The Jesus I Never Knew is divided into three sections: "Who He Was," "Why He Came," and "What He Left Behind." Philip Yancey begins by saying that the figure of Jesus presented to him when he was a boy seemed remote and inaccessible. He could not reconcile the omnipotent God who was perfect in his holiness with the friend in whom one was encouraged to confide. This prompted him to reexamine who Jesus was and what he accomplished.
First, Yancey examines Jesus's birth from a historical perspective, commenting on the danger of Mary's position and the cultural and political situation in Palestine at the time. He remarks on the subtle ways in which the young Jesus was tempted by Satan and imagines how modern-day journalists might describe the words and actions of this extraordinary figure.
In his examination of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, and the miracles performed by Jesus, Yancey frequently compares ancient and modern responses, emphasizing that much of what Jesus said and did was as difficult for his contemporaries to accept as it is for people now. He often brings in secular references, from Russian novelists to Hollywood films. Finally, the author looks at the legacy Jesus left for his followers and the way that churches today carry this on, or fail to do so.