The interpretation of prophecy is notoriously difficult, and on no subject do the opinions of the learned differ more widely. This is not to be wondered at, for, according to the revealed writings themselves, many of the prophecies were given in such a form that they could not be fully understood until the fulfillment came, and even then, only by those who were pure in heart and free from prejudice. Thus at the end of Daniel’s visions the seer was told:—
But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.… And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.—Daniel xii, 4–9.
If God sealed up the prophecies until the appointed time, and did not fully reveal the interpretation even to the prophets who uttered them, we may expect that none but the appointed Messenger of God will be able to break the seal and disclose the meanings concealed in the casket of the prophetic parables. Reflection on the history of prophecies and their misinterpretation in previous ages and dispensations, combined with the solemn warnings of the prophets themselves, should render us very chary of accepting the speculations of theologians as to the real meaning of these utterances and the manner of their fulfillment. On the other hand, when someone appears who claims to fulfill the prophecies, it is important that we examine his claim with open, unprejudiced minds. Should he be an impostor, the fraud will soon be discovered and no harm will be done, but woe to all who carelessly turn God’s Messenger from the door because He comes in an unexpected form or time.
The life and utterances of Bahá’u’lláh testify that He is the Promised One of all the Holy Books, Who has the power to break the seals of the prophecies and to pour forth the “Sealed choice wine” of the divine mysteries. Let us hasten, then, to hear His explanations and to reexamine in their light the familiar but often mysterious words spoken by the prophets of old.
The “Coming of the Lord” in the “last days” is the one “far-off divine event” to which all the Prophets look forward, about which Their most glorious songs are sung. Now what is meant by the “Coming of the Lord”? Surely God is at all times with His creatures, in all, through all, and over all; “Closer is He than breathing, nearer than hands and feet.” Yes, but men cannot see or hear God immanent and transcendent, cannot realize His Presence, until He reveals Himself through a visible form and talks to them in human language. For the revelation of His higher attributes, God has always made use of a human instrument. Each of the Prophets was a mediator through whom God visited and spoke to His people. Jesus was such a mediator, and the Christians have rightly regarded His appearance as a coming of God. In Him they saw the Face of God and through His lips they heard the Voice of God. Bahá’u’lláh tells us that the “Coming” of the Lord of Hosts, the Everlasting Father, the Maker and Redeemer of the World, which, according to all the Prophets, is to take place at “the time of the end,” means no other than His manifestation in a human temple, as he manifested through the temple of Jesus of Nazareth, only this time with a fuller and more glorious revelation, for which Jesus and all the former Prophets came to prepare men’s hearts and minds.
The Jews still await the coming of the Messiah, and pray to God day and night to hasten His advent. When Jesus came they denounced and slew Him, saying: “This is not the One for Whom we wait. Behold, when the Messiah shall come, signs and wonders shall testify that He is in truth the Christ. The Messiah will arise out of an unknown city. He shall sit upon the throne of David, and behold, He shall come with a sword of steel, and with a scepter of iron shall He rule. He shall fulfill the Law of the Prophets. He shall conquer the East and the West, and shall glorify His chosen people the Jews. He shall bring with Him a reign of Peace during which even the animals shall cease to be at enmity with man. For behold, the wolf and the lamb shall drink from the same spring … and all God’s creatures shall be at rest.…”
Thus the Jews thought and spoke, for they did not understand the Scriptures nor the glorious truths that were contained in them. The letter they knew by heart, but of the life-giving Spirit they understood not a word.
Hearken, and I will show you the meaning thereof: Although Christ came from Nazareth, which was a known place, He came also from heaven. His body was born of Mary, but His Spirit came from heaven. The sword He carried was the sword of His tongue, with which He divided the good from the evil, the true from the false, the faithful from the unfaithful, and the light from the darkness. His Word was indeed a sharp sword! The throne upon which He sat is the Eternal Throne from which Christ reigns forever, a heavenly throne, not an earthly one, for the things of earth pass away but heavenly things pass not away. He reinterpreted and completed the Laws of Moses and fulfilled the Law of the Prophets. His Word conquered the East and the West. His kingdom is everlasting. He exalted those Jews who recognized Him. They were men and women of humble birth, but contact with Him made them great and gave them everlasting dignity. The animals who were to live with one another signified the different sects and races, who, once having been at war, were now to dwell in love and charity, drinking together the Water of Life from Christ the Eternal Spring.
