Session #090 Sign Here
Scripture Matthew 12:38-42
Summary After so many miracles and signs, the religious leaders asked Jesus for yet another sign. Surely, it’s not easy dealing with people who refuse to listen or get it. We can learn from Jesus through Matthew 12:38-42. Along the way, understand what the sign of the prophet Jonah refers to and how the phrase “three days and three nights” was fulfilled.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. Matthew 12:38–42
After so many miracles and signs, the religious leaders asked Jesus for yet another sign. Surely, it is not easy dealing with people who refuse to listen or get it. We can learn from Jesus through Matthew 12:38-42 and along the way, understand what the sign of the prophet Jonah refers to and how the phrase “three days and three nights” was fulfilled.
Show Sign-No Sign
The Jews looked for miracles, signs, and wonders to prove the presence and power of God. In their deliverance from Egypt, their time in the wilderness, and throughout the Old Testament, there were signs and wonders. From Matthew 8, 9, and 12, Jesus demonstrated the power of the kingdom of God and yet the Pharisees and scribes asked for another sign. Jesus refused to play their game to give them another sign because He knew their hearts as they rejected every single sign that was given. They were spiritually adulterous (James 4.4) and self-seeking, looking for their own pleasure rather than being kingdom-minded. Therefore, no sign would be given except for the sign of the prophet Jonah that Jesus warned them not to miss.
The Sign of Jonah
Jonah was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He prophesied in the reign of King Jeroboam II, son of Joash (793-753BC; 2 Kings 14:25) on the expansion of Israel amidst moral decline. He was zealous for Israel and hence his reluctance to go to Assyria, Nineveh. He knew that if he prophesied over them, there would be an enemy raised up against Israel. The Book of Jonah records Jonah’s kingdom assignment to Nineveh. Jonah ran away and ended up in the belly of a fish (Jonah 1:17). Jesus paralleled an actual event that He Himself would go through with that of Jonah’s experience “in the belly of the great fish”. Thus, He validated the account of Jonah as historical, literal, and accurate.
This sign of Jonah points to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Various verses of Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish (Jonah 2:2, 4,6 and 9) remind us of the Messianic Psalms that point to Jesus (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 22:21). Furthermore, Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish while Jesus spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Three Days and Three Nights
Here, we examine how “the sign of the prophet Jonah” was fulfilled by considering the phrase “three days and three nights”. In the traditional interpretation from Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday, the duration from death, burial (Friday sundown) to resurrection (Sunday before sunrise) would be approximately thirty-six hours. ‘Three days’ is also a Jewish idiom and need not be a literal three days (i.e., seventy-two hours) as a part of a day may be considered as a full day.
In another interpretation, we examine the meaning of the high Sabbath mentioned in John 19:31 by reviewing the Spring Feasts described in Leviticus 23:3-22. The ‘regular’ Sabbath is on the 7th day of each week where no work is done, verse 3. Passover begins at the twilight of the 14th day of the 1st month, Nisan in verse 5 and this is to commemorate the Israelites’ coming out from Egypt and deliverance from slavery. The next day after Passover, they celebrate the Festival of the Unleavened Bread for 7 days, verses 6-8. When they enter the land and begin to plough, sow and receive the fruits, there is the Feast of the First Fruits that happens on the day after a ‘regular’ Sabbath. They take the first fruits and do a wave offering in verses 9-14. Seven weeks after, is the Feast of Weeks and then on the 50th day will be the celebration of the harvest to come in verse 15. In this overview of the Spring Feasts is the Feast of the Unleavened Bread where no work is done on the 1st and 7th day. These days are called the high Sabbath in verses 7-8 and are the high Sabbath mentioned in John 19:31.
