The Worst Secret in Mark
Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone
[Jesus] entered where the child was lying. Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, …. “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it.
In the first passage above Jesus healed a leper and the second He rose a girl from the dead. In both he did something odd, instructing people to not publicize what he had done. Who would not want such free TRUE publicity. Who turns down all that free press? Well, Jesus did. The “Messianic Secret” is what scholars have labeled this practice of Jesus. On numerous occasions in Mark, Jesus told those who revealed his identity to “zip it, and Tell no one”. In the first half of Mark, for some reason, Jesus try’s to keep his identity a secret. Here are a few examples.
- Jesus Silences the Demons [1:23-25, 34; 3:11ff; cf. 5:6 and 9:20]
- Prohibitions to those Jesus Healed [1:43-45; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26; 10:47ff]
- Jesus’ Warning to his Disciples [8:27-30; 9:9]
Many scholars see this as examples that Mark is not much of a historical account. Others calm it shows Mark is more an example of revisionist historian. Other scholars understand the practice to be selections of real events, Mark uses to make a theological point. My personal favorite was from an online message board user name Theo-theLeo78, ‘He told people to Shush and keep the secret because he did not have those Dope ‘Clark Kent’ glasses”
While I truly appreciate Theo-TheLeo78 outside the box thinking. Yet i don’t think he is right. I believe the best explanation is the simplest. Jesus knew what he was doing. A hint comes from the way people misunderstood Jesus’ identity in Mark. In light of this a few reason can be given as to why he would keep his identity a secret.
Why did Jesus want to keep His identity as the Messiah a secret?
A few possible reasons
- To avoid being considered just a “miracle worker.” Note that many of these commands follow miracles. Jesus did not want people to follow Him just to see Him do spiritual tricks. He came as the Son of God to bring salvation and forgiveness from sin, not just physical healing and miracles.
- To avoid undue publicity which would hinder His mobility and ministry to His disciples. Note the result of the leper’s disobedience in 1:45 lead to more people.
- To avoid the mistaken notion of the type of Messiah He came to be. He came to suffer and serve and sacrifice Himself, not simply to display His power (cf. 10:45). His Jewish contemporaries largely misunderstood the role of the Messiah. First-century Jews conceived of the anticipated Messiah as (1) a political and military deliverer who would liberate the Jews from the Roman Empire, (2) restore the Davidic boundaries and national sovereignty of Israel, and (3) cleanse Israel from all Gentile influence. Jesus’ concept of the messiah did not just exclude these but staunchly opposed them, Jesus carefully crafted His Messianic identity in parables and cryptic sayings. This is one reason he spoke of the ‘son of man’, in second person even though he was speaking of himself.
- To avoid the premature death that increased popularity could bring. Following His transfiguration, which displayed His glory to the disciples, Jesus tells them not to speak of this event “till the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (9:9). Following His resurrection, his identity and the character of His mission is properly understood in its full scope.
The practice continues until chapter 8. In Mark 8:29 Peter’s confession of Christ identity.
- A high point and pivot of Mark narrative
- The first true confession of Jesus by a disciple.
- After this confession Jesus sets his eyes on the cross and prepares his disciples for his death. Chapters 8 to 16 are described by Mark as one journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, the place of Christ execution.
- Here is why, only after laying the appropriate groundwork did Jesus publicly make explicit his messiahship at the end of His ministry (Mark 14:61–62).
Ethical consideration of the messianic secret
As we have seen, Jesus had good reasons to keep things quite. So the “secret” is not as much a literary ‘tell’ as some scholar’s think. His behavior makes sense within the cultural and historical outlook of the first century. Yet Jesus’ actions do give us insight but of an ethical nature. When reading the gospels, it is to be assumed that Jesus operated with integrity. This means, Jesus’ character can be seen in his behavior (when understood contextually and historically). Jesus actions reveal the shape of his heart. So behaviors like, Jesus’ mistrust of the crowd, his aversion toward spectacle or his attempts to not have his miracles ‘go viral’, reveal something of Jesus’ values, worldview and ethical disposition. They reveal an often obscured aspect of Jesus’ character. Below is my ethical considerations:
Mark took a handful of moments as a way to highlight an aspect of Jesus character that was needed due to the cultural values common in the first century. Values that have had something of a cultural revival today.
You see, Mark’s readers would have seen Jesus actions as odd. Roman culture embraced the praise of men. Humility and being unassuming was thought of as a bad thing. Jesus was showing basic ‘Beta’ behavior and in no way would he ever be ‘Alpha’ material. Roman ‘Alpha’ leaders did not shy away from free publicity… especially if it was true. They capitalized on every opportunity. The same mentality was true of the Jewish religious leadership, only political power was replaced by religious influence. Such twisted values were common among the elites of the first century.
First century readers would think, Jesus was awful at self-promotion. He would not play into those cultural values which had likely made inroads into Jesus’ context, as much as they had in Mark’s audience. Mark wanted his readers to see Jesus acted in a contrary way to these culturally accepted behaviors. After reading about Jesus healing a blind man then telling him to ‘zip it’ and ‘keep it on the DL’, Mark’s first readers would have thought that Jesus needed a PR team and maybe a round of Testosterone shots. Yet Jesus was awful at it because his character was on point. His power was under control for he was meek at heart and sure of who he was. He would not play into those cultural values for his own gain. He knew such gain was actually loss. He waited on the Lord’s timing and did not take every opportunity of making much of himself.
The “messianic secret” reveals Jesus preferred to follow God’s ways over man’s ‘methods’. He did not shy away from shutting down storms or opening blind eyes. He did not hesitate to evict a legion of demons. All the while, Jesus loved people enough not to cheapen their experience by making it a tool for self-promotion. One sign of godly character is caring about people in the little things even when the only one who sees is God, and the only one who takes the hit is you.
He chose to wait on the Lord’s timing and not take every opportunity of making much of himself. The messianic secret, shows Jesus valued doing things God’s way above all. He understood the value of following God’s ways over the efficient shortcuts of man’s practical measures.
In your reading as you come upon such passages, see Jesus’ character on display. Let the passage reveal the shape of Jesus’ humble servant heart. See Jesus choosing God’s ways and not man’s self-promoting methods. See Jesus trusting God’s timing for advancing the kingdom, and not someone opportunistically capitalizing on every opportunity as if his livelihood depended on it.
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