By Eileen Maddocks
The following perspective on Matthew 24:1‒31 is taken from commentaries of Bahá’u’lláh in The Kitáb-i-Íqán (The Book of Certitude), which is considered to be His preeminent theological work. Adib Taherzadeh, a Bahá’í scholar, commented on The Kitáb-i-Íqán as follows:
The great majority of the followers of the world’s religions . . . are taught to believe only in one Messenger of God. While sincere in their belief that their religion is true and divine in origin, they often have not recognized the reality of their own Prophet. There is a great deal of difference between having knowledge of a religion and knowing the reality of the Founder of one’s Faith. . . . The Kitáb-i-Íqán has enabled a vast number of people from various backgrounds to understand the truth of their own religions, the first step towards believing in Bahá’u’lláh. This book has shed great lustre upon the Holy Books of past Dispensations. It has unfolded the pattern and disclosed the meaning of progressive revelation. It has laid down an enduring foundation for the ultimate unity of all past religions. It has served as a key with which the followers of Bahá’u’lláh have opened doors of knowledge hitherto unknown to man.
The Gospel of Matthew has the most extensive account in the four Gospels of Jesus speaking about His return. When He told His disciples that not one stone of the temple would be left, that all would be thrown down, they asked, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3) Jesus replied in symbolic terms within the context of progressive revelation, God’s unfailing nurturance and education of His creation, and human reluctance to recognize the Prophet of God.
Jesus began by giving many warnings — false prophets, wars and rumors of war, famines and earthquakes, religious persecution, an increase of wickedness, and love grown cold. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). Both the Old and the New Testament had reached all parts the world by the early and mid-nineteenth century because of the work of well-organized Protestant missionary efforts.
Next Jesus gave an important clue for a most significant time in the future: “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand” (Matt. 24:15). Daniel mentioned this abomination three times, the last one being, “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days” (Dan: 12:11‒12). (Refer to Millerism Explored: Part 11 – “Daniel and His Seventy Weeks and His 1,260, 1,290, and 1,335 Days.”)
The biblical method of counting time uses a day for a year. Daniel utilized both solar and lunar years. There were 1,290 lunar years from the date of Muḥammad’s declaration of His station as a Prophet of God in 613 AD to Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration of His station as a Prophet of God in 1863 AD. The 1,335 lunar years started with the firm establishment of Islam in Medina in 628, the year Muḥammad signed a treaty with Mecca that recognized the Muslims as a legitimate force and gave them freedom to move unmolested throughout Arabia; the 1,335 luar years ended in 1963, the year when Baha’is throughout the world elected and established its first global administrative body, the Universal House of Justice.
Daniel also said, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated” (Dan: 8:12). The 2,300 days were Gregorian years that spanned from the date of the edict of Artaxerxes of 456 BC to rebuild Jerusalem to 1844 AD, the year of the advent of the Báb and the Bahá’í Era.
Jesus foresaw much panic and fleeing because of distressful conditions “unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matt. 24:21). This statement may have referred to today’s mass migrations from Africa and the Middle East that are caused by war, hunger, and climate change, migrations that will drastically increase in the years ahead. The coming of the Bahá’í Era began in 1844 as Daniel foresaw. The Bahá’í Era can be visualized as a gradually rising line on a graph that will meet a downward moving line representing the disintegration of society that future historians may label “unequaled” in the course of human affairs.
Fortunately for us, Jesus also foresaw that mercy would be shown. “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Matt. 24:22). In other words, the good works of individuals infused with the love of God will help to mitigate the dire times to come. Again Jesus warned of false messiahs and false prophets who would have the ability to deceive even the elect. “For as lightning that comes the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:27). Jesus described the aftermath of those days as follows:
Immediately after the distress of those days
‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
Jesus was not referring to the sun, moon, and stars that are visible in the sky. He was warning that the spiritual teachings of religious leaders will have become corrupt. The darkening of the sun would be the waning of the previous dispensation whose time had passed, whose sun had set; the darkening of the moon would signify the debility of old religious institutions; and the falling of the stars would be the decline of those religious leaders who failed to recognize the Prophet of God for this day and tried to judge Him by their own standards. “Such a condition as this is witnessed in this day when the reins of every community have fallen into the grasp of foolish leaders, who lead after their own whims and desire.”
