See that no one knows?



Sometimes when Christ performed healing miracles on people, he would sternly warn them not to tell anyone about what He had done; I’m thinking of Matthew 9:27-31, among other examples. Why does He do this?

Thank you!


The Jewish people were waiting for a “Messiah” in the form of a warrior/king who would take the seat of David, rouse the armies and expel the Roman invaders from the Holy Land. Jesus did not want the people to view Him this way, and most importantly he did not want to be their earthly king. He knew that if they became aware that he was the Messiah before HE was ready, they would try to put Him on the earthly thrown. So . . . . he told people to keep quiet until His time had come.

This came to be known as the “messianic secret” (coined by a theologian around 1900). Here is a good article on it:


Either the Jews would put him on his throne or the Romans would have put him to death.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:18-20)

The Keys to the Kingdom was an appointment of Peter to the position of Prime Minister in Jesus’ kingdom. The Romans would not have been too happy about Jesus declaring himself a king, appointing ministers and such things. They would have arrested him for treason before his work was done.



This is a popular view, but a problem with this view is, it highly oversimplifies the actual situation. It’s true that some Jews expected a royal, Davidic messiah, but there were also people who expected a priestly messiah, people who expected a prophetic figure, and even people who apparently did not wait for the coming of a person but waited for a more abstract, grand sign of redemption (say, the collapse of Jerusalem’s walls). In short, there was no ‘messianic expectation’ to speak of, but ‘messianic expectations’.

Here’s an interesting thing about the ‘messianic secret’ concept. The scholar who noticed this phenomenon of Jesus telling people to shut up in the gospel of Mark and invented a term for it, William Wrede, really had a different understanding of the idea. In Wrede’s opinion, Jesus did not really proclaim Himself as the messiah during His lifetime nor was He identified as one by anyone. It was only after Jesus’ death that the disciples eventually came to believe that He was indeed the Christ. Now what happened, according to Wrede, was that in order to square in their belief of Jesus being the messiah with the supposed silence of the historical Jesus on the issue, the early Christians (anachronistically) transposed their understanding of who Jesus is back to an earlier time by inventing and adding in elements to the Jesus story that would make it obvious that He was the messiah and then, to explain Jesus’ silence on the issue, invented the motif of the ‘messianic secret’.

The problem with Wrede’s theory, however, is that first of all, while he argued that the messianic elements in the Jesus story were later insertions by the early Christians, some of the earliest ‘Jesus tradition’ we have do look rather messianic in nature (the entry to Jerusalem, for instance - which evokes the prophecy from Zechariah). Secondly, while Jesus does command silence in the gospels, the people ignore Him and proclaim the news anyway - hence the theory doesn’t really make sense of the messianic-secret motif and its function in Mark’s gospel (where this motif is most present). Thirdly, there is one instance (5:19-20) where Jesus actually commands a healed person to tell the news.

In a way, Wrede is right though. You can’t really explain the ‘messianic motif’ by simply pointing to historical possibilities (‘Jesus shut people up so the Romans wouldn’t prematurely kill Him’, ‘Jesus shut people up because their concept of the messiah is flawed’) - that would only give you an incomplete picture - since the motif does have this literary quality to it. I’ll explain when I have more time (and motivation).


So, do you often tell people how to build a clock when they ask you for the time? :wink:


Sorry to snip your post Patrick, but I find this aspect of the scriptures fascinating, that many simply ignore Jesus’ command to tell no one and proclaim him vigorously. It brings to mind the following passage…

***Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa’ida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. *(John 12:20-23)

Jesus’ response to the generic Greeks (representative of non-Jews from the rest of the world) wishing to see him is not to ask Andrew and Phillip what they want or to tell them to go away and come back after the feast, but to state quite plainly that his work is done and it is time for him to be crucified and rise from the dead.

The word has spread in spite of Jesus’ command to “tell no one” to the point where now even the Greeks have responded. This is the sign by which Jesus knows that his work on earth is almost done and his hour is now at hand.



