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Why didn’t Jesus openly say he was the Messiah? (PART 1)

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

Description: Jesus told his disciples not to say that he was the Messiah, yet asked some he healed to tell everyone what God had done. What was going on?

His disciples must have been confused and frustrated. Sometimes he would ask those he’d cured to tell everyone what God had done for them; at other times he would demand that they say nothing. And he told his disciples point blank not to tell anyone he was the Messiah. There has to be an explanation.

The man possessed by demons

Let’s start with a well known healing miracle and pick Mark’s version. In 5.1-20, he tells how Jesus saves a man possessed by demons – legions of them. After sending the demons into a herd of pigs, Jesus tells the man, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.’ This was despite the man asking to be allowed to go with Jesus. The reason? The region where the incident occurred was (at least partly) Gentile – otherwise a herd a pigs wouldn’t have been involved. Jesus’ ministry was to Israel (Matthew 15.24) so, in effect, he wanted the man to become an early Gentile emissary.

However, there are more 'don’t tell' than 'tell' examples. Here’s just one. Mark 1.40-45 relates how Jesus heals a man with leprosy. After curing him, Jesus says, ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone.’ However, verse 45 adds, ‘Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.’

Credible motive

This last verse provides a credible motive for Jesus wanting many of those he cured to remain silent. Even so, it’s doubtful whether this proved too much of a limitation as he often went off alone to pray, e.g. on a mountainside or other solitary place. More significant was the people’s motive in coming ‘to him from everywhere’, and we’ll touch on this again in Part 2.

Moving on, let’s look at Jesus’ instruction to his close disciples. His reaction after Peter had correctly answered the question, ‘Who do you say I am?’ is very firm. Peter had replied, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16.15-16). The gospel continues emphatically (16.20), ‘Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.’

We’ll explore this further Part 2

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


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