When I began to read Mark, one of the things that really struck me as strange was Jesus telling those he healed, his disciples, and the demons not to tell anyone who he was. “I thought we weren’t supposed to deny him as the son of God?” I thought. With that sort of perspective, the idea of hiding who I believed him to be was a strange idea. However, I figured there was some sort of explanation, and I began digging for a purpose to what’s called “The Messianic Secret”.
The first instances I would like to make mention of are the scenes where Jesus told demons to cease proclaiming his identity.
Mar 1:33-34 And all the city was gathered together at the door. (34) And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.
Mar 3:11-12 And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. (12) And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.
To some the reasoning behind Jesus doing this is rather obvious, and for me it honestly wasn’t. When I first read these two scenes in Mark I genuinely wondered why Jesus wanted them to be silenced. I thought that perhaps the demons saying that would be a more reinforcing testament to who Jesus was. My rationale was, “If anyone would know upon first glance, the demons would.” I thought that other people seeing the demons proclaim it would have instant faith thinking within themselves, “The demons proclaim this guy to be the one on first glance! That’s just too crazy to not be true.” In my head I thought that perhaps that would be like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Richard Dawkins declaring the Bible to be true! However, my reasoning upon first glance was rather foolish. I mean, who would want to become famous as the Son of God because the demons said so? It’s a laughable idea in hindsight.
There is actually a lot more reason to tell the demons to hush than to not. First off, in today’s American society, having a demon declare you as a great Christian would be equal to Hugh Heffner, Adolf Hitler, the Korean Tyrant, or etc. declaring that you are a great Christian. It’s hardly an acceptable notion due to the origin of the proclamation. This would be especially harsh on Christ since the Pharisees accused him of having his powers through Satan! Overall, it was a smart move on Jesus’ part.
I think this writer sums up this point rather well, “Demons were hardly reputable sources of information, and Jesus would not want people to base their faith in him (or anything at all) on what demons had said. HSOTB points out that the demons’ statements would only lend more credence to the “Jesus serves Satan” theory the Pharisees tried to promote in Mark 3:22.” (http://www.rationalchristianity.net/jesus_secret.html)
Another idea that I read about deals with Jesus’ demonstration of authority. “A second possible reason for Jesus silencing the demons may be to demonstrate that He has authority over the demons.” (http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/qdemonsspeak.html) By Jesus having the ability to tell demons to shut up, and them actually shut up… that’s rather impressive. Maybe it’s just my idea of a demon, but when I think of a demonic being I think of a being containing every essence of foolishness discussed in proverbs, and every characteristic of evil described in the Bible: stubbornness, pride, a multitude of words, and complete lack of respect for authority. If my idea of a demonic being is correct, and Jesus looked at one and essentially said, “Shut up,” with their immediate obedience, Jesus was displaying some great power and authority. To bring this full circle to my previous point, let me paint you a picture.
I’m a bystander watching a dirty man and some followers walk through a village. I see a person I know to be possessed by a demon look up and say, “You’re the Son of God!” Based upon my previous point I would immediately think one thing, “Lying demon. He’s filth! Not a king!” However, immediately after hearing that I heard the filthy man say, “Don’t you say another word,” in a stern, commanding voice. And the demon obeys.
That would be quite a sight! If I was to see that scene occur, I believe that I would be convinced. Therefore, another reason Jesus might have done that is to demonstrate his authority.
A third reason would be a matter of timing. Due to the Jews misconception of what the Messiah was supposed to be, if demons started shouting that Jesus was the Messiah he would be off on the wrong foot. The Jews were expecting like a (to keep it relevant) Chris Kyle of war heroes. They were expecting a David of kings. They were expecting to see some grandiose person that had an unfathomably perfect royalty about him— definitely not a lowly servant. If the demons were to give it away too early, Jesus would have been scrutinized so harshly that he never would have gotten to teach anyone. “A third possible reason for silencing the demons may relate to the popular misconceptions of the Messiah held by many in first-century Judaism. The Jews were expecting the coming of a glorious conquering Messiah who would deliver the Jews from Roman domination. If a demon prematurely blurted out that Jesus was the Messiah, the Jews who were present might interpret the term “Messiah” in this mistaken sense.” (http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/qdemonsspeak.html) So one reason could have merely been timing, and we all know that timing is everything with most things.
