Thursday, April 16, 2015

Messianic Secret

A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If You are willing, You can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” He said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. Then Jesus sent him on his way with a stern warning: “Do not tell anyone about this. . . .” But the man went and spread the word, proclaiming to everyone what had happened. As a result, large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and He could not publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to Him. Mark 1:40-45 (NLT)

During His public ministry on earth, Jesus healed many diseases, casted out all kinds of evil spirit, and performed many other miracles. Yet, after these miraculous events, Jesus would often caution and warn the people whom He just healed or performed a miracle to keep silent about who He is or what He had done (see e.g., Matthew 8:3-4; Matthew 9:29-31; Matthew 12:15-16; Matthew 16:20; Matthew 17:9; Mark 1:23-25, 34, 44; Mark 3:11-12; Mark 5:42-43; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:29-30; Mark 9:9; Luke 4:41; Luke 8:56; Luke 9:21; John 6:15). On three separate occasions, Jesus commanded evil (unclean) spirits to silence as these evil spirits recognized Jesus’ true identity as the Son of the Holy God (Mark 1:25, 34; Mark 3:11-12). Also, Jesus ordered silence after four miracles (cleansing of the leper at Mark 1:44; raising of a dead girl at Mark 5:43; healing of a deaf-mute at Mark 7:36-37; healing of a blind man at Mark 8:26). Moreover, Jesus twice commanded His disciples to silence upon their recognition of Him as the Messiah (Mark 8:29-30; Mark 9:9-10). Twice Jesus withdraws from the crowds to escape His detection as the Messiah (Mark 7:24; Mark 9:30). These various people who personally eye witnessed Jesus’ miracles and healing often wanted to make a Messianic claim of Jesus but Jesus would often say “No.” But ironically, the command to silence by Jesus as to His identity as the Messiah often resulted in the opposite: the more Jesus commanded for silence, the more people kept talking about Jesus’ miracles and healing (see Mark 1:45; Mark 5:20; Mark 7:24, 36-37). The people needed a miracle, they were desperate, and they needed Jesus’ help (Mark 1:34). Jesus’ authoritative teaching, healing, actions and bearings all revealed Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and the Son of God.

Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more He told them not to, the more they spread the news. They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything He does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.” Mark 7:36-37 (NLT)

Why did Jesus want to silence the people and not reveal His true Messianic identity? The Holy Scriptures teaches about Jesus’ great popularity with the people (e.g., see Matthew 4:23-25; Mark 1:28, 45; Mark 3:7-8; Luke 7:17) coupled with His growing opposition from the religious leaders (e.g., see Mark 2:6-7 16, 24; Mark 3:2; 6, 22). Jesus’ full revelation early in His ministry as the long awaited Messiah could have triggered a crisis before Jesus had completed His ministry on earth (Matthew 8:4; Matthew 16:20; Mark 5:19, 43; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:26). Bible scholars commonly called Jesus’ command for silence about His true identity as Messiah the “Messianic secret.” Scholars have given two reasons for explaining why Jesus wanted to hide His true identity during His public ministry.

First in the first century, the Roman government would not tolerate anyone making a Messianic claim. Often, there were others in the first century claiming to be the Messiah and these self-appointed Messianic claims invoked rebellion against the Roman government. So, the quickest way to stop Jesus’ true Messianic ministry was for people to tell a Roman informant or solider that Jesus claimed to be the “Christ” or the “Messiah.” If a Roman official heard the term “Christ,” these Roman officials would have thought of Jesus as a military leader leading an open rebellion against Rome. If Jesus had publicly used “Messiah” of Himself early in His public ministry, He would have ignited political aspirations in His hearers to appoint Him as King to drive out the Roman occupiers. This is precisely the importance of the Jews’ action at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-38; John 12:12-15). Messiah is the Hebrew word for the Greek word “Christ.” The key term was “Christ.” The name “Jesus Christ” means Jesus the Messiah. There are many titles given to Jesus in the New Testament – Son of God (Mark 1:1; Mark 15:39), Son of Man (Mark 8:31), Prophet (Matthew 21:11), Rabbi or Teacher (John 3:2) and King of the Jews (Matthew 27:37). However, the title Christ is the most politically explosive and politically dangerous title given for Jesus. Because of the false concepts of the Jewish people, who looked for an exclusively national and political Messiah, Jesus did not want to precipitate a revolution against Rome. Other titles given to Jesus, such as Son of God or Prophet would not have any political references or meanings. So, if Jesus said He was the Christ or if the people proclaimed Jesus were the Christ and the Rome informant heard, Jesus would have been arrested immediately. Thus, early in Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus did not openly claim to be the Christ. Ironically, there is only one place in the Gospel that Jesus openly claimed to be the Christ and this is found at Mark 14:61-62 and this is significant Bible passage. Jesus’ self-revelation and admission as Christ eventually lead to His death. The Roman government had no toleration for the Christ. Therefore, Jesus invoked His Messianic secret to allow the continuation of God’s plan of redemption through His sacrificial death on the Cross (Luke 24:21; Romans 3:24-25).

