It's a Secret!

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is continually telling people not to say anything about his identity or his miracles. Fr. Lee offers a brief explanation of this "Messianic Secret".

by Father Lee Davis on June 24, 2024

The Messianic Secret

Mark 5:35-43

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus told the people who witnessed this miracle not to tell anyone? This is a recurring theme in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus seems reluctant to disclose his identity. This is sometimes referred to as the “Messianic Secret”, a term coined by German scholar Wilhelm Wrede in 1901. Most scholars agree that the best way to interpret all of the instances where Jesus tells people to keep quiet is that the author of Mark is using the “secret” as a literary device.

In the Gospel of Mark, readers learn about Jesus' identity from the very first verse, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ (Messiah)." Throughout the Gospel, various characters recognize Jesus' identity, including demons who repeatedly identify him as the messiah, and God, who declares Jesus as his son both at the baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration. For the readers of Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ identity is not a secret. However, it's not until the fourteenth chapter of Mark that Jesus explicitly reveals his identity when he is questioned by the Jewish High Council. When asked if he is the Messiah, Jesus responds, “I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power” (Mark 14:62). At this moment, the high priest condemns Jesus to death, leading to the climax of the Gospel: Jesus’ crucifixion and his glorious resurrection, confirming his identity as the Messiah.

In the Gospel of Mark, the author is shaping our understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. During Jesus' lifetime, people expected the Messiah to be a political or military savior. However, Mark emphasizes that Jesus' power over demons, ability to heal, raise the dead, and even the transfiguration and conversations with Moses and Elijah are not what make him the Messiah. For the author of Mark, these are secondary evidences. Mark uses secrecy in the narrative to direct our focus to the understanding of Jesus as the Messiah in the context of his suffering, and the giving of his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). After the transfiguration, Jesus instructs his disciples to keep quiet until "the Son of Man has risen from the dead." According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus' death and resurrection are central to his role as the Messiah. The secrecy in the narrative serves to shift the focus from miraculous acts to the ultimate revelation of his messiahship through the Passion and Resurrection.

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