THE GOSPELS 72
THE SIGN OF JONAH
A group of Jewish leaders came to Jesus and asked Him to give them a sign. In other words, the miracles of healing that He performed in their presence did not prove to them that He was the Messiah. That was their only real interest, for they expected the Messiah to lead them to victory over the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom. The fact that Jesus was a man of peace, and that His interest was in easing human need and teaching them the truth of God was of no interest to them. They wanted some sign that He was the Messiah they were waiting for, because they doubted His claim when He failed to live up to their expectations. How many reject Him today because He does not offer them what they want?
These people were like today’s “Agnostics”. They do not reject the idea of God. They just claim that they are waiting for some proof. They doubt that what they see has given them sufficient proof. Jesus’ word to all doubters is the same. He said that the truth of God’s message to man was its own proof, and only those who did not want God in their life would reject it.
To these Jews, Jesus said no sign would be given them except the sign of Jonah. Matthew extends the statement to say that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish (not a whale, for whales are not found in the Mediterranean, nor are their throats large enough to swallow a man) three days and three nights, as the Son of Man was three days and three nights in the tomb. We must pause here to point out that this is a typical Jewish expression. In Jewish literature, even in the Old Testament, the Jewish writers often speak of any part of a day as a whole day. This does not mean that Jesus was in the grave 72 hours, for He was not, but is a Jewish common phrasing for anything that happened within a period of parts of three days.
Nevertheless, the point is not so much that Jonah was three days in the fish and came back, and that Jesus was in the tomb three days and came back. Rather is He stressing the fact that the Ninevites repented when they heard him preach God’s word of warning to them. These people, who had no Moses, no Abraham, no law and no promise, listened to the only preacher they ever heard, and, recognizing the truth of what he said, repented. That is why Jesus called the Jews an adulterous “race”, for that is what the word “generation” here really means. Even with all their background, and being God’s chosen people to bring forth the Messiah, they did not believe Him when He came to them. So He is accusing them of being unfaithful to their marriage with the Father.
We often speak of the heathen as the “lost”. But, one must wonder if the day of judgement will not be easier on them, than on those of us who have access to the truth and yet, either ignore it, or create, with our religious institutions and practices, ways to change His will into that which pleases us.
However, to us, the sign of Jonah is the sign of the Cross. The Cross is the ultimate message from Heaven. The message of the Cross is the message of warning that Jonah gave to Ninevah. It is that God will not tolerate sin, and the only way for us to get relief from it is to repent and embrace the Cross. The return of Jonah caused the Ninevites to listen. How much more should the return of Jesus from the grave get the attention of all reasonable men, and place the stamp of authenticity on the eternal Gospel!