A Question of Timing
“And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.” Mark 8:30
“But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:61-62
I’ve often wondered why Jesus told his disciples on more than one occasion not to tell people who he was. More often than not this command came on the heels of something extraordinary that he did- in Mark 8 it follows the feeding of the 4,000- something the crowds loved, something that would have inclined them favorably to his claims. At first glance it almost seems that the Lord doesn’t want people to know who He is.
But things look different at a second glance. In Mark 8, just after Peter answers Jesus’ question– “But who do you say that I am?”– with an amazing affirmation of faith– “You are the Christ”– Jesus reminds his disciples, not for the first time, that he is going to be killed. And Peter rebukes him for it: “This shall never happen to you!” And the Lord rebukes him for that; “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Peter called Jesus as the Christ without understanding what that really meant. He wanted a king. He had not yet grasped the fact that Jesus had to die, and so, he was in no position to tell anyone else about him. That’s part of the reason why Jesus tells him to keep silent, but only part. The rest has to do with timing.
In Mark 14 the setting has changed. The crowds have gone, even his disciples have deserted him, and he’s on trial for his life. It is here, when Jesus is humiliated, weak, despised and alone that he finally publicly acknowledges who he is. When the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ?” Jesus said, “I am.”
Why then? Why not before in front of the adoring crowds? They would doubtless have hailed him as king and fought to make him so. Why wait until that possibility has become impossible, unthinkable, to say, now, for the record, I am?
The answer, I think, is important for us to remember, especially but not only during the season of Lent. Walter Wangerin explains it well.
“This, then, is the Christ that Jesus would have us know and accept and (O Christian!) reflect:
One who came to die.
One who, in the assessment of this age, failed– an embarrassment, a folly, a stumbling block. An offense!
If we ever persuade the world (or ourselves) that we have a hero in our Christ, then we have lied. Or else we are deceived, having accepted the standards of this world.
He came to die beneath the world’s iniquity. The world, therefore, can only look down on him whom it defeated- down in hatred until it repents; but then it is the world no more.
Likewise, the world will look down on us– down in contempt until it elevates the Christ it sees in us; but then it won’t be our enemy any more, will it?”