Why did Jesus tell the disciples not to tell anyone about him?

Why did Jesus sometimes tell people not to tell others about who he was, or about how he healed them? This passage from Mark 8:27-30 (NIV) looks almost anti-evangelistic:

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.

62 thoughts on “Why did Jesus tell the disciples not to tell anyone about him?

  1. I think that Jesus understands human nature, and knew the best way to spread a secret is to ask someone to keep it.

    1. If all our questions about Jesus’s existence are answered, then we stop searching about Him. We should live by faith, knowing He is the Messiah, our Savior.

  2. I think there is evidence for both of your reasons. I’m not sure it’s necessary to pick one or the other. I do think there is evidence regarding the 1st reason that Jesus was waiting to fully teach the 12 disciples before revealing himself so that they could carry on his teachings after his death (and resurrection). Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

      1. There is a logical reason behind this, He knew if others knew he was the messiah his disciples could be in trouble. If he were able to keep it secret for as long as he could he would protect his disciples for the time being and protect himself. BY telling others “that you don’t know me” is a way of protecting those around us because of who he was and who he was is the Son of God.

  3. Another thought is to link to the text after feeding the multitude – john 6:15. There is, like you said, an element of ‘incomplete business’. And if he were to proclaim himself openly, the kingdom would have been put off track by those that would have perceived Jesus kingdom as a worldly one and acted upon that…..

    But if he were to remain a ‘good teacher’ and ‘miracle worker’ – with the element of doubt as to Him being the Messiah, then He could finish his work at the right time……

    Just a thought!

    1. A good thought–and I think part of Jesus’ work was to shape and re-calibrate folks expectations/understandings of just who the “Messiah” was…

  4. What is perplexing is why Jesus is so secretive in the gospel of Mark, but so open in the gospel of John. In Mark, consistently orders the disciples/demons/healed people not to reveal his identity. Many of his miracles he performs off in a corner. However, in John he is always bold about his identity and his mission, clearly presenting his pre-existence, his special relationship to the Father, and flirts with revealing his godhood to the point of nearly causing the crowds to stone him. These two images (Mark and John) are almost incompatible.

    1. What talindrome3 is talking about is explained in Pete Enns’s thesis coming back in all his books; “what was the message the writers of the bible wanted to make clear and to which audience?” We have to place ourselves in the skin of those authors. Their time, their context, their reason why they (and here it comes>) ‘constructed’ their message in the way they did it. The gospel writers included, formed and left out the right information in order to present their message concerning the good news of Jesus.

      So the incompatibility of the gospels are in fact no errors… but they are formed by the evangelists specifically for their audience and what the hearers of their gospel needed to understand.

      John’s intend is summarized in John 20:31 “But these (“signs”) were written that you may (keep on) believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” John’s gospel is all about proving Jesus’ divinity! Thus, including the messianic secret would totally not support the very message John is trying to get across.

      1. If you understand jesus teachings, he clearly teaches he only says what the Father tells him to preach!

      2. Yes!! I was getting frustrated with these comments because no one seemed to understand that 3 authors 3 audiences.

  5. I was giving a reason for this to my Sunday School students yesterday. We were studying Matthew 12.
    The reason that I gave them for Jesus not wanting His messianic identity to be revealed at that time- was that “Jesus was being merciful”!
    That Jesus was not wanting to “break off the battered reeds”.
    Not wanting to “put out the smoldering wicks”.
    That He was not wanting to quarrel with those Pharisees (v.14) “UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY” (v.20).
    Not give the Pharisees a sign (v.38) until the greatest sign of Jonah was given (v.39).
    A sign they could not contend with.

  6. 1.He did not want conflicts with the pharisees & sadducees.
    2. He wanted people to believe in Him by Faith.
    3. He wanted to accomplish his work before being killed since the pharisees could be up in arms accusing him of blasphemy & making his work impossible as there could be a revolt against him. Amen.

  7. I have asked this question numerous times. Today god answered it for me. If you tell a person some thing secret they will ultimately tell their inner circle. However if you tell them not to tell anyone it triggers something in the human psyche that makes us tell even more people. True story Christ was indeed the son of the most high. He knows our thoughts even before we think them…….

  8. What is a layperson/non-Bible scholar to do??

    Here is our dilemma: Every Christian Old Testament Bible scholar, apologist, pastor, and priest on the planet says that the Old Testament prophesies the birth and death of Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish Messiah (ben David). However, every (non-messianic) Jewish “Old Testament” scholar and rabbi adamantly states that there is not one single prophecy in the Hebrew Bible about Jesus.

