Real People

Why Jesus’ Humanity Matters To Us At Christmas—And All Year ‘Round.

Gary B. Swanson
Real People

Though the conclusions of Egyptologists are not completely decided, there is general agreement over some of the more significant historic times of the pharaohs. 

Ahmose was the founder of the 18th dynasty in the sixteenth century B.C. when he overcame the Asian/Semitic Hyksos and expelled them from Egypt. Two generations later, it was Thutmose I who, fearing the rising power of the Hebrew descendants of Israel, declared the death decree on all their male children. The historical and archaeological record, as it has been put together by scholars, contains a great many records of significant events.

But a very personal and poignant moment appears in the accounts of Thutmose’s daughter, Hatshepsut. She is the very one who appears in the Scriptural account of the times. One day she “went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw [a] basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw [a] baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. ‘This is one of the Hebrew babies,’ she said” (Exod. 2:5, 6).
At this the elder sister of the baby in the papyrus basket, who had been watching over it from a distance, presented herself to the daughter of the Pharaoh. “‘Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?’

“‘Yes, go,’ she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother.

“Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.’ So the woman took the baby and nursed him.

“When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, ‘I drew him out of the water’” (vss. 7–10).

In this close and very personal way, Scripture provides the story in which the man who later led the children of Israel away from their oppression in Egypt was actually, historically, the adoptive son of Hatshepsut—the daughter of the pharaoh of Egypt.

It is sometimes—maybe too often—possible that even faithful and regular readers of Scripture may lose sight of the fact that the characters in the historical accounts were real, actual people. But these were not characters of myth. Right down to their DNA, they lived their everyday lives basically as we do today. They experienced hunger, sadness, pain, and even moments of elation just as we do. The daughter of pharaoh described there in the second chapter of the book of Exodus—authored personally by her own adoptive son—took her bath in the waters of the margin of the Nile River, “felt sorry” for the babe in that basket in the reeds, and adopted him as her own.

The accounts of characters in the Old and New Testaments tell of people who were as literally, physically existent at their times as that person standing ahead of you in this morning’s supermarket checkout line. They were more—or it may be better to say “less”—than characters in a story. Hearing that she, at the age of 90 years old, would become a mother, “Sarah laughed to herself” (Gen. 18:12). Samson came back from Timnah, where he had fallen in love with a woman there and demanded of his father, “‘Get her for me. She’s the right one for me’” (Judg. 14:3). Out there in the desert waste of Sinai, the adoptive son of Hatshepsut angrily faced the children of Israel: “‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’” (Num. 20:10). David, while at home rather than out with his army where he should have been, “walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful.” And he “sent messengers to get her” (2 Sam. 11:2, 4). These were real people, experiencing real human feelings. 

And among the many other characters that appear in Scripture, there is one Other whose existence there—and in history—demands much greater attention.

Jesus, the babe born in a stable in Bethlehem at a universally pivotal moment in human history, was real people. Throughout His shortened life on this earth, He was subject to the entire range of human feeling, “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb. 4:15). The evidence of His personal humanity occurs throughout His story in the Gospels.

From His childhood, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52). And the Gospels refer frequently to personal moments in which He showed His humanness. At Jacob’s well in Samaria, He asked a woman, “‘Will you give me a drink?’” (John 4:7). More than once the Gospels mention Jesus’ love for others. When a man came to Him, asking how he may inherit eternal life, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’” (Mark 10:21). And the apostle John also observed, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). But he also vividly records the incident when just before Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus “made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables” (2:15). And, at other particularly emotional moments, Jesus was so moved that He wept (Luke 19:41; John 11:35). 

In two of the Gospel accounts appears an unusually detailed and eye-witnessed experience of Jesus early in His ministry. One day He and His disciples encountered a man who was known to have been blind since birth. The disciples, with little apparent sensitivity to the man’s disability but within his hearing, asked Jesus whether the man’s blindness was the result of his own sin or that of his parents.

Jesus answered the question directly: “‘Neither,’” He said (John 9:3). And then He turned to the blind man and, in an astonishing way, brought sight to him for the first time in his life. “He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes” (vs. 6). From countless other examples of Jesus’ healings in Scripture, it’s clear that He could surely have restored the man’s sight simply by word of command. But in this instance, He resorted to an act that, when you think about it, provided vivid evidence of His own, personal humanness. And in another encounter, He was witnessed as healing another of deafness through the application of His own, bodily saliva (Mark 8:33). Jesus was real people—real physical people.

This idea of Jesus’ actual humanity, in fact, may be enhanced a bit further in thought about these two incidents in His life in which the very mundane mention is made of His saliva. As everyone knows by now, two millennia later, saliva may contain DNA evidence of one’s ancestral origins. With this in mind, that first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew may come to mind in which Jesus’ own lineage is traced back, generation by generation, to Abraham—and elsewhere in Scripture from Abraham to Adam himself. And, in doing so, one cannot overlook the fact that this splendid lineage actually includes adulterers, prostitutes, and murderers. The real humanity of Jesus Christ may be reflected in the almost casual mention of His saliva.

Jesus came to this earth “‘wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:12). Can it be possible to imagine a more commonplace, more earthly, origin than this? Jesus, too, was real people. He was that—and infinitely, transcendentally more. And for this we may be eternally thankful. It makes the promise of an eternity possible to us each.

Gary B. Swanson has authored articles and columns for the Adventist Review for more than 25 years.  He retired from the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists as associate director of the Sabbath School/Personal Ministries Department.

  1. William H. Shea, “Exodus, Date of the,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Geoffrey W. Bromiley et al., eds. vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1982), pp. 230–238).
  2. Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural references are from The New International Version of the Bible.
Gary B. Swanson

Gary B. Swanson