Why did Jesus tell the disciples not to tell anyone about him?
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
This hard-to-understand aspect of Jesus’ ministry is often called the “messianic secret.” I.e., Jesus wanted his messiah-ness kept secret (at times). As the Handbook on Biblical Criticism (4th ed.) puts it, the “Messianic Secret refers to a discernible phenomenon in the Gospels, most especially in the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus explicitly conceals his messianic character and power until the closing period of his ministry” (124).
The messianic secret is not an attempt on the part of Jesus to keep people from knowing, believing in, and following him. But Jesus did seem to be careful throughout the Gospel of Mark to keep his identity as divine Son of God/Messiah from spreading. There are at least two reasons for this that I can see.
First, though Jesus is identified early in the Gospels as a miraculous healer and exorcist, early in his ministry is not yet time for his identity to be revealed. The fullness of time has simply not come. Perhaps Jesus had certain ministry objectives that needed to be accomplished before his crucifixion? He knew, either way, that as his fame spread, he would be tried and crucified for it. But this could only happen in due time.
Second, Jesus may have been cautious that a misunderstanding of the title “Messiah” would result if people were to say things like, “Here is the Messiah!” He was not the military insurrectionist and ruler than many Jews were expecting (I wrote more about this here), and he wanted to prevent title confusion, I suspect. So he often warned the evil spirits and those who received healing (and, as above, even the disciples!) not to tell anyone about him.
Even with those explanations in view, I still find the “messianic secret” difficult to understand. But perhaps this is because I am like Peter, in Mark 8:33, who all too often has in mind the things “of humanity” rather than “of God.” The messianic secret remains, at least to me, something of a mystery.