The Sign of Jonah
“He answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah’” (v. 39).- Matthew 12:38–42
A Christian and his friend, who did not know Christ, were discussing Jesus and His claim to be the only way to the Father (John 14:6). The believer humbly shared the Gospel with his friend to no avail. “If only I could see Jesus do a miracle,” the non-Christian said, “then I would believe Him.”
Such conversations have occured repeatedly throughout history, beginning with Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees. In today’s passage, these scholars, no doubt enraged at His harsh words about them (Matt. 12:1–37), ask Jesus for “a sign” (v. 38)—a miracle that unambiguously demonstrates the messianic anointing of Jesus. Apparently, what He has done so far is not enough to convince these men. In their minds the Redeemer’s works of deliverance could be attributed to Satan (v. 24). Even if this is not true, they do not think the exorcism of demons is so special since their disciples can also deliver people (v. 27).
The request is not necessarily wrong in itself; God gave Abraham a sign to confirm his faith (Gen. 15). But Jesus knows nothing can convince the scribes and Pharisees. They only seek more ammunition to use against Him. Besides, Jesus will not “bark on command,” nor will He satisfy their whims (Matt. 12:39). Matthew Henry comments, “Christ is always ready to hear and answer holy desires and prayers, yet he will not gratify corrupt lusts and humors.”
Jesus does, however, promise the “sign of the prophet Jonah” (v. 39). Many first-century Jews believed the Ninevites repented when Jonah preached because they knew God spoke through him, and they knew this because they knew God saved him from drowning (Jonah 1:17–3:10). Similarly, Jesus’ resurrection, which is like Jonah’s rescue (Matt. 12:40), also signifies God’s vindication of Him and affirms the truth of His words (Rom. 1:1–4). Yet even this miracle will not be enough to make Jesus’ hard-hearted contemporaries believe (Luke 16:31).
On judgment day, the generation that rejects God’s Son will be condemned by the Ninevites and the “Queen of the South” (1 Kings 10:1–13; Matt. 12:41–42). Ironically, these pagans turned to the true God, but most Israelites, who will see the greater sign of their Lord’s resurrection, will not believe.
No miracle will ever be sufficient to engender faith within those who love their sin and refuse to turn to God. People are being insincere when they say they will believe if they see a miracle, for there is plenty of evidence of the truth of Jesus in the accounts of His resurrection, the spread of the Gospel, and the lives and societies changed by obedience to His message. Pray that you would always be able to see these proofs for the truth of our Lord’s words.
Passages for Further Study