Not everything in the universe is the way it seems. Not everyone is trapped in an endless cycle of selfishness and self-doubt. Over the course of human history a select handful of people have been singled out by God to guide humanity and represent the Godhead on earth. These are the prophets of God.
“The Prophets of God should be regarded as physicians whose task is to foster the well-being of the world and its peoples, that, through the spirit of oneness, they may heal the sickness of a divided humanity.”
The man who claims to be a Manifestation of God makes the boldest claim imaginable. The Manifestations of God make the most important claim any person can imagine. They have been chosen by God, to represent God and to guide humanity. And Their greatest proof is Themselves.
“The proof of the sun is its light and heat.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, Tutor Press, 1918, p. 45.
In this analogy, God is likened unto the sun, and the Manifestations, the light that is radiated from the sun. Since no human being can know the essence of his Creator, an Intermediate is necessary in much the same way that we need rays of light in order to know there is a sun in the sky. Without the rays of the sun humanity could not exist. With the Manifestations of God, we would be lost in darkness for eternity.
“The Prophets and Chosen Ones have all been commissioned by the One True God, magnified be His glory, to nurture the trees of human existence with the living waters of uprightness and understanding, that there may appear from them that which God hath deposited within their inmost selves.”
Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Iqdas, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust 1992, p. 139.
And these Intermediaries are the cause of our knowledge of the hidden things, the secrets of the universe and mysteries of life. Without Their teachings, there would be no arts or sciences, no progress and no civilization.
“These Essences of Detachment, these resplendent Realities are the channels of God's all-pervasive grace. Led by the light of unfailing guidance, and invested with supreme sovereignty, they are commissioned to use the inspiration of Their words, the effusions of Their infallible grace and the sanctifying breezes of Their Revelation for the cleansing of every longing heart and receptive spirit from the dross and dust of earthly cares and limitations.”
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990, p. 67.
Other religious traditions identify the Manifestation in different terms, such as prophet in the Bible or Avatar in Hindu scripture.
“Whenever, O descendant of Bharata, righteousness declines and unrighteousness prevails, I manifest Myself. For the protection of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of religion, I come into being from age to age.”
Sri Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita, 4:7-8.
Who are the Manifestations of God?
A Manifestation of God is both dive and human, that is to say They have two stations. All the Manifestations of God are divine and Their station is that of essential unity. Their human station, however, “is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of creation and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined Revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite Mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation (1).”
As human beings, the Manifestations of God walk the earth and live distinct lives as recorded in the history of the great religions of the world.
“It hath ever been evident that all these divergences of utterance are attributable to differences of station. Thus, viewed from the standpoint of their oneness and sublime detachment, the attributes of Godhead, Divinity, Supreme Singleness, and Inmost Essence, have been and are applicable to those Essences of being, inasmuch as they all abide on the throne of divine Revelation, and are established upon the seat of divine Concealment. Through their appearance the Revelation of God is made manifest, and by their countenance the Beauty of God is revealed. Thus it is that the accents of God Himself have been heard uttered by these Manifestations of the divine Being.
Viewed in the light of their second station—the station of distinction, differentiation, temporal limitations, characteristics and standards,—they manifest absolute servitude, utter destitution and complete self-effacement. Even as He saith: “I am the servant of God (2). I am but a man like you (3).”
Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Iqdas, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1992, pp. 177-8.
But Their divine station is as clear as the noonday sun if we but had the spiritual eyes to see the truth.
“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.”
“These Essences of Detachment, these resplendent Realities are the channels of God’s all-pervasive grace. Led by the light of unfailing guidance, and invested with supreme sovereignty, They are commissioned to use the inspiration of Their words, the effusions of Their infallible grace and the sanctifying breeze of Their Revelation for the cleansing of every longing heart and receptive spirit from the dross and dust of earthly cares and limitations. Then, and only then, will the Trust of God, latent in the reality of man, emerge, as resplendent as the rising Orb of Divine Revelation, from behind the veil of concealment, and implant the ensign of its revealed glory upon the summits of men’s hearts.”
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990, p. 215.
The bottom line is that the Manifestation is the Source of divine guidance for humanity. The religion created by the Manifestation often happens after Their death but is nevertheless an integral part of God’s Plan for humanity and for each of us as individuals. This has always been true and will be so in the future. The reality of the Manifestation, however, is beyond the keen of mere mortals.
“The Divine Reality is Unthinkable, Limitless, Eternal, Immortal and Invisible. The world of creation is bound by natural law, finite and mortal. The Infinite Reality cannot be said to ascend or descend. It is beyond the understanding of man, and cannot be described in terms which apply to the phenomenal sphere of the created world. Man, then, is in extreme need of the only Power by which he is able to receive help from the Divine Reality, that Power alone bringing him into contact with the Source of all life. An intermediary is needed to bring two extremes into relation with each other. Riches and poverty, plenty and need: without an intermediary power there could be no relation between these pairs of opposites. So we can say there must be a Mediator between God and Man, and this is none other than the Holy Spirit, which brings the created earth into relation with the ‘Unthinkable One’, the Divine Reality.
The Divine Reality may be likened to the sun and the Holy Spirit to the rays of the sun. As the rays of the sun bring the light and warmth of the sun to the earth, giving life to all created beings, so do the ‘Manifestations’ bring the power of the Holy Spirit from the Divine Sun of Reality to give light and life to the souls of men.
