As Though Hiding His Face From Us

Shalom friends,

My name is Julia Blum. Thanks to the kind and generous words of Dr. Eli in the previous post, I don’t really need to introduce myself, as he has introduced me already.  I am privileged and honored to take over the administration of the Jewish Studies blog:  From my classes, I already know some of the students, so I know what an amazing, wonderful, excited and exciting audience we have! I am very grateful for each and every one of you – and I look forward to hearing from you! This blog has been a wonderful addition to your eTeacher experience and I hope and pray that it will continue to be a blessing to everyone who follows.

I would like to begin with my favorite topic – one that I spent many years researching, writing and praying over: The Hidden Messiah.  In the series of posts I’ll present here, we will first see the Messianic Secret of the New Testament against its Jewish background; then we will follow the idea of the hidden and revealed Messiah though Luke-Acts; and then finally, we will learn the profound lessons of the transitional chapter of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24). So – let the journey begin!

 Messianic Secret  of the New Testament against its Jewish background (Part 1): Messianic Secret 

“Any discussion of… Messianism is a delicate matter, for it is here that the essential conflict between Judaism and Christianity has developed and continues to exist”, Gershom Sholem wrote to begin his famous Messianic Idea in Judaism.  In the light of these essential differences, a consensus between Jewish and Christian scholars regarding the so-called Messianic Secret appears all the more striking. Scholars from both sides recognize the fact that in the Gospels Jesus is frequently portrayed as seeking to maintain an element of secrecy about his own person and work throughout the length of his public ministry (sometimes even openly discouraging use of the title ‘Messiah’). This feature of the Gospels is well-known and widely acknowledged; it is known today as the “Messianic Secret” – a term which derives from a classic study by William Wrede.
Let us have a look at some scriptures where Jesus directly forbade others to speak of Him as Messiah: He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ [Messiah] of God.’ And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one.[1] A similar ban accompanies all His healings of Israelites: the cleansing of the leper, the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and the healing of the two blind men, to name a few. These and many other stories are almost unavoidably accompanied by a concluding commentary: and He strictly warned him… and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone’;’[2] but He commanded them strictly that no one should know it;[3] and Jesus sternly warned them, saying, ‘See that no one knows it.’[4] He didn’t just recommend that they not say anything – He forbade them to talk about it, and almost always strictly or sternly.  Actually, the only thing that Jesus did sternly was to forbid people to discuss His Messianic identity and miracles. In fact, the only time in the entire New Testament that He reveals his Messianic identity is in the scene with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Just think of that! The only time when He speaks of it, is not to a Jewish person but to a Samaritan woman, and even then only at a time when His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food[5] – that  is, when there was not a single Jewish person in sight!  In the same way, the healing of the demon-possessed man from the Gentile country of the Gadarenes also presents a striking contrast to all the stories quoted above: In answer to his request to follow Him, Jesus tells the healed man, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.’[6]   Thus, Jesus was ready to reveal His identity to the Gentiles, but was very careful not to reveal it to the Jews.

It is important to distinguish between texts and history, and therefore, between two different audiences: the audience of the readers of the Gospels, and the audience of Jesus inside the Gospels. All the texts of the NT were written decades after His death and resurrection, and the Gospels’ authors, while turning to their contemporary readers, were repeating tirelessly that Jesus was the promised Messiah: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20.31) – but that is not what we are talking about. We are not studying what the evangelists tell us about Jesus; what we are interested in is what Jesus of the Gospels says about himself, or allows/does not allow others to say about him to his own contemporaries. The Gospels consciously and purposely portray Jesus hiding and concealing his messiahship from His audience. In other words, the messiahship of Jesus is something the author and the readers know, but the original participants did not know.

This Messianic Secret – this contrast between the messiahship of Jesus and his injunctions to secrecy in the Gospels – undoubtedly requires some explanation. We will seek this explanation in the Jewish patterns of messianic expectations which Jesus and his followers may have made use of. Jesus was Jewish, and of course He was influenced by contemporary Jewish ideas – by His Jewish upbringing and the whole Jewish context of His life. We will try to identify those aspects of the Messianic Secret that may trace back to the time of Jesus, and even before that, to see this puzzling feature of the Gospels against its Jewish background and to seek an explanation of this New Testament quandary in Jewish thought of the time.

[1] Luke 9:20-21

[2] Mark 1:43-44

[3] Mark 5:43

[4] Mat. 9:30

[5] John 4:8

[6] Mark 5:19

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Jerry S.

    Thank you for continuing this blog.
    I was taught, concerning Messiahs command for anonimity during His ministry years, that He was to be revealed at the Triumphal Entry, Luke 19:28-40 where His title was established and in keeping with Daniels 70 weeks, Daniel 9:24.
    Is this topic to be touch on in future posts?

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Jerry, for your comment. Personally, I don’t think Jesus was revealed at His entry to Jerusalem and I don’t think His title was established then. Of course, several messianic prophecies were fulfilled when He entered Jerusalem – but many messianic prophecies had been fulfilled even before that as well, and yet, His Messiahship had not been revealed yet and He was still hidden Messiah. God is the only One who can open the eyes to see the Messiah when the appointed time comes. In my future posts, I will go through Luke-Acts, and then we will see when exactly the appointed time came and when His title was established. I hope , you will find it convincing – and I would really appreciate your comments.

