Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Messianic Secret

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the gospel of Mark is what scholars call "the messianic secret," which refers to Jesus' seeming reluctance to disclose his identity. Over and over again Jesus tells his disciples to "tell no one about him." In today's reading, Peter dramatically identifies Jesus as the Messiah and then Jesus strictly orders them to tell one about the truth of his identity. Why would Jesus as the Messiah not want to disclose his identity? Isn't the whole point that the gospel is to be shared and proclaimed?

Many scholars agree that the best way to understand the "messianic secret" is as a literary device. Remember, we are reading Mark's version of the gospel narrative; therefore, we must pay attention to the way that Mark tells the story of Jesus.

Mark very clearly announces the identity of Jesus as the beginning of his gospel (Mark 1:1 - "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ" - Christ means "Messiah"). So, the reader of the gospel knows the true identity of Jesus from the very beginning. Also, the inhabitants of the spiritual realm know the identity of Jesus; the demons repeatedly identify Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Finally, at the baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration, God himself identifies Jesus as his son. So, the identity of Jesus is not a secret to the reader of Mark's gospel.

However, within the narrative of his gospel, Mark uses the reluntance of Jesus to fully disclose his identity to highlight the connection between Jesus' identity as the Messiah and his death on the cross. (Remember, the idea of a crucified messiah was radical in the first century.) Throughout Mark's gospel, Jesus is relunctant to disclose his identity UNTIL the fourteenth chapter, which describes the interogation of Jesus by the Jewish High Council. Jesus is asked by the high priest, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?" To which Jesus replies, "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (14:62). After this pronouncement by Jesus, the high priest tears his clothes and condemns Jesus to death. Mark uses the literary motif of secrecy to emphasize this climatic moment when Jesus himself finally discloses publicly what the reader has known all along - He is the Messiah, the Son of God!

So, as you continue to read through Mark's gospel, remember that the entire narrative is moving toward a climax, the death of Jesus on the cross and his glorious resurrection, which both confirm his identity as the Messiah, God's Son.


  1. this DON'T tell and then TELL was always a puzzle to me -- thanks for helping clear it up.

  2. I've been trying to understand the 'Son of Man' term? Any helpful hints? I always think of Jesus as the 'Son of God'.

  3. Kathy...great question! The title "Son of Man" has two basic connotations. First, the title is used in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Daniel, to describe an apocalyptic figure who will appear near the end of time and announce the Kingdom of God. Early Christians often identified Jesus with this figure described by Daniel, thus the title "Son of Man." Second, the Son of Man seems to point to Jesus' humanity and his solidarity with the human condition. The early Christians came to profess that Jesus was BOTH fully divine (Son of God) and fully human (Son of Man).

  4. thanks I will mull on this for a while.

  5. Kathy I think you and I need to get into a Bible Study course together. We seem to think along the sme lines whith the same questions!

  6. I agree Christy.

    So as far as getting the 'Son of Man' /'Son of God' terms down to MY level -- perhaps one way would be if I wish to learn how I should be; WWJD, etc. I should focus on the Son of Man. As far as worshipping I should focus on Son of God.