I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Bahá’í).
The Two Protagonists of the Apocalypse
In my previous articles on John's Book of Revelation, we encounter two Messianic figures ingeniously camouflaged under the symbolism of a Being on a throne in heaven and a “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The One on the throne is highly exalted and, while appearing in the station of God Almighty, turns out, in fact, to be the promised Christ of the end times. The other looks more like the Jesus known to Christians, but he is in a subordinate role in respect of the former.
This leaves us with a dilemma. Are two Messiahs expected at the end times? If so, why did Jesus not say so clearly while making his predictions of the end times? But if not, why is John’s Revelation pointing to that prospect?
The answers to these intriguing questions are the subject of this article. And where else can one go for answers to the above questions if not to the Abrahamic faiths—to review their relevant prophecies, traditions, expectations, and claims?
Islam and the Two Messianic Figures
We begin with Islam, the religion that came immediately after the faith of Christ. Not all Christians may be aware of this, but the Qur’an, like the Bible, anticipates the return of Prophet Isa (Jesus) at the end of time. However, such a return, according to Islamic tradition, would be preceded by the appearance of another Messianic figure known as Imam Mahdi (or simply the Mahdi).
According to the same tradition, the Mahdi would be opposed by Dajjal, the Antichrist. In the ensuing confrontation, the Mahdi’s life would be cut short. On joining the fray, Prophet Isa would overcome and annihilate Dajjal, and then proceed to establish a long-lasting reign of justice and peace on earth.
It can be seen from the above scenario that the Mahdi is the one represented by the Lamb in John's Apocalypse. Prophet Isa then becomes the One John saw on the throne in heaven.
The Bahá’í Faith and the Two Messianic Figures
The religion that directly follows Islam is the Bahá’í Faith. It is the latest of the divine world religions according to its followers—who also claim that its appearance brings to fulfilment of the promises and expectations of the previous religious dispensations.
Of all the religions of the world, the one with the most comprehensive interpretation of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation is the Bahá’í Faith. This can be verified in its authoritative literature as well as in the non-authoritative publications of its followers.
Let’s now see how Bahá’ís would interpret some of the relevant terms and symbols in John’s Revelation.
The Lamb of the Apocalypse
To begin with, Bahá’ís believe the Lamb of the Book of Revelation to be none other than the first of the Twin Founders of their faith. This is a reference to the Báb, Manifestation (Messenger) of God and Forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh. Barely six years into his ministry, precisely in 1850, he suffered a violent death at the hands of his enemies. He was executed by firing squad by order of the government of his native Persia at the instigation of the Shia Muslim religious leaders.
His name, the Báb, is in fact a title (just as “Christ” is a title). It is Arabic and translates as the "door" or "gate". The significance of such a name will become apparent later on in this article.
The One on the Throne
To Bahá’ís, the God seated on the throne in heaven is none other than the second of the Twin Founders of their faith. He is Bahá’u’lláh, described by his followers as the Manifestation of God for today and the Promised One of all religions. Although Bahá’u’lláh unambiguously asserts that he is only a Messenger from God and not the Supreme Godhead Himself, and although he makes it clear that God is only one and unknowable, he nevertheless takes on the titles of “God” and “the Father” in a few of his writings. Here are a couple of examples:
O King of Berlin! Give ear unto the Voice calling from this manifest Temple: “Verily, there is none other God but Me, the Everlasting, the Peerless, the Ancient of Days.” (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, #86)
Lo! The Father is come, and that which ye were promised in the Kingdom is fulfilled! (Bahá’u’lláh, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, #1.113)
The employment by Bahá’u’lláh of such seemingly sacrilegious language is only meant to underline his claim to speak with the voice of God and to communicate by the authority of God, and not by his own volition.
The Heaven of the Apocalypse
“Heaven” seems to be the setting for many scenes depicted in John’s vision. But why would the vision of John encompass events in heaven when the Parousia (Second Coming)—the theme of the Book of Revelation—is all about events on earth?
An explanation for this anomaly can be gleaned from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh. It argues that the term “heaven,” when used in religious prophecy, does not necessarily refer to the Abode of God and the afterlife habitation of the Prophets and holy souls of the past.
“Heaven,” as the setting for many of the scenes of the Apocalypse, can best be understood as a representation of religion or a religious cause. The entities John sees in heaven then become the players and actors, the protagonists and antagonists, in the unfolding of a new religious cause.
The Seven Spirits of God
God does not have seven Spirits as such. He only has a Spirit that pervades all things. So, what are “the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6)?
In a sense, they refer to the Spirit animating the seven earlier world religions that the Bahá’í Faith recognises as authentic and independent. These seven have contributed to the spiritual and material advancement of humanity over the ages and were existing in some form or other when the Bahá’í Faith had its inception.
The religions in question are Sabeanism (of which many of the world’s traditional religions are believed to be offshoots), Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.
Bahá’ís will consider all other religious movements of the contemporary world as either offshoots, sects, or denominations of the above, or as mere religious or moral philosophies—if not cults or other obscure religious groups.
