Sign of Jonah

I’ve been thinking about how God communicates with us, and in particular, why he doesn’t show himself too often using obvious signs. This passage came up this morning in my Bible study:

Matt 12:38-42 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous 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. The men of Nineveh 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. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

The people were asking Jesus for a sign – they were Pharisees and people who wanted to trap Jesus. Jesus responds by saying that no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. What was that? Here follow some half formed thoughts.

1. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish. Jesus will spend three days in “the belly of the earth”. Jesus’ death (and resurrection) should be all the signs we need to accept him as God’s promised king – this is the one true sign to us and is well enough documented that we can believe it.

2. Those who repent (presumably) have all the signs they need, and judgement is on those who don’t. Ninevah repented when Jonah went to them (much to his dismay). The Queen of the South (Sheba) came to listen t the wisdom of Solomon (1 Kings somewhere). They both heard and saw who God is and believed. However, both Nineveh and Sheba – people groups outside of “God’s chosen people” at the time – will rise up in judgement against “this wicked generation” who don’t recognise his wisdom.

3. In the context of Matthew, this is another progression in the redefintion of Israel as a nation – “God’s people” is no longer limited to those born into a certain race, but is being redefined as all those who identitfy with Jesus. (see the parables in Matt 21 and the teaching in Matt 23 for more on this). Jesus is the perfect Israelite and all who associate with him can now be in God’s people, including Nineveh and Sheba. Just as Jonah was upset at their repentance, there will be many who ask “how did they get in”

Why doesn’t God usually guide/who himself in signs – from this passage we can say that the ultimate sign has been shown and people who you might not expect recognise. I feel this is not the whole story though.

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