Thornton Chase, the First Western Baha'i, in his Study
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmete, Used With Permission

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Celebration of the Declaration of the Bab -- The Return of Jesus Christ

Tonight, May 22nd, the Baha'is of the world celebrate the return of Jesus Christ

One of the martyrs during the early years of the Christian Dispensation was James, the son of Zebedee.  During his trial—a trial whose outcome he knew was a foregone conclusion—James spoke eloquently and passionately of His Lord and of the Gospel message. Sentenced to be beheaded, he continued to testify to his faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, with great eloquence and force, to his Roman guard who conducted him to the place of death.  When they reached the place of his execution, James knelt and opened his tunic at the neck; and the Roman soldier knelt next to him, and opened his tunic, and told the other soldiers that he was now a Christian, and that he, too would be martyred.  He had accepted the truth of Jesus Christ in those few steps.  They were beheaded.

Another early Christian, a man named Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke eloquently at his trial. And when they condemned him to death by stoning, “all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.”  Stoning is an unthinkably painful means of execution.  The condemned is buried up to his neck; he cannot move or shield the blows.  The people hurl stones at his head that are neither too large to cause death to soon, nor too small to only injure.  It takes up to an hour for death to come. A Jew named Saul, an enemy of Christianity, went to witness Stephen's sufferings. Stephen called out to the crowd that had come to kill him, proving the mission of His Lord from the verses of the Old Testament.  In the midst of his sufferings he called out, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” His last act before dying was to ask God to forgive them.

And from witnessing this noble man's spirit, these unfailing evidences of divine power, Saul became Paul on the spot—the greatest promoter of the Christian Faith.

These great acts are repeated every time the Word of God is renewed in this world.  The deeds and spirit of the martyrs are repeated in every religious Dispensation. And as they happened to the early Jews and the early Christians, they have happened again in our time, in nineteenth-Century Persia.  Baha'i men, women and children have kissed the hands of their executioners, have gone singing and dancing to their cruel deaths, have uttered holy words at the moment of their deaths, have stirred the hearts of their onlookers. Their story is told in The Dawn-Breakers  One chapter, for example, is the Seven Martyrs of Ṭihrán, told here.

The dark deeds of the opponents of revealed Truth are also repeated in every Age. Jesus said that the Pharisees of His Day had murdered the Prophets who had appeared hundreds of years earlier (Matthew 23:33-35) He obviously did not mean that the people in His presence had done so literally, but that they had the same qualities as those who had.

Tonight Baha'is celebrate the Declaration of the mission of the first of the two new Manifestations of God, The Bab — Arabic for The Gate, in Persia, in the year prophecied for the Return of Christ in the Book of Daniel, and in the Revelation of St. John, as explained here.  

Briefly, it explains that when Jesus was asked about His return, He referred the people to the prophecies in the Book of Daniel.  Abdu'l-Baha first demonstrates that the Book of Daniel precisely prophecied the year of Christ's crucifixion.  Using the same process of calculation, from the same date during the Babylonian Exile, Abdu'l-Baha shows how Daniel's prophecy of 2,300 days until the Return of Christ refers to the year 1844, the year of the Declaration of the Bab, the beginning of the Baha'i Faith.  He then shows how the prophecies of the year 1260 and the prophecy of 42 months, refer to the same date.  Daniel prophecied in Persia, and the year 1844 in the West is the same as the year 1260 in the calendar of Persia.

What is meant in the Bible by “return”?  This subject is explained here.  Briefly, it points out that the last promise in the Old Testament is that before the Messiah arrives, the Prophet Elijah will return.  The disciples of Christ said to their Lord, the people have said that you cannot be the Messiah, because Elijah must first return, as promised in the Book of Malachi.  And Jesus explained to them, “if you will receive it,” John the Baptist was the return of Elijah.  And we read in the beginning verses of the Gospel of Luke that John went forth “in the spirit and power” of Elijah. He was not the return of the physical form, the same individuality as Elijah, who was according to the Book of Kings taken bodily up to heaven; he was the return of the attributes, the station, the mission of Elijah, and he spoke with the same “spirit and power.”

This is the Biblical meaning of the Return, and it is in this same way, that Jesus Christ has returned.  I remember the first time I heard a Baha'i say this. I thought to my self, “Well, then, I guess the world ended, and I didn't notice it.”  I was raised Roman Catholic, and studied for the priesthood.

But here is the meaning, explained in the Baha'i Scriptures:

"When Christ appeared, twenty centuries ago, although the Jews were eagerly awaiting His Coming, and prayed every day, with tears, saying: 'O God, hasten the Revelation of the Messiah,' yet when the Sun of Truth dawned, they denied Him and rose against Him with the greatest enmity, and eventually crucified that divine Spirit, the Word of God, and named Him Beelzebub, the evil one, as is recorded in the Gospel. The reason for this was that they said: 'The Revelation of Christ, according to the clear text of the Torah, will be attested by certain signs, and so long as these signs have not appeared, whoso layeth claim to be a Messiah is an impostor. Among these signs is this, that the Messiah should come from an unknown place, yet we all know this man's house in Nazareth, and can any good thing come out of Nazareth? The second sign is that He shall rule with a rod of iron, that is, He must act with the sword, but this Messiah has not even a wooden staff. Another of the conditions and signs is this: He must sit upon the throne of David and establish David's sovereignty. Now, far from being enthroned, this man has not even a mat to sit on. Another of the conditions is this: the promulgation of all the laws of the Torah; yet this man has abrogated these laws, and has even broken the sabbath day, although it is the clear text of the Torah that whosoever layeth claim to prophethood and revealeth miracles and breaketh the sabbath day, must be put to death. Another of the signs is this, that in His reign justice will be so advanced that righteousness and well-doing will extend from the human even to the animal world -- the snake and the mouse will share one hole, and the eagle and the partridge one nest, the lion and the gazelle shall dwell in one pasture, and the wolf and the kid shall drink from one fountain. Yet now, injustice and tyranny have waxed so great in His time that they have crucified Him! Another of the conditions is this, that in the days of the Messiah the Jews will prosper and triumph over all the peoples of the world, but now they are living in the utmost abasement and servitude in the empire of the Romans. Then how can this be the Messiah promised in the Torah?'
         In this wise did they object to that Sun of Truth, although that Spirit of God was indeed the One promised in the Torah. But as they did not understand the meaning of these signs, they crucified the Word of God. Now the Bahá'ís hold that the recorded signs did come to pass in the Manifestation of Christ, although not in the sense which the Jews understood, the description in the Torah being allegorical. For instance, among the signs is that of sovereignty. For Bahá'ís say that the sovereignty of Christ was a heavenly, divine, everlasting sovereignty, not a Napoleonic sovereignty that vanisheth in a short time. For well nigh two thousand years this sovereignty of Christ hath been established, and until now it endureth, and to all eternity that Holy Being will be exalted upon an everlasting throne.
        In like manner all the other signs have been made manifest, but the Jews did not understand. Although nearly twenty centuries have elapsed since Christ appeared with divine splendour, yet the Jews are still awaiting the coming of the Messiah and regard themselves as true and Christ as false.

(Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 44)

"Hearken, and I will show you the meaning thereof. Although He came from Nazareth, which was a known place, He also came 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 for ever, a heavenly throne, not an earthly one, for the things of earth pass away but heavenly things pass not away. He re-interpreted and completed the Law 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.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 55)

The story of the Wise Men seeking the Christ has been repeated.  The seekers after truth in this Age were in Persia, where the Bab appeared. The same prophecies of the End Times appear in the Books of the Prophets of the Old Testament, in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, and in the Qur'an.  One of the signs to these modern-day seekers of the Messiah, was that the Promised One would interpret the meaning of the Story of Joseph.  The Story of Joseph is told both in the Book of Genesis, and in the Qur'an.

On this night, in 1844, The Bab revealed to a seeker, a young Muslim priest, the meanings of the Story of Joseph that had been hidden for millennia, beginning the process of the breaking of the “seals” on the “Books” referred to in the Book of Daniel.

That seeker had decided that he "would ask him to reveal, without the least hesitation or reflection, a commentary on the Surih of Joseph, in a style and language entirely different from the prevailing standards of the time. . . I was revolving these things in my mind, when my distinguished Host again remarked: "Observe attentively. Might not the Person intended . . . be none other than I?" I thereupon felt impelled to present to Him a copy of the treatise which I had with me. "Will you," I asked Him, "read this book of mine and look at its pages with indulgent eyes? I pray you to overlook my weaknesses and failings." He graciously complied with my wish. He opened the book, glanced at certain passages, closed it, and began to address me. Within a few minutes He had, with characteristic vigour and charm, unravelled all its mysteries and resolved all its problems. Having to my entire satisfaction accomplished, within so short a time, the task I had expected Him to perform, He further expounded to me certain truths . . . which I had never heard before, seemed to be endowed with refreshing vividness and power. "Had you not been My guest," He afterwards observed, "your position would indeed have been a grievous one. The all-encompassing grace of God has saved you. It is for God to test His servants, and not for His servants to judge Him in accordance with their deficient standards. Were I to fail to resolve your perplexities, could the Reality that shines within Me be regarded as powerless, or My knowledge be accused as faulty? Nay, by the righteousness of God! it behoves, in this day, the peoples and nations of both the East and the West to hasten to this threshold, and here seek to obtain the reviving grace of the Merciful. Whoso hesitates will indeed be in grievous loss. Do not the peoples of the earth testify that the fundamental purpose of their creation is the knowledge and adoration of God? It behoves them to arise, as earnestly and spontaneously as you have arisen, and to seek with determination and constancy their promised Beloved." He then proceeded to say: "Now is the time to reveal the commentary on the Surih of Joseph." He took up His pen and with incredible rapidity revealed . . . the first chapter of His commentary on the Surih of Joseph. The overpowering effect of the manner in which He wrote was heightened by the gentle intonation of His voice which accompanied His writing. Not for one moment did He interrupt the flow of the verses which streamed from His pen. Not once did He pause till the Surih of Mulk was finished. I sat enraptured by the magic of His voice and the sweeping force of His revelation. At last I reluctantly arose from my seat and begged leave to depart. He smilingly bade me be seated, and said: "If you leave in such a state, whoever sees you will assuredly say: 'This poor youth has lost his mind.'" At that moment the clock registered two hours and eleven minutes after sunset... [on May 22, 1844] "This night," He declared, "this very hour will, in the days to come, be celebrated as one of the greatest and most significant of all festivals. Render thanks to God for having graciously assisted you to attain your heart's desire, and for having quaffed from the sealed wine of His utterance.
(The Dawn-Breakers, p. 61)

Their conversation, which took place in the city of Shiraz, Persia took place in this building, the House of the Bab:

The House of the Bab, Shiraz, Iran, before its destruction in 1979
Please click photograph for larger image

This is the very room where their conversation took place, and the spot where the Bab sat is marked by the lamp.
Upper room in the House of the Bab, Shiraz
Photograph by Ted Cardell, used with permission

The House of the Bab was destroyed in 1979 by the government of Iran:

 The House of the Bab in Shiraz, one of the most holy sites in the Baha'i world, was destroyed by Revolutionary Guardsmen in 1979 and later razed by the government
Please click photograph for larger image
The remains of the Bab are now entombed here, on Mount Carmel, in Haifa, Israel:

 Shrine of the Bab at night
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