I usually ask for the time when there’s a clock in front of me. :stuck_out_tongue:

The irony of Mark’s gospel (I’m referring to Mark here because that is the gospel of the ‘messianic secret’) is, most of the time when Jesus tells people to shut up, they instead usually tell people about what He had done. But at the end of the gospel, when the young man in white tells the women to bring the news of the resurrection to the male disciples, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark is pretty much the gospel of dramatic irony.


I never noticed that. These are the things which light a fire under me. Thank you Patrick.



St. Thomas Aquinas made a great point in the Summa Theologica that Christ never intended to forbid ever telling as a binding commandment but rather His intention was to teach that we should follow the example and hide our virtues to avoid drawing attention to ourselves for the wrong reasons.


Another one. Guess who calls Jesus the “son of God” in Mark’s gospel.

It’s the narrator, God, demons, and the Roman centurion at Calvary. In-narrative, only God and the demons (supernatural, non-human characters) proclaim Jesus to be God’s son during His lifetime. The first (and only) human in Mark to confess Jesus as God’s son is ironically (there’s the key word) the centurion, a non-Jew, who oversaw Jesus’ crucifixion. And he only does it when Jesus is already dead - in fact, Jesus’ death prompted this declaration. Notice that in Mark’s version of Peter’s declaration, he doesn’t have Peter saying that Jesus is “the son of the living God” as in Matthew’s version. (In a way this ties in with yet another motif of the gospel: the disciples’ - and most every other human character’s - blindness and failure to recognize who Jesus is.)

And yet another one. You’ll notice that throughout most of the gospel, Jesus keeps trying to shut up most of those who either try to reveal His true identity or those who witness something that reveals who Jesus really is (“Christ, son of God”). The only time in Mark He explicitly accepts those titles is before the high priest. And guess what: the moment Jesus admitted that He is “the Christ, the son of the Blessed One,” He was deemed to be deserving of death. So another irony (there it is again!) of the gospel is, that Jesus’ fate is sealed at the very moment He admits to being the messiah.


This is great, like when I stumbled upon the two charcoal fires and discovered “bookending.”

I’m going to go back and read your “Plodding through the Gospel of Mark” thread. You had something about trees and blindness in that thread and I confess that I didn’t really pay much attention to it at the time.



Very interesting thread.

What was different in this case? Why was it different?


A little aside. In English, we now call this phenomenon the ‘messianic secret’, but the original German term Wrede actually used was messiasgeheimnis. Some people in fact argue that messiasgeheimnis is better translated as the ‘messianic mystery’, and that the motif should be seen in terms of ‘mystery’, ‘revelation’ and ‘apophatic/negative theology’ (= a theology that proceeds by negation) rather than of secrecy. ‘Mystery’ is a better word because it has this apocalyptic overtone connoting the disclosure by God of a truth hidden until a certain decisive point in the divine plan is reached.

In fact, you’d notice it all fits: the narrator, at the very beginning of Mark’s gospel, introduces his readers to “Jesus Christ, son of God.” From the very beginning, we the readers already know that Jesus is the messiah, because Mark took the trouble of divulging this to us. We have the benefit of knowing what most of the characters in the story do not know - dramatic irony at its finest. It’s like ‘reality TV’ actually; in fact, ‘reality’ shows like Big Brother are concrete examples of dramatic irony, because we the omniscient viewers know stuff that the people inside the house don’t.

So as soon as Mark begins his story, we know that Jesus is the messiah. What awaits full disclosure is the kind of messiah Jesus is. Which brings us again to the centurion who proclaimed Jesus as God’s son when he “saw that … he breathed his last.” You see what he did there? It’s Jesus’ admittedly pathetic, not very pretty kind of death (“Jesus, uttering a loud cry, expired”), that ironically (there’s that word again) pushes the centurion to declare Jesus’ true identity. We finally realize what kind of a messiah Jesus is when He is hanging broken and dead on a cross.

In fact, Mark already gives us some foreshadowing to this effect in his version of Peter’s confession in Caesarea Philippi.

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.

