When we travel, we rely on signs to get us to our destination. But sometimes we don’t see signs because they are hidden, poorly lit, or simply unreadable.
Jesus used the story of Jonah as a sign that pointed to His own resurrection. At first glance, Jesus’ comment about Jonah seems obscure rather than clear. However, Jesus stated that this sign should have been clearly seen, understood, and accepted by the people (Matt. 12:38-42; Luke 11:29-32).
Why did Jesus reference Jonah? Jonah didn’t provide a stellar example of a willing messenger, nor did he minister compassionately. I believe Jesus referenced Jonah to show that, just as God affirmed His authority in Jonah’s mission and message by resurrection, so would He affirm Jesus.
God Affirmed the Messenger
God affirmed His choice of Jonah as prophet by allowing him to spend three days and nights in the fish’s belly. God delivered Jonah from the fish and sent him yet again to deliver a message of repentance. If God had not affirmed Jonah as his messenger, there’d be no point in “resurrecting” Jonah from the fish.
Jesus’ audience showed extreme antagonism to His ministry. The scribes and Pharisees doubted His claims of deity, and so asked for proof. They had already witnessed Jesus’ miracles of healing and provision. Some may even have witnessed Jesus raising people from death to life. Despite this evidence, they asked for a sign that would prove Jesus’ claims. They questioned His authority, and though they asked for a sign, they had already hardened their hearts. Their hypocritical request demonstrated their arrogant doubt and malicious intent.
Jesus told them that Jonah was the only sign they would receive. Jonah’s story gave evidence to Jesus’ authority as messenger, and also confirmed that Someone greater than Jonah was now present with them.
God Affirmed the Message
Not only did Jonah’s “resurrection” affirm that he came from God, but it confirmed that his message from God, as well.
Jonah based his message of repentance on God’s authority, giving the people of Nineveh a clear picture of God’s judgment and mercy. Both Jonah’s message and his journey preached to the Ninevite pagans. Who had the authority to condemn, but God? Who had the authority to grant merciful forgiveness, but God? Because God condemned Jonah’s disobedience, He had the authority to condemn Nineveh’s wickedness. Because God spared Jonah from death inside the fish, He had the authority to show mercy to those who repented.
Just as God confirmed Jonah, so He confirmed Jesus. Jesus preached repentance with authority (Matt. 4:17) and taught about His own coming resurrection. Just as Jonah stood before the Ninevites and preached the condemnation and mercy of God, One greater than Jonah stood before the people and preached the same message. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated His authority to preach the message of repentance.
The scribes and Pharisees should have accepted and followed Jonah’s sign, where it pointed to Christ and His message. When we read Jonah’s story, let it direct us to Christ—truly, Someone greater than Jonah. Let us see Jesus as both the authoritative messenger from God, and as God Himself. Let us hear His message, believe, and live.
Born in Chicago but raised out West in a pastor’s family, Jason Ehmann has been involved with ministry all his life. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Bible and a master’s in Counseling, Jason has served as youth pastor, senior pastor, and now president at Positive Action. Today he helps pastors and teachers show God’s glory and grace to their students. A big fan of coffee, Jason also enjoys skiing and football, as well as art and design. He and his wife live in North Carolina with their four children.