The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: J

Previous Index Next

Jonah, sign of

Why Jonah?

Of what significance was Jonah? Why would Jesus choose this rather obscure prophet as the only sign that he was Messiah? He tells them (and us): "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" (v 40).

Jonah was God's sign to the Ninevites of Assyria, a people who weren't serving Him. If Jonah had not gone to Nineveh, how would its citizens have heard God's message? By the LORD's insistence, it was clear that this task belonged only to Jonah.

We must assume that God had a special purpose in ordering the proclamation of Himself to one of Israel's enemies. If Nineveh, hearing the word of God, repented through fear of the judgment of heaven, then perhaps wayward Israel would be persuaded to take notice and follow their example, thus saving itself also from the wrath of God.

But Jonah tried to get out of his divinely-appointed task. He recognized that the growing might of Assyria was a threat to be feared. How long would it be before that rising tide of Assyrian expansion swept south to engulf his own land? Then why should he lift a finger or raise a voice to fend off the violent judgment of God upon such a nation?

So, rebellious, and with a certain feeling of self-righteousness and nationalistic pride, Jonah determined to have no part in preaching to Nineveh. In trying to evade his commission, Jonah took a ship and tried to flee from the presence of God (Jon 1:3). "Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up" (v. 4). The sailors tried in vain to save the ship. Jonah was rousted from his sleep in the hold, and implored to explain the circumstances.

All were afraid when Jonah told them he was fleeing from his God, but there was nothing they could do -- the ship was sinking. So after beseeching God to forgive them, "they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm" (v 15).

Jonah disappeared under the waves, went down to the bottom, and drowned (Jon 2:5-7). "But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights" (Jon 1:17).

No one ever expected to see him again. But "the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land" (Jon 2:10). Truly an amazing sign! But of what?

Why was Jonah saved?

Jonah was not delivered from this three days "grave" just to sit back peacefully and contemplate what had happened to him. He was delivered from death so that he could preach to the Ninevites. And finally (after a more circuitous and eventful journey than any other missionary ever took!), he reached his destination and went to work.

So, simply put, the worth of Jonah as a "sign" to an unbelieving generation was this: A man who had died was now alive! And empowered by God to preach to the Gentiles! What a sign for Israel, the would-be "people of God". Jesus, the man like Jonah, would be killed by them; but God would raise him from the dead (Acts 2:22-24) -- and the gospel which he preached to them, and which they refused, would be preached to the Gentiles (Act 2:39) -- who would accept and repent!

That this was the intent of Jesus when citing the "sign" of Jonah is evident in his next words -- as recorded by Matthew: Mat 12:41. And then, as if his lesson needed reinforcing, he referred also to another notable Gentile "conversion": Mat 12:42. Nineveh repented; Jerusalem did not. The queen of Sheba sought wisdom; Jerusalem turned its back on the man who was the wisdom of God personified. Truly, one greater than Jonah, and greater than Solomon, was in their midst; and they were preparing to reject him! The sign of the prophet Jonah was more than a man dead and buried for three days, then resurrected. It was a contrast between the wise and the unwise, the repentant and the unrepentant -- with warnings of destruction for those who refused to recognize the greatest prophet of God, Jesus Christ.

Paul's commentary

Paul deals with this same theme: the repentance of the Gentiles as an object lesson, and as a means of provoking Israel likewise to repent: Rom 11:13-15,24,30,31).

A Last Days repentance

Scripture indicates that there will be a wholesale repentance of Israel in the Last Days (Lev 26:40-42; Deu 4:30; 30:1-7; Joel 2:12-20; Jer 31:17-20; 50:4,5; Mat 23:39; Act 3:19,20; Mat 6:10; Rev 22:17; Mat 24:22). This Last Days repentance will bring back their Messiah to save them from the latter-day "Assyrian". The lesson from the prophet Jonah will finally have been learned!

Previous Index Next