    So who are we poor ignorant saps to believe?

    In lieu of spending the next 10 years becoming a fluent Hebrew-speaking Old Testament scholar yourself, I would suggest using some good ol’ common sense. Who is more likely to be correct:

    1.) Jewish sages and rabbis who have spent their entire lives immersed in Jewish culture, the Jewish Faith, the Hebrew language, and the Hebrew Bible—for the last 2,000 years…or… 2.) seminary graduates from Christian Bible colleges in Dallas, Texas and Lynchburg, Virginia?

    Sorry, Christian scholars, but using good ol’ common sense, I have to go with the Jewish scholars. And Jewish scholars say that Christian translators deliberately mistranslated and distorted the Hebrew Bible to say things in the Christian Bible that is never said in the original Hebrew—for the purpose of inventing prophesies into which they could “shoehorn” Jesus!

    I recommend that every Christian read the bombshell book, “Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” by orthodox Jewish author, Asher Norman. You will be blown away by the evidence that this Jewish author presents that confirms why Jews have said the following for the last two thousand years: “Jesus of Nazareth was NOT the Messiah.”

    1. It’s hard to know where to begin in response to your comment, which I see is also its own stand-alone blog post on another blog. More criteria need to be delineated than “good ol’ common sense” (whatever that means).

      As you’ll notice by my deep appreciation for books by Jewish Publication Society (inter alia) on this blog, I have great respect for Jewish scholarship, which has benefited be immensely. I don’t accept, though, the bifurcation of Jewish scholarship and Christian scholarship, since the latter can and does build on and root itself in the former, so you’re kind of setting up a straw person when you compare Dallas to Jerusalem.

    2. Jesus often referenced the Old Testament: ” For as Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Mat 12.40). There are many New Testament references to the O.T., Jesus rode a baby donkey into Jerusalem, as the O.T. predicted: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt.” (Zech 9.9) Jesus also referenced the future when he predicted the destruction of the temple. The proof is strong for Jesus as the Messiah. The merit of the N.T. is strong; various writers contributed to it, and the apostles died for it The New Testament is far more lively to individuals, yet the Old Testament provides the historic foundation for the N.T.

  9. I think the gospel of Mark tends to focus on the political climate at the time and puts Jesus in this context thus Mark emphasised that he told the disciples not to say anything about Him.However John, as Jesus’ friend, tends to focus more on the human side of Jesus and the mercy shown to all those who suffer!

  10. WHO are we to believe ? GOD of course
    He alone is trust worthy – we are not.

    Without the SAVING work of CHRIST ALONE – a person is to be pitied.

    So much of who, what Christ was and did is Supernatural. To deny that is to deny Christ.
    To be in a state of condemnation and without hope.

    Everything else matters not. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. then what?

    Lets go with the

    Our English translations ESV NASB etc are just that translations – not originals
    We need to study the originals and get what truly is being said.

    We have so many good/bad translations – its no wonder people are confused.

    Maybe we cant even trust Abram? We can’t really trust even ourselves.
    We need to be Bereans and study – to go with the LXX OT GNT studies.

    By reading Abrams site – Is he leading us astray? Just another sap?
    Does he use the Bible the (‘Massage’ – Message- which is a bad trans.)
    or is he wanting to be true to God’s Word and teach as best he can what is right
    and true to scripture. Using good translations or more so GNT/LXX etc.

    Then! lets go with men/women that are true to the WORD in the NT/OT fields.
    Dan Wallace for greek – Benjamin Sax for Jewish studies – endless list.

    WHAT is the intention of the Jewish Scholars that say the Xtians are mistranslating
    and who are they ?? share your info so we can see if they are right or wrong.
    Blanket statements don’t serve a purpose.

    That’s why I don’t like it when some scholar or whomever says this guys writings are really
    bad and teach falsehood. But then they dont tell us who it is –
    For all we know I might be reading it and need to stop and warn others.

    (My Brother) is in a CULT because he decided this cult was right, anything else is wrong.

    Lets also remember how Gods people in the OT stood the test of time. From the get go!
    NOT very well, in so many ways –
    What did they do when they received Gods 10 commandments or recommendations?

    They didn’t take long to go their own way – right up to today. US included – but they more so.
    HIS people – all thru the OT we see how it all went – Abraham, Moses! Aaron, David, Solomon etc etc. Badly – are we any better.

    2000 yrs of what the Jews have been and done shows what kind of faith they really had.
    The OT surely shows what happened.
    How many laws were added to God’s Word by the Pharisees. False teaching etc.
    Did they do and teach what was right and good for the people?
    Obviously not – just by what we see written about them in OT and NT

    Jesus certainly went after them with both barrels – they never got it.

