There seems to be an apparent conflict with the purpose of the Gospels – to spread the Good news of who Jesus was and is, and the words of Jesus himself. For we find within the Gospels, so many occasions where Jesus cautioned people, even commanded people, not to tell others about Him and who He was and what He had done. Why did Jesus not want open confession and testimony of what He had done and who he was?
Let us look at three such instances of this from the Scriptures:
First, in Mark 8:29-30 as Jesus said to his disciples:
“‘But who do you say that I am?‘ And Peter answered and said to Him, You are the Christ. And He charged them that they should tell no one of Him.”
Secondly in Mark 1:42-44, after Jesus healed a leper:
“And He having spoken, the leprosy instantly departed from him and he was cleansed. And He strictly charged him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone. But go and show yourself to the priest, and offer those things which Moses commanded for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’ “
And thirdly, in Luke 4:33-35 we find Jesus in synagogue and dealing in the same way with demons as:
“there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon and cried out with a loud voice, saying, Let us alone! What is to us and to You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know You, who You are, the Holy One of God.
And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him into the midst, he came out of him, not harming him.”
We can see from these three examples, firstly His own disciples and His inner circle of close friends, secondly an unknown leper whom He healed publically and thirdly, a demon from the spiritual realm, that Jesus dealt with them all the same way. He requiring that they did not spread the word as to who Jesus was and what He had done. This seems in apparent contradiction to the later words of Jesus in His Great Commission to all Christians of Matthew 28:18-20 as:
“Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority is given to Me in Heaven and in earth. Therefore go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you. And, behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the world. Amen.'”
In truth, each of the three situations cited above has its own specific and relevant reasons for Christ’s actions.
In understanding why Jesus did not want even His own disciples to openly talk about who He was, we need to recognise the situation in which Jesus was preaching and teaching at the time. In Mark 8:29, after a barely a couple of years of full time discipleship, we find the beginnings of an understanding in the disciples of who their leader really was, but it was still an incomplete and flawed understanding. The ‘Cross,’ for example was still a mystery to be unfolded and the concept of the ‘the Blood’ was not even in their minds. However, their obedience to Jesus and their witness to His miracles allowed them to see Him as the ‘Christ’ or the ‘Messiah’ (‘Christ’ being the Greek word for the Hebrew ‘Messiah’) both words therefore meaning the same: ‘the Anointed One’.
Further, in the days of Jesus, there was not a commonly agreed idea in Judaism as to the Messiah, or even to His mission. Some, like those who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, saw two Messiahs; one a descendant of David to rule as a King and another a descendent of Aaron to rule as a High Priest and purify the temple. Other groups were not even looking for a Messiah, for as a result of the ‘golden age’ which occurred following the 164BC Maccabean victories, and as long as the Temple functioned, deliverance, in the form of a Messiah, was simply not needed. Further, the experience of the Hasmonean king-priests of 164-163BC proved to them that the concept of a single King-Priest-Messiah was unworkable, and the roles could not be combined. Others were looking for a warrior Messiah King to rid them of the Romans, and indeed Acts 5:36-37 refers to this as ongoing, at that time. In 135AD a warrior by the name of Simeon Ben Kosiba did finally emerge and lead the Jewish nation to total defeat, after which it ceased to exist until 1948.
One can see, therefore, that the title of “Messiah” was subject to multiple interpretations and was a potentially dangerous title for Jesus to hold, or be called, at that time. Not only would that title make Him an enemy of Rome, it would also close Him off to large sections of Jewish society. All of Judaism, had their own preconceptions of who the Messiah was to be and what He was to accomplish. By accepting, or being even loosely associated with any of the multitude of preconceived definitions of Messiah, it would be impossible to Jesus to teach His own self-definition of His role for His Father. For this very reason, Jesus referred to Himself as the “Son of Man“.
