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The Messianic Secret is the term which is applied to Jesus’

unwillingness to reveal his divine identity. Although Jesus is the Son of God,

he purposely tells disciples not to reveal his wondrous works to others, with

the consequence, however, that only the demons are the only ones who

divulges his identity. This was proposed by the German scholar W. Wrede in

1901.1 This tendency of keeping Jesus’ identity a secret is a unique

occurrence in the Gospel of Mark and has been among one the enigmatic

features in dealing with the said Gospel, albeit few parallel stories are found

in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In the Gospel of Mark, there is

something enigmatic about the deliberate intention of hiding Jesus’ identity.

Jesus himself, on certain occasions, did not wish to divulge His being the

Messiah—the “Messianic Secret.”2


In several instances in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus imposed this secrecy upon

the demons that he drove out (1:34; 3:12), upon those whom He cured (1:44;

5:43; 7:36; 8:26), upon the disciples (8:30; 9:9). In the Gospel of Matthew,

only these last two verses runs parallel to the story, otherwise there are no

other instances. Moreover, in Luke only some few examples like the incident

of casting away the demons in Lk 4:35, 41 and to those who received His

miracles (Lk 5:14; 8:56).

Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (NY: Doubleday, 1997), 153.
A. Robert and A. Feuillet, Introduction to the New Testament (NY: Desclee Company: 1965), 209-210.
Other details in Mark’s Gospel display this same aspiration of Jesus,

especially in the many instances when he cured sick people, which were

done away from a relatively large crowd. What’s the purpose why He had to

do this away from them? One can somehow conclude the implicit message

that Jesus desired not to show this act of curing, which might somehow give

the people some clues of His being the Messiah. Moreover, in these healings,

it is obvious that the disciples were not able to completely comprehend such

miraculous actions of their Teacher. Somehow they felt that these events

were beyond their simple minds (Mk 4:41; 10:35, 41 ff.). Finally, the reason

given for the preaching of the parables was the desire to hide the mystery

from those outside (4:11 ff.).

Very compelling was when, in the middle part of the Gospel, Peter

recognizes that Jesus is God’s messiah and is immediately told not to tell

anyone.3 Indeed, the Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as a powerful teacher

and healer but commands people to remain silent when they would conclude

that he is the Messiah.4 The reason is that Jesus wishes to communicate to

his disciples that his being a Messiah is to suffer and die ((Mk 8:31-33) and is

not according to the notion of an anointed king or priest in the Old

Testament and was still being believed in the Jewish traditions during his

time. This meant that Jesus was trying to correct his disciples’ mentality as

regards his messianic duty as someone invested by God with special political

functions and powers.5 On the contrary, Jesus tells them that He is destined
Pheme Perkins, Reading the New Testament (Makati City: St. Pauls Philippines,1994), 205.
Perkins, Reading the New Testament, 205.
Gerard O’ Collins, Interpreting Jesus (NJ: Paulist Press, 1983), 65.
to die on the cross. This runs parallel with the idea that Jesus Christ

“consistently behaved like one who identified himself as the Servant”, which

has been mentioned four times in the book of the prophet Isaiah, specifically

the post-exilic deutero-Isaiah, 6

in the songs of the Servant of the Lord (42:1-

4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).


There are various interpretations of the reason why in Mark, Jesus

prompted his disciples to keep his messianic identity. Some scholars believe

that this Messianic secrecy in Mark is a form of an apologetic made by the

primitive Christian community that was anxious to proclaim and explain the

humble nature of Jesus’ life. Then there are those who believe that this is

merely a literary style. But there are also those who think that this was Jesus’

way of teaching: the Jews must not be allowed to interpret Messianism in a

carnal way and that Jesus did not want his contemporaries to be distracted

by revealing too openly his divinity, otherwise they would not be able stand

it. Succinctly, scholars are divided as to what really is the main reason of

such a Messianic secrecy.7

One thing is certain: Jesus did not directly proclaim his identity as

messiah to the point that in reading the Gospels, we cannot read explicit

evidence that Jesus himself understood or proclaimed that He is the Messiah.

There is an implicit declaration in the Gospels that Jesus somehow wanted to

O’ Collins, Interpreting Jesus, 61.
A. Robert and A. Feuillet, Introduction to the New Testament, 211.
reveal openly his being a Messiah, but only as a suffering figure. As what O’

Collins mentions, Jesus could have been “aware that it was only through his

suffering, death, and vindication that he would effectively function as a

messianic deliverer.”8


It is clear that in Mark, Jesus could not say openly who He was until He

had shown the meaning of His titles by His death. It is fair to say that in

Mark, the desire of Jesus to keep the Messianic secret has been

systematized.9 In Matthew, the disciples’ lack of understanding is not

consistently being mentioned; their failure to understand the proclamations

of the Passion is even being toned down. Luke does a similar thing as that of


There is, however, a mysterious beauty in this open-ended discussion

in Mark. This reality tells us that one cannot fully comprehend only by means

of human faculties. To understand Jesus, one must have faith. The readers of

the Gospel of Mark are actually invited to look deeper into the person of

Christ, beyond that which seems to be merely human, but truly is the Son of

God, the divine being, the one true Messiah, sent by God the Father to the


O’ Collins, Interpreting Jesus, 67.
A. Robert and A. Feuillet, Introduction to the New Testament, 210.