What if I Don’t Recognize Jesus in my Final Interview (or The Tricky Jesus Test)

I heard the story of the Jesus Interview at church again last Sunday. Once again, as I listened to the story* of the people who didn’t recognize Jesus, I imagined myself flubbing up an interview in a similar way. For one thing, I haven’t spent a lot of time visualizing Jesus sitting behind a desk.

I created a 9-question ‘Tricky Jesus Test’ to help me think about the notion of an elusive God, the kind of Jesus that would dismiss me from the room if I didn’t recognize him in time.

Tricky Jesus Test (9 Questions)

The idea is to score each answer from 0-4.

0 (I never feel this way), 1 (rarely feel this way), 2 (sometimes), 3 (often), 4 (I always feel this way)

  1. It’s hard to recognize answers to prayer. 
  2. I don’t know if I’m good enough.
  3. If I don’t recognize the answer that God’s trying to tell me, God will have to change the answer or stop trying to help, similar to what happened to Joseph Smith and the 116 pages.
  4. My patriarchal blessing has coded messages for me, and if I fail to notice these messages, I will veer off my life path.
  5. I would have a higher likelihood of going to the celestial kingdom if I died directly after taking the sacrament or attending the temple.
  6. The more deep and painful the sacrifices I make, the more likely I will be one of the few who is called and chosen.
  7. As I read old conference talks, I find extra commandments that only very diligent saints will notice. Following these lesser-known commandments is a way for me to prove myself.
  8. If I’m trying to make a big decision and praying for help, I harbor the fear that God’s answer is somehow right in front of my face, and I can’t see it. 
  9. Scriptural phrases like “mysteries of the kingdom” and “hidden treasures of knowledge” make my mouth water.

My Score

I don’t score a “0” on my own tricky Jesus test, although my score is a lot closer to 0 than it used to be. For that matter, I’m not even sure my Tricky Jesus test is a valid test, but it was intriguing to compose.

The Problem with the Jesus-Interview Story

The Jesus-Interview story* is based on the Bible story from Matthew 7 (Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?…And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you). At least in Matthew 7, unlike the Jesus-Interview story, there is no subterfuge about who is talking to whom. 

The Jesus-Interview story has a great twist at the end, which makes it memorable, but the story communicates the notions of 1) an elusive Jesus and 2) well-meaning people who aren’t smart enough/ calm enough/ insightful enough/ spiritual enough to spot him.

A few well-worn church stories have gone awry, such as the Nails-in-Wood and the Chewed-Gum chastity stories. Is it likewise time to rethink the Jesus-Interview story? 

Which kind of Jesus do we believe in? The seek-and-ye-shall-find Jesus or the seek-and-ye-might-get-burned Jesus? 

My solution

Whenever I hear the Jesus Interview story, I remind myself of the story of Mary at the tomb.

Mary failed to recognize Jesus; she thought he was the gardener. If this was her Jesus Interview, it seems that she would be shown the door and miss her chance. However, instead of dismissing her, Jesus said her first name. She finally saw him.

If I get a Jesus interview, I hope it’s more like Mary’s interview in the garden.

I love other scripture stories about people who didn’t recognize Jesus at first and were given various triggers to help them recognize Jesus in the end.

  • Disciples on the road to Emmaus 
  • Samuel in bed
  • The woman at the well
  • The people who wondered, “when saw we thee a stranger and took thee in?
  • The post-resurrection disciples who fished all night (John 21)

How did these characters avoid flubbing up their Jesus interviews, despite their initial failures to discern Jesus? Grace in many forms. Mary needed to hear her name; Emmaus disciples needed a ritual; Samuel needed multiple chances and someone else to explain what was going on. The woman at the well needed to ‘out’ her shame; the people in the parable needed an explanation; and the disciples needed a straight-out miracle. 

Some people might need a formal introduction (“Behold, this is my Beloved Son”) so they know who they are meeting. Other people recognize Jesus by touch, running their hands over his hands and side. The scriptures describe a variety of ways and means for God to help people open their eyes in situations in which they initially failed to recognize the divine.

“For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.”

-2 Nephi 31:3

In conclusion and to make my point with Kiwi humour, I recommend the Tricky-Jesus segment from Hunt for the Wilderpeople. “There’s two doors to choose from…he’s tricky like that, Jesus.”

Hunt for the wilderpeople scene (Funeral) 2 min


*The Jesus-Interview Story, in the version I remember hearing the most over the years.

Three men died and crossed to the other side. They waited in one room until called, one by one, into another room for an interview.

The first man’s turn came, and he entered the next room. The interviewer asked what the man knew about Jesus Christ. The man said that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Mary, preached the Gospel, and was crucified on a cross. The interviewer thanked the man and directed him out of the room.