The Son of Man has three meanings: In Ezekiel 2:1, for example, it simply means “human being”; in Aramaic (the native language of Jesus), it simply and modestly means “I”; while in Daniel 7:13 it refers to a being who receives both power and authority from God the Father. One simple phrase, three diverse meanings. Which meaning is appropriate, depends upon the context of usage; thus requiring the listener to both pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, and to make up their own minds on who He was saying He was. The ambiguity was intentional; Jesus wanted His audience to think, and this description of himself mandated thinking, by His audience. Jesus wanted his audience to see Him in accordance with His own words and actions and not in accordance with their own preconceived ideas and notions of Messiah-hood. Thus, when Jesus finally told them to remain silent and say nothing until He rose from the dead, they were no doubt in deep confusion as to what that really mean. Even after His resurrection, Jesus did not let His disciples to go out to preach the Gospel, but charged them in Luke 24:49 saying “but you sit in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Even after His resurrection, Jesus wanted to ensure that the semi-understandings which the disciples held of His Christ-hood, of His Messiah-hood and of His Godliness, were not transmitted out to the world as the disciples wanted to explain Him, but as Jesus wanted Himself, via the power of the Holy Spirit which was to soon dwell within each of them. This ensured that the words of their mouths, were the true words of Jesus, and only of Him.
In regard to healings which Jesus performed, we can see here at all times, the manifestation of His humility. Jesus was not wanting to gather a following who focussed on His miracles. What was important were not the miracles, but the miracle worker, God the Father. This would have been particularly relevant in cases like Mark 5:23-34 where Jairus, one of the synagogue rules came to Jesus and
“begged Him greatly, saying, My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come, lay Your hands on her, so that she may be healed, and she shall live. And Jesus went with him. And many people followed Him and thronged Him.”
Many people of position in that society and community knew about the death of Jairus’s daughter. As Mark 5:38-43 continues, Jesus came to Jairus’s house:
“and saw a tumult, and weeping and much wailing. And going in He said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The girl is not dead, but sleeps.”
And they laughed at Him. But when He had put them all out, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those with Him, and went in where the child was lying. And He took the child’s hand and said to her, “Talitha koumi”; (which interpreted is, Little girl, I say to you, Arise!)
And instantly the little girl arose and walked (for she was twelve years old ). And they were astonished with a great astonishment. And He strictly warned them that no one should know this. And He said to give her something to eat.”
Why did Jesus strictly warn Jairus’s family that they should not talk about this healing? Quite simply, Jesus was in the midst of His ministry and quite clearly did not wish to be inundated with requests to attend every funeral service in the region and raise each corpse back to life. Jesus was, after all, focussed on doing the work of His Father who had sent Him.
Secondly, Jesus wanted everyone to give thanks to God the Father, for all the healings which took place. Jesus wanted the recipients of healing to look to the Father, not to the Son, and give thanks where it was rightly due. This is exemplified in the healing and deliverance of the Gadarenes man who, after healing:
“begged Him that he might be with Him. However Jesus did not allow him, but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and has had mercy on you’ (Mark 5:18-19).
As the healing of the Gadarenes man apparently occurred in the country side, publicity was not a problem. The same was not the case, however, for Jesus when he publically healed the leper as mentioned in Mark 1:42-44 above. For in the next verse Mark 1:45, we read:
“But going out, he (the leper) began to proclaim it very much, and to spread about the matter, so that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was outside in deserted places. And they came to Him from every quarter.”
As a direct result of this healing, and the leper’s overwhelming desire to tell everyone about it and despite Jesus’s words to the contrary, Jesus was unable to minister more in that region. The words of the leper compromised the whole geographic region for Jesus, by giving His intended audience an incorrect preconception of Jesus and His mission. As Mark 6:31 attests, being forced to live in deserted places was very taxing in every way, even to the point that as Mark 3:20-21 they thought Him insane to live in this way and sought to put Him in protective custody. The story of Mark 2:2-4, where a paralytic man is lowered through an improvised roof opening to get him to Jesus, shows just how bad the crowds had become and how they were interfering with the effectiveness of Jesus’s ministry. Finally, in Mark 6:14 we read that news of the ministry of Jesus had ultimately reached the ears of King Herod, who was concerned as to who this man was.
