Did Jesus keep his identity and message secret?


Why would Jesus try to keep his identity a secret?
Why did Jesus speak in parables if no one could understand them?
Was Jesus lying when he said he taught nothing in secret?
Why did Jesus later instruct the disciples to tell everyone about him?


Mark 1:34 (also 3:11-12)

Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Matthew 16:20 (also Mk 8:29-30, Lk 9:20-21)

Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

Mark 1:40-44 (also Mt 8:1-4, Lk 5:12-15)

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them."

Mark 4:10-12 (also Mt 13:10-15, Lk 8:10)

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

"'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'"

Matthew 28:19-20

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

John 18:20

"I have spoken openly to the world," Jesus replied. "I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret."


Why would Jesus try to keep his identity a secret?

The following response is based partly on an article in Hard Sayings of the Bible (HSOTB) by Peter H. Davids.

There are three separate cases to consider:

  1. Jesus wouldn't let demons say who he was
  2. Jesus healed people but told them not to tell anyone
  3. Jesus told his disciples he was the Messiah, but told them to keep it secret

1. The demons presented two problems: not only were they telling people who Jesus was before he wanted them to know (see #3), they were doing it in a way that wasn't going to help him. 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.

2. One problem with people's spreading the word about Jesus healing them was that it resulted in large crowds following him around (Mk 1:41-45, 3:9-10). 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).

3. HSOTB says that contemporary Jews had many misconceptions of who the Messiah was going to be. 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. Instead, Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, which could be interpreted as "human being" (as used in Ezekiel) or as meaning he had power and authority from God (as in Daniel 7:13). Jesus did tell some people he was the Messiah when they were ready/able to understand it, e.g. his disciples and the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:25-26).

HSOTB also suggests that Jesus tried to keep things quiet to avoid rousing the authorities - they could have arrested him or otherwise hindered his preaching before he was done.

Why did Jesus speak in parables if no one could understand them?

People could understand them if they wanted to - if they were willing to seek an explanation and accept what was being said. When the disciples asked for an explanation, it was given (and not just to the twelve disciples, but the others who had stayed to listen). Thus Jesus was not intentionally preventing people from learning; he was the one giving them opportunities to learn, and if his words remained a mystery to his audience, it was the audience's choosing. In fact, in the verses following this passage in Mark, Jesus says, "For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mk 4:22-23).

Was Jesus lying when he said he taught nothing in secret?

Jesus taught openly, often speaking to large crowds. While he told the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah, he did tell others when it was appropriate (Jn 4:25-26), and the Jews understood that he was claiming to be God (Jn 5:17-18). And as explained in the previous answer, the meaning of the parables was available to those who were willing to listen and pursue explanations.

Why did Jesus later instruct the disciples to tell everyone about him?

Jesus kept (or tried to keep) his identity and miraculous powers from being renown while he was alive, but after his resurrection the reasons for secrecy listed above no longer applied. You could say that the good news about Christ was now complete - it wasn't just that the Messiah had come, but also that he had died for our sins and been resurrected - and so now was the time to start spreading it, not before.


Other responses (offsite)

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