    IT IS a serious matter to say there are NO Christophanies in the OT.
    To Deny Jesus is to pay the eternal price – death without Christ. Hell
    Now days even Christians deny Hell, eternal punishment. Trinity etc.

    SO there are good, bad teachings everywhere.

    There are plenty of Scholars out there that are serious about God’s Word.
    WTS West sure is – and many others –
    There are bad ones as well that decide what their deal is and poo poo everyone else.

    Going with Dispensationalists is trouble in many ways – OT, NT/cf: Sermon on the Mount!

    Or should we go with the likes of Spawn/Hawkings/Rob Bell/ etc.
    or Joel Osteen –
    Look at the following he gets and he is totally off base. Should we follow him? No!!

    Baptists are going into Mormonism big time. Believing a LIE! why?

    I really don’t care what someone believes – what I care about is what Gods Word says and does one believe that and follow it ?
    God’s Word or the highway – choose you this day who you will serve. Self or Christ.

    DO this and YOU will Live
    Don’t do it and you will die. Salvation by the Law. Who can?

    Either its Christ or its you – if its you then what do we need a Savior for – really

    The Bible is about Christ from beginning to end.
    Its not about us ‘ITS NOT’ a field manual for holy living –

    So to think that 2000 years of Jewish scholars, sages and teaching is the only right way to go; is, by what we see in scripture, what still goes on in Jewish culture up to today; is to be misled.
    Jewish or Xtian we just never get it or learn now or from history.

    Romans makes it quite clear what man is all about;
    and WHO its all about.

    Grace ALONE
    Thru Faith ALONE
    On account of CHRIST ALONE

    Its Him or nothing!

  11. Jesus came to earth ( became incarnate) for the sole purpose to die. This is his wonderful gift of grace. Without Him paying the price for our sins noone would enter the Kingdom.

    The spreading of the Word to the people was left for the apostles as their Great Commission after they received the Holy spirit.

    1. Thanks for your comment–I think Jesus himself was eager to start in on that work (the spreading of his Kingdom), too, though–not just leaving it to the apostles for after his death and resurrection. Though that certainly is our task now.

    1. Not necessarily sinning, it depends on what was in their heart and the reasons why they didn’t follow Jesus. What’s interesting to me is the Christian take in this is from a Christian perspective: if a professed Christian starts to lead a non-Christian life and then eventually denies Christ, that is a sin. That logic helps prevent people from sinning (fear of reprisal, exclusion from the group) However if it was a non-Christian in that role(Jews most infamously) , they also get thrown into that group (sinners) from the perspective and logic of Christians. This logic made excuses for all sorts of atrocities, culminating in the Holocaust. The Jews at the time had lots of reasons for not following Jesus, and still they lead good and holy lives. Were they thrown into the firey depths after death? Insomuch as God is merciful and likely wouldn’t do that, many Christians would say so, since if that’s how Christians justified their faith and boosted their superiority to other groups over the centuries. St. Paul really struggled with underdtanding bwhy his felllow Jews didn’t follow Jesus. Remember, for Jews tradition is very important, and Christianity was doing away with all of that. For many, it was just too much to ask from them to give all that up. Were they sinning?

  12. Thank you that helps clarify it! I happen to be Catholic, and the Gospel this week was the oft quoted “upon this rock I will build my church,” which I really love for some reason, and ending with the “tell no one” admonishment. I seem to remember Jesus occasionally referring to a plan for his life, and the explanation of just too early seems to fit.

    Thanks, Mark

  13. I would add that it’s crucial, especially in John’s Gospel, that people come to their own understanding of Jesus; that they don’t believe because they are told, or convinced by what they see; rather, they believe because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit revealing in their heart/mind that Jesus is the Messiah.

  14. I think thisnis one of the things we’ll just never know but when I read it I thought he tried to keep it a secret because if he said he was the son of God than people would make judgments simply based on his title. If I saw a man do miracles and say he was the son of God I may believe him. I don’t think Jesus wanted that. I don’t think he wanted people to believe it simply based of a title or by healing someone. I think he wanted people to first listen to him as just another man and to follow him for his beliefs and words rather than for a title. It’s kind of like you want people to like you for who you are and have faith in you because of what you say and do rather than because of your title. Not sure if this makes sense but it’s just how I understood it.

  15. Thanks for your honesty about the mystery continuing to be a mystery, I sometimes feel my heart hardening at some of the seemingly inhumane heartless comments Jesus says, I look earnestly for the love yet cannot fathom Mark 7 vs 24.