The Twenty-Four Elders of the Apocalypse
Bahá’ís consider the twenty-four elders of the Apocalypse as the holy souls associated with the new religious cause of the end times. This compares with the twelve Apostles associated with the dispensation of Jesus Christ, the twelve tribal heads of Israel in Judaism, and the twelve Imams of Shia Islam.
The number of elders being twenty-four, twice the number of similar souls in previous religious dispensations, must be an indication of the relative greatness of the emergent religious cause of the end times.
Christianity and the Two Messianic Figures
The Language of the Apocalypse
That the Book of Revelation was written primarily for Christians is indisputable. This means the terminologies used in the narrative should be more familiar to followers of Jesus than to others. Examples of some of the terminologies and references of the Apocalypse that must resonate with Christians will include the following: God seated on a throne in heaven, the Father, the Lamb, the Christ, Jesus, Moses, the apostles, the new Jerusalem, the tree of life, and the book of life.
What must be of critical importance to the Christian faithful though must be their ability to unravel the inner meanings of the terminologies in order to gain a fuller understanding of the entire narrative.
The Two Messianic Figures of the End Times
A pertinent question a Christian believer might ask is: If two Messianic figures were anticipated at the end times, why did Jesus not explicitly say so to his disciples?
The answer is he did—in a “parable” —but no one seemed to grasp what he meant at the time:
This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. (John 10:6)
Unlike the other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), John’s Gospel does not unduly concern itself with “the signs of the end times”. Yet hidden in one of its parables are some astonishing hints of the future that can easily be overlooked by the faithful.
(Note: The biblical references in this article are from the King James Bible)
The Shepherd and the Gate
We review the relevant points of the parable of John 10:1-18:
1. The True One must come through “the door” otherwise he is false (verses 1-2):
As already indicated above, the Báb means the "door" or "gate”. That being said, it is important to clarify that that title could not have been adopted by the Báb for the purpose of fulfilling a Christian prophecy. The Báb, after all, did not carry out his mission in a Christian milieu. He did so in his native land, Persia, where Shia Islam was and still is the majority religion. And it is in the traditions and prophecies of Shia Islam (rather than in Christianity) that the concept of the door or gate has the greatest significance.
Bahá’ís see the Founder of their faith, Bahá’u’lláh, as having come through the “door” of his Forerunner, the Báb.
2. Christ is the door (verses 7, 9):
This implies that the door has a Messianic station.
The Báb was a Manifestation of God in his own right.
3. Christ is the Shepherd (verse 11):
This means both the Shepherd and the door have Messianic stations. This is what establishes the concept of twin Messianic appearances in the Gospel, as also proposed in cryptic language in the Book of Revelation.
This concept finds practical fulfilment in the Bahá’í Faith where the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh are known as the Twin Manifestations of God.
4. There is martyrdom and there is a resurrection (verses 11, 15, 17-18):
Remember that the Lamb of the Apocalypse is martyred but the One on the throne is not.
This conforms to the history of the Bahá’í Faith whereby the Báb was martyred, following which Bahá’u’lláh arose to bring the joint Messianic mission to completion. One way to put it is that after his martyrdom, the Báb resurrected in the person of Bahá’u’lláh.
5. There is the bringing together of sheep from other folds. They will all “hear” the Shepherds “voice” and be blended into “one fold, and one shepherd” (verse 16):
The seven Spirits embodied in both the One on the throne and the Lamb symbolise the coming together of the great world religions.
It is interesting to note that the primary aim of the Bahá’í Faith is to bring about the unity of the world, including the unity of religions.
Judaism and the Two Messianic Figures
Interestingly, the Jewish Bible seems also to anticipate the appearance of two Messiahs (seemingly at the end times). In words reminiscent of some of the language and symbolism used in John’s Revelation, Prophet Zechariah outlines a vision:
I have looked, and behold a candlestick… with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps…
And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.
…those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.
…What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof?
…These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth. (Zechariah 4:1-14)
It is well known that the word “messiah” comes from a Hebrew word that translates as “the anointed one”. Therefore, when Zechariah sees “the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth,” he is basically being introduced to two Messianic figures symbolised by two olive trees.
The Twin Messianic Figures Anticipated in Religion
So, to conclude, it does seem clear that in the Last Day, God will manifest Himself in two ways. He will first manifest Himself in the station of a Lamb, to be sacrificed for the redemption of mankind and as an atonement for her sins. Following this, He will manifest Himself a second time—but this time, in an exalted station, in the station of a sovereign King seated on a throne, with power, glory, and authority.
Such an expectation is embedded in the verses of the Christian Gospel and the Book of Revelation. It is found as well in Jewish prophecy and in the traditions of Islam.
It is fulfilled, according to Bahá’ís, with the appearance of two Prophets in the 19th century. The Báb appeared first, died a martyr’s death, and the end-time Messianic mission was then consummated with the appearance of Bahá’u’lláh.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Kobina Amissah-Fynn