will be following in the footsteps of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. We will have taken their leaven, their doctrines, as our own. This is a danger which all Christians must avoid. If someone lived in the time of Jesus Christ, and interpreted the Scriptures literally, that person would deny Christ, because the prophecies were not literally fulfilled. Jesus Christ is the Living Book, the Word of God. His own teachings were His proof, His life was His proof and the sacrifice He made proved that He is Christ.
When Jesus came to the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, He asked His disciples: “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” They replied: “Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the Prophets.” Jesus then asked: “But Whom say ye that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (see: Matthew 16:13-19)
He told His disciples not to mention to anyone that He is Christ, the Anointed One. From that time onwards, Jesus began to tell them that He would be killed and raised on the third day. Peter took Him aside and said: “Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee.” Jesus replied: “Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (see: Matthew 16:20-23) Clearly, Peter is not Satan, so what does this mean? Satan is the insistent self, the force that drives us to seek after self-satisfaction. Jesus was rebuking the insistent self within Peter. Peter did not want Jesus to be taken away, and so he rebuked Him. Light has an actual existence in the universe. Darkness, on the other hand, is non-existent. It is simply the absence of light. Similarly, good exists, but evil does not exist. The existence of a force of evil, a living Satan, is not tenable. The self within, lacking the light of goodness, is satanic.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá says: “...the intellectual realities, such as all the qualities and admirable perfections of man, are purely good, and exist. Evil is simply their nonexistence. So ignorance is the want of knowledge; error is the want of guidance; forgetfulness is the want of memory; stupidity is the want of good sense. All these things have no real existence... Then it is proved that there is no evil in existence; all that God created He created good. This evil is nothingness; so death is the absence of life. When man no longer receives life, he dies. Darkness is the absence of light: when there is no light, there is darkness. Light is an existing thing, but darkness is nonexistent. Wealth is an existing thing, but poverty is nonexisting. Then it is evident that all evils return to nonexistence. Good exists; evil is nonexistent.” (“Some Answered Questions”, pp. 263-264)
The Gospel continues: “Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let Him deny Himself, and take up His cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save His life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose His life for My sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His Kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28)
One day, the disciples came unto Jesus and asked: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child to Him and said: “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whosoever shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (see: Matthew 18:1-6)
“Woe unto the world because of its offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. . . Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” (18:7-11)
Children are born innocent and free from sin. Original sin is a man-made doctrine and does not originate from Christ. If a child dies without baptism, does it have to answer for sins in the next world? Baptism is a symbolic act that was used in the Christian Dispensation to signify repentance from sins and entrance into the Faith of God. It would have no effect on infants who are not capable of understanding its significance. The act of baptism in itself does not guarantee entrance into the kingdom of heaven. In fact, in these verses, Jesus says that unless we become innocent like children, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. If baptism is used without any understanding of its meaning and without producing any actual change in the individual, it is of no benefit. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:
“But at present in Asia, the Catholics and the Orthodox Church plunge newly born children into water mixed with olive oil, and many of them become ill from the shock; at the time of baptism they struggle and become agitated. In other places, the clergy sprinkle the water of baptism on the forehead. But neither from the first form nor from the second do the children derive any spiritual benefit. Then what result is obtained from this form? Other peoples are amazed and wonder why the infant is plunged into the water, since this is neither the cause of the spiritual awakening of the child, nor of its faith or conversion, but it is only a custom which is followed. In the time of John the Baptist it was not so; no, at first John used to exhort the people, and to guide them to repentance from sin, and to fill them with the desire to await the manifestation of Christ. Whoever received the ablution of baptism, and repented of sins in absolute humility and meekness, would also purify and cleanse his body from outward impurities. With perfect yearning, night and day, he would constantly wait for the manifestation of Christ, and the entrance to the Kingdom of the Spirit of God.”* (“Some Answered Questions”, p. 95)
* i.e., of Christ, Whom the Muslims frequently designate by the title of Rúhu’lláh, the Spirit of God.
BACK TO MAIN