Do these passages seem to suggest that Jesus was keeping a secret from some people while he was down from heaven?
Mark 9:9: “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
Matt. 16:20: “Then He warned His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ.”
Mark 3:12: “But he gave them strict orders not to tell who He was.”
Mark 8:30: “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.”
Some scholars refer to Jesus’ use of parabolic language (Matt. 13; Mark 4; John 6:26-71) and His warnings not to tell others that He was the Christ (Matt. 16:20; Mark 1:24-25, 34, 43-45; 3:12; 8:30; 9:9) as the Messianic secret. This addresses Jesus’ expressed desire to keep His “messiah-ness” secret at times while here in the flesh. The Handbook on Biblical Criticism (4th ed.) states,
“Messianic secret refers to a discernible phenomenon in the Gospels, most especially in the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus explicitly conceals His Messianic character and power until the closing period of His ministry.”
The Messianic secret, if rightly understood, is not Jesus’ attempt to permanently keep people from knowing, believing in, and following Him. Instead, it is the temporary strategy Jesus employed to accomplish redemption on Calvary so that all may be saved through faith in Him after His plan was fulfilled. As the apostle Paul noted:
1 Cor. 2:8-9: “We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
Jesus knew that had they believed in Him before the right time then they would not have crucified Him. Therefore, the Lord graciously taught in parables “to those on the outside… so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:11b-12). As Paul noted, “God’s secret wisdom…has been hidden” but He has done this for “our glory.”
John 6 is one of the most referenced chapters in the discussion over mankind’s God given abilities to respond willingly to the gospel appeal. Unfortunately, the issue of the “Messianic secret” (or what I have referred to as “Judicial hardening” discussed later) has been virtually ignored in many modern theological circles leading to false interpretations of these contested passages.
What is known about the Israelites of this day? Scripture reveals that they have “become calloused…otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Acts 28:27). They were not born calloused, but over time they had grown hardened in their religious self-righteousness, which prevented them from hearing, seeing and responding to the revelation of God.
At this vital time in human history, they are being “judicially hardened” or “cut off” (Rom. 9:1-3) or “sent a spirit of stupor” (Rom. 11:8) so as to seal them in their already calloused condition (John 12:39-41; Acts 28:27). Scripture tells us that God is hardening the calloused Jews in order to accomplish a greater redemptive purpose through their rebellion. It is God’s ordained plan to bring redemption to the world through the crucifixion of the Messiah by the hands of the rebellious Jews (Acts 2:23).
Jesus is not attempting to persuade everyone to come to faith in great numbers as we see following Pentecost when Peter preaches (Acts 2:41). Quite the opposite seems to be the case, in fact. To accomplish the redemptive plan through Israel’s unbelief, we see Jesus actively instructing His apostles not to tell others who He is yet (Matt. 16:20; Mark 8:30; 9:9).
Moreover, Jesus purposefully speaks in riddles in order to prevent the Jewish leaders coming to faith and repentance (Matt. 13:11-15; Mark 4:11-13). When great numbers began to believe Jesus was truly prophetic, notice how Jesus responded: “‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself” (John 6:14-15).
Earlier in the same gospel we learn that “many people saw the miraculous signs He was doing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them…” (John 2:23b-24a). John later reveals this has been a key part of God’s redemptive plan all along:
John 12:39-40: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason, they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them” (emphasis added).
For what reason could they not believe? Is it because they were rejected by their Maker before the world began? Is it about their being born guilty of Adam’s sin and thus incapable of responding willingly to God’s own appeals for reconciliation? Of course not! They are being temporarily blinded in their already calloused condition so as to accomplish redemption for the world. This is not about God rejecting most of humanity before the world began as the Calvinistic systematic reads into these texts.
Mark 4:11-12; 33-34: “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ …With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, He explained everything” (emphasis added).
Clearly, Jesus used riddles, or parables, to keep the Jewish leaders in the dark for a time so as to accomplish a greater redemptive good. This completely undermines Calvinism’s doctrine of “Total Inability.” There is no practical or theological reason for God to put a blind fold on those born totally and completely blind from birth. And there is certainly no reason to hide truth from those in the “corpse-like dead” condition of “Total Inability” proposed by the “T” in Calvinism’s TULIP.
The doctrine of God’s Judicial hardening is crucial in rightly understanding much of the biblical teachings regarding election, predestination and salvation. A misunderstanding or lack of clarity regarding this one doctrine will lead to many more serious misapplications of Scripture.
As a former Calvinist, I can think of no greater point of contention in my struggle over these doctrines than rightly defining God’s active role in judicially hardening Israel from recognizing their own Messiah (especially as it relates to understanding the often referenced proof texts of Romans 9 and John 6).
When it comes to God’s sovereign control over moral evil, as reflected in the pages of Scripture, there is no shortage of confusion and controversy within the church. There are typically three main examples presented in this discussion:
1) Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).
2) Pharaoh hardened by God to accomplish the Passover: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses” (Ex. 9:12).
3) The Crucifixion of Jesus: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross…They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 2:23; 4:28).