The second man was called for his interview. When he sat down, the interviewer again asked what the man knew about Jesus Christ. The man said Jesus created the Earth, died for the sins of humanity, and was resurrected as an immortal to take his place beside God the Father. The man said he [the man] had regularly attended church and considered himself a Christian in thought and deed. The interviewer thanked the man for his time and dismissed him.

When the third man was called in for his interview, he saw the interviewer, fell to his knees, exclaiming, “Oh, Lord, my God!”


  1. I’m not sure if I’ll recognize him or not, but I don’t think he’ll care either way. I think it’s less about us identifying Jesus specifically, and more about us recognizing Jesus in those around us. “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25)

  2. Excellent post. Also, that scene from Hunt for the Wilderpeople is of the best comedic sketches ever!

  3. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Well, now that I know what to expect from Tricky Jesus, I won’t be deceived! Fool me once, Jesus, shame on you. Fool me twice …

  4. “Vegetables?”

    I love it (and the post too)!

  5. Ricky Baker says:

    Many are called but few are chosen… by the skux life.

  6. Amen.
    Excellent post. You dropped the mic- no more to be said.

  7. Had never heard the story — #seriouslysoblessed. Nice post.

  8. Your post was interesting and points out the fact we don’t know what the final interview will be like. I for one don’t believe that it will be like a court room proceeding or even a bishops interview. I suspect that it will be more like a chat with an on older brother with our parents part of it. Here is what I would hope that it might be like: (I’ll give you my short version.)

    I see that when it is my turn that I will enter a place where I will be greeted with open arms by Jesus and even given a kiss. Heavenly Mother and Father will also greet me in a similar manor, after all they are my parents. Why wouldn’t they be there? After a pleasant initial reunion, I envision that we might take a walk, in the woods or along the beach (two of my favorite places). While walking we we would engage in conversation similar to the following:

    * I would be asked about my mortal experiences — where and when I lived, my family life, what were some of my greatest challenges, personal regrets and successes, times of happiness and joy, and periods of sorrow, frustration, anger, and sadness. Perhaps I would share with them my inadequacies, and pain at multiple failures, and how I tried to succeed, but, never overcame them. They would ask me what I learned from these mortal experiences.
    * I would probably ask them about why I was sent to earth when and where, and to what family? Why my particular weaknesses, imperfections, infirmities were given to me? How they thought I did and what I could have done better. We would probably laugh and cry over my foibles and immaturity. There would be no anger over my weaknesses, sins and lack of abilities.
    *Eventually, we would reach a point where we would discuss what the future eternities would bring, and the growth and development (eternal progress) that I would want to experience. We would discuss where (which kingdom of glory) that I would best be suited to initially to give me the time and opportunities to grow and develop. (I am part of the “we can progress from kingdom to kingdom until we become like our heavenly parents” camp. Of course, not everyone may want to become a God or Goddess?) Once we reach an agreement, then we would part with another hug and kiss. For some of us it might be a long while before we see them again, for others there might not be a separation.

    Anyways, I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of a final judgment being like a court room or a Bishops interview. Since we do not have specific revelation as to what the Judgement Day will really be like, I will continue to imagine my version to be the more loving and realistic.

    Just my two cents worth.

  9. I have personal reason to believe that those who have had near death experiences show us what the final interview will be like. A “being of light” meets you soon after death and together you do a life review. Together you see what you did, and the feelings of the other person in the situation. It isn’t about judging you, but about you learning. Sort of like going through the results of your test with the teacher one on one, and discussing the questions you missed, not to grade you but for you to learn those things the test showed you had not learned properly. It is all about your learning and growth. You don’t need to “recognize” the being of light because the love is all you need to know. Some people identify the being of light as Jesus, but nonChristians have pretty much the same experience and may give this being a different name. After all, this interview isn’t about the being of light, but about the growth of the person who just died.

    What bothers me about the “final interview story” where the first couple of people fail by not recognizing Jesus, is that our success or failure is all about whether or not we recognize Jesus. So, it is all about worshipping Jesus, as if Jesus has such a fragile ego that he needs us to recognize him. And then gets his itty bitty feelings hurt if we don’t know him. I don’t think Jesus is like that. No, like others have said, I don’t think Jesus cares if we recognize him or not, but our life is about whether we recognize the *god* in our fellow man. And the life review of near death experiences is all about what we have done for others, how we treat people, so in this way it feels right to me, and then I have some personal experiences that I won’t get into here that also say this loving life review is our learning experience to grow from.

  10. J. Stapley says:

    I think that this is a smart response to the story. It seems to me that all of those Bible stories of an elusive Jesus was the point. We are supposed to act, perhaps, like the people we interact with throughout the day might be Jesus. If we do that successfully then any test in the end should be largely superfluous.

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