Therefore, Jesus had at least three valid reasons to silence the demons: their lack of honor, to display authority, and bad timing. Furthermore, I am often one to think that if reasons don’t contradict in the Bible, then all reasons apply. It may have only been one of those reasons or it could have been a hundred other reasons that I don’t notice, but my opinion is that it most definitely served many purposes.
The next cases to observe are those that Jesus healed with his miracles.
Mar 1:40-45 And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. (41) And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. (42) And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. (43) And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; (44) And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. (45) But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.
Mar 5:42-43 And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. (43) And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat.
Mar 7:32-37 And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. (33) And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; (34) And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. (35) And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. (36) And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; (37) And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
Mar 8:23-26 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. (24) And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. (25) After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. (26) And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.
Once again, upon first glance I just thought, “Huh?” I mean, come on! I’m told by every church service, and many other passages that I have to proclaim Jesus, why is he doing this??? However, after doing research, I began to see the meticulous Jesus that is seen in the Gospels. Once again, I’m going to go with the more than one bird with one stone idea.
(On a side note, I would like to throw out there that many different reasons for one action that don’t contradict could be a parallel for the Gospels: four different observations of one action. None contradict, and all could be correct at the same time.)
“The point of the miracles wasn’t the miracles; it was to direct people to listen to what Jesus had to say.” (http://www.compellingtruth.org/Jesus-not-tell-miracles.html) This quote sums up one of the main reasons Jesus could have had for not wanting his miracles to be spread around everywhere: the miracles weren’t the main objective! The main reason the miracles were done was to show compassion, prove his power, be a catalyst for belief, and draw attention to his teachings. Therefore, it would be somewhat necessary to take the attention off the miracles, and place it on his teaching.
“If everyone was crowding around him trying to touch him and clamoring to be healed, it would be harder for him to preach – and preaching, not healing, was his primary objective (Lk 4:42-43). It’s also possible that Jesus wanted to be modest or at least not have people think he had worldly motives – HSOTB points out that he told the demon-possessed man in Gerasene to tell his family what God had done for him, not what Jesus had done for him (Mk 5:19).” (http://www.rationalchristianity.net/jesus_secret.html) This point draws attention to another aspect of how Jesus’ purpose was to teach— not do miracles. Jesus wanted to portray himself as a modest man, not one that desired attention.
The third reason is the same as with the demons: timing. The Jews’ terrible concept of the Messiah created problems in allowing him to be known immediately. It would have created more controversy way too early, it would have brought untimely hostile attention toward him, and people would have disregarded him way too soon. “Some didn’t believe there would be a Messiah; others thought there would be two Messiahs (a king descended from David and a Levite high priest); still others were waiting for a warrior-king to overthrow the Romans. If Jesus told everyone he was the Messiah, people would assume he was something he wasn’t, and he’d have to get past their misconceptions before he could start teaching them anything.” (http://www.rationalchristianity.net/jesus_secret.html) We can see a specific instance of Jesus exercising this rationale in the healing of the leper in Mk. 1:40-45. “In addition, Christ, though he had cleansed the leper, still required him to be obedient to the law of the land – to go at once to the priest— It was of further importance that the priest should pronounce it to be a genuine cure, that there might be no prejudice among the Jews against its being a real miracle.” (http://www.gotquestions.org/do-not-tell.html) Since the Pharisees were out to get him, it seems reasonable that in this instance Jesus wouldn’t want it known that he had cleansed the leper before declared clean lest the High Priests be persuaded to declare him not clean. How meticulous.
Jesus’ want for those that he healed to tell no one also serves as a timing element. He didn’t want people to focus on his miracles too early or they wouldn’t care about his teachings. He didn’t want people to swarm around him to the point that he couldn’t even teach. He didn’t want the people to know he was messiah too quickly or they would all disregard him and his teachings since he wasn’t the quintessential royal heir. All three of these reasons are different yet coincide perfectly together pointing to one key element: timing.
