The Review of Religions [English], January, February & March 1923
Hazrat Maulvi Sher Ali’s letter to the Madras Mail regarding the advent of the Promised Messiah
Hazrat Maulvi Sher Ali Sahibra (1875-1947)
In the Madras Mail of 5 and 6 December 1922, there appeared two long letters on the Second Advent of Christ from “A Student of Prophecy”. The writer of the letters begins by saying: “The facts of the First Coming are common knowledge, but it seems that the expectation of the Second Coming does not engage the minds and hearts of Christians as much as it should. They appear to take the view that it has been so long delayed as to have passed almost out of the number of practicalities that demand attention. And yet, in the New Testament, they are told without equivocation to watch for it, and to look for certain signs that would herald its approach. Further, students of prophecy declare that the Bible contains prophecies of the time of the Second Coming.” Then the writer of the letters proceeds to show, on the basis of Biblical prophecies, that “The time is at hand – that the redemption of the faithful draweth nigh” [Luke 21:28]. He concludes by saying, “There are many earnest Christians who nourish the ‘Great Hope’ that next year will see the Coming of the Christ, with power to set up his Kingdom. All Christians are clearly bidden to watch and be ready for that Coming, and they should ask themselves whether, in view of prophecy indicating the imminence of the Second Advent, they can echo from their hearts the prayer, ‘Even so come, Lord Jesus’.”
The letters seem to have excited the interest of the editor of the Madras Mail, and he, while inviting correspondence on this subject, says: “The march of events, in the Near East especially, would almost persuade one that there is more in these curious calculations than one would like to believe.” In response to the invitation of the editor of the Madras Mail, the following letter has been sent to him for publication. The “Great Hope” has already been fulfilled; the Messiah has already come and if the Christians do not accept the true Messiah, they will continue to say, as they are doing now, that “next year will witness the Coming of Christ,” but that “next year” will never come. Let them carefully ponder over what has been said in the letter reproduced below. (Editor, The Review of Religions, 1923)
[Letter to the editor of Madras Mail]
The Editor, Madras Mail, Madras.
In your issue of 5 December 1922, there appears a long article on the Second Advent of the Messiah by “A Student of Prophecy” and you are pleased to invite correspondence on the subject.
This is a subject in which I am keenly interested, and therefore I take the liberty of expressing my views on this highly interesting subject in response to your invitation.
I am not a Christian, but this, I think, will be no bar to my taking part in this discussion. God being the common Father of all mankind, His word is the common property of us all and a Muslim has as great a right to study it as any Jew or Christian. Nay, I believe it to be my duty to speak on the subject of the Second Advent of Jesus, because I hold that the prophecy has already been fulfilled. As it is the duty of a Christian to tell the Jews that the prophecies of the Bible relating to the First Coming of the Messiah have been fulfilled, similarly, I, who believe that the Biblical prophecy of the Second Advent of the Messiah has already been fulfilled, feel bound to tell the Christian that he need not look forward to any future time for the Advent of the Messiah, for that Advent has already occurred. And I think it is the duty of a Christian also to listen to me with an open mind. Your learned self or your numerous Christian readers should not presuppose that I am wrong. Like every unbiassed and impartial judge, they should reserve their judgement until they have heard my arguments.
Before I proceed to show how the prophecy regarding the Second Coming of the Messiah has been fulfilled, I must tell my Christian friends that the holy personage, whose appearance in the present age fulfilled the prophecy in question, does not stand in need of the prophecies in the Christian and Jewish Scriptures to bear out the truth of his claims. These Scriptures do bear evidence of his truth, but they do not form the sole or the principal evidence. Nay, even if the Jewish and Christian Scriptures had not existed, the truth of his claims would have still been as clear as the claim of any other prophet that was ever born on this earth. Not only did he fulfil in his person all the signs that were given to us by the Israelite prophets as well as the great seers of other nations, (for the prophecy of the appearance of a Great Messenger in the Latter Days is to be found in all the great religions of the world), but God worked by his hands mighty signs that made the truth of his claims as clear as the midday sun and he came with all the signs and all the characteristics of a true prophet. But at present, I will confine myself to the evidence from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.
In order to properly understand how the prophecy of the Second Advent of the Messiah has been fulfilled, it is necessary for us to look at the prophecy of the First Advent of the Messiah and see how it was fulfilled. A study of that prophecy will be a great help to us in understanding the second prophecy and will serve as guidance for us in interpreting the latter prophecy.
Jesus[as] made his appearance 1900 years ago, and claimed to be the Promised Messiah. But did the learned Jews accept him? The answer is, “No”. But I ask why they did not accept him if he had come in fulfilment of the prophecies made by the Israelite prophets. If the prophecies had been fulfilled, why did the Jewish theologians reject him? It is imperative for us to know the reason that led the Jewish students of the Bible to reject Jesus, so that we may take a warning from their example and not commit the same fatal blunder that they did. Said the Holy Prophetsa of Arabia: “A believer is not bitten from the same hole twice.” So let us know the blunder of the Jews so that we may be able to guard against it.
