In light of verses like Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Matthew 24:14, and many others – which clearly indicate an expectation that disciples of Christ tell others about him – it seems strange that several times throughout the book of Mark, Jesus specifically instructs both people (Mark 1:44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30; 9:9) and demons (Mark 1:25, 34; 3:12) not to tell anyone else who he was.
Why would Jesus keep telling them to stay quiet? On the surface, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. After all, Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior who had come to take away the sins of the world. Wouldn’t you think that knowing who Jesus is would be critical for his ministry? Of course! However, in these instances referenced above, there are three important reasons why Jesus gave the command to keep his identity a secret.
- Demons don’t make a great trustworthy character witness. Having demons be the first to openly declare Jesus’ identity would not have lent much to his credibility, so the command to silence the demons seems to be issued primarily out of practicality.
- God’s plan for the Messiah and the Jews’ plan for the Messiah were two very different things. God’s plan for the Messiah was that he be the “suffering servant” – the one who would provide salvation and deliverance for his people through his death. Isaiah 53 gives a gruesome foreshadowing and depiction of this. The Jews expected the Messiah to provide salvation and deliverance by overthrowing an oppressive regime and establishing an earthly kingdom. Jesus knew that if he were to be openly identified as the Messiah, the Jews would likely attempt to crown him as their king and lead a political revolution against the Roman Empire. This is precisely why the people were so excited as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and so willing to call for his crucifixion five days later; they were angry because Jesus didn’t overthrow the Roman Empire and bring in the kingdom of God as they had anticipated.
- The timing wasn’t right. There were a number of things that Jesus needed to accomplish in order to fulfill both the law and the prophecies about the coming Messiah. Additionally, the crucial role the disciples would play in the birth and growth of the early Christian church demanded an extensive season of training and equipping through intimate time spent with Jesus. A premature announcement of his identity as the Messiah would have tremendously impacted both of those areas.
The good – and perhaps challenging – thing for us is that Jesus’ instruction to remain silent was only for those people (and demons) at that time. It no longer applies to us. Mark 9:9 tells us that Jesus charged the disciples to tell no one who he was “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
Well, that happened three days after Jesus was put to death at the hands of those who were angry that he didn’t fit the description of what they were looking for in the Messiah. Jesus had good reasons to tell people to stay silent for the time being; we have none. He has risen from the dead, showing his power over sin and death, and there is now nothing holding us back from sharing that good news with those who desperately need to hear it.