  16. When grow up in the country, the bi let was not encouraged, now at 69 years of age, I have been studying lexieo deviona, growing up I was afraid to Question, now I see that Jesus was good at it, I only saw that to Night, because at Bible study I felt tense and depressed when asking clarity, look how long it took me to find that gift, more tension and depression for knowing before now God bless and good bye

  17. I believe that Jesus didn’t want his identity known because the Jews were waiting for the messiah, and in their perspective the messiah was supposed to save them from the Roman Empire , well if Jesus proclaimed himself messiah and than was crucified , I believe the Jews would than change their minds and say that Jesus was lying because according to them the “real” messiah was supposed to save them as it says in the scriptures. And Jesus did. By dying on the cross for our sins. But Jews overall had a different idea of who the messiah is and to this day most Jews reject Jesus as the messiah and are still waiting for him. They take Jesus as just a prophet that’s it.

  18. Little late to the party but – I think it’s partly due to his teachings of not boasting or showing what good you’re doing, but rather doing things so that not even the other hand knows. In other words, don’t promote what good you do to others, as God already knows and it’s done through and for him alone.

    He practiced what he preached.

  19. He is a personal savior. Who do YOU say that I am. Come to me… I will give YOU rest. He isn’t a figurehead of our “religion” he is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, THE LIFE, no one comes to the Father but through ME. No one comes to me except him who the Father draws or compels, through the HOLY SPIRIT. I believe we must show ourselves redeemed before we can tell others of the grace we have received.

  20. Imagine someone asks you who God really is, would you answer merely based on the expectations formed from what you heard from someone else or speculations formed by how you thought a God could be?

    I would rather answer based on the concrete and obvious revelation what Jesus has actually and already revealed in Himself in History. From that point of view, it can already judge my faith and my personal reverence to God in His true nature. God is a social being too – since we are formed also by His Image, He might rather form a relationship out of love and trust rather than just a mere legalistic or arranged bond… There has also a proof in ourselves who God really is firsthand.

  21. During Numerous occasions, Jesus tells disciples and even evil spirits not to tell his identity (Even while coming down after transfiguration). Following are some of my conclusions.

    1. If Jesus proved convincingly that he was indeed son of God and Messiah- what will happen? Jews will not ask his crucifixion . If Je-sus does not undergo crucifixion, how will God’s salvation plan ful-fill? How will all the crucifixion prophecies fulfill starting from Gene-sis 3:15, This is the same reason Jesus kept silent when Jews were accusing him in front of Pilot. If Jesus opened his mouth, he can easily convince Pilot and he will be spared. So no crucifixion. No death, no resurrection…. No Christianity.

    #2. It was not yet time for crucifixion. (like another person mentioned above). If news spread earlier say I year earlier, Kaiyyaphas/Senhadrin could arrest Jesus early, they would ask if Jesus was son of God, He would say, ‘Yes’. So crucifixion may happen may be one year earlier. But may be Jesus have lot more to teach and do…. So in short, it was not yet time.

    #3. Jesus probably didn’t want wrong message to spread. Messiah is not kingly/political savior.,

    #4.Jewish leaders were afraid of any new leadership upraising ( So Romans will come and crush them ). It is better one man should die for the people (when political uprising happen).

  22. I’m working this week with the parable in Mark 4 about the seed that is scattered and grows without help or understanding from the farmer. I am sensing some of this same mystery – or ‘secret Messiah’ in the parable. My brain was jogged from nearly 3 decades ago when some professor probably mentioned it. Thanks for the reminders of suggested reasons for it. Any thought on a connection between this theme in Mark and that parable?

  23. அற்புதத்தை அனுபவித்து, தன்னை ஏற்றுக்கொள்பவர்கள் கிறிஸ்தவ பண்பாட்டில் வளராமல், கிறிஸ்து செய்த அற்புதங்களை விளம்பரப்படுத்துவது இயேசுவுக்கு இகழ்ச்சியைக் கொண்டுவரும் என்று நினைத்து இயேசு அப்படி சொல்லியிருக்கவேண்டும்.

    1. The best I can do with this comment for anyone else reading (and myself) is run it through Google Translate, which yields this:

      >> Jesus must have said that because those who experienced the miracle and accepted him did not grow up in the Christian culture, thinking that advertising the miracles performed by Christ would bring shame to Jesus.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  24. First, correct the problem of calling someone by a name other than his name given at birth, i.e. Yehoshua. It will clear things up if you are openminded. Second, he never gave a second command to his students that he was the messiah therefore why assume such?

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