In many places in the Gospel where we read about miracles Jesus performed, we also read that He forbade the healed person to spread the word. See for example Mark 1:40-44 (compare Matthew 8:2-4),
“And a leper came to Him, imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, He stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’”
This seems strange at first sight: why would Jesus not want everybody to know of the miracles He performed? Let’s delve in a little deeper to find the answer.
Verses about Jesus telling people to keep quiet
There are several other examples where Jesus told people to keep quiet about their healing. Almost in each case Jesus ‘sternly’ or ‘strictly’ ordered them not to make known what had happened.
- Two blind men in Matthew 9:27-31
- People with various illnesses in Matthew 12:15-16
- Jairus and his wife, whose daughter was raised from the dead in Mark 5:41-43
- A man who was deaf and had a speech impediment in Mark 7:35-36
- A blind man in Mark 8:22-26
On some other occasions, Jesus forbade His disciples to declare that He was the Christ:
- “He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ” in Matthew 16:20; Mark 8:29-30
- When three disciples had seen Jesus in His divine glory, they were not allowed to share this before His resurrection (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:1-9)
In a similar way, demons were not allowed to tell who Jesus was:
- “And He strictly ordered them not to make Him known.” (Mark 3:11-12)
Jesus’ mission was not primarily about miracles
Jesus had not come to make His name as a healer. He did not want His miracles to attract too much attention, because it could hamper His ministry.
This is indeed what happened after Jesus had healed the leper in Mark 1. Jesus commanded the leper to go show himself to the priest for inspection. This was important because in this way, objective proof for his healing could be obtained and the healed leper could then enter society again (as ordained in Leviticus 14:2-31). Jesus sternly commanded him to keep quiet, but the healed man did the opposite. As a result, Jesus could not openly enter a town anymore! (Mark 1:45). The miracles were meant to support Jesus’ message about the coming Kingdom of God (as described in John 2:23), but now people just came because of the miracles. Many did not believe in Him, but just wanted to see the signs for themselves (see John 6:1-2; 12:36-37).
False expectations of the Messiah
Many Jewish people had mistaken expectations of the Messiah who would come. They hoped that the Messiah would deliver them from the Roman oppressors and would establish his earthly kingdom. But Jesus had not come to overthrow any political powers, He had come to preach God’s kingdom and justice (Matthew 12:18-21), and to die on the cross for our sins.
Before people were to spread the news that Jesus was the Messiah (or to talk about miracles that clearly showed Him to be the Messiah, see Isaiah 26:19; 29:18; 35:4-6), Jesus wanted them to have a clear understanding of His identity and mission. The necessity of this becomes clear from Matthew 16:21-22 (compare Mark 8:31-32), immediately after Jesus forbade His disciples to tell that He was the Christ:
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’”
The disciples did not yet grasp that Jesus’ glorious reign must be preceded by suffering and death. They were hoping for Israel’s political restoration there and then, but Jesus was primarily focusing on spiritual restoration. So, if they had proclaimed the arrival of the Messiah, their message would have been one-sided at best. The same goes for other people who were healed or who had witnessed healing miracles. They needed to grasp Jesus’ message more fully before spreading it further.
In Luke 8:26-39 we read about Jesus healing a demon-possessed man. This takes place in the country of the Gerasenes, a Gentile (non-Jewish) territory. After the man is healed, he wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus sends him away with the words: “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” Instead of keeping quiet, the man had to proclaim to everyone what Jesus had done! And he did! (Luke 8:39). Then, in the same chapter, we read about Jairus’ daughter. She is only 12 and she dies, but Jesus raises her from the dead. He charges the parents to tell no one what had happened (Luke 8:56). Here, Jesus was back in Jewish territory.
This observation confirms the thought that Jesus adapted His message to His audience. When there was the risk of people having mistaken expectations about the arrival of the Messiah, He did not (yet) want them to know it. When this risk was not there since people didn’t know the Old Testament prophecies and did not have a (flawed) expectation of the Messiah bringing political restoration, the news could be spread more freely.
After Jesus’ resurrection, people could speak openly
When Jesus Christ had completed His mission by dying on a cross and rising from the dead, He commissioned His disciples to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And they did, after they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Now they could speak of Jesus’ miracles in public:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24)
Having wrong expectations of Jesus
During Jesus’ time on earth, many people had mistaken expectations of Him, including His own disciples (partly even after His resurrection, in Acts 1:6). Today, many people still do. But Jesus will never disappoint you if you put your hope in Him for eternal salvation. He came to reconcile you with your Maker (Romans 5:10-11) and to bring peace in your heart (John 14:27). Do you accept Him as your Lord and Savior?
 Based on these prophecies, Jewish religious leaders had stated four signs that would prove the identity of the Messiah, since these were things only God Himself could do:
- Cleansing a leper
- Casting out a deaf and dumb spirit
- The healing of birth defects
- Raising the dead after three days (i.e. the fourth day)
Jesus did all of this (Mark 1:40-44; Mark 7:35-36; John 9:1-7; John 11:38-44)