The Sign of Jonah

The Sign of Jonah by George Redgrave
The Sign of Jonah by George Redgrave

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign[i]; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” (Matthew 16:4)

Jesus spoke of the sign of Jonah twice. The ironic thing is that everywhere Jesus went, he performed signs and wonders. What were those people looking for?!!

The “problem” for the religious leaders was that Jesus challenged their religious dogmas, and He did it on purpose! When confronted about healing on the Sabbath, which they had determined was “work” and not allowed, Jesus went ahead and healed a man. (Matt. 12:1-14) Jesus went against their preconceived ideas and expectations. Jesus healed one man in direct challenge to the Pharisees, and then He went on to heal them all! (Matt. 12:15) But the Pharisees did not see all the other healings. (Matt. 12:16)

God showed the Pharisees a sign (the healing of one man), but they were too focused on His violation of their understanding of Scripture and religious dogma to notice it for what it was. When we stick stubbornly to our preconceived notions, we might miss what God is doing. When we reject or overlook what God is doing, God will continue doing the miraculous things that He does, but we will no longer be privileged to witness it because we rejected or overlooked it the first time!

Jesus not only healed many people, He cast out demons in a man who was blind and mute and healed him so that he spoke and saw! (Matt. 12:22) Word got back to the Pharisees, and they jumped to the conclusion that Jesus was casting out demons by Satan. (Matt. 12:24)

When we come to conclusions about God, we tend to be blind to other possibilities. When we buy into the conclusions to which we have jumped, we have difficulty abandoning them and seeing things as they really are. Atheists do not see God because they have already dismissed the idea that God exists. They miss the signs of God that are everywhere!

Jesus was doing something else that the Pharisees would not like: He was preparing to extend God’s love to the heathen Gentiles, and, in doing that, He was fulfilling the words of the Hebrew prophet, Isaiah. (Matt. 12:17-21)

Note that Jesus was not actually introducing some new element to what God said in the past. He was fulfilling the Word of God. The Pharisees just did not see it. They were too focused on the threat of Jesus to their authority and their control and their way of life to notice that Jesus was the very hope for which they had been waiting for generations!

Our beliefs often are tied to our own desire for self-preservation. We tend away from views that are unfamiliar to us and which threaten the understandings into which we have comfortably settled. If those views also threaten a loss of control, including the worldviews we have constructed in our own minds, the knee jerk reaction is to dismiss and reject them and look for explanations that fit the world we have constructed.

This is very serious business! In this context, Jesus spoke of the “unpardonable sin”. Jesus said: “sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven, but blasphemy[ii] against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven.” (Matt. 12:31) If we call good evil, and evil good, there is no hope for us. We have rejected the very thing (God’s Holy Spirit) that can save us! We have missed the very signs God has given us.

After all these signs and wonders – healing the man in the Temple, healing all who needed healing, casting out demons and healing the blind and mute man (and fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy) – the religious leaders demanded that Jesus show them a sign. (Matt. 12:38) Really?!! Reading this thousands of years later, we might be tempted to yell, “How could you have missed them all?!!”

But not so quickly, … are we much different? We settle into our preconceived notions as easily as the Pharisees did. If we have position, honor among men, wealth and comforts, we are as apt to miss what God is doing as the Pharisees. God will disturb the flow of our lives, and if we are too focused on our own comforts, familiarity and desire for self-control, we might miss what He is doing? We probably have missed it! Many times!

So what is the “sign of Jonah”? Jesus said, “[J]ust as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt. 12:40) Jesus was obviously (obvious to us) speaking of His death on the cross.

His death would fulfill other Scriptural prophecies, but, more importantly, His death would be the sacrifice that wipes away our sin. His death would allow us entry to God’s Kingdom by eliminating the sin that disqualified us. His death would mean life for us and all generations! … if we accept it.

If we miss all the signs of God working in our lives, we are apt to miss the ultimate sign, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the pivotal act of God in the history of man and the universe. If we miss the signs that God is working in our lives, drawing us to Himself, we will not embrace what God has done for us; we will miss the salvation God extends with His outstretched arms to us.


[i] 4592/Sēmeíon – a sign (typically miraculous) which confirms or corroborates (authenticates).  Sēmeíon (“sign”) then looks to the end-purpose of the one giving it – used dozens of times in the NT for what authenticates the Lord’s eternal purpose.  That is, pointing to what mere man can not replicate or take credit for.

[ii] 988/Blasphēmía (from blax, “sluggish/slow,” and 5345/phēmē, “reputation, fame”) – blasphemy – literally, slow (sluggish) to call something good that really is good – and slow to identify what is truly bad that really is evil. Blasphemy (blasphēmía) “switches” right for wrong (wrong for right), i.e. calls what God disapproves, “right” which “exchanges the truth of God for a lie” (Rom. 1:25).  Blasphemy reverses moral values, regarding light as “darkness” and sweet as “bitter,” etc.  blasphēmia “re-identifies” (re-defines) what is moral, as immoral (evil) – and “justifies” it.  Blasphemy (ultimately) calls God the author (doer) of sin. Blasphemy naturally rejects God’s will (2307/thélēma), refusing to respond to what is good – i.e. give proper credit (value) where God has assigned value (worth). Blasphemy is “a perversion of spirit which, in defiance of the truth, chooses to call light darkness”. (William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT, 145) The ultimate sin is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” – the process of repeatedly rejecting the Holy Spirit’s invitation to be drawn to Christ.  Doing this leaves someone without salvation (the most frightening sin!). Jesus referred to “the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” as the one-and-only unpardonable sin (Mt. 12:31) because directly (or in effect) attributes God’s work to Satan (or vice-versa).  It calls “light” darkness and darkness “light” which brings God’s judicial hardening (cf. 1 Jn. 5:16). The (habitual) lifestyle of resisting the Holy Spirit ultimately results in meeting God in unforgiven sin, which must bring eternal damnation (cf. 2 Thes. 1:9; Jude 7).  Only by steadfastly refusing the Holy Spirit’s efforts to convict them about “sin, righteousness, judgment” (cf. Jn. 16:8) can a person die without Christ’s forgiveness.  Here they commit (over time) the unpardonable sin.


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