To the Jews a stumbling block
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
Our last type regarding baptism is Jonah. For brevity’s sake we will only need to outline the story here. The reader is advised to read the book of Jonah in its entirety at one sitting, a task that should not take long!
God called Jonah to go and preached repentance to the Ninevites, a Gentile nation. Jonah disobeyed and fled in the opposite direction on a ship. God sent a storm and Jonah was cast over board by the crew to save them. Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. After three days and nights in the deep Jonah prayed and was spat onto the land.
So we see that Jonah had a baptism! Thrown into the sea spending three days and nights in the deep, and then brought out of the deep. Note that Jonah did not do any of this to himself. It was the sailors who cast him into the sea; it was God who prepared the fish, and God who made the fish to vomit Jonah out. In type he was baptised and raised again from the dead.
Jonah a sign
Before the statement concerning that Jesus is greater than Jonah we have the following incidents: Jesus firstly heals a man on a Sabbath day, thus angering the Pharisees, who immediately begin to conspire to destroy Him. Then Jesus casts out a devil from a blind and deaf man and this further stirs the Pharisees up. This time they accuse Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub; it was to this that Jesus replied concerning blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
Then we have the Pharisees and Scribes asking Jesus for a sign! Already in this chapter we have Jesus performing two miracles: healing a man and casting out a demon, and they have the cheek to ask for a sign! And what was Jesus’ reply? An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
We have a general principle that a sign seeking generation is called adulterous. To understand this let us consider what Jesus calls adultery, it is not just the act, but the desire in the heart. (Mtt.5:27-28). So adultery is an unlawful desire, applying this to Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees. We understand that those who are evil and have a spiritual adulterous heart seeks signs. For to seek after signs is to desire the wrong thing. Our hearts desires should be on Jesus for He is the desire of the nations as we see in Hag.2:2-9. To seek after any other thing, other than Jesus is counted as spiritual adultery.
We also have the mention of Jonah being a sign to the Ninevites. The people of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching. The nation of Israel did not repent at Jesus’ preaching. Thus a Gentile nation repented at the gospel, but God’s nation did not!
A greater than Jonah
Jesus said to such the only sign is that of Jonah, so what we do we make of that? Jesus explains Himself by referring to His own death and resurrection: that He Himself would be buried and would be three days and nights in the earth. The sign of the resurrection is the only sign such a generation would be given, because it is this alone which proves and distinguishes Jesus from everybody else.
The proof of Jesus’ claims was His resurrection. Without it He would not have been declared to be the Son of God, and consequently no salvation Jn.2: 13-22. Rom.;1:3-4; I Cor.15:3-4;16-18.
Because of Jonah’s sin the whole of the ship’s company was in danger of being lost to the sea. The whole of the human race was plunged into loss because of our first father’s sin, we were doomed to eternal loss and misery. Jonah was cast into the sea to pacify the wrath of God on the ship, Jesus, who was without sin, was cast into the depths of God’s judgement for the sins of the whole world; He took the punishment that should have been ours, He was truly baptised with a baptism!
The swallowing up by the whale, and then Jonah being spued out typifies the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it is this that is the only sign, a sign seeking generation, will be given! Since the resurrection is the proof of Jesus’ claim, failure to believe His resurrection, automatically means one doesn’t accept His claims, and therefore loses all hope of salvation.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
The death and resurrection of Jesus was the sign that was given to them. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a complete vindication of all that Jesus taught and did. The Jews were expecting a warrior Messiah, who would rid them of Roman rule. Jesus’ battle, however, was with sin and Satan both of which He destroyed.
…For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
A bit later they asked again for a sign from heaven.
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.
He was stern with them, calling them hypocrites. He said that they could discern the natural phenomenon of the weather, yet not spiritual things. They were spiritually blind. They asked for a sign from heaven, Jesus gave them a sign of the earth: His death and resurrection.
We also note that Matthew says that they were tempting Jesus by demanding a sign. We may well reflect on this is what Satan tried in the wilderness temptations. He suggested that Jesus prove He was the Son of God, by a sign, namely to throw Himself off the Temple, and get the angels to save Him Mtt.4:5-7.
Jesus then said that Nineveh would rise up in judgement against that generation, for they repented, and it was at this point that Jesus declared Himself greater than Jonah. The people of Nineveh were Gentiles, and that was at the heart of Jonah’s original rebellion (As is seen in the last chapter of Jonah). The Pharisees were part of the chosen nation, Israel; the highly favoured ones and they rejected their Messiah.
The Gentiles repented at the preaching of Jonah. Nineveh repented at a lesser messenger, how worse it would be then for the chosen people to reject the promised One. Jesus, the greater one, who brings more than repentance from judgement, He brings repentance unto eternal life Acts 11:18.
In short, Jesus is greater than Jonah for He is actually raised from the dead, not just so in a figure; repentance is unto life and not just from judgement.
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Paul in Romans explains the offence of the Cross. The Jews sought God’s righteousness not by faith but by the works of the Law. And at this they stumbled. For to embrace the Cross means to surrender and abandon all of self and its works and effort and submit by faith to God’s righteousness. It is at that the Jews stumbled.
The sign of Jonah is Christ’s redeeming work, His death and resurrection. It only becomes efficacious to anyone once we turn to Him in repentance and abandon our ways and trust Him alone.