Behold, there is an intermediary necessary between the sun and the earth; the sun does not descend to the earth, neither does the earth ascend to the sun. This contact is made by the rays of the sun which bring light and warmth and heat.
The Holy Spirit is the Light from the Sun of Truth bringing, by its infinite power, life and illumination to all mankind, flooding all souls with Divine Radiance, conveying the blessings of God’s Mercy to the whole world. The earth, without the medium of the warmth and light of the rays of the sun, could receive no benefits from the sun.
Likewise the Holy Spirit is the very cause of the life of man; without the Holy Spirit he would have no intellect, he would be unable to acquire his scientific knowledge by which his great influence over the rest of creation is gained. The illumination of the Holy Spirit gives to man the power of thought, and enables him to make discoveries by which he bends the laws of nature to his will.
The Holy Spirit it is which, through the mediation of the Prophets of God, teaches spiritual virtues to man and enables him to attain Eternal Life.
All these blessings are brought to man by the Holy Spirit; therefore we can understand that the Holy Spirit is the Intermediary between the Creator and the created. The light and heat of the sun cause the earth to be fruitful, and create life in all things that grow; and the Holy Spirit quickens the souls of men.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, U.K. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1972, pp. 57-9.
“The knowledge of the Reality of the Divinity is impossible and unattainable, but the knowledge of the Manifestations of God is the knowledge of God, for the bounties, splendors, and divine attributes are apparent in them. Therefore if man attains to the knowledge of the Manifestations of God, he will attain to the knowledge of God; and if he be neglectful of the knowledge of the Holy Manifestation, he will be bereft of the knowledge of God. It is then ascertained and proved that the Holy Manifestations are the center of the bounty, signs, and perfections of God. Blessed are those who receive the light of the divine bounties from the enlightened Dawning-points!”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith—Selected Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976, p. 322.
The mission of the Manifestations was never cloaked in political or economic terms. The Manifestations never sought personal power or riches. Their lives speak for the truth and nobility of their teachings.
“The holy Manifestations of God come into the world to dispel the darkness of the animal or physical nature of man, to purify him from his imperfections in order that his heavenly and spiritual nature may become quickened, his divine qualities awakened, his perfections visible, his potential powers revealed and all the virtues of the world of humanity latent within him may come to life. These holy Manifestations of God are the educators and trainers of the world of existence, the teachers of the world of humanity. They liberate man from the darkness of the world of nature, deliver him from despair, error, ignorance, imperfections and all evil qualities. They clothe him in the garment of perfections and exalted virtues. Men are ignorant; the Manifestations of God make them wise. They are animalistic; the Manifestations make them human. They are savage and cruel; the Manifestations lead them into kingdoms of light and love. They are unjust; the Manifestations cause them to become just. Man is selfish; they sever him from self and desire. Man is haughty; they make him meek, humble and friendly. He is earthly; they make him heavenly. Men are material; the Manifestations transform them into semblance divine. They are immature children; the Manifestations develop them into maturity. Man is poor; they endow him with wealth. Man is base, treacherous and mean; the Manifestations of God uplift him into dignity, nobility and loftiness.
These holy Manifestations liberate the world of humanity from the imperfections which beset it and cause men to appear in the beauty of heavenly perfections. Were it not for the coming of these holy Manifestations of God all mankind would be found on the plane of the animal. They would remain darkened and ignorant like those who have been denied schooling and who never had a teacher or trainer. Undoubtedly such unfortunates will continue in their condition of need and deprivation.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, pp. 110-111.
Regarding the relative capacity and knowledge of one Manifestation compared to another the measuring stick is not in the hands of the observer. Mere intellect is insufficient to adequately judge which Manifestation is higher or smarter than another. It is clear that Their knowledge is transcendent and They reveal to us what we are ready and capable of understanding though it may take much longer for people to put into practice.
“O Son of Beauty! By My Spirit and by My favor! By My mercy and by My beauty! All that I have revealed unto thee with the tongue of power, and have written for thee with the pen of might, hath been in accordance with thy capacity and understanding, not with My state and the melody of My voice.”
Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, No. 67, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1985.
Time Intervals in the Prophetic and Heroic Age
God periodically sends His Messengers to humanity and Their lives are recorded in history. There is a great deal of controversy over exact birth dates of these Manifestations, especially the further back we look.
Krishna 3200 BCE (4) 5200
Abraham 1906 BCE 4000
Moses 1391 BCE (5) 3500
Zoroaster 1000 BCE (6) 3000
Buddha 528 BCE 2500
Christ 0 2000
Muhammad 613 1400
Age of Fulfillment
The Bab 1844 175
Baha’u’llah 1863 150
The influence of the Manifestations of God can be traced throughout history and in timelines covering every aspect of civilization from the arts to the sciences, and from religion to politics. Their influence is still visible even in ancient world history. Pick a subject and it can be traced back to the teachings of the Manifestations. Pick an historical personage, an important person, and the influence of the Manifestation can be seen in life and the life of people.
Many people have claimed to be a Manifestation or prophet from God, but few indeed, have lived a life that justifies such an assertion. In the next section, the lives of some of the People who deserve this adulation are introduced. In subsequent lessons, we will explore in greater detail the lives and times of these Manifestations, Their teachings, and Their impact on civilization.