Why Did Jesus Tell People Not to Mention Him?

Why Did Jesus Tell People Not to Mention Him?

Jesus often told people not to speak of Him. For example, in Mark 1:40-45, after Jesus healed a leper,

He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.

There are many other examples of this so-called “Messianic Secret” in Mark:
• Jesus was not permitting demons to speak, “because they knew who He was” (1:34,
• Jesus raised a girl from the dead, but only permitted Peter, James, John, and the
girl’s parents to witness it. “He gave them strict orders that no one should know”
• He healed a deaf man, “and He gave them orders not to tell anyone, but the more
He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (7:36).
• Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Christ, but “He warned them to tell no one
about Him” (8:30).
• Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, but “He gave them orders
not to relate to anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man rose from the dead”
• He cast a very stubborn demon out of a boy, but “He did not want anyone to know
about it” (9:30).

Some scholars call this “the Messianic Secret.” Why did Jesus want His identity and actions hidden on these occasions? Was this a Bruce Wayne / Clark Kent routine that worked poorly anyway? Not likely. After all, Jesus traveled all Palestine teaching openly. He performed many other miracles brazenly: healing the paralytic who had been let down through the roof (2:1-12), healing on the Sabbath (3:1-6), feeding 5,000 (6:33-44). Jesus sent out His disciples to proclaim the coming kingdom (6:7), and on one occasion he sent out a cured man to “report what great things the Lord has done for you” (5:19). Plus, He commands us to evangelize boldly today.
So, what possible purpose could it have served for Jesus, on any occasion, to disguise His true nature and power?

We might consider three possibilities. The first is practical. Jesus wanted to reach a lot of people and getting mobbed in one place didn’t help. When news of His cleansing the leper spread, Jesus could no longer enter a city (1:45)! Sometimes He had to slip away just to take a breather (6:30-32, 7:24). Having large crowds “pressing in on Him” (5:24), having to get into a boat just to be able to address the crowd (4:1), were not the best ways to spread the word of God far and wide.

The second deals with the purpose of Jesus’ miracles. Jesus had a mission to accomplish greater than physical healing. If He had come just to open a hospital, advertising His healing powers would be profitable. But, if His healing powers were signs pointing toward a bigger truth, then controlling the amount of healing makes sense. He did it enough to prove His nature as the Son of God but tried not to allow people to become distracted by it (John 6:26, 66).

The third deals with the timing of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knew He would be crucified. He had to cram a lot of preaching and teaching into a short few months. He had to fulfill all that the Scriptures said about Him. He could not let His popularity attract the attention of the scribes and Pharisees until the time was right. Once Jesus stated the matter of His crucifixion plainly (8:31-32, 9:31, 10:32-34) He stopped being secretive.

Jesus didn’t plan to keep His identity as the Messiah secret forever. He released the information with divinely perfect timing. No one could truly understand Jesus’ mission until it was fully accomplished. The Jews had too many misconceptions about the character of the Messiah. The Apostles needed hindsight and the Holy Spirit. While Jesus was unfolding His nature, He needed eyewitnesses of it; not until it was finished would He need explainers of it (9:9, and see John 16:12, 1 Peter 1:10-12).

In this way, Jesus’ whole life was like a parable. It revealed the truth to the open-minded and left the closed-minded in the dark. In Mark’s account, Jesus never calls Himself the Son of God (although, He accepted that designation from others, because it was true). He called Himself “the Son of Man.” This could mean no more than “a human being.” It’s as non-threatening and humble a title as one can imagine (although, at the same time, it expresses the monumental truth of the incarnation). But for those willing to search it out, it refers to the King of Daniel 7:9-14.

Now that all His works are completed, we can look at the totality of the evidence, and understand who He really is, the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31)!