Here is a question I received concerning last Sundays sermon…
“u said something just sort of in passing in the sermon that I’ve always wondered about. I can never figure out in the gospels why Jesus heals someone and then often says, ok now don’t tell anyone about this. And other times things are to be kept secret. That never made sense to me. But u said, it was b/c Jesus was not trying to overthrow the roman government. Can u expand on that abit?”
Great question and one that I have wondered about as well. There are theories about this command to keep silent in the Gospels. I think David Garland’s comments (particularly point 4) will help you with your question. What I was intending to say on Sunday is that Mark (from his Gospel angle) wants us to see that Jesus was not trying to overthrow the roman government. These were charges placed on Jesus by the Jews in order to kill Jesus. When Mark wrote the Gospel (Scholars believe) between A.D. 65-69. This would have been very important for Mark’s audience because a large Roman political uprising was underway against the Jews and Christians as problematic groups. Mark really shows the nature of Jesus as a suffering servant not a religious zealot or a leader who wanted His followers to rise up against the Roman Empire.
Theologian David Garland writes concerning The Commands to Keep Silent (1:43–45; cf. 1:25, 34)
“Mark 1 records the first of Jesus’ frequent commands to demons and to those whom he healed to keep silent (vv. 25, 34, 44). He commands the leper to tell no one about the miracle and hastily speeds him on his way. These commands have nothing to do with any so-called messianic secret, as suggested by Wrede. The reasons for the command to silence lie elsewhere.
1. The command makes clear that as a miracle worker Jesus wants to remain hidden; this is what sets him apart from other miracle workers in the ancient world. Jesus does not work miracles to amaze people as false prophets would do. Many in his age assumed that itinerant religious/philosophical teachers were in the business of building their own reputations and sought out fame for the financial bonanza that came with it. Jesus has no interest in taking on the role of a celebrity healer.
2. Jesus does not trust a faith based on spectacles, and he knows that the clamor of the moment will not last. He also knows that God’s power is not revealed solely through miracles. It becomes clearest in the crucifixion, but those who want only miracles can see nothing.
3. Jesus prefers to keep the news of his miracles quiet so that it will give him more time to put off his inevitable destruction by the powers that be and to sow the word. Some cannot be trusted with the information because they will only use it to try to destroy him. Others will give him no peace, prying into his life, limiting his free movement, and giving him no time to instruct his disciples in private. Despite the pains he takes to try to squelch the fervor created by his healing powers, however, the news spreads like wild fire. The upshot is that the unwanted publicity that comes from the disobedience to his command to silence hinders important facets of his mission with his disciples. Whenever someone disobeys this command, the next scene begins by mentioning the crush of the crowds. The hubbub restricts Jesus’ free movement as he is harried by the increasing numbers of supplicants and autograph hounds (3:9). He is no longer able to enter a town openly, and people from miles around seek him out (1:45). The leper’s disobedience forces Jesus to avoid the cities and to retreat to deserted places, but even they are no longer deserted. Throngs who come from all over mob him (see also 6:32–33; 7:24). When he returns to Capernaum, the crowd is so thick that they are hanging from the rafters (2:2, 4). Ironically, Jesus’ attempts to cloak himself in secrecy only serve to magnify his reputation.
4. As far as Mark is concerned, the command to secrecy makes it clear that any charges of insurrection made against Jesus are false. Jesus does not arrogate titles for himself, unlike the false christs who acclaim themselves (13:6); he repeatedly tries to escape and restrain the crowds that gather around him. Consequently, Rome has no reason to fear him as king of the Jews (15:2–5), intent on fomenting an uprising of the people.
5. The failure to hush those who are healed reveals that the news of his power to heal is not something that can be kept hidden. One cannot keep silent, and the good news will spread to the end of the earth. Ultimately, however, God reveals secrets and mysteries and will unlock the secret in due time (4:21–23).”
Theologian R. T. France, says concerning Jesus and the silencing of the demons…
It will become clear in 1:34 and 3:11–12 that Jesus’ motive in silencing the demons was to prevent them from revealing who he was. This reticence may be explained simply by the desire to avoid being authenticated by such undesirable witnesses, or it may be part of the wider theme of Jesus’ secrecy, seen in his commanding silence on the part of those whom he had healed or who had witnessed his healings (1:44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26), and even requiring the disciples not to reveal his Messiahship (8:30) or his glory revealed in the transfiguration (9:9). See on 8:30 for a fuller discussion of the ‘messianic secret’, and cf. the Introduction, pp. 31–32. If at least part of the reason for secrecy was to avoid premature and misdirected popular adulation, the christological revelations by the demons would certainly be a potential embarrassment. In this passage, however, that issue is not prominent, and the ‘muzzling’ of the demon is rather a necessary part of the exorcism, putting a stop to its defiant shouting.