Second, the Gospel writers reveal that everyone in the whole Judean countryside, all the people of Jerusalem, the Galilean region and Gentile regions were talking about Jesus and Jesus was gaining popularity and fame among the people (e.g., see Matthew 4:23-25; Mark 1:28, 45; Mark 3:7-8; Luke 7:16-17). Essentially, Jesus is a “Rock Star”! Jesus’ miracles, authoritative teachings, casting out of evil spirits, and healing help propelled Jesus’ notoriety among the people. Also, the people were hopeless and suffering and Jesus provided the people salvation. The word “saved” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament means rescue, restoration, and wholeness. Jesus brought the people restoration, mercy, and healing. Sadly, the people did not want to follow Jesus as a faithful disciple but only to get a quick miracle, food, or healing.

Then, calling the crowd to join His disciples, He said, “If any of you wants to be My follower (disciple), you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life (soul), you will lose it. But if you give up your life (soul) for My sake and for the sake of the Good News (Gospel), you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38 (NLT)

Following Jesus as His disciple means placing Jesus first and foremost above all else, even one’s own life (e.g., see Exodus 20:3; Matthew 6:33; Mark 8:34-38; Mark 10:17-23). Jesus said if anyone wants to be His disciple, then one must put aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-love and follow Jesus wholeheartedly (Mark 8:34). Anyone who insists on placing oneself first before Jesus will lose life. Only those who “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” will find true life, happiness, and peace (see Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 10:27). Jesus is God incarnate (in the flesh) and the fullness of God is within Jesus (John 1:1-5, 14; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13). The good promise is the one who abandons his or her life for God (God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit) will find life (Mark 8:34). Following Jesus is not about getting but empting; not about securing but abandoning all for the sake of God’s glory, honor and love.

Even more, Jesus rejected the widely held Jewish view of the Messiah’s Kingship (see e.g., John 18:36; Luke 24:21). During His public ministry, Jesus did not want to stir up the popular, but mistaken, Jewish expectations of a wonder-working Messiah that would arise as King of the Jews and deliver the Jewish people from Roman oppression and bondage and so usher in the Kingdom of God (see Luke 1:68; Luke 2:38; Luke 21:28; Luke 24:21). In the first century, the dominate view of the Christ (Messiah) was that the Christ would be a military and political conqueror. Possibly with the Messianic secret, Jesus wanted first to show by His words and deeds that the true meaning of a Messiah (in contrast to many popular first century notions of a Messiah) (see Matthew 12:17-21).

Jesus had a quiet ministry as God’s Servant to bring justice, hope, repentance, forgiveness of sins, and salvation to all people as Christ the Lord (Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:11; John 3:17; John 4:4-42; John 8:3-11; Acts 5:31). However while Jesus was in Gentile (non-Jewish) territory, Jesus encouraged the man healed of many evil spirits to “tell how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). This statement from Jesus was in marked contrast to Jesus’ exhortation to silence after He performed a miraculous healings (e.g. see, Mark 1:34, 44). In Gentile territory, there was little danger that about His identity as Messiah would insight a riot by the people.

Then, the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him — but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations (people), baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (NLT)

Nevertheless, once Jesus’ mission from God was completed, Jesus commissioned His disciples (faithful followers) to go and tell the entire world of His identity (Matthew 28:16-20; see also Acts 1:8). Jesus’ divine mission was to be the final sacrifice for human sin. By His sacrificial death and His resurrection, Jesus provided redemption for all people (see Matthew 20:28; Romans 3:24-25; Titus 2:14). Complete human understanding of Jesus’ identity was the Messiah would only be possible after Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 9:9-10). After Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples to tell everyone what they has experience. Jesus’ finished work demonstrated His true and full identity as the Messiah!

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” Acts 2:36 (NLT)

The early Jewish church following Jesus’ death and resurrection did not hesitate to call Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 16:16; Acts 2:36; Ephesian 1:1). The Apostle Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost openly acknowledged Jesus the Christ (see Acts 2:36; Acts 4:33). Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection confirmed Him as the true Messiah sent from God the Father (Romans 1:4; Philippians 2:9-11).

Therefore, God elevated Him (Jesus) to the place of highest honor and gave Him the Name above all other names, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11 (NLT)

Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary (Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991).
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House Company, 2001).
Edwards, James R. The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament. Due West Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2015.

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