When Yeshua asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”, Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” It was the correct answer, but Yeshua warned the disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Why? Was that not that the whole point of His proclamation, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”?
Yeshua’s objective was not to declare his Messianic identity but rather to persuade the people of his generation to repent. He wanted to avert the impending doom of judgment and bring about the promised kingdom. The conflicting messianic expectations of the Zealot movement threatened to compromise Yeshua’s mission. Contrary to popular expectation, His messianic mission did not entail a violent revolution or military plan for world conquest—not yet. Rather His path led “to Jerusalem,” where He would “suffer many things … be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21). Hitherto the Master had not revealed His coming suffering and death. From the point that His disciples explicitly acknowledged His identity as Messiah, He began to speak repeatedly of His destiny in Jerusalem.
He had come to the conclusion that, before the Messianic Era could commence, the Messiah must suffer and die on behalf of Israel. Previously, He spoke of this conviction only in veiled hints. Now “He was stating the matter plainly” (Mark 8:32). According to His understanding of the prophets, the Scriptures testified that the Messiah would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47). From where did He draw these conclusions?
Isaiah’s suffering servant song played an important role in the Master’s theology. The rabbis drew similar conclusions about the Messiah’s suffering from Isaiah 52-53. Moreover, Rabbi Yeshua apparently derived the prophecy of rejection at the hands of the religious leadership from Psalm 118:22 (the stone the builders rejected) and the prophecy of three days in the grave from Hosea 6:2 (He will raise us up on the third day).
If He openly declared Himself the Messiah, His arrest and crucifixion would come faster than He wanted. In order to carry out His strange goals according to His timetable, He needed to keep His true identity concealed.