I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Bahá’í).
A Lesson From the Past
Christians are anxiously waiting for the return of Jesus, while Muslims are also in urgent anticipation of the appearance of Prophet Isa (their name for Jesus). But while they wait, it is hoped these two great religious groups (and others not mentioned) will keep in mind the lesson of the Jews, who still await their promised Messiah some 2,000 years after Jesus carried out his messianic mission in their midst.
The mere fact that Jews cannot believe their Messiah has come and gone in the person of Jesus of Nazareth does not imply the Advent they were promised did not occur. And that should be a cautionary tale for the present generation of devotees (of all religious persuasions), who should bear in mind that the Jews were given far fewer forewarnings and signs than is available to worshippers of today.
The religious groups in my interfaith circle can be divided into two broad categories as far as this discussion is concerned: Those, like the Christians and Muslims, who maintain that the promised messianic Advent is yet to occur, and a smaller group which strongly claims it has already transpired. A previous article of mine was dedicated to the first category, and so this piece is to those in the second category. They not only claim the messianic Advent has already occurred, they do also identify the promised Christ with their own respective leaders.
Groups With Messianic Claims
Among groups with messianic claims are the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Bahá’í Faith, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (better known as the Unification Church), and lately we have been introduced to the Church of Almighty God (otherwise known as Eastern Lightning).
What do these groups have in common and where do they differ? Obviously, they cannot all be right, but is there any possibility that one of them is right?
The biblical citations in this article are all from the King James Bible.
False Christs and False Prophets
Before going further, it might be worthwhile to recall that in elaborating the circumstances of his return, Jesus had forewarned the faithful to beware of “false Christs and false prophets” who “shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22). And since those prophetic words were uttered, there has been no shortage of messianic claims down the centuries.
That said, the purpose of this article is not to belittle the beliefs of anyone, nor to determine who is right or wrong in matters of this nature. The purpose, rather, is to highlight outstanding issues to aid sincere seekers in their own independent search for the truth.
The list of five claimants under consideration in this article has been judged the most relevant for our discussion and for our times.
Humanity's Joint Venture
The reality and mystery of the true end-time Christ is that, once revealed, everything and everyone on earth will contribute to the victory of his Cause, whether knowingly or not.
In setting up his divine Kingdom, this old, tottering global system of ours will have to be dismantled and destroyed. This is the destruction mentioned in references to the times of Noah and of Lot in Luke 17:26-30 and to the burning of Babylon in Revelation 18:8-21.
Those who recognise and accept the Christ at his appearance become the "elect" (Mark 13:27), the builders of the new Kingdom. By their actions and inactions, those who deny him also contribute to his divine mission by helping to pull down the decaying system of this crumbling world. It is not the work of the elect to pull down the old system. Their only work is to build the new system. Those pulling down the old system are the unbelievers, deniers, persecutors, false prophets, evildoers, as well as the distracted and unconcerned masses of mankind.
Commonalities, Differences in Messianic Claims
Now, let’s see what the groups under consideration have in common and where they differ. So, we are focused on the Ahmadis, Bahá’ís, Unificationists (or Moonies, as members of the Unification Church are sometimes called), and members of the Church of Almighty God. They are obviously all united in their belief that the messianic Advent has occurred, meaning the promised Christ has appeared on earth. Besides that, they, one and all, also point to Asia as the continent of appearance.
They differ in pretty much everything else—from the identity and even the gender of the messianic claimant to whether the fulfilment involves just one individual or two related personages; whether the claimant is at the head of an entirely new religious movement or merely of a sect within an existing religion; the exact location within the continent of Asia where the claimant appeared; the time of the appearance; as well as the exact nature of the claimant’s mission.
Let’s look at these in greater detail.
1. The Claimants’ Identities
As already stated, all four groups believe that the messianic Advent has already occurred and the promised Christ returned to earth. To the Ahmadis, he is Mirza Ghulám Ahmad (1835-1908); to the Moonies, he is Reverend Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012); to the members of the Church of Almighty God, it is supposedly a Chinese woman known as Yang Xiangbin (born in 1973 and presumably still alive); and to Bahá’ís, there are two personages: the Báb (1819-1850)—who claims the station of the Mahdi, a messianic figure awaited in Islam—and Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892).
So, all these four groups agree that the promised Advent has occurred but differ in the identity of the messianic claimant.
2. A Matter of Gender
Beyond that, the Church of Almighty God differs from the other three in having a woman as the expected Christ. It is not clear if the members of this faith have any explanation as to why that is so, given that the promised Christ has been designated in biblical prophecy as the “Son of man” (as in Matthew 16:27), “the bridegroom” (as in Matthew 25: 1-13), “the King” (as in Matthew 25:34), etc.—all male designations.
3. Individual or Joint Claims
A third difference is in the fact that the claim of the Bahá’í Faith (of having fulfilled the end-time messianic expectations of the religions) revolves around two personages rather than one. The Ahmadis, on the other hand, claim their leader fulfils the two roles claimed by the Báb (as the Islamic Mahdi) and Bahá’u’lláh (as Prophet Isa).
