The Sign of Jonah

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The Sign of Jonah

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When Jesus taught in the cities where His disciples came from, the Pharisees and Sadducees tested his authority and credibility by asking Him for a sign. Jesus saw through the pretentiousness of their hearts, and He replied to them that He would not give them any sign besides the "sign of Jonah." "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so [would] the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:39-40 Matthew 12:39-40 [39] But he answered and said to them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: [40] For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
American King James Version×
, English Standard Version used throughout). When Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy by His subsequent death and resurrection, He not only established His divine authority as the Messiah, but He also sent a strong message of repentance to the unbelieving generations.

The gospels' parallel accounts state that Jesus said, "For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this ['evil and adulterous'] generation...The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold something greater than Jonah is here" (Luke 11:30-32 Luke 11:30-32 [30] For as Jonas was a sign to the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. [31] The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. [32] The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
American King James Version×
, c.f. Matthew 12:39 Matthew 12:39But he answered and said to them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
American King James Version×
).

God described the city of Nineveh as a place of "violent" people, and He fully expected this gentile (non-Israelite) city to turn from their "evil way" of life (Jonah 3:8 Jonah 3:8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God: yes, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
American King James Version×
). He knew, though, that this city, which had more than 120,000 people did "not know their right hand from their left," and God had "pity" for them (Jonah 4:11 Jonah 4:11And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more then six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
American King James Version×
). When Jonah prophesied to Nineveh that they would be overtaken unless they repented, they amazingly chose to humble themselves under God's mighty hand and changed their ways. Then God had mercy on them, and He did not overtake Nineveh in that time and generation.

But in context of the sign of Jonah, Jesus said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:4 Matthew 16:4A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.
American King James Version×
). In other words, Jesus was saying they knew God's prophecies, warnings of repentance and way of life, yet they were choosing to be ignorant and wise in their own eyes. If they did not heed the sign of Jonah and believe in Jesus as their prophet and Messiah, then they had the same threat of being overcome by their sins that Nineveh did. So Jesus gave them this sign of Jonah because He wanted them to repent and recognize the salvation standing before their eyes.

Matthew records that Jesus likewise "began to denounce the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they didn't repent," even though sinful cities of the past such as Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have repented if they had seen Jesus' mighty works (Matthew 11:21-24 Matthew 11:21-24 [21] Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. [22] But I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. [23] And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. [24] But I say to you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.
American King James Version×
). This disbelief and lack of respect for Jesus echoed the attitude of the individuals from Jesus' hometown where Jesus had also chosen "not to do many works" (Matthew 13:58 Matthew 13:58And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
American King James Version×
). However, this may not have been the case if only they had followed Nineveh's example of repentance in response to the sign of Jonah.

At Jesus' birth, a man named Simeon had predicted that this would happen. He told Mary that Jesus was "appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed...so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35 Luke 2:34-35 [34] And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; [35] (Yes, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
American King James Version×
). But when Simeon picked up Jesus as a child he said, "My eyes have seen [God's] salvation that [He] has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32 Luke 2:30-32 [30] For my eyes have seen your salvation, [31] Which you have prepared before the face of all people; [32] A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.
American King James Version×
).

In the time before Jesus' death and resurrection, Jesus focused primarily on preaching to the Jews and Israelites (Matthew 10:5-8). Then after spending three days and three nights in the grave, He revealed to His apostles that eternal salvation would be offered to all people--including the Gentiles, as Simeon had prophesied. Jonah similarly did not preach repentance to the gentiles until after God had put him inside the belly of the giant fish for three days and three nights. God was able to use his lack of obedience to symbolize His even greater plan when Jesus came to the earth to completely fulfill the meaning of the sign of Jonah.

At the end of Jonah's story, the Bible says Jonah was angry that God had shown mercy to this gentile nation that had repented. Jonah "prayed to the Lord and said, '...[I] made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster'" (Jonah 4:2 Jonah 4:2And he prayed to the LORD, and said, I pray you, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before to Tarshish: for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repent you of the evil.
American King James Version×
). It appears that Jonah did not want God to show mercy towards them, because he felt that they should have been overtaken. However, the Scriptures teach that "the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise (concerning justice) as some count slowness," such as Jonah had presumed, but God is patient and "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
American King James Version×
). And that perhaps is the greatest lesson behind the sign of Jonah--that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son [to ultimately fulfill the sign of Jonah], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×
).

As Christians today, do we see Jesus Christ's death and resurrection as a "glory to Israel" and a "light" to the gentiles? Or do we view Jesus Christ's fulfillment of the sign of Jonah as some of the Pharisees and Sadducees did, with disbelief? The Bible records many Israelites, and even some of the Pharisees, who eventually recognized the sign of Jonah at Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, and they repented from their ways to follow Jesus Christ. We likewise need to be sure that we have recognized Jesus' sign and have become a generation of believers. All the while we also need to make sure that we do not view those who do not know God as Jonah had viewed the people of Nineveh, because this sign of Jonah reveals the hearts of Jesus Christ's followers even to this day. Since Jesus has established His divine authority as a prophet by fulfilling the sign of Jonah, let's take on this sign of hope and share with the world His message of repentance and salvation.

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