For many reasons therefore, the humility of Jesus in his healing ministry was not misplaced. Indeed, it could be argued that His humble approach actually allowed His ministry to be carried out.
Finally, we come to the demons. Here the situation is very different. To start with, all the demons knew instantly who Jesus was and addressed Him as the “Son of God” (Mark 3:11, Luke 4:41) Indeed, this was the title used by Satan in Matthew 4:3 at the first of His temptations, as “when the tempter came to Him, he said, If You are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” We have no understanding from the Gospels as why the demons called out to Jesus, though we may surmise their astonishment at being cast out for the first time ever, or their astonishment at coming face to face with God the Son, or their astonishment that perhaps, as we see in Luke 8:28, they feared that their time in Hell was about to start sooner than they expected. Irrespective of the reasons, as soon as the demons cried out, Jesus silenced them.
Although Jesus never explained why He silenced the demons and did not allow them to speak, by studying the text and considering His situation at the time, we can easily uncover a number of common-sense reason for His actions.
We read in Mark 3:22 that the “scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, He has Beelzebub, and He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.” In the minds of the religious rules, it is clear that Jesus was already associated with Beelzebub, who in the time of Christ, was the name for the chief or prince of demons. Thus, any contact or reliance from the demonic spirits would weaken His own position and fuel the hand of His opponents.
Secondly, Jesus was carefully demonstrating a lifestyle for His disciples to follow. Any conversations He had with demons would reinforce the position that we too ought to do the same. Further, if Jesus were seen to accept the testimony of demons, it again would set the precedent that we ought also to talk with demons and accept their testimony also. Worse than this, Jesus would be seen as being at the head of a demonic cult, not a movement of God.
Jesus rejected the opportunity of receiving either the kingdom of this world back from Satan or the help of demonic spirits and chose to everything in the way of God the Father. As followers of Jesus, we too are required to follow the same path and have no dealing with the demonic in any form, at any time.
Finally, we should note that the call which Jesus makes upon our lives is to accept Him on Faith, based on evidence. In other words, Jesus wants us to have Faith in Him for who He is, not because demons say He is who He is. We are to look to the Kingdom of God and judge the kingdom values which Jesus exemplified and demonstrated for us. When we take hold of the truth of Jesus on these terms and grasp it as Faith, then our lives will change; our eyes and ears opened. In Mark 4:11-12 we read the words of Jesus as He said to His disciples:
“To you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God. But to those outside, all these things are given in parables so that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”
In Mark 4:33-34 this reliance on Jesus and faith in Him is further expanded:
“And with many such parables He spoke the Word to them, as they were able to hear it. But he did not speak to them without a parable. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.”
The same principle hold true when John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus and ask in Matthew 11:3-6, saying:
“Are You he who should come, or do we look for another?
Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John again those things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel proclaimed to them.
And blessed is he, whoever shall not be offended in Me.'”
Indeed, it was only before the Sanhedrin and under trail that Jesus categorically stated who He is, but by then, all the pieces of the picture were in place. However, it is only in retrospect that they who heard the truth shall see and understand just what Jesus really meant when He spoke.
Thus, by speaking out early as to the Godly status of Jesus, the demons were perhaps seeking to short-circuit His full teachings and full plan. Perhaps they were seeking to mess with the solid foundations which He was laying in the minds of His disciples, foundations so strong, that in future and in death, not a single one of His chosen disciples would deny Him. Whatever Jesus had in mind, His curt “Be Quiet!” is our guide to dealing with the enemy.
Let the final word belong to Jesus Christ Himself as he spoke in Mark 1:15:
“The time is now! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent, and keep believing the gospel!”
Amen and Amen and Amen.
~ Angus MacKillop