Most Christians accept these interpretations of Messianic prophecies as applied to Christ; but with regard to similar prophecies about the latter-day Messiah, many of them take up the same attitude as the Jews, expecting a miraculous display on the material plane which will fulfill the very letter of the prophecies.
According to the Bahá’í interpretations, the prophecies which speak of “the time of the end,” the “last days,” the coming of the “Lord of hosts,” of the “everlasting Father,” refer especially, not to the advent of Jesus Christ, but to that of Bahá’u’lláh. Take, for instance, the well-known prophecy in Isaiah:—
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.… For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.—Isa. ix, 2–7.
This is one of the prophecies that has often been regarded as referring to Christ, and much of it may quite fairly be thus applied, but a little examination will show how much more fully and aptly it applies to Bahá’u’lláh. Christ has, indeed, been a light-bringer and Savior, but for nearly two thousand years since His advent the great majority of the people of the earth have continued to walk in darkness, and the children of Israel and many other of God’s children have continued to groan under the rod of the oppressor. On the other hand, during the first few decades of the Bahá’í era, the light of truth has illumined the East and the West, the gospel of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man has been carried into all countries of the world, the great military autocracies have been overthrown, and a consciousness of world unity has been born which brings hope of eventual relief to all the downtrodden and oppressed nationalities of the world. The great war which from 1914 to 1918 convulsed the world, with its unprecedented use of firearms, liquid fire, incendiary bombs and fuel for engines, has indeed been “with burning and fuel of fire.”1 Bahá’u’lláh, by dealing at great length in His Writings with questions of government and administration, and showing how they may best be solved, has “taken the government upon His shoulders” in a way that Christ never did. With regard to the titles “everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace,” Bahá’u’lláh repeatedly refers to Himself as the manifestation of the Father, of whom Christ and Isaiah spoke, whereas Christ always referred to Himself as the Son; and Bahá’u’lláh declares that His mission is to establish peace on earth, while Christ said: “I came not to send peace but a sword,” and as a matter of fact during the whole of the Christian era wars and sectarian strifes have abounded.
The title “Bahá’u’lláh” is the Arabic for “Glory of God,” and this very title is frequently used by the Hebrew prophets for the Promised One Who is to appear in the last days. Thus in the 40th chapter of Isaiah we read:—
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 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. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. Isa. xl, 1–5.
Like the former prophecy, this has also been partly fulfilled in the advent of Christ and His forerunner, John the Baptist; but only partly, for in the days of Christ the warfare of Jerusalem was not accomplished; many centuries of bitter trial and humiliation were yet in store for her. With the advent of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, however, the more complete fulfillment dawned for Jerusalem, and her prospects of a peaceful and glorious future seem now to be reasonably assured.
Other prophecies speak of the Redeemer of Israel, the Glory of the Lord, as coming to the Holy Land from the East, from the rising of the sun. Now Bahá’u’lláh appeared in Persia, which is eastward from Palestine, towards the rising of the sun, and He came to the Holy Land, where He spent the last twenty-four years of His life. Had He come there as a free man, people might have said that it was the trick of an impostor in order to conform to the prophecies; but He came as an exile and prisoner. He was sent there by the Sháh of Persia and the Sulṭán of Turkey, who can hardly be suspected of any design to furnish arguments in favor of Bahá’u’lláh’s claim to be the “Glory of God” Whose coming the Prophets foretold.
In the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah are several references to a man called the Branch. These have often been taken by Christians as applying to Christ, but are regarded by Bahá’ís as referring especially to Bahá’u’lláh.