The Greek word μυστήριον (mustērion) is best translated ‘secret’, something which is available only to those to whom it has been revealed. Mark’s single use of the term in 4:11 is a pointer to a theme which emerges in other words at many points in the gospel and has often been singled out as one of the main distinguishing marks of his presentation of the story of Jesus. It is most prominent in the four attempts by Jesus to prevent people from talking freely about his miracles (1:43–44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26), attempts which are sometimes spectacularly unsuccessful (1:45; 7:36–37). Demons too, with their supernatural insight, are forbidden to reveal the truth about the one who has dispossessed them (1:25, 34; 3:12). Jesus is often depicted as deliberately avoiding public notice and acclaim (1:37–38; 5:40; 6:31–32, 45–46; 7:24, 33; 8:23; 9:30). But the pattern is not monochrome. The initial account of Jesus’ Galilean ministry is of open proclamation and response (1:14–39). Much of the time Jesus seems to have no objection to public notice and comment on his miracles and even to invite it (2:8–12; 3:2–5; 5:19–20, 30–34; 10:46–52), and on his eventual arrival in Jerusalem deliberately draws attention to himself and his mission (11:1–10, 15–18), so that at his arrest he can make a point of his open activity in the temple (14:49).
Much of this could be accounted for at the historical level as reflecting Jesus’ prudential management of crowd response in order to avoid unwelcome publicity and disturbance by insensitive popular acclaim such as is recorded in 1:45–2:2; 6:31, and in order to avoid drawing the hostile attention of the authorities (6:14–16) before the time had come for him to declare himself.62 But the silencing of the supernatural testimony of the demons suggests that more is involved, and this further dimension is strengthened by the two commands to silence which concern not miracles but the truth about Jesus himself, his Messiahship (8:30) and his divine glory and status as God’s unique son as revealed in the transfiguration (9:9). It should be noted, however, that these two commands are addressed not to the crowds but to the disciples. They (and the demons) have been let into the secret which has so far been withheld from people in general, and the time is not yet ripe for it to be more widely known. The time will come for what has been hidden to be revealed (4:21–22): Jesus will himself declare that he is Messiah and Son of God (14:61–62), and the prohibition on talking about the transfiguration is valid only until after the resurrection (9:9).
The varied nature of this evidence suggests that any simple theory of a Marcan secrecy motif is likely to be inadequate. Secrecy is not an issue in itself. It is rather a function of the nature of Jesus’ message and ministry, which, as we have seen in the previous section, runs counter to conventional human values, even to those of traditional Jewish religious expectation. The constant misunderstandings even on the part of Jesus’ closest disciples vividly illustrate the basis for Jesus’ caution about allowing people, even disciples, to talk openly about the μυστήριον which only divine revelation could unveil to human insight, and which would eventually work itself out through the humanly incomprehensible means of a rejected and abandoned Messiah, a dying Son of God, and an empty tomb. In the light of the paradox of ‘God’s kingship’ as Mark understands it, we need no ‘conspiracy theory’ (such as was proposed by William Wrede in 1901 and has been revamped in different ways by many others since) to explain his frequent emphasis on the need to avoid premature disclosure of the mysterious means by which God had chosen to implement it. The mustard seed will grow in its own time, but until then its significance will necessarily remain hidden from all but the few whose eyes God has opened. But one day they will be able to see that, despite apparent failure and delay, God’s kingship has come with power.”
Theologian Adela Yarbro Collins says this concerning what she calls the “Messianic Secret”
“The various themes of secrecy in Mark 1. the commands to demons and disciples not to reveal the identity of Jesus, 2. the instructions to those who are healed by Jesus not to speak about their healing, 3. the lack of understanding by the disciples, and 3. the “parable theory” (Mark 4:11-12) are all literary devices created or adapted by the author of the Gospel to reveal and yet conceal Jesus and to imply that during his lifetime, his identity was similarly revealed yet concealed.”