The Messianic Secret
“Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ” (Matt. 16:20).
- Matthew 16:13–23
The title “Christ,” or “Messiah,” is the most frequently used title for Jesus by the New Testament authors. This title is so important to Jesus’ identity that it became common simply to use the title “Christ” instead of His given name. Even today, when people say “Christ,” we know that they are referring to Jesus.
Yesterday’s study was based on Mark 8:29 where Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Today we will develop this title further by turning to Matthew 16:13–23 and examining Matthew’s account of Peter’s confession. We will focus on verse 20 where Jesus charges His disciples to tell no one that He is the Christ.
Even though “Messiah” is the most frequently used title for Jesus by the New Testament authors, it was not a title that Jesus used very often for Himself. Jesus never denied that He was the Messiah. His blessing of Peter in verses 17–19 of today’s passage demonstrates that He agreed with Peter’s confession. But Jesus did not want to let very many people know that He was the promised Christ. Throughout His ministry, Jesus was very guarded about who would know that He was the Messiah (see Mark 3:12; 5:43; 8:30; Luke 8:56; 9:21).
Jesus’ guarding of His identity for most of His earthly ministry is typically referred to as the “Messianic Secret.” At this point we should ask ourselves why Jesus was so careful to keep His identity hidden. In order to answer this question, we have to look at the common
Messianic expectations in first-century Palestine. Most of the nation was looking for a Messiah who would be a political revolutionary. They were looking for a king who would come in and release the nation from Roman domination. The demand for the release of Barabbas, a political zealot, instead of Christ (Matt. 27:15–23) shows that most of Israel wanted a political savior.
While these expectations were not wholly erroneous, most of the nation failed to grasp the full role of the Messiah. They failed to grasp the expectations in the prophetic writings (especially Isaiah 53) that the Messiah would not only be a political ruler but also a suffering servant. Jesus kept His identity hidden so that He would not encourage these incomplete expectations and bring upon Himself the wrath of the Roman government before the appointed time.
Jesus did not keep His identity hidden from everyone, but revealed it to those who would be less likely to expect a political revolutionary (for example, John 4:26). In order that you would not have false expectations about Jesus’ work in your life, be sure to study Scripture consistently, and pray for the Spirit to illumine its meaning.
Passages for Further Study
- 2 Sam. 7:14–15
- Isa. 6:8–10; 53
- Mark 5:1–20
- John 4:1–42