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord… righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard … with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.… They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.… And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.—Isa. xi, 1–12.
One of the great events which is to occur in the day of the manifestation of that incomparable Branch, is the hoisting of the Standard of God among all nations; meaning that all the nations and tribes will come under the shadow of this Divine Banner, which is no other than the Lordly Branch itself, and will become a single nation. The antagonism of faiths and religions, the hostility of races and peoples, and the national differences, will be eradicated from amongst them. All will become one religion, one faith, one race, and one single people, and will dwell in one native land, which is the terrestrial globe. Universal peace and concord will be realized between all the nations, and that incomparable Branch will gather together all Israel: signifying that in this cycle Israel will be gathered in the Holy Land, and that the Jewish people who are scattered to the East and West, South and North, will be assembled together.
Now see: these events did not take place in the Christian cycle, for the nations did not come under the One Standard which is the Divine Branch. But in this cycle of the Lord of Hosts all the nations and people will enter under the shadow of this Flag. In the same way, Israel, scattered all over the world, was not reassembled in the Holy Land in the Christian cycle; but in the beginning of the cycle of Bahá’u’lláh this divine promise, as is clearly stated in all the Books of the Prophets, has begun to be manifest. You can see that form all the parts of the world tribes of Jews are coming to the Holy Land; they live in villages and lands which they make their own, and day by day they are increasing to such an extent, that all Palestine will become their home.—Some Answered Questions.
The word “Day” in such phrases as “Day of God” and “Last Day” is interpreted as meaning “Dispensation.” Each of the great religion-founders has His “Day.” Each is like a sun. His teachings have their dawn, their truth gradually illumines more and more the minds and hearts of the people until they attain the zenith of their influence. Then they gradually become obscured, misrepresented and corrupted, and darkness overshadows the earth until the sun of a new day arises. The day of the Supreme Manifestation of God is the Last Day, because it is a day that shall never end, and shall not be overtaken by night. His sun shall never set, but shall illumine the souls of men both in this world and in the world to come. In reality none of the spiritual suns ever set. The suns of Moses, of Christ, of Muḥammad, and all the other Prophets are still shining in heaven with undiminished luster. But earthborn clouds have concealed their radiance from the people of earth. The Supreme Sun of Bahá’u’lláh will finally disperse these dark clouds, so that the people of all religions will rejoice in the light of all the Prophets, and with one accord worship the one God Whose light all the Prophets have mirrored forth.
Christ spoke much in parables about a great Day of Judgment when “the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father … and … shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt. xvi, 27). He compares this Day to the time of harvest, when the tares are burned and the wheat gathered into barns:—
… so shall it be in the end of this world [consummation of the age]. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.—Matt. xiii, 40–43.
The phrase “end of the world” used in the Authorized Version of the Bible in this and similar passages has led many to suppose that when the Day of Judgment comes, the earth will suddenly be destroyed, but this is evidently a mistake. The true translation of the phrase appears to be “the consummation or end of the age.” Christ teaches that the Kingdom of the Father is to be established on earth, as well as in heaven. He teaches us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In the parable of the Vineyard, when the Father, the Lord of the Vineyard, comes to destroy the wicked husbandmen, He does not destroy the vineyard (the world) also, but lets it out to other husbandmen, who will render Him the fruits in their season. The earth is not to be destroyed, but to be renewed and regenerated. Christ speaks of that day on another occasion as “the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory.” St. Peter speaks of it as “the times of refreshing,” “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” The Day of Judgment of which Christ speaks is evidently identical with the coming of the Lord of Hosts, the Father, which was prophesied by Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets; a time of terrible punishment for the wicked, but a time in which justice shall be established and righteousness rule, on earth as in heaven.
