During the Easter season we are sometimes asked by our Christian friends if we Baha'is believe in the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus Christ.
Here is a little background information to help us deal with this type of question.
Easter is the second most important event on the Christian calendar after Christmas. It is celebrating the resurrection of Christ and held between March 21 and April 25. Christians believe, according to Scripture, that Jesus came back to life, or was raised from the dead, three days after his death on the cross.
Remember that the Christian mindset and the Western culture is very much influenced by the Christian calendar which celebrates resurrection and ascension as two different events on different days.
The Resurrection is celebrated at Easter. (Date is different each year as the date is determined by the moon). First the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is commemorated on Good Friday. Many Christians believe that through His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus paid the penalty for sin, thus purchasing for all who believe in him, eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Fourty days later Christians celebrate the Ascension based on the story found in the Holy Bible in the Book of Acts when according to Luke: "Jesus was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9) .
Christians often ask us - do you believe in the Resurrection of Christ? As a response I have heard some Baha'is say - according to the Baha'i Faith the resurrection was a spiritual or purely symbolic event.
To a devout Christian such a statement is negative. To them it means that the Baha'is do not believe in the Resurrection. If a Christian feels that we are lowering the station of Christ they become defensive. This misunderstanding happens because we Baha'is don't really understand the Christian mindset.
We Baha'is sometimes have the tendency to give short answers in absolute black and white terms. If then, in response to this brief statement from the Baha'i, the Christian takes an argumentative stand i.e. takes their absolute position that it's the body which rose up to heaven (from the death) - then an investigative sharing dialogue becomes more difficult.
In Christianity Renewed Volume 2, Helen and I devoted two chapters to the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. (If you would like to know more, use my contact apge to contact me and I will forward you a copy
of both chapters in pdf format).
'Abdu'l-Baha says in SAQ that the Resurrection is a "spiritual and divine fact" and that our purpose is not to deny it but to "affirm" it (SAQ 104-105).
He states explicitly that after Christ's crucifixion the disciples "saw Christ living, helping and protecting them" (SAQ 106-107). (These events are known to Christians as the "resurrection appearances")
'Abdu'l-Baha further explains that Christ's Resurrection was a phenomenon not of this evanescent material plane, but of the divine, invisible World of Reality.
It did not concern Christ's mortal, flesh-and-blood body but rather His "spiritual body": "For Christ had an elemental body and a celestial form. The elemental body was crucified, but the heavenly form is living and eternal, and the cause of everlasting life ... " (SAQ 98-99).
These words of the Master - the terminology He uses agrees perfectly with that of Saint Paul, who states in I Corinthians 15 that Christ rose not in an "earthly" or "terrestrial" body of flesh made from the "dust of the earth", but rather in a "celestial" or "spiritual body". Flesh and blood, says Paul, "cannot inherit the kingdom of God". Thus Christ was not resurrected as flesh and blood but as a "life-giving spirit".
Also Peter explains
Baha'i Writings explain how the world is energized and renewed with the passing of the Manifestations:
"Know thou that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. Its evidences, as witnessed in all the peoples of the earth, are now manifest before thee. The deepest wisdom which the sages have uttered, the profoundest learning which any mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have produced, the influence exerted by the most potent of rulers are but manifestations of the quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive, and resplendent Spirit."
Shoghi Effendi describes Baha'u'llah's passing on p. 244 of "God Passes By": "... the dissolution of the tabernacle wherein the soul of the Manifestation had chosen temporarily to abide signalized its release from the restrictions which an earthly life had, of necessity, imposed upon it. Its influence no longer circumscribed by any physical limitations, its radiance no longer beclouded by its human temple, that soul could henceforth energize the whole world to a degree unapproached at any stage in the course of its existence on this planet."
Like Baha'u'llah's ascension, the Resurrection of Christ had a profound impact upon events of the material plane: It transformed the lives and actions of the disciples, galvanized and reanimated the early Church, and crystalized into a new civilization These earthly events were among the symbolic significances of Christ's heavenly Resurrection -- but 'Abdu'l-Baha's point is that these outward activities happened because the disciples "saw Christ living, helping and protecting them"
He cites the continuing influence of Christ on this earthly plane as a proof of immortality: "Consider that today the Kingdom of Christ exists. From a non-existing king how could such a great kingdom be manifested?" (SAQ 225).
Baha'is accept the Resurrection as a divine and miraculous fact, the question of precisely how it occurred becomes secondary.
We shouldn't make an issue in any early discussion with Christians of whether Christ appeared to His disciples in physical form.
Indeed there is no objection for a Baha'i to believe that Christ communicated with His disciples in visions and spiritual encounters. The disciples knew no other way to record these interactions except as physical events; anything else would have, for most readers, conveyed a lesser reality.
Indeed there is no reason why Christ's all-powerful "spiritual body" could not have manifested itself temporarily as (to our human senses) an ordinary human form as Christ work on earth wasn't completed due to his sudden and violent death. 'Abdu'l-Baha says: "In the Qur'an it is said: 'And We sent Our Spirit unto her, and He appeared unto her in the shape of a perfect man,' meaning that the Holy Spirit took the likeness of the human form, as an image is produced in a mirror, and he addressed Mary" (SAQ 87). If the Holy Spirit can take "the likeness of the human form" to talk with Mary, why cannot Christ not do the same?
If we present the Resurrection and Ascension in this way then we will see that devout Christians may be willing to consider having a closer look at all the other wonderful teachings of the Baha'i Faith.
Creating a more Christian friendly culture amongst the Baha'is can create a bridge of understanding that will make it easier for Christians to be involved in the core activities.
If anyone is interested to learn more about the resurrection, I am prepared to help them.
In our books Christianity Renewed Volume 1-2 and 3 by Maxwell Alexander ( published by BPT of India) we wrote two chapters on Resurrection and Ascension.
To solve this 2000 year old mystery, you need your detective clothes..., your spyglasses to read between the lines of the Gospel accounts and as a special gift I will send you my two chapters free!
Talk to you soon !
(author's name : Maxwell Alexander)