Unification Sermons and Talks

by Reverend Young Oon Kim

The Miracle of Easter: What Actually Happened?

by Dr. Young Oon Kim

This article is excerpted from Dr. Kim's book, "Unification Theology."

How does the Unificationist understand the resurrection of Jesus? First of all, Divine Principle strongly affirms the reality of the resurrection for three reasons. Historically, the resurrection was necessary in order for the disciples to recover from the demoralizing tragedy of the crucifixion. As the British biblical theologian Alan Richardson has said, Jesus' mission apparently ended in total failure and disaster. Therefore, all his disciples fled back to Galilee (Mk14:50). However, when these discouraged followers began to be convinced that Jesus was risen, their faith suddenly revived. They came together again and henceforth celebrated Jesus' death as an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. Historically, the first Christians' experience of the risen Jesus reasonably explains their radical change of mood from despair to radiant hope.

Theologically, the resurrection is important as a testimony to the bipolar nature of man. Every person consists of mortal flesh and immortal soul. The enemies of Jesus could not destroy his spirit by condemning him as a blasphemer and heretic. Nor were the resurrection appearances simply invented by the early church to delude a credulous people into accepting a new faith. Jesus was truly victorious over death.

Furthermore, providentially the resurrection was most necessary. Since Jesus' mission was God's way to carry out His original ideal of creation, He had to overcome the awful setback to His plan caused by the rejection of His son. How could God revitalize the dispersed and seemingly discredited messianic movement and use it to further His primary intention for man? The reappearance of Jesus Christ was God's way of inspiring the disciples and reigniting their enthusiasm. The entire Christian community was prepared to receive the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Because of the resurrection, Jewish Christians could reach out to their countrymen. "This Jesus God has raised up, as we are all witnesses. ... Therefore, let the house of Israel clearly recognize that same Jesus whom you crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ" (Acts2:32,36).

Next we must look at Divine Principle's interpretation of the manner of resurrection. Like most liberal Protestants, Unificationists believe that Jesus' resurrection was spiritual and not physical. A resurrection of the flesh contradicts our modern scientific worldview. Bultmann, among others, would insist that if we are to make Christianity credible, we have to demythologize ancient doctrines like Jesus' fleshly resurrection and physical ascension to heaven. Brunner likewise insists upon the resurrection of the body, yes; but resurrection of the flesh, no!

Paul-possibly the only well-educated member of the apostolic community-suggests that one need not believe in Jesus' corporeal resurrection. In the early Pauline epistles, the Christian hope is largely interpreted in terms of Jewish apocalypticism, which includes belief in a physical resurrection (1Thess4-5). Later, Paul modified his views: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1Cor15:50). Paul's experience of the risen Christ was an encounter with the glorified Christ, a spiritual reality.

There is also evidence in the Gospels that Jesus' resurrected body was very different from his earthly one. When Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples in their guest chamber, they thought they saw his ghost (Lk24:37). Similarly, the disciples who met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus did not recognize him until he ate with them, and as soon as their eyes were opened, he immediately vanished (Lk24:15-31). These two incidents show that the body of the risen Jesus was quite unlike his earthly one.

Yet all four Gospels contain stories of the empty tomb. Do these not imply that Jesus was bodily resurrected? Those who insist upon the physical resurrection rely heavily on the empty-tomb tradition.

Many New Testament scholars consider the empty tomb a legend. As one example, let's look at the study made by Guignebert: he says that the New Testament sources are "a mosaic artificially composed of contradictory fragments" (C. Guignebert, Jesus, 1956).

First of all, the Gospels present contradictory evidence about the burial of Jesus and the discovery of the open tomb. Matthew, Luke, Acts and John add details to Mark's original account, but they contradict one another in very important ways. Four examples should suffice. How many women go to Jesus' tomb and find it empty? One, according to John 20:1. Two, according to Matthew 28:1. Three, according to Mark 16:1. Three women plus other disciples, according to Luke 24:10. Who embalmed Jesus' body? Joseph and Nicodemus, says the Fourth Gospel (Jn19:38-40). But according to the Synoptic tradition, the women go to the tomb for that purpose (Lk24:1).

Was the tomb guarded? Matthew relates that the chief priests and elders stationed soldiers at the sepulcher. But Mark and Luke lack this important detail. What happened when the women came to the sepulcher? Matthew alone records a great earthquake taking place (Mt28:1-10). If this startling event occurred, why did not the other evangelists note the fact? From these discrepancies, one must conclude that Mark's original story was greatly embellished by the later evangelists.

Resurrection Appearances

Fortunately, we can find an important tradition about the risen Jesus in Paul's letters which is twenty years closer to Jesus' earthly ministry (1Cor15:3). Paul relates two very significant facts: a list of resurrection appearances which he claims to have received from the original apostolic community, and a likening of each appearance to his own mystical experience on the Damascus road. That means the first resurrection appearances were of the spiritual Jesus.

More importantly, Paul nowhere refers to the empty tomb. Doesn't this suggest that in his time-twenty years before Mark's Gospel-Christians did not believe that Jesus' tomb was found empty? Guignebert and others therefore conclude that the tomb stories were later legends added by Christian apologists in order to demonstrate the reality of Jesus' resurrection. Harnack, for example, maintained that the "discovery" of the open tomb complicated and confused the tradition and that Paul knew nothing of the story.

Jesus died on the cross and was buried. Is that all we can know? Guignebert believes that Jesus' body was taken from the cross by his executioners and given some sort of burial. If Jesus' sepulcher had been known, there would have been regular pilgrimages to the place. But the site of the Holy Sepulcher was not located until Constantine's time when he made it "available for veneration" in 326 A.D. In any case, the Easter faith was based on the various appearances of the risen Jesus and not on an empty tomb.

According to Unification theology, the disciples did not see an ordinary ghost. What they experienced was the Messiah who had risen above the shame of a blasphemer's condemnation and criminal's death. Thus Unificationists claim that, because of the resurrection, Jesus' mission did not end in failure. Certainly, Jesus'

physical body was completely crushed. But his sense of mission remained unshaken. When he awoke in the spirit world, Jesus' first concern was to resurrect the faith of his disciples, so he was eager to manifest himself to them in some visible way. This is why Luke wrote that for forty days Jesus remained near his disciples.

Because of Jesus' unfailing faith and on the basis of his forty-day foundation, God could begin a new dispensation using the disciples as instruments of His will for man's redemption.


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