JOPLIN, Mo. —
The German theologian Adolph von Harnack acknowledged that all we know about Jesus of Nazareth from sources other than the New Testament can be summarized on one small sheet of paper. This requires us to meet Jesus through the testimony of his friends. Each of the four Evangelists introduced him differently.
John’s Jesus is the eternal Son of God born of the heavens. He writes:
“At the beginning, God expressed himself. That personal expression was with God and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning. ... He came into the world -- the world he had created -- and the world failed to recognize him.”
In contrast, Matthew introduced Jesus by tracing his purely human Jewish ancestry back to the patriarch Abraham and to King David. Matthew’s Gospel begins:
“This is the ancestry of Jesus Christ, who was the descendent of both David and Abraham.” Then Matthew lists a bewildering number of names of fathers and sons, finally naming Joseph, “the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.”
Because Matthew was writing to persuade Jewish readers, he introduced Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah whose mission was to save Israel. John, writing much later for non-Jewish Christians scattered across the Roman Empire, presented Jesus as not only an exalted human being, but as the very model after which the world was patterned.
In yet another perspective, the Evangelist Luke introduced us to Jesus as an infant in what we know as the Christmas story: the babe of Bethlehem born in a manger. Signaling his identity, a star leads gentile kings to honor him, while angels announce his birth to the Jewish shepherds.
Taking yet another tack, the Evangelist Mark introduces us at the outset of his Gospel to Jesus as an adult, identified by his cousin, John the Baptist, as “the one who is to come.”
Christians, who regard Jesus as both God and man, have tussled with these variant introductions for 2,000 years.
Jesus preferred to refer to himself as the Son of Man but, when pressed by Pilate, he acknowledged that he was also Son of God. As it happened he was rejected by his own people on both counts and sent to his death by the Romans.
At the end of his three-year ministry, Jesus’ miracles proved neither grand nor numerous enough to convince either religious leaders or politicians of his divinity, and the human figure he cut as a provincial preacher failed to impress an indifferent nation.
John concluded that no matter how Jesus was introduced, he was rejected. “Yet wherever men did accept him he gave them the power to become sons of God.”
DAVID YOUNT is the author of 14 books. He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and firstname.lastname@example.org.