There are a number of times in the gospels that Jesus performs a miracle and then tells the person healed and those who witnessed to not tell anyone…. I wonder: why?The obvious answer from a human perspective is because he feared the Jews and those who wanted to shut him down. But since He is God, why would he not just be glad for the good news to spread far and wide? Being fearful of sinful men strikes me as not really his nature…
Sometimes Jesus told people not to tell others about his miracles and identity, but other times he told them to tell everyone.
- After confirming to his disciples that he was indeed the Messiah, Jesus instructed them not to tell anyone. (Matthew 16:20; Mark 8:29-30; Luke 9:20-21)
- Jesus healed a leper and told him not to tell anyone that it was he who had done this. The man, however, did not comply with this request. (Mark 1:40-44; Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-15)
- Jesus told demons not to speak about him and tell others who he was. (Mark 1:34, 3:11-12)
Conversely, there are occasions where Jesus tells people to go out and tell everyone what he did for them:
- Mark 5:18-20 (also found in Luke: 8:38-39): As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
- Matthew 28:18-20 (also Mark 16:15-16): And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
What was the reasoning behind these different approaches, and why would Jesus ever tell people not to tell others what he did or who he was?
Here are two reasons:
A Matter of Publicity
One problem with people spreading the word about Jesus healing them was that it resulted in large crowds following him around. This was the case with the leper who did not comply with Jesus’ request that he keep quiet about it. That man went out and “began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news,” and the result was: “so Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” (Mark 1:45)
If everyone was crowding around him trying to touch him and clamoring to be healed, it would be harder for him to preach – and preaching, not healing, was his primary objective (see Luke 4:42-43).
When it came to demons, Jesus understandably didn’t want demons to be proclaiming who he was, lest people associate him with demons, or they misrepresent him.
Furthermore, the Jews had many misconceptions of who the Messiah was going to be. Some didn’t believe there would be a Messiah; others thought there would be two Messiahs (a king descended from David and a Levite priest); still others were waiting for a warrior-king to overthrow the Romans. In many cases, Jesus wanted to introduce himself to people first, before telling them that he was the Messiah, so he could teach them things without the baggage of their expectations influencing the way they heard the things he said to them.
A Matter of Timing
Jesus had a very keen sense of timing. According to prophecy, he had to die in Jerusalem at the Passover. (For more on that, check out: Easter Math: How Does It Add Up?)
There are several passages which show Jesus’ sense of timing and his caution to not come out too early.
- John 2:4: Jesus tells his mother that the time to begin his ministry had not yet come.
- John 7:6: when his brothers challenged him to go to the festival, Jesus tells them that “the right time for me has not yet come.”
- Luke 9:51: it says that the time was approaching for him to be taken to heaven, and at that time, he turned his face resolutely toward Jerusalem.
In John 6:15 we read that some people, hearing that Jesus was the Messiah, wanted to come and make him their king, by force!
However, once the timing was right, Jesus revealed himself as king on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21), and encouraged his followers to tell everyone. For Jesus, this was a matter of publicity and timing.