The Gospel of Mark’s emphasis on secrecy has many possible explanations. Wilhelm Wrede, a German scholar, argued in the early 20th century that the messianic secret “was an attempt to explain how the Jesus whom the early Christians worshipped as Son of God and Messiah had not been recognized as such during his lifetime” (Van Voorst 167). For Wrede, Jesus’ command of secrecy served as an explanation for the widespread lack of misunderstanding of who he was as the Messiah, even among his disciples. Wrede asserts that the messianic secret was something created by people to explain aspects of Jesus’ ministry, but many other scholars argue that the theme of secrecy may actually trace back to Jesus himself (Van Voorst 167). These scholars argue that the messianic secret may reflect “Jesus’ historical rejection of some messianic aspirations of his own time” (Van Voorst 167). Because the messianic expectations of many of Jesus’ followers were far from the actual messianic identity of Jesus, it makes sense that Jesus would have rejected the title of Messiah. For example, in Mark 8.29-30, Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus “sternly [orders]” that the disciples tell no one that he is the Messiah. This dialogue is put into context in the following verses, with Jesus explaining his suffering role as Messiah (8.31) and Peter rebuking him (8.32). Mark 8 contrasts Peter’s understanding with his misunderstanding, and this serves as a possible explanation for the theme of secrecy. Since Peter does not truly understand what he is proclaiming when he calls Jesus “Messiah,” Jesus commands that he not make the proclamation at all.
The theme of messianic secrecy has always confused me, so I enjoyed exploring different scholars’ explanations for these seemingly strange dialogues between Jesus and those who proclaim him as the Messiah. After reading the different explanations, I think the messianic secret was likely Jesus pushing back against false messianic expectations. Since Jesus knew that many of his followers had political, nationalistic, even militaristic expectations of what the Messiah would be, it makes sense to me that he would push back against the title of Messiah. By commanding secrecy, Jesus was not saying that he was not the Messiah; rather, he was saying that he was not the kind of Messiah that people were expecting.