In the Bahá’í interpretation, the coming of each Manifestation of God is a Day of Judgment, but the coming of the supreme Manifestation of Bahá’u’lláh is the great Day of Judgment for the world cycle in which we are living. The trumpet blast of which Christ and Muḥammad and many other prophets speak is the call of the Manifestation, which is sounded for all who are in heaven and on earth—the embodied and the disembodied. The meeting with God, through His Manifestation, is, for those who desire to meet Him, the gateway to the Paradise of knowing and loving Him, and living in love with all His creatures. Those, on the other hand, who prefer their own way to God’s way, as revealed by the Manifestation, thereby consign themselves to the hell of selfishness, error and enmity.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.—I Cor. xv, 51–53.
… By the terms “life” and “death,” spoken of in the scriptures, is intended the life of faith and the death of unbelief. The generality of the people, owing to their failure to grasp the meaning of these words, rejected and despised the person of the Manifestation, deprived themselves of the light of His divine guidance, and refused to follow the example of that immortal Beauty.…
… Even as Jesus said: “Ye must be born again” [John iii, 7]. Again He saith: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” [John iii, 56]. The purpose of these words is that whosoever in every dispensation is born of the Spirit and is quickened by the breath of the Manifestation of Holiness, he verily is of those that have attained unto “life” and “resurrection” and have entered into the “paradise” of the love of God. And whosoever is not of them, is condemned to “death” and “deprivation,” to the “fire” of unbelief, and to the “wrath” of God.…
In every age and century, the purpose of the Prophets of God and their chosen ones hath been no other but to affirm the spiritual significance of the terms “life,” “resurrection,” and “judgment.” … Wert thou to attain to but a dewdrop of the crystal waters of divine knowledge, thou wouldst readily realize that true life is not the life of the flesh but the life of the spirit. For the life of the flesh is common to both men and animals, whereas the life of the spirit is possessed only by the pure in heart who have quaffed from the ocean of faith and partaken of the fruit of certitude. This life knoweth no death, and this existence is crowned by immortality. Even as it hath been said: “He who is a true believer liveth both in this world and in the world to come.” If by “life” be meant this earthly life, it is evident that death must needs overtake it.—Kitáb-i-Íqán.
According to the Bahá’í teaching the Resurrection has nothing to do with the gross physical body. That body, once dead, is done with. It becomes decomposed and its atoms will never be recomposed into the same body.
Resurrection is the birth of the individual to spiritual life, through the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed through the Manifestation of God. The grave from which he arises is the grave of ignorance and negligence of God. The sleep from which he awakens is the dormant spiritual condition in which many await the dawn of the Day of God. This dawn illumines all who have lived on the face of the earth, whether they are in the body or out of the body, but those who are spiritually blind cannot perceive it. The Day of Resurrection is not a day of twenty-four hours, but an era which has now begun and will last as long as the present world cycle continues. It will continue when all traces of the present civilization will have been wiped off the surface of the globe.
In many of His conversations Christ speaks of the future Manifestation of God in the third person, but in others the first person is used. He says: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself” (John xiv, 2–3). In the first chapter of Acts we read that the disciples were told, at the ascension of Jesus: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Because of these and similar sayings, many Christians expect that when the Son of Man comes “in the clouds of heaven and with great glory” they shall see in bodily form the very Jesus Who walked the streets of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and bled and suffered on the cross. They expect to be able to thrust their fingers into the prints of the nails on His hands and feet, and their hands into the spear wound in His side. But surely a little reflection on Christ’s own words would dissipate such an idea. The Jews of Christ’s time had just such ideas about the return of Elias, but Jesus explained their error, showing that the prophecy that “Elias must first come” was fulfilled, not by the return of the person and body of the former Elias, but in the person of John the Baptist, who came “in the spirit and power of Elias.” “And if ye will receive it,” said Christ, “this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The “return” of Elias, therefore, meant the appearance of another person, born of other parents, but inspired by God with the same spirit and power. These words of Jesus may surely be taken to imply that the return of Christ will, in like manner, be accomplished by the appearance of another person, born of another mother, but showing forth the Spirit and Power of God even as Christ did. Bahá’u’lláh explains that the “coming again” of Christ was fulfilled in the advent of the Báb and in his own coming. He says:—
Consider the sun. Were it to say now, “I am the sun of yesterday,” it would speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to be other than that sun, it still would speak the truth. In like manner, if it be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that they differ, that again is true. For though they are the same, yet one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character. Conceive accordingly the distinction, variation, and unity characteristic of the various Manifestations of holiness, that thou mayest comprehend the allusions made by the creator of all names and attributes to the mysteries of distinction and unity, and discover the answer to thy question as to why that everlasting Beauty should have, at sundry times, called Himself by different names and titles.—Kitáb-i-Íqán.