Moreover, I declare that the timing was one of the most important roles in each occurrence. To prove this let’s look at the last example of Jesus hiding his identity: his disciples. While reading the Gospels, it became clear to me that Jesus never really declared his identity beyond loose references to prophets like “Son of Man” from Daniel. He never even identified himself to his disciples— they had to declare it themselves.
Mar 8:29-30 And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. (30) And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.
Moreover, even after they had declared it and seen a majestic occurrence on a mountain, they still had to keep silent.
Mar 9:9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.
Why did Jesus hide it from them until they discovered it for themselves? “Jesus wanted them to see his nature before they learned his title.” (http://www.daily-bible-study-tips.com/Website%20RQ%20Don-t%20Tell) Why did Jesus tell them not to tell anyone afterward? “Jesus wanted them to see his nature before they learned his title.” Like I said, throughout every explanation I have given there is one element that has been consistent: timing. What about timing? Why is timing so important? Two reasons: Jesus wanted people to prove it to themselves, and Jesus wanted people to focus on his teachings. If Jesus had announced his title too soon, neither of those things would have happened.
With the demons, Jesus didn’t want a source without honor declaring him as the Son of God because it would take away from his teachings. He also didn’t because of bad timing. He needed people to convince themselves he was the Messiah before telling them; otherwise they never would have listened to him. With those he healed, Jesus didn’t want people distracted from his teaching with the miracles. Furthermore, he didn’t want too much skepticism too early lest they never hear his message or believe. Even with the disciples, he wanted them to hear his teachings and to convince themselves. The whole purpose of Jesus telling others not to talk about his miracles or his identity was to serve a purpose: focus on his message, show his good character, and to allow others to come to terms with him being the Messiah themselves. All throughout the Gospels Jesus rebukes those that seek a sign, and will have no faith without a sign. Jesus clearly wanted the “sign” of him being the Messiah to be his teachings and his character. Moreover, he wanted them all to recognize their folly in what they thought the Messiah would be. He wanted them to see how servitude was what he was all about. He wanted them to see that love was his message. He wanted them to see that serving God was everything—not destruction of the Romans and being at peace in Canaan.
Therefore, whatever purpose you may find in Jesus telling people to hush about his identity and the miracles, I believe you will find it points to one direction: timing and his message. The critical part to understand is that his message would have been impeded with bad timing. He showed them his nature and his teachings, forced them to see who he was on their own, and he did it all as a dual proof of his message and the audience’s folly. I imagine the occurrence like so:
Many follow and hear his teachings and see miracles done. They all still expect the Messiah to be a war hero, so they don’t think he’s the Messiah. They don’t understand who this guy is, all they know is that he teaches wonderful things and that he does wonderful things. However, the more time that goes on, the more miracles they see, and the more authority he shows the more they begin to understand that this isn’t just some ordinary guy. They watch his life and they begin to notice that something more is going on. He declares to be the King, the Christ. They kill him. He resurrects. And they all begin to see how foolish they were. They all begin to see how wrong their idea of the Messiah was. They all begin to see how that the nature of Jesus was the nature of the Son of God. Their convincing of themselves that He is the Son of God points them back to his teachings, and that becomes the focus. They begin to focus on what he taught. Jesus’ purpose was served.
For me, it’s really quite an amazing thing to visualize and think about. The depth of the story, the immense amount of thought such a scheme would have taken to conjure, and how the whole thing seems so confusing yet ends up pointing to one main idea: Jesus the Messiah’s teachings. It’s like Ocean’s Eleven but not stealing, and far more crazy. When I put myself in the story all I can think is how flipped upside down my world would have been.
To concisely wrap it all up, Jesus in Mark shows an intense amount of meticulousness. Every time he told someone not to talk about his miracles or his identity he did it to serve a purpose, and that purpose was to stress his message and to avoid bad timing.