“Show Us A Sign”
“Some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12:38-41
Jesus answered the Pharisees that the only sign they will get is the sign of of the Prophet Jonah. Because He makes a comparison between Jonah and Himself in these verses when He refers to Himself as “one greater than Jonah,” we must look at what happened to Jonah in the belly of the whale in order to realize the significance of what happened to “one greater than Jonah” in the belly of the earth.
Often the story of Jonah is interpreted to mean that you shouldn’t run from the call of God. If you do, He has a big whale waiting for you. However, this is not the essence of the story at all. In fact, Jonah wasn’t running from God. He was running from having to tell the Gentiles about God! He was very much like the religious Pharisees of Jesus’ day that wanted to see a sign from Him. He was jealous and possessive of God’s message. In Jonah’s mind salvation belonged to the Jews and he didn’t want to take the Jewish message to the Gentiles of Ninevah.
Cast Out of God’s Sight
Jonah 1:17 we learn that… “the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, Jesus would be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
We learn what took place in the whale in Jonah 2:1-3. “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. And he said: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me.”
Verse 4 says, “Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’” When Jesus died on the cross He was cast out of God’s sight when He went to the heart of the earth. In Matthew 5:25-26, Jesus is saying, “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” In the natural Jesus was talking about a civil case, but on a spiritual level, He was referring to the time when He would be cast into the prison of the heart of the earth. Also, we can assume that Jesus’ spiritual adversary is Satan. Although Jesus is saying to agree with your adversary in order to avoid the consequences, we know that He could never agree with Satan. Therefore, Jesus had to suffer the consequences described in these verses. He was “delivered to the judge” when He was placed on the cross where His Father stood in judgement over Him. At this time the Father had to turn His back on His Son and this caused Jesus to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Then Jesus was “turned over to the officer.” More exactly, He was legally turned over to the devil and was cast into the prison of hell. Remember, according to Matthew 5:26, He could not come out until He had paid the last penny, the entire debt. Then, and only then, would hell have to release Him.
Other Parallels Between Jesus and Jonah
“But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:9-10). Just as Jonah was vomited out upon dry land, Jesus was spit out from the heart of the earth. This can only mean He must have paid the entire debt for mankind!
After Jonah came out of the fish’s belly, the Lord told him to arise (Jonah 3:2). Likewise, when Jesus came out of the heart of the earth, He “arose”, or more explicitly, He “rose again” in that He was resurrected.
When the Lord spoke to Jonah this time, he obeyed and went to Ninevah. As Jonah walked through the great city of Nenevah, …he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (John 3:4) Why did God want him to warn the people of imminent destruction? It was God’s desire to give them a chance to repent and He knew that their repentance would stave off destruction. The people heard Jonah and repented. As a result, “then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). A parallel is found n the forty days of grace which God gave to Ninvah and the forty days Jesus walked the earth in His resurrected body before He ascended into heaven.
Jonah preached a simple message of repentance during these forty days. In the same manner, Jesus’ message was the simple plan of redemption to turn from old ways and turn towards Him. When we believe, we too are saved from destruction. We should all have been destroyed, but Jesus took our place. Our destruction has been stayed. Furthermore, when destruction does come - and it will - God will spare believers just as He spared the repentant people of Ninevah. Isn’t that good news?
One Greater Than Jonah is Here!
When we come back to Matthew 12:41, Jesus is speaking to the unbelieving Pharisees who would not accept Him as Messiah even though He personally preached to them, “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” This is truly an indictment against religious people. Jesus tells them that their wickedness is greater than the wickedness of the people of Ninevah since Ninevah acknowledged their wickedness and repented on hearing Jonah’s preaching. These Pharisees who seem outwardly moral and so inwardly wicked that even the preaching of “one greater than Jonah,” the Lord Jesus Christ, will not bring them to repentance; therefore, they must be judged. These men had their chance to turn from spiritual death and they refused. Simply by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior they could have avoided this. Believers don’t have to pay the wages of sin and spiritual death because Jesus went to the cross and suffered in hell for them. While in hell, He paid the price to the very last penny.