The Sign of Jonah

Matthew 12:39

The scribes and Pharisees could have won the gold medal for insensitivity. One minute they’re accusing Jesus of being in cahoots with the devil; the next they’re asking for some sign of his divinity (Matt. 12:24, 38). Jesus responded by telling them:

A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:39-40, NIV)

The sign to look for was Jesus rising from the dead after three days. But there’s more to the sign of Jonah than this. Much more. Consider these ten interesting parallels between Jesus and Jonah:

  • Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of a fish (Jonah 1:17); Jesus spent three days and nights in the belly of the earth
  • Jonah, as good as dead, rose from the depths (Jonah 2:10); Jesus rose from the dead
  • After he rose, Jonah preached for 40 days (Jonah 3:4); after he rose, Jesus preached for 40 days (Acts 1:3)
  • Jonah, understood something of the grace (hesed) of God (Jonah 2:8, 4:2); Jesus came from the Father full of grace (John 1:14)
  • Jonah was sent to a city known for its wickedness (Jonah 1:2); Jesus was sent to a city that killed the prophets (Matt. 23:37) and killed him
  • Jonah preached what God told him to (Jonah 3:2); ditto for Jesus (John 5:19)
  • Jonah suffered (mildly) after preaching his message (Jonah 4:8); Jesus suffered (mightily) after preaching his
  • When the people of Nineveh heard the message, they were cut to the heart and repented (Jonah 3:5); when the people of Jerusalem heard the message, they were cut to the heart and repented (Acts 2:37)
  • God’s message was that Nineveh would be overturned in 40 days (Jonah 3:4), and it was – by grace; Jesus told the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, and when he came, 40 days later, Jerusalem was overturned by grace (Act 2:14, 4:16, 6:7)
  • As a result of Jonah’s preaching, there was an outbreak of divine compassion or grace (Jonah 4:11); as a result of Jesus’ preaching, there was an outbreak of the Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Spirit of Grace (Acts 2:2)

Do you see the Sign of Jonah? Although Jonah was an Old Testament prophet famous for running away and being grumpy, he was also a sign pointing to Jesus.

For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation… The men of Nineveh … repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:30,32)

The insensitive priests and Pharisees asked for a sign, and Jesus said, “Consider Jonah.” Did they see the connection between Jonah and Jesus? Did they see the sign? Some of them did:

The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. (Act 6:7)

The stories of Jonah and Jesus reveal what can happen when the grace of compassionate God comes to a city full of sinners. Nineveh and Jerusalem deserved judgment, but both were overturned by the gospel of grace that comes through Jesus.


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44 Comments on The Sign of Jonah

  1. Well said, Paul. I always enjoy your posts.

  2. just wondering, wasn’t Jesus in the grave 2 nights Friday and Saturday???

    • The Jews had a different way of counting, beginning their days with the preceding night. So if Jesus was crucified on a Friday, that counts as a night and day. Saturday is another night and a day. The Sunday he was raised is the third night and a day. (With thanks to Mike L.)

      • Jackie Thompson // June 10, 2018 at 7:09 pm //

        This is just a thought but could the darkness that fell for 6 hrs Be counted as an extra night. For eg, supernatural 6 hrs of darkness (night1) Sabbath Friday night (night2) and Saturday night (night3).

    • That statement has always bothered me too, 3 days and 3 nights, it just doesn’t add up.

  3. Hey Paul. Just got this. Thanks! A little editing on the first point where the word “days” is in the wrong place. I have a question. I was always taught that Jesus was crucified Friday evening and rose Sunday morning. That’s just 2 nights?

  4. Seeing these scriptures explained so profoundly, I am convinced that Jesus continues to inspire you, Paul, to simplify what can usually be quite complex. Thank you.

  5. Moses Kawuma // April 20, 2018 at 2:51 am // Reply

    Thank you Paul. I love your posts. They are all about Jesus!

  6. Praise jesus bro

  7. Mercy triumphs over judgment. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn and live. The gospel is THE GIFT OF GOD PERIOD. It is Good News. It is Peace and Goodwill toward people.

  8. This is a pretty good explanation of the “3 days/3 nights” issue…

  9. Tex Bailey // April 20, 2018 at 1:13 pm // Reply

    I enjoyed this article much. Thanks Paul.

  10. I really like this article Paul, there is something incredibly powerful about these old /new testament connections to Christ. Another one I am fascinated by is the reference Jesus made to the bronze snake being lifted up as a type of Christ. Suddenly those odd events in the old testament make a lot of sense when we consider what Jesus accomplished.
    One thing I am trying to get my head around is the reality that everything in the old testament is actually a shadow of things to come. Jesus didn’t do certain things because of what was in the old testament scriptures, the things in the old testament scriptures happened because of what Jesus was going to do! Pondering that reality has really helped me to understand the old testament as a rich source of revelation and even Grace.