Know that the return of Christ for a second time doth not mean what the people believe, but rather signifieth the One promised to come after Him. He shall come with the Kingdom of God and His Power which hath surrounded the world. This dominion is in the world of hearts and spirits, and not in that of matter; for the material world is not comparable to a single wing of a fly, in the sight of the Lord, wert thou of those who know! Verily Christ came with His Kingdom from the beginning which hath no beginning, and will come with His Kingdom to the eternity of eternities, inasmuch as in this sense “Christ” is an expression of the Divine Reality, the simple Essence and heavenly Entity, which hath no beginning nor ending. It hath appearance, arising, manifestation and setting in each of the cycles.
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.… For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.… for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled.—Luke xxi, 20–24.
Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.—Matt. xxiv, 4–14.
In these two passages Christ foretold in plain terms, without veil or covering, the things that must come to pass before the coming of the Son of Man. During the centuries that have elapsed since Christ spoke, every one of these signs has been fulfilled. In the last part of each passage He mentions an event that shall mark the time of the coming—in one case the ending of the Jewish exile and the restoration of Jerusalem, and in the other the preaching of the gospel in all the world. It is startling to find that both of these signs are being literally fulfilled in our own times. If these parts of the prophecy are as true as the rest, it follows that we must be living now in the “time of the end” of which Christ spoke.
When Alláh said: “O Jesus! Verily I will cause thee to die, and exalt thee towards Me, and clear thee of the charges of those who disbelieve, and will place those who follow thee [that is, Christians] above those who disbelieve [Jews and others], until the Day of Resurrection; then to Me shall be your return, so I will decide between you concerning that in which you differed.”—Súrih iii, 54.
“The Hand of God,” say the Jews, “is chained up.” Their own hands shall be chained up—and for that which they have said shall they be cursed. Nay! outstretched are both His hands! At His own pleasure doth He bestow gifts. That which hath been sent down to thee from thy Lord will surely increase the rebellion and unbelief of many of them; and We have put enmity and hatred between them that shall last until the Day of Resurrection. Oft as they kindle a beacon fire for war shall God quench it.—Súrih v, 69.
And of those who say, “We are Christians,” have We accepted the Covenant. But they too have forgotten a part of what they were taught; wherefore We have stirred up enmity and hatred among them that shall last till the Day of Resurrection; and in the end will God tell them of their doings.—Súrih v, 17.
These words also have been literally fulfilled in the subjection of the Jews to Christian (and Muslim) peoples, and in the sectarianism and strife which have divided both Jews and Christians among themselves during all the centuries since Muḥammad spoke. Only since the commencement of the Bahá’í era (the Day of Resurrection) have signs of the approaching end of these conditions made their appearance.
And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible days of the Lord come.… For, behold, in those days … when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat [Jehovah judgeth], and will plead with them there.… Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake; but the Lord will be the hope of his people.—Joel ii, 30–31; iii, 1–2, 14–16.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.—Matt. xxiv, 29–30.
When the sun shall be shrouded,And when the stars shall fall,And when the mountains are made to pass away … And when the leaves of the Book shall be unrolled,And when the heaven shall be uncovered,And when hell shall be made to blaze.—Súrih lxxxi.