So when Mark’s Peter gets things half-right (by saying that Jesus is ‘the Christ’), Jesus shuts him up and then proceeds to tell the disciples in plain words of His coming suffering. As if to say that being ‘the Christ’ meant undergoing the passion. (This ties in with another thing I’ve said earlier: of Jesus being condemned as “deserving of death” as soon as He openly admits to being the messiah.)

It’s often said that Mark probably composed his gospel as an apologia for the cross. The Jews, no matter what they thought the messiah would be like, didn’t exactly imagine the messiah to get arrested and be sentenced as a common criminal. And everyone knows that crucifixion was a very shameful, degrading form of death. So how in the world could God’s son and the messiah be - gasp! - crucified? As St. Paul would say, it is “a stumbling block (a skandalon) to the Jews, and to the Greeks foolishness.” That’s one of the issues Mark was addressing in his gospel, and his ‘messianic mystery’ motif is one of his answers to the question.


Speaking of bookends, I have another one for you. At the very beginning of Mark, Jesus comes from the Galilee to be baptized by John the Baptist, who appears as Elijah. At His baptism, the heavens are torn apart, and a heavenly voice proclaims Jesus to be God’s son. At the end of Mark, Jesus’ cry is misinterpreted as a plea to Elijah, the temple curtain is torn apart, the centurion proclaims Jesus to be God’s son, and the man in white commands the disciples to go to the Galilee to meet the risen Jesus. Pretty cool, huh?

Mark actually uses a lot of foreshadowing in his gospel. Frankly, some of these I didn’t even know until I found that page.


Good work Patrick.This thread is realy interesting!:slight_smile:


he wouldn’t want a mob of people chasing Him before His time.


I have two more to add.

When we speak of the messiasgeheimnis, aka ‘messianic mystery/secret’ motif in Mark, we’re actually speaking of five (or even more, depending on who’s counting) different types of passages lumped together into a single category. We have:

(1) Commands to demons to be quiet about Jesus’ identity (1:24-25, 32-34; 3:11-12)
(2) Prohibitions against speaking of the miracles (1:43-45; 5:43; 7:36-37; 8:25-26)
(3) Commands to the disciples to keep silent about Peter’s confession (8:29-30) and the transfiguration (9:9)
(4) Jesus’ attempts to remain incognito (6:31-32; 7:24; 9:30-31)
(5) The crowd silencing the blind Bartimaeus (10:48)

You might also add here Jesus’ instructions to His disciples in private (4:10-12, 34; 7:17; 9:28; 9:31-50; 13:3). The fact that these passages are in reality disparate phenomena is part of the reason why Wrede’s theory is no longer held (at least in that form) by many scholars. Instead of speaking of a single ‘secret/mystery’, they argue instead that we should be speaking of various ‘secrets’.

The OP mentioned Matthew. One thing I could say about Matthew is that the ‘messianic mystery/secret’ trope is not as important in his gospel as it is in Mark. In fact, you might say that theologically the theme does not fit in with Matthew’s understanding of who Jesus is. Out of the twelve to thirteen ‘messianic mystery’ passages in Mark, Matthew does not have a parallel to more than half of them (Mark 1:24-25, 32-34; 5:43; 7:24, 36-37; 8:26; 9:30-31). He does keep five passages (Matthew 8:4; 9:30; 12:16; 16:20; 17:9), but in his hands they don’t function in the same way as they do in Mark. Take for example Matthew 12:15-21, which is a parallel to Mark 3:7-11. Compare how the two accounts run:

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

In Mark’s hands, the story is an example of the ‘messianic mystery’. But in Matthew, the command to silence has more to do with Jesus being modest, something highlighted by the quote from Isaiah 42.


Are all of the gospels this poetic in their style, form, and word usage as Mark? Because this is all very interesting to me.


It really depends on what you mean by ‘poetic’. Mark does have this colloquial, fast-paced feel to it - he often uses the historical present (‘he says’, ‘they go’) and has a lot of 'and’s. Plus, some say that in the original Greek in a number of places certain words and syllables are repeated, giving the text a certain rhythm.


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