Jesus next explained, “There will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. 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. 24:30, KVJ). Bahá’u’lláh wrote about this passage as follows:
These words signify that in those days men will lament the loss of the Sun of the divine beauty [the previous Prophet of God], of the Moon of knowledge, and of the Stars of divine wisdom. Thereupon, they will behold the countenance of the promised One [Bahá’u’lláh], the adored Beauty, descending from heaven and riding upon the clouds. By this is meant that the divine Beauty [Prophet of God] will be made manifest from the heaven of the will of God, and will appear in the form of the human temple. The term “heaven” denoteth loftiness and exaltation, inasmuch as it is the seat of the revelation of those Manifestations of Holiness, the Day-springs [Prophets of God] 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. They are sent forth through the transcendent power of the Ancient of Days [God], and are raised up by the exalted will of God, the most mighty King. This is what is meant by the words: “coming in the clouds of heaven.”
In other words, when the heavenly teachings of the previous Prophet of God have been eclipsed, the stars of followers and institutions will wane, along with the moon of true knowledge. Then there will gradually will be a reversal with the coming of the Prophet for this day Who reiterates the eternal verities but also brings a higher level of spiritual teaching and a new set of religious and social laws appropriate for our times.
Bahá’u’lláh gave a description of clouds that is quite different from that which Christianity has traditionally used. “By the term ‘clouds’ is meant those things that are contrary to the ways and desires of men.” These “clouds” were the annulment of former religious laws, the abrogation of former Dispensations, and the repeal of current rituals and customs. One particular cloud has always been the appearance of a Prophet of God as mortal man born of woman who lives within human limitations. “All such veils are symbolically referred to as ‘clouds.’” A Prophet of God is generally not recognized in His time because of the “clouds” of tradition and the unwillingness of people to recognize a new message.
“And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt. 24:31). Angels generally refer to exalted souls who are reinforced by the power of the Holy Spirit, are consumed with the fire of the love of God, and have acquired spiritual attributes. Such were the 12 Disciples of Christ, the 19 Letters of the Living (disciples) of the Báb, and the 19 Apostles (early followers) of Bahá’u’lláh. These noble souls taught their new Faith and most of them were martyred. A trumpet call is the announcement of a new Messenger of God.
The coming of the Báb closed the Cycle of Prophecy, and Bahá’u’lláh initiated the Cycle of Fulfillment. The verses of Matthew 24:1‒31 were thus fulfilled. The Twin Prophets of the Bahá’í Faith arrived through the clouds of religious tradition and prejudice. Their message is inexorably working its way through the clouds of moral, corporate, public, political, and religious corruption, whose breadth and depth have never before been seen. It is time for the peoples of the earth not to mourn the loss of such corruption and degradation but to recognize this new plan of God.
There is much comfort in believing in the literal return of Jesus Christ and His ushering in the Kingdom of God. Let Him do the work! However, although the rapture sounds like a wonderful escape from this world, it is not going to happen because that is not God’s plan. We are all living together in times that may become increasingly difficult. Our God-given task is to grow up! To mature spiritually, as individuals and as a society, from the state of rebellious adolescence to that of adulthood. To consider whether Bahá’u’lláh is indeed the Promised One of the ages, the Promised One for today.
1 The Kitáb-i-Íqán was written in 1861 in response to questions from the maternal uncle of the Báb, who was a Muslim and had not yet recognized the station of his Nephew. The Kitáb-i-Íqán is in print and is also available online at http://bahai-library.com/bahaullah_kitab_iqan.
2 Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, vol. 1, pp. 161‒162. All four volumes of this title are in print and are also available online at http://www.studythefaith.com/at_rev.html.
3 Isaiah, 13:10; 34:4
4 The Kitáb-i-Íqán, ¶28, p. 29.
5 Ibid., ¶74, pp. 66‒67.
6 Ibid., ¶79, pp. 71.
7 Ibid., ¶79, pp. 72.