    • Thanks Daniel. Yes, the OT is a treasure chest to be mined. When you find an obscure scripture, ask yourself, what does this reveal about Jesus? That’s what I did with the story of Jonah.

      • Thanks for constantly revealing Jesus in your teaching and postings. It has truly been a blessing to the body of Christ. Shalom, Melvyn Ong.

      • Thank you, Melvyn.

      • Tex Bailey // April 20, 2018 at 4:28 pm //

        I couldn’t agree more ^ that’s exactly how I read this article! The lense of Christ is the only lense we must view scriptures. Yes Daniel, certainly a shadow of Him, not vise versa as some claim! Awesome, just awesome. Everything points to Christ.

  11. Thank you Paul for reminding us of Grace prophesied. Enjoyed your post as always!

  12. John W Reed // April 20, 2018 at 10:16 pm // Reply

    Good points about Jonah and Jesus. Great parallels between the two. As for the three days and three nights I have heard others teach about this. They used a Jewish calendar and how they counted days and nights. Some are familiar with this, I believe He was crucified on Wednesday. There is evidence of special Sabbaths during the week aside from the regular Sabbath in the Law. Fred Price detailed this in his teaching on Easter, amazing series.
    Needless to say, we do know for certain, He didn’t lie. He was dead a full three days and three nights and He arose guaranteeing the Finished Work was indeed finished and the New Covenant implemented. Rejoice He is risen!

  13. i always thought that we in the western world had yet again taken something and changed it to fit our ways with good friday not making sense in terms of Jesus being in the grave ‘long enough’. 🙂 but it makes sense if the Jewish way was to count differently, thankyou.
    i have only recently found your website paul and have been enjoying your posts, as well as the way you’ve made it easy to reference things by scripture location. 🙂
    i also recently read your book the gospel in ten words and it had me leaping out of my seat with joy – i feel like God has used it to facilitate the beginning of a very deep and long awaited work of His Spirit in me and i’m truly grateful.
    thankyou so much from australia, bec. 🙂

  14. I can comment on your posts because I don’t have wordpress log in  How do I create one ? Thanks  Daniel Dumuta 

  15. Ron Carlson // April 21, 2018 at 1:21 am // Reply

    Nice job, Paul! All of scripture has two threads masterfully woven through it, from God’s first words to the concluding words of the Spirit and the bride of Christ. First, the natural historical events. Then, the prophetic testimony of Jesus. We need the Lord’s perspective on his word to see both. In light of this understanding, seeing both, we gain the lessons in Christ making us fit to navigate the world, always looking heavenward for the city built without hands.

  16. Oh such a clear and insightful article. Sir, i love this connection of Jonah and Jesus.
    Thanks Dr. Paul for your writings that have grounded me in the spirit of the grace of Jesus. Because of your writings, now when I read my Bible, verses that appeared difficult to me in the past, I easily get their light, insight and sense.
    I now explain scriptures through grace lens with ease.
    My only problem is, not even a single pure grace church can be found in my area. Every church I’ve entered is characterized by mixture of law and grace. I’m tired of seeing saints being threatened, condemned and oppressed with the yoke of the law every single Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
    This is a big problem. Where I live every single Christian meeting I attend, what I hear from the pulpit makes me to look at the saints and feel sorrow for them. Even yesterday my spirit was grieved at the level of mixture I heard in church. I am angry.

    • Then enjoy having rest in bed a bit longer on a Sunday morning and don’t bother going! Find some like minded believers and meet regularly with them. You are under no obligation to eat a meal laced with poison!

  17. Immanuel sigi // April 30, 2018 at 11:24 pm // Reply

    Paul help me to understand luke 12:33 jesus said sell all your posessions and give it to the poor (this is not rich young man’s encounter)

    But on other hand when jesus met zaccheus jesus was not harsh but he inicated himself to give because he met jesus he did it because of joy and no law was given

    Can you explain that??

    • Yes, I can explain that. I have a whole chapter on it in my book The Gospel in Twenty Questions. If you don’t have access to that book, let me know and I may write an article here. But it won’t be soon, I’m afraid, as I’m busy working on the Revelation letters book.

  18. Godfrey Timeyin // June 24, 2018 at 4:03 am // Reply


    • Jackie Thompson // June 24, 2018 at 12:39 pm // Reply

      My wife’s in a very long labour at this very moment (16 hrs so far) and we are believing God for a natural birth. It’s encourging that this post popped up in my emails because we are calling our son Jonah. Hopefully it will not be a 3 day labour tho. God bless

  19. Thank you. For your book ad70 and the end of the world.

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