Keeping Secrets—Matthew 16:20
“Then he warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.”
Why would Jesus instruct his disciples not to tell others that he was, in fact, the promised Messiah, the Christ and Son of God (see also Mark 8:30; Luke 9:21)? Demanding that people not reveal Christ’s identity or his wondrous works of healing occurs elsewhere in the Gospels. After cleansing a leper, he admonishes him not to tell others, but to go to the priest to make the appropriate sacrifice (8:4; Luke 5:14). He strictly told the two blind men he healed not to discuss their healings with others, a command which they promptly ignored (9:30). After healing a man with a withered hand as well as numerous others among the crowd and being publicly identified by unclean spirits to be the Son of God, he warns them and, quite possibly, the unclean spirits not make his works and identity known (12:16; Mark 3:12). He expressly tells Peter, James, and John, his brother, not to talk about his wondrous transfiguration, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, or God’s audible voice, which expressed great pleasure in his Son, until after his resurrection (17:9; cf. Luke 9:36). And finally, he categorically stipulated that no one in the multitude who was witness to the resurrection of Jairus’s daughter discuss the miracle publicly (Mark 5:43).
Note that all these demands for silence closely follow healings and the disciple’s startling realization that they were in the company of the Messiah—God’s anointed one! As people heard Jesus teach and experienced his power over physical ailment, the crowds grew larger and the demands for his “skills” grew greater. People love heroes; they love to put them in power as protectors or national icons. For the most part, these people were not looking for a suffering servant or a savior from sin (Isaiah 53; John 6:15); they wanted a savior from Roman rule, a charismatic leader—a messiah of their own making.
Misrepresentations of him were plentiful (John 7:40-53). Some thought of Jesus as an intriguing and inspiring teacher; some saw him as a ticket to good health (Matthew 11:20-24; John 12:17-19) or food (John 6:26), others saw him as one more great Jewish prophet or another John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah (16:14); the Pharisees saw him as a fake, an impostor, and worthy of death (12:14; John 12:9-11); but a few had their mind opened to the fact that they were indeed in the presence of divine majesty (16:17). This unique King was not seeking a crown; he was seeking a cross through which he would offer salvation from sin to the entire world (12:18, 21; Isaiah 42:1, 4; cf. Genesis 22:15-18). However, at this time, a path of suffering and death would not be favorable to the multitudes (John 12:27-41) anymore than it was agreeable to the disciples (16:22; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 24:18-21). For the time being, they wanted him to live; he needed to die!
Jesus knew the selfish and shortsighted intentions of men. In time, the attitudes of the multitude would change with the urging of their leaders. Many of whom he healed would eventually look upon him with hate. He knew that once the Pharisees, Sadducees, and rulers in the synagogues fully comprehended his claim to divinity and the Messianic throne, they would accuse him of blasphemy against God and treachery against Caesar. At his choosing, Jesus would officially disclose his divine identity and purpose before the Sanhedrin (16:21; 26:63-64; Luke 9:22). Until then, and fully aware of human fickleness (John 2:24-25), he occasionally asked the crowds and his disciples not to make his works or true identity known. Jesus was controlling the timing of his death (John 2:4, 12:23-36)!
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