Bahá’ís believe in the concept of progressive revelation.
"Know of a certainty," Bahá’u’lláh explains in this connection, "that in every Dispensation the light of Divine Revelation hath been vouchsafed to men in direct proportion to their spiritual capacity. Consider the sun. How feeble its rays the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light. How steadily it declineth until it reacheth its setting point. Were it all of a sudden to manifest the energies latent within it, it would no doubt cause injury to all created things... In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed; for men's hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its revelation, nor be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they would cease to exist."
“In the light of these clear and conclusive statements it is our clear duty to make it indubitably evident to every seeker after truth that from “the beginning that hath no beginning” the Prophets of the one, the unknowable God, including Bahá’u’lláh Himself, have all, as channels of God’s grace, as the exponents of His unity, as the mirrors of His light and the revealers of His purpose, been commissioned to unfold to mankind an ever-increasing measure of His truth, of His inscrutable will and Divine guidance, and will continue to “the end that hath no end” to vouchsafe still fuller and mightier revelations of His limitless power and glory.” (Shoghi Effendi: “The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh”, pp. 28-29)
In every age, God sends a Divinely-appointed Manifestation of God. The Bahá’í Faith recognizes the Founders of the nine major religions. The Founder of the Sabean Faith, an ancient religion of which little is known, is recognized as one of these Manifestations. The others are Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb, and Bahá’u’lláh. In addition to these, the Bahá’í Faith recognizes Adam, Noah, Abraham and the Qur’ánic Prophets Húd and Sálih. There are others who are unknown, and there were many Manifestations before Adam.
The coming of Adam inaugurated the Adamic or Prophetic Cycle, which lasted nearly six thousand years. During this preparatory cycle, many Manifestations of God appeared, each heralding the coming of a Promised One, Whom the Bahá’í Faith recognizes as Bahá’u’lláh.
“The Prophetic Cycle hath, verily, ended. The Eternal Truth is now come. He hath lifted up the Ensign of Power, and is now shedding upon the world the unclouded splendor of His Revelation.”
(Bahá’u’lláh: “Gleanings”, p. 60)
I have attempted to write a brief account of the life, teaching and prophecy of some of these Manifestations of God. However insignificant and unworthy my attempt may be, I hope that thereby readers may come to see the light of Divine Revelation inherent in each of these Holy Souls, and that all of their religions are of one Divine Source.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the Centre of the Covenant, said that there are “two kinds” of Prophets. “One are the independent Prophets Who are followed; the other kind are not independent and are themselves followers. The independent Prophets are the lawgivers and the founders of a new cycle. Through Their appearance the world puts on a new garment, the foundations of religion are established, and a new book is revealed. Without an intermediary They receive bounty from the Reality of the Divinity, and Their illumination is an essential illumination. They are like the sun which is luminous in itself: the light is its essential necessity; it does not receive light from any other star. These Dawning-places of the morn of Unity are the sources of bounty and the mirrors of the Essence of Reality.
The other Prophets are followers and promoters, for they are branches and not independent; they receive the bounty of the independent Prophets, and they profit by the light of the Guidance of the universal Prophets. They are like the moon, which is not luminous and radiant in itself, but receives its light from the sun. The Manifestations of universal Prophethood Who appeared independently are, for example, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. But the others who are followers and promoters are like Solomon, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. For the independent Prophets are founders; They establish a new religion and make new creatures of men; They change the general morals, promote new customs and rules, renew the cycle and the Law. Their appearance is like the season of spring, which arrays all earthly beings in a new garment, and gives them a new life. With regard to the second sort of Prophets who are followers, these also promote the Law of God, make known the Religion of God, and proclaim His word. Of themselves they have no power and might, except what they receive from the independent Prophets.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “Some Answered Questions”, pp. 164-165)
The biographies presented on this site are of the independent Prophets, also known as Manifestations of God. Bahá’u’lláh states that each of the Manifestations of God “have a twofold station. One is the station of pure abstraction and essential unity. In this respect, if thou callest them all by one name, and dost ascribe to them the same attribute, thou hast not erred from the truth. Even as He hath revealed: “No distinction do We make between any of His Messengers!” [Qur’án 2:285] For they one and all summon the people of the earth to acknowledge the Unity of God, and herald unto them the Kawthar of an infinite grace and bounty. They are invested with the robe of Prophethood, and honoured with the mantle of glory. Thus hath Muhammad, the Point of the Qur’án, revealed: “I am all the Prophets.” Likewise, He saith: “I am the first Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus.” (Bahá’u’lláh: “The Kitab-i-Íqán” pp. 152-153)
The Manifestations of God sometimes refer to themselves by different titles and stations. Bahá’u’lláh states that “Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare: “I am God!” He, verily, speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto. For it hath been repeatedly demonstrated that through their Revelation, their attributes and names, the Revelation of God, His name and His attributes, are made manifest in the world ... And were any of them to voice the utterance: “I am the Messenger of God,” He also speaketh the truth ... Viewed in this light, they are all but Messengers of that ideal King, that unchangeable Essence. And were they all to proclaim: “I am the Seal of the Prophets,” they verily utter but the truth, beyond the faintest shadow of doubt. For they are all but one person, one soul, one spirit, one being, one revelation. They are all the manifestation of the “Beginning” and the “End,” the “First” and the “Last,” the “Seen” and “Hidden” ... And were they to say: “We are the servants of God,” this also is a manifest and indisputable fact.” (pp. 178-179)
However, They are not the Essence of God, God Himself, Who Bahá’u’lláh describes as “immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress.” (p. 98) In the mirror we can see the sun, but the sun does not descend into the mirror. Each Manifestation is a perfect Mirror of God’s names and attributes, but God does not descend into the Mirror.
“It is clear and evident to thee that all the Prophets are the Temples of the Cause of God, Who have appeared clothed in divers attire. If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith. Such is the unity of those Essences of being, those Luminaries of infinite and immeasurable splendour. Wherefore, should one of these Manifestations of Holiness proclaim saying: “I am the return of all the Prophets,” He verily speaketh the truth. In like manner, in every subsequent Revelation, the return of the fomer Revelation is a fact, the truth of which is firmly established. Inasmuch as the return of the Prophets of God, as attested by verses and traditions, hath been conclusively demonstrated, the return of their chosen ones also is therefore definitely proven. This return is too manifest in itself to require any evidence or proof.” (pp. 153-154)