Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Jesus makes an interesting comment in the Gospel of Matthew when the Pharisees and the Sadducees demand a sign from him to prove he is the Messiah.

"An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed." (Matthew 16:4 ESV)

Now, of course, we know that what Jesus meant by "the sign of Jonah" was that he would spend three days in the tomb and raise from the dead, just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish. But, Jesus doesn't explain this to them here. He just makes the statement and then "he left them and departed".

I started to wonder what they may have understood him to mean by "the sign of Jonah" since it could mean anything. As I began to speculate on how they might have received the words of Jesus here I realized something fascinating about Jonah and Jesus - They are absolute opposites.

Jonah was a reluctant prophet. Jesus willingly left the splendor of heaven and humbled himself to become one of us - even submitting himself to death upon the cross. (see Philippians 2:5-11)

Jonah was sent to a pagan land. Jesus was sent to the House of Israel. (See Matthew 15:24)

Jonah was sent to proclaim a message of judgment and doom. Jesus was sent to deliver "Good News" of blessing that the Kingdom of God was coming to Earth. (See Luke 4:18)

Jonah's message was received with repentance which resulted in mercy. Jesus' message was received with opposition that resulted in his crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. (See Luke 19:41-44; Matthew 24:1-28)

So, Jesus and Jonah couldn't be more different. They were sent to different people with different messages that were received in divergent ways with radically different results. Sort of like when you press a signet ring into soft clay or wax and the impression left behind reflects the empty spaces of the original.

It kind of makes me wonder if the "Sign of Jonah" isn't about more than just the resurrection of Christ. Maybe Jesus left this illustration unexplained so that those he left behind could meditate on Jonah and perhaps see Jesus in the negative space.



Lynn said...

Awesome. I have just finished a study of Jonah and seeing Jesus is just what happened to me. Jonah wanted judgement on the people that he was called to and God only wanted mercy. That is so much my LORD. He does whatever it takes for mercy to win the day. He looks for someone to stand in the gap to bring the message of hope, to pray for a people group. It made me think of how much we want judgement on peoples that have offended us. Oh that our attitude would be that of Jesus, for mercy to win the day.


Matt @ The Church of No People said...

Personally, I love Jonah, if only because I see much of myself in him - reluctant, complaining and a lot more heartless than God.

Great blog, Keith!

Anonymous said...

it is insightful my brother i am truly blessed to see the kind of insight and passion you have to dig more the scripture, you are an inspiration to me in many ways God bless you

Anonymous said...

How does repentance factor into Jesus' statement if you are looking at it from more angles? (The Ninevites repented!) I agree it is/was left open for sure. I'd make a safe assumption that his audience was well versed in Jonah!