Unification Theology

by Young Oon Kim

Christology Today

Unificationism agrees with recent trends in Christology that Jesus was human, as well as somehow divine. D. M. Baillie asserted that the quest for the historical Jesus forces theology today to take the full humanity of Jesus Christ more seriously than ever before. In the past believers did not recognize that Christ was "consubstantial" with themselves. They would not admit that human growth, ignorance, mutability, struggle and temptation were features of Jesus' life. But now, says Baillie, belief in Jesus' full humanity has come into its own. 13

The complete humanity of Jesus is reaffirmed by Catholics as well as Protestants. The Catholic Biblical scholar R. E. Brown has written that many Christians imagine that Jesus walked around Galilee with a halo shining over his head. They ignore the Gospel portraits of Jesus: a person sometimes tired, annoyed or tempted and one treated as a fanatical rabble-rouser by the religious and political establishment of his day. 14

Does not the New Testament call Jesus God? There is no easy answer to that question. Repeatedly in the Synoptics, Jesus makes a clear distinction between God and himself. For example, when Jesus prays in the garden or from the cross he is obviously not speaking to himself. The Pauline epistles and Pastorals distinguish between the one God the Father, and the one Lord Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 8:6) or the one God and the one mediator, the man Christ Jesus (I Timothy 2:5).

Even in the Fourth Gospel, Christ declares that the Father is greater than himself (John 14:28). Biblical scholars therefore generally conclude that the earliest parts of the New Testament do not speak of Jesus as God.

However, three passages explicitly use the word "God" (theos) to describe Jesus (Hebrews 1:8-9, John 1:1, John 20:28) and there are a few texts where the use of the term "God" for Jesus is possible but not certain (Titus 2:13, 1 John 5:20, Romans 9:5 and 11 Peter 1: 1). In other words, Jesus is never called "God" in our earliest sources but it becomes increasingly common to ascribe divinity to him as the years pass. 15

In the later first-century Roman world it was not unusual to ascribe divinity to an exceptional man. Emperors like Augustus were called "divine savior" or "lord and god." Furthermore, Jews as well as pagan polytheists believed that there were many supernatural beings in addition to God the creator. Hence, it was easy for Gentile Christians to turn the human Jesus into a god to be worshipped. This deification of Jesus was widespread by the middle of the second century. 16

Jewish theology never believed that the Messiah would be an incarnate Yahweh.' In most cases, Jews expected a human being to carry out the messianic function. The Messiah would be a descendant of King David, or a priest, or a military hero who would liberate the Promised Land. Nevertheless in Jewish messiology the Anointed One might occasionally be thought of as a supernatural figure: an eschatological Son of Man or an angelic deliverer. However, even in such cases, a clear distinction was drawn between God Himself and His redemptive agent, the Messiah.

If Jesus is human, how is he unique? He was exceptional because God anointed him to be the Messiah. That was Christianity's oldest confession of faith. However, for Jews and Jewish Christians the messiahship was a functional role rather than something ontological. Only the Messiah's vocation was very special. God anointed him to restore man's divine lineage and bring about the heavenly kingdom on earth.

Later, among Gentile Christians this messianic title had no meaning or it conveyed a dangerously misleading message. They were simply not interested in a Davidic Messiah and did not want to be involved in any messianic movement designed to free Judea from Roman rule. Consequently, very early, Jesus was described as the Son of God in the Gentile Christian churches.

Jesus was "sinless" not because he was by nature unlike other men, but because he never deviated from the course set by God. So whatever uniqueness he possessed was ultimately derived from what God was trying to do through him. Unification theology agrees with the Biblical critics who deny that Jesus thought of himself as "the Suffering Servant Messiah" Christians reinterpreted the Jewish eschatological hope after their Messiah Jesus was executed. Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 became Old Testament proof texts to show that Jesus' death fulfilled prophecy.

Did the apostolic age believe that Jesus' death on the cross brought about man's total salvation? Not at all! The earliest New Testament witnesses declare that the cross was only a prelude to the advent of the messianic age in power. Apostolic Christianity is not a religion of the crucified Jesus but proclamation of the divine kingdom to come.

Why has Jesus Christ been such a powerful influence in history? Because, as an early Christian hymn put it, Jesus was the new Adam who was made in God's image. However, unlike his predecessor, the second Adam humbled himself and became God's obedient servant, even to die on the cross (Phil. 2:5 -11). From beginning to end, Jesus was dedicated to the coming kingdom.

Unification Christology is very close to that of recent theologians except at one point. Nevertheless, that one difference is derived from the Pauline concept of the Second Adam. Adam was to perfect himself by harmonizing his body and mind in total union with God's heart, thus embodying the ideal of creation. Paul calls such a person a temple of God (I Cor. 3:16). The Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church like Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa and Cyril of Alexandria describe such a perfected state as deification. They teach that the divine became human in order that the human might become divine. Protestant theologians like Ritschl maintain that because Jesus was the Messiah, he possessed the value of God for those who follow him. Similarly, Divine Principle teaches, "The man who has attained the purpose of creation would assume the divine value of God." 18

God's original aim for man was to bestow three blessings: Be fruitful, multiply and have dominion over creation (Genesis 1:28). Having achieved individual perfection (being fruitful), Adam was with God's blessing to marry Eve and produce offspring (multiply), creating a quadruple base on the family level. On that foundation Adam and Eve could receive the third blessing (have dominion), becoming lord of all creation and true parents of mankind. As the Second Adam, Jesus was supposed to carry out these responsibilities. The Messiah must inaugurate a new family of God.

Because of Adam's fall, Jesus had to subjugate Satan by eradicating the root of original sin prior to receiving the second blessing. However, conditions beyond his control made it impossible for him to complete his mission. As Jews have always pointed out, the messianic age never came. Or as conservative Protestants believe, the kingdom will arrive when the Second Advent takes place. Nevertheless, through his ministry and resurrection, Jesus laid a spiritual foundation for the continuing work of God through the Christian Church.

13 D. M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (1955), p. 11.

14 R. E. Brown. Jesus. God and Man (1967), preface, p. ix.

15 Ibid., p, 31: If New Testament times are dated from 30-100 A. D., the use of the word theos (God) for Jesus belongs to the latter half of that period.

16 Ibid., p. 31 lgnatius of Antioch (d. circa 107 A. D.) writes of "our God, Jesus Christ" and "Jesus Christ the God." By 150, 11 Clement says, "Brethren, we must think of Jesus Christ as of God" (1:1). Cf. J. Hick, ed., The Myth of the Incarnate God (1977), pp. 87-119.

17 Cf. Geza Vermes. Jesus the Jew (1973).

18 Divine Principle, p. 206.


 Download entire page and pages related to it in ZIP format
Table of Contents
Copyright Information
Tparents Home