Unification Sermons and Talks

by Reverend Young Oon Kim

The Miracle of Easter: What Actually Happened?

By Dr. Young Oon Kim

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

Christian laymen and most clergy insist that the resurrection is the core of the New Testament faith. Quoting St. Paul, they say that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith is vain (1 Cor. 15:17). Why is the Easter faith so crucial? Several reasons are usually given:

1) Jesus' resurrection gives irrefutable proof that man has an immortal soul. Christians believe in eternal life because of what occurred the first Easter.

2) The resurrection was such an astonishing miracle that it validates the divinity of Jesus. Since the tomb could not hold him, he must be a supernatural figure: the Son of God, the Logos which was with God from the beginning, or the second person of the Trinity.

3) Since Jesus conquered death, man's greatest enemy, the Church offers a religion superior to all possible rivals. While non-Christians revere a dead Buddha, Moses, Mohammed or Confucius, Christians worship the ever-living Jesus Christ. This would seem to demonstrate Christianity's supremacy.

4) Nothing but the resurrection could have restored the disciples' faith in Jesus after the shock of the crucifixion. When Jesus was arrested and executed, in the eyes of his followers the coming of the kingdom appeared hopeless. It was therefore necessary for these disillusioned, frightened men and women to see Jesus victorious over death in order for them to become apostles of a new religion.

5) The resurrection was needed for the disciples to recognize that Jesus was truly the Messiah. Once they were convinced that Jesus had really been raised to God's right hand, they could proclaim his messiahship in spite of everything that had happened at Calvary. Because of the resurrection appearances, Jewish Christians could believe in the astounding fact of a crucified Messiah. Even though the condemnation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin and his crucifixion by Pilate might seem to disprove the messianic claim, when God raised Jesus from the tomb, Jesus became victorious over his earthly foes and justified his mission.

6) Most recently, theologians have interpreted the resurrection in terms of first-century apocalypticism. Jesus came proclaiming that the kingdom was at hand. When the disciples saw the risen Jesus, they were convinced that his resurrection was certain proof of the universal resurrection of the dead soon to take place when the kingdom arrived in all its glory.

These six interpretations are commonly used to show the centrality of the Easter faith. With this background material, let us consider Jesus' resurrection in detail: for increasingly the doctrine of his physical resurrection and Ascension is questioned these days.

The Gospels

To understand the resurrection one must carefully examine the New Testament accounts of the Easter appearances. Unfortunately, our Biblical sources reveal "insuperable discrepancies and inconsistencies," to use Hans Kung's words. The Biblical narratives are so conflicting that it is impossible to harmonize them. The Gospels do not agree about the people involved. They contradict each other over the locality of the events: Galilee or Jerusalem. Finally, they conflict over the whole sequence of Jesus' appearances.

With the continued delay of the Parousia, the original apocalyptic significance of Jesus' resurrection underwent considerable revision. We see evidence of this change in the Synoptics written a generation or more after the crucifixion. Mark, Matthew and Luke each fit the resurrection appearances into his specific theology. Mark (without the later addition after 16:8) tells about the women at the cross, the women at the burial and the women at the open tomb. This Gospel contains no appearance of the risen Jesus. For Mark the apocalyptic hope still dominates the horizon. There is no need to stress anything but the sure belief in the coming of the Son of Man, a message to be carried to the Gentiles (symbolized by Galilee).

Whereas Mark saw the resurrection only as a prelude to the Parousia, Matthew has the risen Jesus commission his disciples to found the Christian Church. Now that Jesus is risen, their job is to make disciples of all nations. No matter when the Parousia comes, the Christians' resent task is to plant churches throughout the world. For Matthew, the risen Jesus is continuously present in his Church.

With little interest in the apocalyptic hope, Luke also centers his concern on the ongoing witness of the Church. As Jesus lived by the Spirit of God, his disciples receive the Spirit to give them power and inspiration for their mission. Therefore, Luke suggests that the risen Jesus meets Christians in the eucharistic breaking of bread, helps them to understand the Old Testament scriptures, and baptizes them with the Holy Spirit.

From the Dead

But whatever the original disciples and the evangelists may have believed, did Jesus really rise for the dead? If so, how did the resurrection take place? To answer this question it is important to distinguish between two forms of the Easter tradition. Our oldest sources, a tradition quoted by Paul in 56-57 A.D., speaks only of visions of the risen Jesus. Paul compares the earlier appearances of the resurrected Jesus to his own vision on the Damascus road. Quite significantly, he does not refer to the various stories of the empty tomb. Hence one can accept the possibility that the disciples received parapsychological visions without believing in the historicity of the physical resurrection of Jesus.

This however, does not necessarily imply that the appearances of the risen Jesus were only subjective hallucinations. We now know enough about psychic phenomena to recognize that credible reports of appearances of the dead are fairly numerous. Why then do so few theologians use parapsychology to explain the risen Jesus? Mainly because to do so would seem to deprive Jesus of his uniqueness. Conservative Christians prefer to assert that Jesus' resurrection was a supernatural event which proves that he was not merely human. For them, as for the New Testament writers, the resurrection is inextricable linked with Jesus' divinity.

Nevertheless, some Biblical scholars and theologians are inclined to mistrust the historicity of the empty tomb narratives as well as the later New Testament tendency to portray the physical nature of Jesus' resurrection. Various efforts have been make to affirm the essential truth of the resurrection without insisting upon Jesus' corporeal resuscitation.

From 1964 to 1968, for instance, the German churches were embroiled in controversy over the importance of Jesus' resurrection for the Christian faith. For the evangelicals, to believe in the resurrection meant that Jesus rose bodily from the grave. For others, equally Christian, Jesus rose in some spiritual sense. He arose in the hearts of his disciples or he is risen in the proclamation of the Church.

View of 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 (Mk 14:50). 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 re-inspiring the disciples and re-igniting 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 to their countrymen. "This Jesus God has raised up, as we area all witnesses. Therefore, let the house of Israel clearly recognize that same Jesus whom you crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:32, 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 (1 Thess. chaps. 4 and 5). Later Paul modified his views: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50). Paul's experience of the risen Jesus 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 (Lk. 24:37). 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 (Lk. 24: 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 (19:38-40). But according to the Synoptic tradition, the women go the tomb for that purpose (Lk. 24:1)

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 (28: 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 (1 Cor. 15:3). Paul relates two very significant facts: a list of resurrection appearances which he claims to have received from the original apostolic community and each appearance was like 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-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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