Holman Bible Dictionary
Title Bible students use to explain Jesus' commands to His audience and His disciples not to reveal who He was after His performance of messianic wonders. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus made every attempt to conceal His true identity as the Christ. Although the messianic secret can be found in the Gospels of Matthew (Matthew 8:3-4 ; Matthew 9:29-31 ; Matthew 12:15-16 ; Matthew 17:9 ) and Luke (Luke 4:41 ; Luke 8:56 ; Luke 9:21 ), Mark used the mysterious unveiling of the messiahship of Jesus as the unifying theme of his Gospel. Typically, Matthew understood the messianic secret as the fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 12:17-21 ); Luke provided no explanation. Mark, however, used the messianic secret to organize his story around the progressive revelation of the person of Christ and the messianic consciousness of the disciples. Demons demonstrated that they recognized Jesus immediately: “I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24-25 ,Mark 1:24-25,1:34 ; Mark 3:11-12 ; Mark 5:6-8 ; Mark 9:20 NIV); nevertheless, Jesus suppressed their confession. Jesus prohibited public profession by those who experienced miraculous healing ( Mark 1:43 ; Mark 5:43 ; Mark 7:36 ; Mark 8:26 ). The parables of Jesus were offered in order to keep “outsiders” from learning the secret (Mark 4:11-12 ). Even the disciples, once they related that they understood the “mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11 ), were sworn to silence (Mark 8:30 ; Mark 9:9 ). Why did Jesus want to keep His messiahship a secret?
Perhaps Jesus avoided the title due to the popular messianic expectations of the people—they were looking for a political deliverer. Some believe that Jesus prohibited messianic proclamation so that He could continue to move about freely in public. The only parable of Jesus which Mark recorded exclusively may provide a clue to the purpose of the messianic secret. Jesus introduced the parable of the secret growing seed (Mark 4:26-29 ) with the proverb: “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light” (Mark 4:22 NAS). Jesus intended for people of faith to learn the secret of His messiahship ( Mark 4:11 ,Mark 4:11,4:34 ). He compared the mystery of the kingdom of God to a man who sows seed and discovers, to his amazement, that seeded ground produces plants which secretly grow at night—”he knoweth not how” (Mark 4:27 ). Like the seed which is covered by ground, the secret of Jesus' identity would be concealed for a season: discovering the messianic secret would take time. Jesus did not force people to accept Him as Messiah; “those who had ears to hear” must learn the secret on their own. The disciples not only needed time to recognize Jesus as Messiah (Mark 4:41 ; Mark 6:52 ; Mark 8:17-21 ), they also needed time to come to terms with His messianic agenda: messianic suffering precedes messianic glory (Mark 9:31-32 ). Complete human understanding of the messianic secret would only be possible after the resurrection (Mark 9:9-10 ). Therefore, no immediate messianic profession would possess any depth of understanding (especially demonic confession!). Jesus forced the disciples to think about the secret until they could articulate the secret. See Jesus; Christ; Messiah .
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