All Christian scholars can agree that God at least allowed sinful actions to take place for a greater plan and purpose. We can also all agree that God’s involvement was completely sinless. We could simply stop there and appeal to the mystery as to how God works in such instances, but philosophers are going to do what philosophers are going to do: philosophize. And as C.S. Lewis states, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”
Speaking of “bad philosophy,” some have theorized that because God is “meticulously deterministic” (i.e. “sovereign”) in the examples listed above, then He must be “meticulously deterministic” in every instance of all time. For example, John Hendryx, a compatibilistic philosopher from monergism.com, speculates:
“In order to understand this better, theologians have come up with the term ‘compatibilism’ to describe the concurrence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Compatibilism is a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism. It simply means that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is ‘compatible’ with voluntary choice [choosing according to one’s desire]. Our choices are not coerced …i.e. we do not choose against what we want or desire, yet we never make choices contrary to God’s sovereign decree. What God determines will always come to pass (Eph. 1:11).
In light of Scripture, (according to compatibilism), human choices are exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices occur through divine determinism. For example, God is said to specifically ordain the crucifixion of His Son, and yet evil men willfully and voluntarily crucify Him (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). This act of evil is not free from God’s decree, but it is voluntary, and these men are thus responsible for the act, according to these texts. Or when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, Joseph later recounted that what his brothers intended for evil, God intended for good (Gen 50:20). God determines and ordains that these events will take place (that Joseph will be sold into slavery), yet the brothers voluntarily make the evil choice that brings (sic) it to pass, which means the sin is imputed to Joseph’s brothers for the wicked act, and God remains blameless. In both of these cases, it could be said that God ordains sin, sinlessly. Nothing occurs apart from His sovereign good pleasure… Our choices are our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures, nor separately from God’s meticulous providence. Furthermore, compatibilism is directly contrary to contra-causal free will [or libertarian free will]. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise…”
In this theory, God is involved at the level of determining men’s evil desires in such a manner that they could not have refrained from the given moral action (see the italicized portions above). In other words, Hendryx supposes that God brings these evil events about by meticulously determining all the circumstances and the evil desires of man. Hendryx denies that people ever have the ability of making libertarianly free choices (the ability of the will to refrain or not refrain from a given moral action). Instead, Hendryx is arguing that man is acting in accordance with the desires and circumstances that God has meticulously determined.
Calvinistic author and pastor, John Piper, quotes from Mark Talbot in order to explain this same point:
“God … brings about all things in accordance with His will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love Him; it is rather that He Himself brings about these evil aspects for His glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and His people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4). This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…”
Mark Talbot, John Piper, and all those associated with this publication, are teaching that God actually brings about the sexual abuse of children in order to glorify Himself, yet He does so without sinning. In other words, they believe that God does these seemingly horrible things while somehow not being held culpable. How can that be? How can God meticulously and purposefully bring about child molestation for His glory while avoiding culpability? No consistent Calvinist has ever provided an answer to this question. In fact, John Calvin, honestly admits the difficulty of this dilemma:
“How it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author or approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance…. I daily so meditate on these mysteries of His judgments that curiosity to know anything more does not attract me.”
Similarly, John MacArthur, a notable Calvinistic pastor, was asked the question, “If God literally brings about everything then how can He blame me for sinning?” He answered, “I don’t know the answer to that, and I don’t know of anyone who knows the answer to that.”
Hendryx’s intentions, like that of these other Calvinistic scholars, are noble because they clearly strive to maintain that God remains sinless in all His dealings, but I believe the compatibilist’s theory falls short in accomplishing that goal.
James 1:13 teaches, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.” Yet, would Calvinists have us believe that God refrains from tempting, but somehow determines the very desires of the temper and the tempted so as to necessitate the sinful action in every circumstance? This theory simply cannot be supported from the whole counsel of Scripture. Please allow me to propose another theory.
Traditionalists believe that at times throughout history God does intervene to determine some things. That is what makes these things “of God” and uniquely supernatural (i.e. redemption on Calvary or the inspiration of Scripture). I also believe God may use means similar to what some Calvinists speculate in these instances. I do not believe, however, these unique determinations prove God’s meticulous determination of all things, especially mankind’s evil intentions. In fact, in every one of the instances listed above the purpose of God’s unique intervention is clearly redemptive. I refuse to believe God is merely seeking to redeem the very evil intentions and actions that He Himself brought to pass by “meticulous determinism.” God is not merely determining to clean up His other determinations. He is cleaning up mankind’s libertarianly free choices and actions.
 This purposeful hiding of divine revelation is also referred to as “Judicial hardening” or “blinding” of already calloused and rebellious individuals. Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, ed. The Handbook on Biblical Criticism, 4th ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 124.
 C. S. Lewis, Learning in War-Time, in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Orlando, FL: Macmillan, 1980), 28.
 Quote taken from link sent to the author by Phil Johnson (President of Grace to You Ministries) via Twitter: http://www.moergism.com/the-threshold/articles/onsite /qna/sovereignfree.html; [date accessed 12/14/14] emphasis added.
 Mark R. Talbot, All the Good That Is Ours in Christ: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us, John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77.
 John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (London: James Clarke and Co., 1961), 124.
 We believe Calvinists are attempting to maintain a blatant contradiction (A = not A) in claiming that God is responsible for moral evil while not being held responsible for moral evil.
 Notice that I call it a theory and refrain from speaking with dogmatism and authoritative certainty about matters where Scripture is not abundantly clear. Also, notice that Hendryx and I share the same exact goal. We both desire to explain, from Scripture, how God works in relation to moral evil while remaining sinless. Hendryx is not a heretic. I’m not angry with him. He is working with good intentions to best reflect what he believes Scripture is revealing. He should be admired for such effort. I simply believe his speculations go too far and thus do not adequately reflect the revelation of God in Scripture.