Who was Jesus?

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Matthew 1:1 

Dear members and friends, 

About 12 years ago, when I just arrived at the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church, I thought that I would like to begin my ministry here by sharing the stories of Jesus in the Four Gospels. Now I am feeling that perhaps it is fitting to go back to the stories of Jesus. Before I begin with these stories, I would like to share a two-part message that covers the identity of Jesus and his key messages. 

In particular, there are three mysteries regarding Jesus’s identity. The first arises from his genealogy. The Gospel of Matthew proudly begins with the statement, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” What follows this statement is the actual genealogy connecting Jesus all the way to Adam. The obvious and simple problem with this account is that Jesus was not biologically connected to Joseph, who was the descendant of David. What it means is that Jesus is not a descendant of Judah biologically speaking. All the people in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew were biologically connected except Jesus. Some scholars argue that perhaps it was Mary who was the descendant of David. However, the problem with this is that we have no idea whose line Mary was from as far as the Four Gospels are concerned. Thus, the actual genealogy of Jesus remains a mystery.  

The second mystery arises from the miraculous conception. According to science on which we built the modern world, a child cannot be conceived by a female alone. Therefore, the logical conclusion should be that Jesus was a child of Mary and another male who is not Joseph, whoever that might have been. But the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are very clear that Mary “was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) How would such a thing be possible? The truth is that we have no explanation for it as far as our human knowledge and understanding is concerned. Thus, the conception and birth of Jesus remains a mystery. 

Finally, there is little known about how and where Jesus grew up. Interestingly, the Gospels Mark and John never mention the childhood of Jesus; only Matthew and Luke mention a few things about his childhood but without any details. However, what all four Gospels seem to agree on is that Jesus was respected and acknowledged by the Jews as “teacher,” even by the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 12:38). Jesus might have received a certain training to earn such social acknowledgement, especially being a son of a carpenter. Yet at the same time, his wisdom and teachings could not have been from training offered by other human beings, meaning it could not have been fully of human origin. Jesus awed the people with his wisdom, authority, and power of miracles that proved he was more than just a human being or a mere prophet. Thus, the source of Jesus’s wisdom and power stays as a mystery.     

All these mysteries may cause trouble to our hearts if we try to explain them by our own logic that is based on the physical world. However, if Jesus was and is truly Divine Incarnate, it might be rational to conclude that the identity of Jesus is beyond human comprehension. What matters the most about Jesus might not be found in solving such mysteries using human logic, but could be embodied within us spiritually by a life of living his teachings. 

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee

The second part of this message on Jesus’s key teachings can be found here.