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Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era

  • Author:
  • J. E. Esslemont

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition
  • Pages:
  • 286
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Pages 226-229

Signs in Heaven and Earth

In the Hebrew, Christian, Muḥammadan and many other Scriptures, there is a remarkable similarity in the description of the signs which are to accompany the coming of the Promised One.
In the Book of Joel we read:—
And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall 227 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.
Christ says:—
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.
In the Qur’án we read:—
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.—Súrá 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 228 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 229 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.”