Taking it seriously ……..
by Peter Sammons
Some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” And He said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign, but a sign will not be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as ‘Jonah was in the belly of the monster three days and three nights’ so also the Son of Man will be in the heart of the Earth three days and three nights. Ninevite men will rise in judgment with this generation and they will condemn it, since they repented because of the preaching by Jonah and behold One greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the Earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold One greater than Solomon is here.”
(Matthew 12: 38 – 42)
When Jesus was in the middle of His ministry, by which time His name was a household name and He was famous for His miraculous powers and righteous teaching, there was a demand issued by the Scribes and Pharisees (although note carefully that the text above says some of the Scribes and Pharisees) for a “sign” to “prove” His credentials. Plainly at this time in Jesus’ ministry many were openly asking the question, is this the promised Messiah? The tragedy of the Pharisees’ demand was, of course, that Jesus had previously given many signs, even (it would appear) shortly before this impertinent demand was issued, and much to the amazement of onlookers, when Jesus healed a blind-mute who also “had a demon”. (Matthew 12: 22-32). What was the reaction of the religious authorities to this wonderful healing? They attributed it to the devil; effectively saying that Jesus had healed by Satan’s power and that Jesus was in league with the devil. These religious authorities had seen holiness and righteousness at work, yet had rejected it in the most caustic terms. Was this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:22–30 and Matthew 12:22–32) and if so a committing of the unpardonable sin?
In response to the Pharisaical demand, Yeshua gave a simple answer. The ONLY sign that a sinful generation would receive, would be the sign of Jonah. It does seem to this writer that the biblical account of Jonah in the Bible is given short-shrift by most exegetes. To this doubting modern age the “story” of a man in the belly of a fish seems fanciful and most exegetes and preachers seem to think that Bible readers are supposed to ‘discern’ some spiritual lesson from the text. The ‘lesson’ associated with Jonah is generally said to be something along the lines that “God loves sinners and wasn’t Jonah naughty in refusing to honour God’s demand to preach repentance”? It is almost as if we are being told to consider the “story” of Jonah to be apocryphal or metaphorical, and one that we are supposed to see beyond. Yet in the light of our book looking at the three days and three nights question, and of Yeshua’s specific response in Matthew chapter 12, can we seriously say this is the way in which Yeshua viewed the account of Jonah? Remember, the Pharisees had asked a thoroughly impertinent and disbelieving question and Jesus said that ONLY one sign would be given, and that would be the sign of Jonah. There is a clear need for us, then, to understand what is the real meaning of Jonah, and also to determine whether Jesus allegorized the “story”.