4. Originators of Sects or Religions
A fourth difference is in the fact that Ahmadiyya prides itself in being a sect of Islam (or a "Movement in Islam," as it sometimes describes itself), while both the Unification Church and Church of Almighty God appear to be Christian sects. This is not the case with the Bahá’í Faith, which is not a sect of any existing faith but an independent religion, with its own holy books, laws, principles, institutions, calendar, and its own founders (whose rank, as claimed by its followers, equal that of all other Founders of true religions).
The need for the end-time Christ (and, indeed, for any true Manifestation of God) to found a new independent religion, as opposed to a sect of an existing religion, can be deduced from these words of Jesus in Luke 5:37-38:
“And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.”
In other words, a new divine revelation (new wine) can only be truly effective and achieve its purpose when it is associated with a new religious system (new bottle) and not with an old existing religion (old bottle).
And by the way, noting the number of sects and denominations that exist in the world today (numbering more than 30,000 in the case of Christianity alone, according to available data) and the fewness of independent religions (numbering no more than a handful by every measure), it becomes self-evident that founding a sect or denomination of an existing religion is a much easier proposition than founding a new independent religion.
5. The Places of Appearance
The four messianic groups agree on Asia as the continent of the Christ's appearance, but not on the exact location. Ahmadiyya was founded in India, Unification Church in South Korea, the Church of Almighty God in China, and the Bahá’í Faith in the Middle East.
It is not clear how the places of appearance can be justified by the other three groups but Bahá’ís will claim that the places of appearance of their Twin Founders are in accordance with the expectations of the religions. For example, Zoroastrians expect a messianic figure, known to them as "Shah Bahram", to appear in Persia, Iran, the country where both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh were born.
The Jews will contend that their Messiah can appear nowhere but in Israel, especially after re-occupying that territory from their long exile abroad. Well, Bahá’u’lláh was exiled to ‘Akká, in northern Israel, as a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, and his earthly remains are buried in that vicinity. ‘Akká is not far from Mount Carmel, in Haifa, Israel, where the remains of his forerunner, the Báb, were later buried after his execution in Persia.
The Muslim messianic expectation is centred around the Middle East, which is fulfilled by the Twin Manifestations. Qur'án 50:41-42 alerts the faithful to “listen on the day when the crier will call out from a place quite near,” and refers to that day as “the Day of Resurrection.” To the Arabs, a “place quite near” cannot be anywhere beyond the Middle East.
With Christianity, it should be noted that all places of interest mentioned in the Book of Revelation are to be found in the Middle East—the Euphrates River, ancient Babylon, the seven Churches (all located in present-day Turkey), Egypt, and Israel. So, that is a clear hint that the Middle East is where the eschatological events of the last day will be. Incidentally, Bahá’u’lláh was in all these places during his forced exiles.
6. The Time of Appearance
Two of the religious groups were founded in the nineteenth century: The Bahá’í Faith began in 1844 with the inauguration of the Báb’s mission in Persia which, upon his martyrdom in 1850, continued under Bahá’u’lláh with the declaration of his own mission in 1863 in neighbouring Iraq. The Ahmadiyya Movement, on the other hand, began decades later in 1889.
The two others came into being in the twentieth century: Unification Church in 1954 and the Church of Almighty God in 1991.
7. The Claimants' Missions
Finally, we review the specific mission of each of the groups:
The mission of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we are told, is “the reinstatement of the absolute oneness of God, the revival of Islam through the moral reformation of society along Islamic ideals, and the global propagation of Islam in its pristine form.”
The Unification Church's mission was for its leader to carry out Jesus’ “unfinished work by becoming parent to all humanity.”
And the mission of the Church of Almighty God is that “Jesus has returned,” is “worshipped by the sect as Almighty God” and has inaugurated “the Age of Kingdom… when God in his present incarnation as Almighty God reveals the fullness of truth and works to free humans from their sinfulness.”
While the Bahá’í Faith describes itself as a universal religion with a universal message that seeks to unite all the world’s peoples, races, tribes, castes, genders, nationalities, and religions within the Christ-promised Kingdom of God on earth—an earthly paradise which, in due time, will emerge in its fullness to ensure a long-lasting era of peace and wellbeing for all mankind.
References and Recommended Reading
- Ahmadiyya Muslim Community - Al Islam Online - Official Website
The official website of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
- The Bahá’í Faith
The Official Website of the Worldwide Bahá’í Community
- Baháʼí Faith - Wikipedia
The background, beliefs, and mission of the Baháʼí Faith
- Eastern Lightning - Wikipedia
The background, history, and mission of the Church of Almighty God, otherwise known as Eastern Lightning
- GOSPEL OF THE DESCENT OF THE KINGDOM
The official website of the Church of Almighty God
- Mirza Ghulam Ahmad - Wikipedia
The life story of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of Ahmadiyya, and the nature of his religious mission
- Sun Myung Moon - Wikipedia
The life story of Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, and the nature of his religious mission
The Advent of the Promised Christ
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Kobina Amissah-Fynn