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Exploring the mystery: why didn't Jesus proclaim he was the Messiah?

Description: There’s a mysterious thread around how far Jesus went in proclaiming himself to be the long awaited Messiah. There has to be an explanation.



Introduction

A sense of mystery envelops Jesus' ministry, centred on his willingness or reluctance to explicitly proclaim himself as the promised Messiah. This blog explores a range of events in which Jesus could have openly declared his Messiahship, yet chose to do it his way.


Through these examples, we discover a nuanced approach that reveals profound insights into the nature of Jesus' mission.


1. Selective Revelation

The first mysterious aspect of Jesus' ministry is his inconsistent instructions to those he healed. For example, in Mark 1.40-45, he tells a healed leper to say nothing about it, yet in Mark 5.1-20, he encourages the Gadarene demoniac to spread word of his divine healing. Such seemingly conflicting stances disclose that Jesus was being strategic, i.e. responding according to the situation.


Matthew 15.24 affirms that Jesus’ ministry was to Israel; the demoniac lived in a (predominantly) Gentile region (the Decapolis) – a point endorsed by the involvement of pigs. In effect, Jesus was commissioning the man to become an early Gentile emissary.


On the other hand, the leper – despite being asked to keep quiet – went about talking freely about his cure. This had the effect of forcing Jesus to abandon going openly into towns and, instead, stay in lonelier places (Mark 1.45). Although this did not frustrate Jesus’ essential mission, it certainly didn’t help – hence Jesus’ different approaches.


2. The 'keep quiet about it' mandate

Matthew 16.16 unveils a pivotal moment when Peter understands that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus’ initial reaction was to tell Peter he was especially blessed; that Peter would be the rock upon which Jesus would build his church. Yet, having said this and more about Peter’s future, Jesus firmly instructed his disciples to tell no one.


This apparent paradox aligns with the Messianic Secret motif some believe to have been first developed in the Gospel of Mark, i.e. Jesus specifically instructing those who witnessed his miracles or recognised him as the Messiah not to reveal his identity. This once more points to Jesus acting strategically.


3. Political and Religious Context

In Roman-occupied Judea, the Jews ardently anticipated a messianic figure to liberate them. Times were tough and the Romans were in charge. News that the Messiah had arrived would have been mind-blowing, but expectations would have varied widely. The Jewish leadership wanted a political and religious figurehead to challenge Roman rule, the Zealots were freedom fighters who actively sought to drive out the Romans, while ordinary Jews simply longed for liberation.


Jesus would have ignited political turmoil had he openly declared himself as the Messiah. He would have drawn unwanted attention from the Roman authorities, potentially jeopardising his intended spiritual message. It made perfect sense not to invite such perilous scrutiny before its time.


4. Divine Timing

In John 7.1-9, Jesus acknowledges the significance of divine timing, indicating that his actions were intricately woven into God's plan. In response to prompting by his (unbelieving) brothers, who were egging him on to declare himself publicly, he said his time had not yet fully come.


Further, the episode in Luke 4.16-21, where Jesus declares his ministry while reading from Isaiah, underscores his commitment to aligning events with God's appointed time, i.e. for the revelation of his Messiahship. The positive, negative, and puzzled reactions to his claim about the prophecy being fulfilled that day are significant. The verses that follow (Luke 4.22-30) show that, far from embracing Jesus and his testimony, those in the synagogue drove him to the edge of a cliff, intending to throw him off. Yet he walked away. The timing wasn’t right for anything else.


5. Miracles as Testimonies

Performing miracles was hugely instrumental in promoting the good news. They drew thousands to him. However, their primary purpose wasn't simply to affirm him as a gifted healer. Their intent went beyond mere demonstrations of power. They fed speculation and served as compelling testimonies about Jesus’ Messianic identity.


Matthew 13.54 tells us that people were amazed and asked where Jesus could have come by such wisdom and power. Amazed they may have been, but amazement isn’t belief. Many couldn’t see beyond the supernatural events themselves, and Jesus didn’t want miracles alone to become the magnet that attracted crowds.


He wanted his preaching to be that magnet. He wanted to reveal truths about the Kingdom of God and make people ponder his teaching and parables so that they came to see the truth for themselves (though he gave deeper understanding to his close disciples as they needed to be prepared for what was to happen). Check out the reference to Mark 1.38 below – ‘7. Spreading the message’ – to see the priority Jesus gave to preaching.


6. Implicit Declarations

In a very real sense, Jesus did declare himself as Messiah. It was people who failed to identify him – and, sadly, some people still make the same mistake. There are many references to Jesus being open without being explicit. For example, Mark 2.1-12 tells of a paralysed man who was lowered through a roof because the house in which Jesus was preaching couldn’t hold all who wanted to hear.


When Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven, he was clearly asserting his authority to forgive. Some watching teachers of the law considered this blasphemy because only God could forgive sins (Mark 2.7). But Jesus wasn’t blaspheming and, to prove it, he then told the healed paralytic to get up and go home – which he did in full view – this time leaving the teachers as well as everyone else amazed.


Yet notwithstanding such open and incontrovertible evidence, many refused to accept the testimony. Moreover, had Jesus proclaimed his Messiahship in words, it may well have triggered premature and serious consequences. We need only look ahead to the deadly storm being generated by the religious leaders.


7. Spreading the message

Other instances of Jesus affirming his Messianic credentials include the times he sent out the Twelve (Luke 9.1-6) and Seventy Two (Luke 10.1-24) to spread the gospel, heal, expel demons and proclaim the Kingdom of God. Note Jesus’ warning in Luke 10.16: anyone who rejects his emissaries, rejects him; anyone who rejects him, rejects God, who sent him.


Clearly, neither journey was intended to be secret; quite the opposite. Jesus had a core mission and was strategically spreading his wings as he empowered others to spread news of the Kingdom of God.


Mark 1.38 confirms preaching as Jesus’ priority. After he had arisen early and left Simon and Andrew’s home to go off to pray alone, his disciples searched for him. They wanted him to return to the people gathered around the house, many of whom had already been healed from various diseases. Jesus refused. He chose to go to the nearby villages where he hadn’t yet preached.


Conclusion

Ultimately, of course, complete revelation and fuller understanding of Jesus’ mission had to wait for the cross and his resurrection when the hour did indeed come for him to be glorified as the Messiah (John 12.23).


The event examples considered in this blog enlighten the mystery of why Jesus declared his Messiahship in the ways he did. They plainly reveal a mission tapestry woven with divine timing, supernatural interventions, nuanced communication, and a strategic approach.


Looking through the complexities, we discover a Jesus who undoubtedly declared himself, but in ways that left recognition to those with open hearts and discerning spirits.









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