Why does Jesus command the healed leper to refrain from open proclamation of his magnificent healing?
“And Jesus said to [the healed leper], 'See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.'” (Matthew 8:4).
Jesus instructions to the newly healed leper of not telling anyone are often misconstrued for secrecy, while overlooking the actual purpose of that secrecy. All three synoptic gospels reveal that Jesus wanted the leper to go to the temple priests and offer the necessary sacrifices to reenter society as proscribed by Moses, which would serve “as a testimony to them.” Thus, the purpose for Christ's command is not secrecy, but seemingly the opposite. He wants the leper “to obey the Levitical prescriptions for restoring his ceremonial purity...” as “evidence to authenticate his authority as Messiah” which the religious authorities in Jerusalem could assess in accordance to Jewish law (Howell, 68).
However, not all scholars have held this view and posit a somewhat confusing explanation. Broadus states that “'Them' cannot refer to the priests, for they must decide that the man was healed before he could offer the gift. It must refer to the people in general, as suggested by “tell no man,” and implied in the whole connection” (Broadus, 176).1 Yet, how the leper was to tell people in general while also “telling no man” is practically a contradiction. Furthermore, the explanation conflicts with the purpose this commentator proposes for not telling a single man, that of avoiding the hindrance miracle seekers would cause to His work. Even Elwell states that the command to silence was to discourage false messianic ideas (Elwell 731). However, both of these interpretations are lacking since they leave the whole exercise with the priests pointless and therefore a purposeless command, which does not fit the texts portrayal of the purpose driven Christ.
Regardless of Christ's intended purpose, the leper does not seem to have obeyed, understandably considering his circumstances (however, if Christ omnisciently knew the leper would disobey, then was His true purpose to bring about the circumstances that indeed transpired, or merely to show His own obedience to the Law of Moses?). In light of history it seems irrelevant to question what would have happened should the leper had obeyed since “the willingness of the priests to acknowledge Jesus' Messiahship” is dubious and certainly not “reflected in the Saducees' attitude toward him later on” (Thomas & Gundy footnote, 61).