July 29, 2019

The Sign of Jonah (Matthew 12)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

When the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, does he give them one?

In Mark 8, he refuses: “No sign shall be given to this generation.”

In Matthew 12, he says: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

Does that mean that Jesus changed his mind and decided he would give them one sign? Not at all. Jesus gives no sign to this generation, no sign of the sort they were requesting, no sign to prove that his authority comes from God.

But the sign of Jonah is a sign of a different sort. What is “the sign of Jonah”?

People often take it to be Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish and then vomited out again, which they (rightly) link up with Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But the sign of Jonah is a sign for the people of Nineveh, and there is no indication in Scripture whatsoever that the people of Nineveh ever knew about Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish and vomited up again. It’s not as if they saw that happen: Nineveh isn’t on the coast. And it’s not as if Jonah came into Nineveh strewn with seaweed and bleached or tanned by the fish’s stomach acids.

If you were a Ninevite and Jonah came preaching “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed” and you said, “Before I repent, I want a sign to prove that you’re really a prophet,” would you get a sign like that? No.

The “sign” that proves Jonah’s a prophet is going to come all right. But it’s going to come in forty days … thirty-nine days … thirty-eight days…. And you don’t want to wait to repent until you experience that sign, because by then it will be too late. There is going to be proof that he’s a prophet, and the proof is that his word comes to pass, but that word is your destruction.

And so, too, with Jesus. If scribes and Pharisees and others in Israel refuse to repent till they see a sign, they won’t receive an authenticating sign until it’s too late and destruction has come upon them.

But they do get a sign of another type. They get “the sign of Jonah.” What was the “sign of Jonah” to the Ninevites? It was the sign that was Jonah himself. (For you grammar nerds, the genitive here is epexegetical.) So in Luke 11, we are told explicitly that *Jonah* became a sign to the Ninevites.

The sign is that there is a prophet coming to them, preaching to them, warning them of the destruction to come. That’s all the sign they get.

And Jesus gives to the people of Israel “the sign of Jonah,” Jesus himself coming to them, doing his works, warning them of the coming judgment, proclaiming the good news of the coming kingdom and doing the works of the kingdom, and calling them to repent and trust in him. That is all the sign they get.

[For much of this exegesis, I am indebted to Jakob van Bruggen’s Matteus.]

Posted by John Barach @ 5:34 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “The Sign of Jonah (Matthew 12)”

  1. Kata Iwannhn » The Sign of Jonah (2) Says:

    […] follow-up to my previous post about the “sign of Jonah” (drawing still on Jakob van Bruggen’s […]

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