Daily Bible Study Tips: Reader Questions Answered

Why does Jesus tell the disciples and those he has healed not to tell anyone about him?  How can this be reconciled with his instructions to be his witnesses?

Disciples.   Jesus instructs his disciples on several occasions not to repeat what he has told them or tell what they have discovered or seen for themselves.  For example,
There appear to be two main reasons that Jesus wanted to delay these announcements.
First, the Old Testament draws two pictures of the Messiah.  One picture is the one we are familiar with:  the suffering servant, come to heal and save the world (for example, Isaiah 9, 11, 53).  The other picture, however, was of much more intense interest to first-century Jews:  a military leader who would throw off oppression and restore the earthly kingdom of David (for example, Daniel 2:44, 7:13-28).  Jesus wanted them to see his nature before they learned his title.
Second, what happened when the true nature of Jesus finally came to light?  Two things. 

First, many of the common people – and even some of the disciples after the resurrection! – still wanted to make him king (Mark 11:10; John 6:15; Acts 1:6), which was not what he had in mind.  Second, the Jewish religious leaders made Jesus the object of a manhunt designed to end in his death (Mark 3:6; 14:1; John 11:45-54).  The Jews knew that the Romans brought a speedy end to the work and life of anyone who tried to usurp the powers or title of Caesar.  Pilate had no interest in the charge of blasphemy (Mark 14:64; John 18:31, 38; 19:6), so the religious leaders quickly changed the accusation to insurrection (John 19:12), and this is the crime for which Jesus was crucified (John 19:19).  This result would have come about much earlier if his nature and title had been revealed too soon, and Jesus needed time to instruct his disciples and build his church.  Therefore he told them not to say anything to anyone.
Others.   Jesus also sometimes tells people whom he has healed not to tell anyone, or in some other way it seems that he did not want the publicity.
Again, let's look at what happened when the word about Jesus got out.  In the early part of his ministry, Jesus taught in synagogues.  He and his disciples traveled from town to town, teaching every Sabbath in a different place (Mark 1:21, 39).  He healed people during this period, but there does not seem to be any indication in the scripture that people traveled from place to place to be near him.  But once he healed the leper who blabbed it all over (Mark 1:45a) ...  Wow! Did the situation change!  Teaching in the synagogues came to an abrupt end (Mark 1:45b), and from that time on, Jesus was mobbed wherever he went (Mark 1:45c; 2:2, 13; 4:1; 5:21; 6:54-56; 8:1; 10:1, 46).  It became difficult to get time alone with his disciples to instruct them (Mark 3:7; 6:32-33; 9:30-31), and at times the situation was so hectic that none of them could even get any rest (Mark 3:20; 6:31).  Furthermore, on the rare occasions when he did manage to make it to a synagogue, the religious leaders were "watching closely...hoping for something to use against him" (Mark 3:2).
There actually was one time when Jesus directed a healed man to go and tell about it (Mark 5:19); in this case, the man was sent into an area that Jesus himself did not travel in extensively.
Witnesses.   Later, the situation was different.  The true nature and title of Jesus had been unmistakably revealed by the resurrection (Acts 2:32, 36).  He had taught his disciples everything he could teach them (Luke 24:44-48).  Now everyone needed to hear the truth about him, so the instructions changed.  At the Last Supper, he says, "You will be my witnesses, because you have been with me from the outset" (John 15:27).  And at the Ascension, he says, "Be witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth"  (Acts 1:8).
So we are in a different situation now than the people who were with Jesus during his life on earth.  We know his name and title, we know his nature, and we know that he can work miracles in our lives.  If other people don't know, they need to be told.  Therefore only the instructions to be witnesses apply to us, not the instructions to keep these things secret.

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Copyright 2007, 2010 by Regina L. Hunter

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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