Matthew’s Explanation of the “Messianic Secret”

One of the big topics in the Gospel of Mark is what is known as the “Messianic Secret”. Over and over again in Mark, Jesus tells people not to tell others about who he is. This happens up until Mark 8 when Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is and Peter says he is the Christ or Messiah. It seems kind of strange for Jesus to tell others not to tell people about what they have seen until half way through the book. Some believe the reason for this is because Jesus didn’t want people to misunderstand his mission and follow him for all the wrong reasons (to receive food like when he fed the 5000 in Mark 6) (Jesus 101, p 22).

I was reading in Matthew today and it looks like Matthew actually gives an explanation as to why Jesus told people not to tell. It has to do with fulfillment of prophesy from Isaiah 42:1-4. Here is what Matthew tells us in Matthew 12:13-21,

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

God’s Chosen Servant

15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, 16 warning them not to tell who he was. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
21     In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Am I reading that right? Why haven’t I read anyone just offering Matthew’s explanation and why have so many tried so many other explanations if it is right there? Maybe this has been mentioned in commentaries dozens of times and I am just ignorant. This link seems to say the prophesy isn’t about the secret but instead points back to Jesus (in that instance) being unwilling to engage the Pharisees. I did a little more poking around and the Holman Bible Dictionary offers this as a possibility. Thoughts?

3 Responses to Matthew’s Explanation of the “Messianic Secret”

  1. baritonejp says:

    I do think this is telling us of Jesus’ character but I also think is an example of the dispensation of time or in respect to God timing.

  2. Matthew’s use of Isa 42 is indeed important for explaining the Messianic secret. In fact, the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism already alludes to Isa. 42:1 as well as Ps. 2:7. The words “This is my beloved son, with whom I am pleased,” reveal that Jesus is addressed like the newly anointed king in Ps. 2:4-7 (You are my son; today I have begotten you) and like the servant of Isa. 42:1 (the servant with whom God is pleased). He will be a servant Messiah (king).

    The quote of Isa. 42:1-4 in Mt. 12:18-21 reinforces this, showing that Jesus is not the Messiah people think he is, including the Pharisees who see his possible ruling power as a threat to their power, and plan to kill him. They all think he could be, or wants to be, an overpowering imperial Messiah (king). Instead, Jesus quotes Isa. 42:1-4 to show that he is a servant Messiah, the one on whom God puts the Spirit and pleases God by announcing justice (righteousness) to the nations, not just Israel.

    So Jesus is not a politician seeking public support among impressed crowds. He does not cry out in the streets to contend against others on his own behalf. After healing many, Jesus tells the crowd not to make him known. He will not “break a bruised reed;” he will not recruit oppressed and bruised crowds to fight on his behalf so he can become the imperial Messiah. And he will not rule like others who are overbearing towards the poor, the weak, and the outcasts.

    Instead, all along his main message has been about a new kingdom. Jesus’ kingship comes from heaven (the Spirit from heaven anoints him as king at his baptism), and is different from all the kings of earth. He calls disciples to become part of his international kingdom where some Gentiles as well as Jews come to follow him and live out his new gentle and loving righteousness through the power of his Spirit given to them.

  3. I don’t think it’s a question of whether that passage of Matthew applies, but rather why it would apply. He charged them not to make it known (that it might fulfill the prophecy) but why would he choose to work in this way?

    Mat 12:16-21 KJV
    (16) And charged them that they should not make him known:
    (17) That it might be fulfilled
    which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
    (18) Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.
    (19) He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.
    (20) A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.
    (21) And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.

    I think we can figure out the reason from another instance within Matthew as well, when Jesus reminds Peter that he had the power to deliver himself from his own trial if he so chose… but what reason did he give for holding back?

    Mat 26:52-54 KJV
    (52) Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
    (53) Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
    (54) But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?

    If Jesus had prevented an unjust arrest through force and power, would he have been crucified? If Jesus had been known as the Messiah and/or the Son of God, would the Pharisees have brought out their true natures? Or would they have been obsequious and fawning over the Son of God, which is God? Jesus could have come with thunder and lightning and angels, but that’s not how he wrote the script this time around.

    Mar 3:11-12 KJV
    (11) And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God.
    (12) And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.

    There is an old story about a prince that walks among his people as a pauper. Some nobles would ignore him or send him away, saying that they were preparing for an important person. Some were abusive, and some were evil, but there would be the few that were kindly regardless of perceived rank and status. The prince did not maintain his disguise for ever, but for a while he remained incognito.

    Maybe this story is derived from the gospels, or maybe not, but I think the principle still applies. If Jesus had come with might and glory, how would he have been received, and how would these things have been fulfilled? Is he looking for those that will only respect power and status or is it something else he desires?

    I don’t think it’s a complicated answer. Perhaps a complimentary answer, but not complicated.

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