Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Sign of Jonah

Jesus healed many people during His ministry and the Bible records how He often told those He healed to keep the miracles to themselves and not spread the news of their miraculous healing. I’ve pondered why Jesus wouldn’t want the news of His great power to spread. Was it just not the right time? Was it some sort of reverse psychology? Was it that He wished to avoid the kind of fascination with miracles that Simon the Magician had that leads to a false profession of faith (Acts 8)? I’ve had many a-ha moments since starting the 90 Day Bible Challenge in January and this has been one of them.

In Mathew 16 when the Pharisees and Saducees ask Jesus to show them a sign that He is who He says He is, Jesus tells them, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (v.4)

What is the sign of Jonah? Jonah had been told by God to take a message of warning to Ninevah, the capitol city of Assyria. Jonah had disobeyed the Lord, though, and taken a ship in the opposite direction. While at sea, God sent a terrible storm and after Jonah confessed to his shipmates that the great storm was his fault, they threw him overboard. Just as it appeared that Jonah was going to be drowned, the Lord provided a great fish to swallow him and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. Of course, we all know the end to the story that after three days the fish spits Jonah out on shore and Jonah goes straight to Ninevah to preach God’s Word. Amazingly enough, the Ninevites repent of their wicked ways and turn to God. We see in the story of Jonah God’s sovereignty in salvation- He saves whom He desires. The Old Testament contains many types of Christ, and Jonah is one of them. When Christ refers to the sign of Jonah, He is referring to His being buried for three days and three nights and then being raised from the dead. In other words, the sign to which Christ is referring, is His resurrection.

In Mathew 12, Jesus says it this way, “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. The men of Ninevah will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” (v. 40-41 and also Luke 11:29-32)

We see a similar request by Christ for silence until after His resurrection in Mark 9 where after witnessing the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John are ordered by Jesus “not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead”. (v.9) The disciples still didn’t understand what He meant by this. “They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.” (v.10) So again, we see that the important sign after which they would be free to tell all about Christ, was to be His resurrection. In fact, it appears that the disciples didn’t really get who Christ was themselves until after the resurrection.

Although we have to be careful about not drawing these types out too far, I think Jonah taking the Word of God to the Assyrians also foreshadows the spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles that happens after Christ’s resurrection and is told about in the book of Acts. Jonah struggled with his assignment at the time and even after witnessing the repentance of the Ninevites complained to God that he knew He was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2) Jonah was so discouraged by God saving the wicked Assyrians of Ninevah that he said he wished to die. (Jonah 4:3) The Pharisees and Saducees were also repulsed by this idea of God extending His covenant to all nations. Peter defends his taking the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius and his household in Acts 11 where he recounts the vision he had and the voice from heaven that said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (v. 9) Peter goes on to give a testimony of the Gentile converts in Cornelius’ household receiving the Holy Spirit. “So if God gave them the same gift as He gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” (v. 17) Several chapters later in Acts 22, Paul defends his taking the gospel to the Gentiles saying, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” (v.21) Both Peter and Paul arrived at the same conclusion as Jonah. God is sovereign in salvation and saves whom He chooses. The difference is Peter and Paul accepted it, whereas Jonah could not.

We see other evidence of Christ’s secrecy when he teaches in parables. The reason Jesus gives for teaching in parables is so that “though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Mathew 13:13) He goes on to explain if He didn’t teach in parables even those with calloused hearts “might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them.” (v. 14-15) In other words, Christ used parables not as a teaching tool, as so many would have us think, but to actually prevent those with hardened hearts from hearing His message and repenting. Again, we see the theme of the sovereignty of God in salvation. He saves whom He chooses.

Anyway, back to the main point that Jesus desired people to come to saving faith, not by being enamored with His miracles, but by seeing the main sign that He was indeed the Messiah, the long awaited Savior who will rule from the throne of David forever. Only one who is immortal can rule forever and Christ’s resurrection and ascension prove that He truly is God, and not just another prophet who lived and died. Anyone can fake a healing, many can gain a following, but only Christ fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah given in the Old Testament culminating with His resurrection. The sign of Jonah is the ultimate sign of the Lordship of Christ. It was the sign to His disciples and all who lived while He walked on earth and it is still the sign for us today that Jesus is who He said He is. He died to pay the penalty for our sins and He conquered death so that we might live. Without the resurrection the Christian faith would be reduced to a fairy tale lacking in substance. The resurrection authenticates our faith. Our hope is not in vain, our hope is fixed on “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)


  1. Great post. And it warms my heart to read your references to Acts.

  2. I always enjoy visiting your blog and being spiritually challenged. Thank you for sharing with us.



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.