In the Book of Íqán Bahá’u’lláh explains that these prophecies about the sun, moon and stars, the heavens and the earth, are symbolical and are not to be understood merely in the literal sense. The Prophets were primarily concerned with spiritual, not material, things; with spiritual, not with physical, light. When They mention the sun, in connection with the Day of Judgment, They refer to the Sun of Righteousness. The sun is the supreme source of light, so Moses was a sun for the Hebrews, Christ for the Christians, and Muḥammad for the Muslims. When the Prophets speak of the sun being darkened, what is meant is that the pure teachings of these spiritual Suns have become obscured by misrepresentation, misunderstanding and prejudice, so that the people are in spiritual darkness. The moon and stars are the lesser sources of illumination, the religious leaders and teachers, who should guide and inspire the people. When it is said that the moon shall not give her light or shall be turned into blood, and the stars shall fall from heaven, it is indicated that the leaders of the churches shall become debased, engaging in strife and contention, and the priests shall become worldly minded, concerned about earthly instead of heavenly things.
The meaning of these prophecies is not exhausted by one explanation, however, and there are other senses in which these symbols can be interpreted. Bahá’u’lláh says that in another sense the words “sun,” “moon,” and “stars” are applied to the ordinances and instructions enacted in every religion. As in every subsequent Manifestation the ceremonies, forms, customs and instructions of the preceding Manifestations are changed in accordance with the requirements of the times, so, in this sense the sun and moon are changed and the stars dispersed.
In many cases the literal fulfillment of these prophecies in the outward sense would be absurd or impossible; for example, the moon being turned into blood or the stars falling upon the earth. The least of the visible stars is many thousand times larger than the earth, and were one to fall on the earth there would be no earth left for another to fall on! In other cases, however, there is a material as well as a spiritual fulfillment. For example, the Holy Land did literally become desert and desolate during many centuries, as foretold by the prophets, but already, in the Day of Resurrection, it is beginning to “rejoice and blossom as the rose,” as Isaiah foretold. Prosperous colonies are being started, the land is being irrigated and cultivated, and vineyards, olive groves and gardens are flourishing where half a century ago there was only sandy waste. Doubtless when men beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, wildernesses and deserts in all parts of the world will be reclaimed; the scorching winds and sandstorms that blow from these deserts, and make life in their neighborhood well-nigh intolerable, will be things of the past; the climate of the whole earth will become milder and more equable; cities will no longer defile the air with smoke and poisonous fumes, and even in the outward, material sense there will be “new heavens and a new earth.”
And they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet.… then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.—Matt. xxiv, 30–31; xxv, 31–32.
… The term “heaven” denoteth loftiness and exaltation, inasmuch as it is the seat of the revelation of those Manifestations of Holiness, the Daysprings of ancient glory. These ancient Beings, though delivered from the womb of their mother, have in reality descended from the heaven of the will of God. Though they be dwelling on this earth, yet their true habitations are the retreats of glory in the realms above. Whilst walking amongst mortals, they soar in the heaven of the divine presence. Without feet they tread the path of the spirit, and without wings they rise unto the exalted heights of divine unity. With every fleeting breath they cover the immensity of space, and at every moment traverse the kingdoms of the visible and the invisible.…
… By the term “clouds” is meant those things that are contrary to the ways and desires of men. Even as He hath revealed in the verse already quoted: “As oft as an Apostle cometh unto you with that which your souls desire not, ye swell with pride, accusing some of being impostors and slaying others.” [Qur’án 2:87.] These “clouds” signify, in one sense, the annulment of laws, the abrogation of former Dispensations, the repeal of rituals and customs current amongst men, the exalting of the illiterate faithful above the learned opposers of the Faith. In another sense, they mean the appearance of that immortal Beauty in the image of mortal man, with such human limitations as eating and drinking, poverty and riches, glory and abasement, sleeping and waking, and such other things as cast doubt in the minds of men, and cause them to turn away. All such veils are symbolically referred to as “clouds.”
