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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