Matthew 16:20—Why did Jesus instruct His disciples to tell no one He was the Christ?
Problem: Jesus commissioned His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Yet over and over again throughout His ministry He insisted that His followers “tell no man” (cf. Matt. 8:4; 16:20; 17:9; Mark 7:36; 8:30; 9:9; Luke 5:14; 8:56; 9:21). Doesn’t this contradict His Great Commission?
Solution: The problem is easily resolved if several things are remembered. First, there was often a stated or implied condition on this command to “tell no man.” Jesus said clearly to His disciples on one occasion, “tell no one ... till the Son of Man ha[s] risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9; cf. Matt. 17:9). There is no contradiction between this and His pronouncement to tell everyone after He rose from the dead (in Matt. 28:19).
Second, sometimes Jesus was simply trying to keep down the crowds so that He could continue His ministry. Mark writes, “He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it” (Mark 7:36). Likewise, Luke reports that immediately after Jesus instructed the cleansed leper to “tell no one” (Luke 5:14), “then the report went around concerning Him all the more... So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (vv. 15–16).
Finally, Jesus did not wish to parade His messianic claims, especially among the Jews, since they had a false expectation of a political redeemer who would deliver them from the yoke of Rome (see comments on John 4:26). On one occasion, they even wanted to make Him king by force because of the signs which He did (see John 6:14–15). Since that was not His purpose, He withdrew from them, for His purpose was to die on the cross (see Mark 10:45 and John 10:10, 15).
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.