Jesus could be a bit mysterious about his identity. He tended to shy away from forthrightly proclaiming to be the Messiah or the Son of God. Though some people read into his mysterious statements, there were very good reasons for him to remain vague. New Testament scholar Dr. Ben Witherington III addresses this topic straight on: “If he had simply announced, ‘Hi, folks; I’m God,’ that would have been heard as ‘I’m Yahweh,’ because the Jews of his day didn’t have any concept of the Trinity. They only knew of God the Father—whom they called Yahweh—and not God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.
“So if someone were to say he was God, that wouldn’t have made any sense to them and would have been seen as clear-cut blasphemy. And it would have been counterproductive to Jesus in his efforts to get people to listen to his message.
“Besides, there were already a host of expectations about what the Messiah would look like, and Jesus didn’t want to be pigeonholed into somebody else’s categories. Consequently, he was very careful about what he said publicly. In private with his disciples—that was a different story, but the Gospels primarily tell us about what he did in public.”
Adapted from interview with Dr. Ben Witherington III