  2. George W Walker.

    Miz Blum,

    I am writing this Comment, in order to inquire about the posibility of the Reason for Jesus Hidden Messiah Characteristics being perhaps hidden in the Appearance of two Messiahs.

    The reason I’m enquiring, is that I know first of all, that There was a pair of Sons born of Juday and Tamar.

    I dont know what the prediction meant, but i wonder if the Blessing on Judah’s sons at the end of Jacobs life, was a Prediction of Messiah’s Coming?

    I have really never seen anyone, that has spoken of these verses as referencing the Coming of Messiah.

    To me, having read these words, ive seen them almost at the beginning of having read them as a prediction of his Appearance.

    Im speaking of the Sons named Pharez and Zareph.

    Their names are pronounced exactly the opposite, almost as if they are the first and the last, as well as the way they were born, both being first.

    I have also seen the possible indication of This being used, in the birth of Seth, pronounced as it is, but then looking at the name of God, In Greek, Thes, very close to the Greek Name, Theos, the exact opposite pronunciation.

    Appreciate any comment.

    1. Julia Blum

      Shalom George, thank you for sharing. I must say that in Hebrew, the names of these brothers don’t have this opposite spelling – however, the topic of Pharez and of this root ((perez – פרץ) is very interesting, indeed. One thing that immediately comes to my mind, is the quotation from NT where Jesus is saying :

      12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force (Mat. 11:12)

      In Hebrew, both violence and the violent are rendered by the words coming from this root: פורצת , הפורצים

      I don’t know yet what to make of it – let’s keep thinking together!

  3. Charné Owen

    Dear Julia
    I have always wondered about this topic because Jesus healed many people in the crowds! It appears that it was only in instances when He was alone with those He healed that He told them not to tell anyone. Looking forward to the next ‘episode’! Thank you!

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Charne! I don’t think these are the cases when He was alone with those He healed; I believe , these are just those cases where the Scripture zooms in (still, with many people around) and therefore , we can see the details and hear His words. Don’t you agree?

    2. Julia Blum

      Dear Charne, as I was reading my Bible today, I saw this verse and was reminded of your comment. Here is the verse:15 But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes[a] followed Him, and He healed them all. 16 Yet He warned them not to make Him known,. Just wanted you to see that it was not only “in instances when He was alone with those He healed that He told them not to tell anyone”. Blessings – and stay tuned for my next post, it is coming tomorrow!

  4. Guillermo Cevallos

    Shalom y Gracias Julia por permitirme acompañarte en este interesante viaje que nos permite ampliar nuestros conocimientos.

  5. Henrietta Wisbey

    Thoughtful and insightful Julia!
    Knowledge alone can never teach. There has to be a gradual process unveiling and revealing truth.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you , Henrietta! I fully agree: we need both knowledge and revelation.

  6. Angelika Walter

    Shalom Julia,
    I´m very pleased that you continue Dr. Eli´s study group. I always liked to read Dr. Eli´s blog and learned much from him, but I, too, have every confidence in you, that you will continue his work well.
    You touch on a great question, many people struggle with: why is God hidden in this world? Why is Messiah hidden for Israel? Is there a plan of God behind all this?
    I think many Christians much too quickly boast against the “blind Jews”, but when I put myself in the shoes of these people at this time or even unbelieving Jews today, I know it´s by far not that easy. What would I have expected? Almost certainly not a divine Messiah who will die on a cross for my sins – this is revelation! Perhaps Messiah keeps his identity in secret because only this way he judges the secrets of human heart.
    God bless you

    1. Julia Blum

      Shalom Angelika, so good to hear from you! Thank you for your kind words! Thank you for your confidence and for the encouragement! Thank you also for your thoughts about the Jews and Yeshua : you are so right! This is exactly what I want to show here, on this blog, with God’s help.

  7. Catherine

    Always been struck by Jesus willingness to talk about his identity to the Samaritan woman. Great topic and welcome aboard

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Catherine! Yes, it is almost like a detective story: why do we have to know that His disciples went to buy food? Because it’s important that we know that He was alone with the woman, and there were no Jewish people around. Amazing!

  8. Gabrielle Manser

    Shalom Julia. I am new to this forum but delighted to be part of this teaching. There is nothing more wonderful than having a delicious secret revealed, and when it helps bring us closer to the heart and mind of Yeshua – the center of all things to me, then it is even more wonderful. Thank you for this excellent opportunity.

    1. Julia Blum

      Shalom Gabrielle, I am glad you are here! Welcome! ! I am also new to this forum (at least, as administrator), and it was my first post – so let’s continue the journey together!

  9. Heather

    Thank you Julia. The secrecy of Jesus also makes me think of the passage in Romans where the Gentiles have been given salvation in order to provoke Israel to jealousy. I am so sorry for Israel that they didn’t listen to Him, and so glad for us that they didn’t listen. What a conundrum.
    May He bless your work mightily Julia.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Heather! Romans 11, I believe, is one of the most important chapters in the Bible for comprehending and unlocking the mystery of Israel.

  10. Johnson Kanduri

    It’s very good to knows about who is Jesus Christ