Next, we consider the key days, timings, and events involved to come up with an alternative interpretation. Jesus’ resurrection is on the 1st day of the week (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1) and the Passover happens one day before the high Sabbath. The Jewish calendar is a lunisolar calendar in which months are based on the regular cycle of the Moon’s phases. Therefore, the Passover is not always on a Thursday but it may be on a Tuesday in the year of Jesus’ resurrection. After Passover, Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane in the night and the next morning, He went through all the trials and was finally crucified at 9 a.m. in the morning, died at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, and was buried just before high Sabbath. He was in the tomb for 3 days of the Feasts of Unleavened Bread, Day 3 coinciding with the regular Sabbath and after that, He resurrected on the 1st day of the week. The following scriptures suggest such a timeline: Mark 16:1 mentioned that the women (Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome) bought spices to anoint Jesus after Sabbath. Then, Luke 23:56 recorded that they prepared the spices and fragrant oils and then rested on the Sabbath. The first Sabbath mentioned in Mark 16:1 has to be the high Sabbath (1st day of the Feasts of Unleavened Bread) while the second Sabbath has to be the regular Sabbath and it is on Day 3 of Festival of Unleavened Bread as the women bought and prepared spices to anoint Jesus on Day 2, between the two Sabbath. Jesus’ Resurrection is the day after the regular Sabbath i.e., anytime from Saturday night to Sunday morning as the women arrive at the tomb whilst it is dark. With Jesus’ resurrection, He has become ‘the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). This is followed by the Feast of Weeks (7 Sabbaths) and the 50th day is the Feast of the Harvest when the Holy Spirit falls on the disciples in Acts 2, also called the Feast of Pentecost. Therefore, if we count by the Jewish calendar, the duration of death, burial to resurrection is 3 days and 3 nights i.e., a full 72 hours (John 11:9) and it seemed to fulfil the sign of the prophet Jonah (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:40).
Was Jesus resurrected on the third day or after the third day? Some scriptures supporting the latter are Matthew 27:63 and Mark 8:31 while there are others supporting the former. Some commentaries consider these two statements as not contradictory. More importantly, why is three days or after the three days critical? It is proof that Jesus is really dead. Consider a parallel event where Lazarus was in the tomb for four days (John 11:17) before Jesus resurrected him where Jesus told Martha “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).
The two interpretations are given for our learning and not to cause us to miss the sign of the prophet Jonah which is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ main point to the Pharisees and Scribes was that they knew their Scriptures that testify of the Messiah and yet they are missing it (John 5:39). In the Scriptures, the Messiah was prophesied to die, to be buried, and to rise (Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44-48). The sign of Jonah is consistent with the Scriptures and He asked them if they will believe when they see the sign even if they may not believe all the other signs.
Jesus Greater Than Jonah and Solomon
Jesus recounts the examples in the Old Testament of the men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba. The men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah though they did not see the sign. The Queen of Sheba questioned Solomon and acknowledged Solomon’s God and she received the blessings of the kingdom. Jesus pointed out that they will rise up in the judgment of ‘this generation and condemn it” if they miss the sign and do not repent (Matthew 12:41-42).
God can send us to others (e.g., sends Jonah out to Nineveh) or bring others to us (e.g., brings Queen of Sheba to Solomon). Therefore, sometimes we are sent from Assembly Area (AA) to Area of Operation (AO) and sometimes our AO is in the AA and God will draw people to us. God’s mercy reaches out while God’s wisdom draws in. Jonah’s message is not about a judgmental God but about God demonstrating His mercy through repentance. If we are living with kingdom wisdom, there will be a certain attraction that draws others to us as they will want to find out about the source of our wisdom and be blessed if they acknowledge it. God desires that everyone knows Him as the true God. Jews think that only they would be saved, that their kingdom assignment is to help the Jews but God desires to save all including the Gentiles.
If the Gentiles can respond rightly, what about the people of the kingdom, the Jews? Jesus is one who is greater than Jonah and Solomon and if the Pharisees and Scribes do not repent and accept Him, the Gentiles will judge them.
What do we do with people who refuse to accept the gospel; people with a hardened heart that is proud and refuse to listen? Jesus who is both merciful and wise did all He can do. If these signs are still not enough, there is nothing more to be said and done. Sadly, people who are evil and adulterous are not always looking for answers. Nothing will ever satisfy them because the message of the cross is a stumbling block (to the Jews) and foolishness (to the Greeks) but to those who are being saved, it is both the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). The signs are all over the place since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen and no one has any excuse (Romans 1:20). The biggest sign of His love and grace is the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Will you believe it? Will you enter into a covenantal relationship with Him? Are you still looking for signs or do you agree that the biggest sign is already shown to us?