And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:43–44; cf. Mark 1:23–25; Matthew 16:16; Luke 4:34; 5:14)
The “Messianic Secret” is a theological topic used frequently by those who oppose the true nature of Jesus and attempt to discount His earthly ministry. The Messianic Secret theology was developed about 100 years ago by Wilhelm Wrede, who claimed that Jesus did not think He was the Messiah (i.e., the Christ) and obviously not God the Son. Such a teaching is clearly not in line with the plain reading of Scripture and attacks both the authority of God’s Word and the gospel itself!
Jesus’s urging to keep His true nature quiet at the onset of His ministry actually argues for His divinity.
Oftentimes we hear the argument made that if Jesus was truly the Son of God, then why was He so keen on hiding it from certain people? Standing on one’s reason alone, such a question can seem perfectly rational, even valid. However, if we humbly examine Scripture in more detail, we learn that Jesus’s urging to keep His true nature quiet at the onset of His ministry actually argues for His divinity.
Messianic expectations were rife throughout Palestine in the first century, due in large part to heavy Roman rule in the region. Religious leaders and zealots fervently anticipated the coming of a messianic redeemer, capable of restoring Israel to its pre-exilic status. As Jesus entered this political-religious setting, He came as the Messiah. However, Jesus arrived differently than the religious elite of the day would have anticipated. Where many expected the glorious return of the kingdom of Israel, Jesus spoke of the arrival of the kingdom of God. Where Israelites anticipated the reestablished authority over their neighboring enemies, Jesus exuded authority over the ultimate enemy, Satan, and over all things visible and invisible. And, where many hoped for a healing of the land and economy of Israel, Jesus brought physical healing to individual people.
So then, why did Jesus insist on keeping His nature hidden from certain people? In order to answer this question, we must examine the gospel in its complete context.
The Greater Context of the Gospel
When we step back and look at the gospel message in its entirety, what we discover is that Jesus had absolutely no intention of stifling His nature or His ultimate message. Jesus openly proclaimed that He is the “I am” (i.e., the ever-existent God) directly to the Jews in John 8:58. In fact, Jesus insisted that His message be heard by more people than even the religious elite of His day would have been comfortable allowing.
And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Mark 3:5–6)
And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled. (Mark 5:18–20)
As one continues to read the Gospel of Mark in context, what becomes evident is the fact that the greatest resistance to the message and ministry of Jesus would actually come from Israel’s religious leaders. Nevertheless, Jesus insisted on continuing His ministry with the expectation that His gospel would reach the hearts and minds of all nations (Mark 13:10; cf. Acts 2:5; Colossians 1:6, 23; Romans 1:8; Romans 16:26).
Mark 3 reveals that Jesus’s progress in Israel would be consistently challenged and attacked by the very men who claimed to identify with God (Yahweh). For this reason, any evidence or proclamation of His messianic nature would be a stumbling block to reaching the people of Israel, due to the inevitable response such displays would evoke from the Pharisees.
However, Mark 5 shows that Jesus did not have such hindrances to His ministry outside of some of the Jewish elite. While in the region of the Gadarenes, which was populated by a mix of Gentiles and Jews, Jesus did not hide His divine nature as God and even commanded the once demon-possessed man to tell his friends what had happened (Mark 5:19, cf. v. 7). The man took it upon himself to go so far as to report to the citizens of ten different cities exactly what the Lord had done for him. In a region that possessed fewer preconceived notions of who the Messiah would be, Jesus did not cover up His true nature to the same degree.
This leads up to the main reason why Jesus kept His divine nature at bay at certain times and with certain people. It was due in large part to timing. Consider John 7:6–8.
Then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.”
Jesus’s time would fully come, but not at these stages listed earlier in the Gospels. When the time had fully come (Mark 14:41), Jesus was betrayed by the leading Jewish authorities (elders, chief priests, and the high priest; Mark 14:53ff.) and was handed over to the leading Roman representative authority in Judea, Pontius Pilate. The Jewish authorities’ ultimate testimony against Christ, the King of kings, was that they had “no king but Caesar” (John 19:15), while Christ affirmed His divine nature and was led to the Cross on our behalf.
Conclusion: No Secret at All
Thus what the gospel, in full context, reveals is that the “Messianic Secret” of Jesus was really no secret at all. Rather, it was the loving action of our God incarnate, wisely extending the impact and reach of His earthly ministry. As a result, all subsequent recordings of Jesus seemingly “hiding” His messianic nature can now be viewed through the lens of a generous God delicately doing things at the right time for maximum impact. We would expect nothing less from a God who according to the Apostle Paul “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
May we all continue to witness the endless avenues by which God continues to pursue His people today!