These are the “clouds” that cause the heavens of the knowledge and understanding of all that dwell on earth to be cloven asunder. Even as He hath revealed: “On that day shall the heaven be cloven by the clouds.” [Qur’án 25:25]. Even as the clouds prevent the eyes of men from beholding the sun, so do these things hinder the souls of men from recognizing the light of the divine Luminary. To this beareth witness that which hath proceeded out of the mouth of the unbelievers as revealed in the sacred Book: “And they have said: ‘What manner of apostle is this? He eateth food, and walketh the streets. Unless an angel be sent down and take part in His warnings, we will not believe.’” [Qur’án 25:7.] Other Prophets, similarly, have been subject to poverty and afflictions, to hunger, and to the ills and chances of this world. As these holy Persons were subject to such needs and wants, the people were, consequently, lost in the wilds of misgivings and doubts, and were afflicted with bewilderment and perplexity. How, they wondered, could such a person be sent down from God, assert His ascendancy over all the peoples and kindreds of the earth, and claim Himself to be the goal of all creation,—even as He hath said: “But for Thee, I would have not created all that are in heaven and on earth,”—and yet be subject to such trivial things? You must undoubtedly have been informed of the tribulations, the poverty, the ills, and the degradation that have befallen every Prophet of God and His companions. You must have heard how the heads of their followers were sent as presents unto different cities, how grievously they were hindered from that whereunto they were commanded. Each and every one of them fell a prey to the hands of the enemies of His Cause, and had to suffer whatsoever they decreed.…
… The All-Glorious hath decreed these very things, that are contrary to the desires of wicked men, to be the touchstone and standard whereby He proveth His servants, that the just may be known from the wicked, and the faithful distinguished from the infidel.…
And now, concerning His words: “And He shall send His angels.…” By “angels” is meant those who, reinforced by the power of the spirit, have consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations, and have clothed themselves with the attributes of the most exalted Beings and of the Cherubim.…
As the adherents of Jesus have never understood the hidden meaning of these words, and as the signs which they and leaders of their Faith have expected have failed to appear, they therefore refused to acknowledge, even until now, the truth of those Manifestations of Holiness that have since the days of Jesus been made manifest. They have thus deprived themselves of the outpourings of God’s holy grace, and of the wonders of His divine utterance. Such is their low estate in this, the Day of Resurrection! They have even failed to perceive that were the signs of the Manifestation of God in every age to appear in the visible realm in accordance with the text of established traditions, none could possibly deny or turn away, not would the blessed be distinguished from the miserable, and the transgressor from the God-fearing. Judge fairly: Were the prophecies recorded in the Gospel to be literally fulfilled; were Jesus, Son of Mary, accompanied by angels, to descend from the visible heaven upon the clouds; who would dare to disbelieve, who would dare to reject the truth, and wax disdainful? Nay, such consternation would immediately seize all the dwellers of the earth that no soul would feel able to utter a word, much less to reject or accept the truth.—Kitáb-i-Íqán.
According to the above explanation the coming of the Son of Man, in lowly human form, born of woman, poor, uneducated, oppressed and set at naught by the great ones of the earth—this manner of coming is the very touchstone by which He judges the people of earth and separates them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. Those whose spiritual eyes are opened can see through those clouds and rejoice in the “power and great glory”—the very glory of God—which He comes to reveal; the others, whose eyes are still holden by prejudice and error, can see but the dark clouds and continue to grope in gloom, deprived of the blessed sunshine.
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in.… But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ sope.… For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: … But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.—Mal. iii, 1–2; iv. 1–2.
Note—The subject of fulfillment of prophecy is such an extensive one that many volumes would be required for its adequate exposition. All that can be done within the limits of a single chapter is to indicate the main outlines of the Bahá’í interpretations. The detailed Apocalypses revealed by Daniel and St. John have been left untouched. Readers will find certain chapters of these dealt with in Some Answered Questions. In the Book of Íqán, by Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Proofs, by Mírzá Abu’l-Faḍl, and in many of the Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá further explanation of prophecies may be found.