The first mistake that the Jews made was that they took the prophecies strictly in their literal sense and refused to accept the interpretation that Jesus offered.
For instance, they believed that the Messiah would be a king who would deliver them from the yoke of the foreigner, but Jesus said, he was indeed a king, but his kingdom was not of this world.
Matthew tells us, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he that is born king of the Jews?’” [Matthew 2:1-2]
The angel of the Lord, while giving to Mary the glad tidings of a son, said, “The Lord God shall give him the throne of his father David” [Luke 1:32]. Even the disciples held to the belief that Jesus would effect a temporal deliverance for the Jews, for two of them are reported to have said after the “Crucifixion” of Jesus, “We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21). But when Pilate asked Jesus whether he was the king of the Jews, he replied, “My kingdom is not of this world” [John 18:36]. Thus, it is clear that both the Jews and the disciples of Jesus were mistaken in their interpretation of the prophecies and that Jesus was not to be an earthly, but a spiritual king.
Similarly, the Jews interpreted Malachi 4:5 literally and believed that before the Messiah made his appearance, Elijah must come. But Jesus interpreted this prophecy otherwise. According to him, the coming back of Elijah meant, not the coming of the self-same Elijah in person, who reproved idolatrous Israel, who destroyed Baal, and of whom it is written that he “Went up by a whirlwind into heaven”, (2 Kings 2:11) but the appearance of another man in the spirit and character of Elijah. In Matthew 17:10-13, we read: “And his disciples asked him, saying, ‘Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they know him not but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise, shall the son of man suffer of them.’ Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.”
These interpretations of Jesus were rejected by the Jews and they refused to accept him on the ground that Elijah, who had bodily ascended into heaven, had not come back in person. It is strange that many Christians take the same view as the Jews did, of the coming back of Elijah although Jesus said in plain words: “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear let him hear.” [Matthew 11:14-15]
Another mistake that the Jews made was that, blinded by their own interpretation of prophecies, they became so prejudiced against Jesus that they did not think over the signs that he showed as proof of his claims. The Jews had made a picture of the Messiah in their own imagination. That imaginary picture, which was based on their own interpretation of prophecies and erroneous traditions, did not prove to be a reality. The real Messiah did not conform to the imaginary Messiah that they had pictured for themselves, being misled by their erroneous interpretations and traditions. Expecting the advent of an earthly king possessing great splendour and authority, they failed to recognise him in the lowly Nazarene, who was an associate of publicans and sinners and who scathingly denounced traditions and beliefs that were dear to the Jewish mind. That was a fatal mistake that they committed. Indeed, that is the mistake that the deniers of prophets always commit and it is this mistake that proves to be a stumbling block for them and prevents them from accepting the prophets when they come.
So with such examples before us, it is meet for us to avoid such mistakes so that we may not in a similar way be deprived of the inestimable boon of accepting the true Messiah.
We should not depend on our own interpretation of prophecies. History affords ample evidence of the fact that men have always erred when they have tried to explain prophecies before their completion. Those who have done so have plunged beyond their depth and the result has been that they have been lost in the abyss of error. Such prophecies can only be explained by the events, and it is a great error to fix upon any definite interpretation when the events foretold are yet in the womb of time.
It is gratifying to learn that many Christian writers have been shrewd enough to learn this great lesson that the history of prophecies so unmistakably teaches us. The Right Reverend Thomas Newton, DD, Lord Bishop of Bristol, who has written a big book on the prophecies of the Bible, says:
“We cannot frame any conception of how Christ will be manifested in glory, how the little horn will be given to the burning flames, or how the saints will take the kingdom, and possess it for ever and ever. It is in the nature of such prophecies not to be perfectly understood, until they are fulfilled. The best comment upon them will be their completion.”
Irenaeus, as quoted by the Right Reverend Thomas Newton, says in a like case, “It is surer and safer to wait for the completion of the prophecy than to conjecture and divine about it.” Mr J Liddel Kelly, who seems to have made a special study of the subject and who published a pamphlet entitled “The Last Days” in 1913, says:
“The announcement that the end of all things is at hand conjures up in many minds a vision of judgements and catastrophes, culminating in the sun and stars falling from their places and in the earth melting with fervent heat. At the outset, it should therefore be clear that there is no ground for these superstitious fears. The end, which is now approaching and which is to be the prelude of a new heaven and a new earth, is the close of the present age of dispensation. The divine event to which the whole creation moves is not a catastrophe but a renewal or new birth. […] The coming great revolution will be accomplished without any appearance of direct divine intervention.
“The world and its people will go on very much as now. The signs in the heaven and in the earth will be apparent only to the few. The great majority will be scoffers and sceptics almost to the last.”
Elsewhere in the same pamphlet, he says:
“No sound of trumpets or of drums
Shall mark his advent when he comes
To claim his crown and bless his own;
No angels shall proclaim his birth.”
(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original, published in The Review of Religions [English], January, February and March 1923)