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The Parable of The Sign of Jonah Made Simple

(Matthew 12:38-42)

In Matthew 12:38-42, we read about the parable of “the Sign of Jonah”.

“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.”

Okay, this wonderful parable is rich with meaning. What I need to do is start to mine some of that meaning out for you.

First of all, let me quote verse 40. It says, “. . . the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” If you’ve ever wondered where hell is located, it is in the heart of the earth. This is where Jesus says hell is. Imagine, scientists say that the core of the earth is molten lava. It’s very hot down there. That certainly suits the place called hell, with the burning sulfur and molten lava. So if someone ever questions you, where is hell? It is where Jesus went into, in the heart of the earth.

During the pre-resurrection times, there used to be paradise down there too, a place that was separated by a big chasm. In one parable, we were told that the righteous people were on paradise side with Abraham, where Lazarus was.

But I don’t feel that Jesus was just telling a story here. I felt that Lazarus was a real person. It’s one of the few times that Jesus used a name in a parable which seemed to stand for the fact that Lazarus did exist. It’s a comforting thought to know that father Abraham, someone that the Jewish people looked up to as their father, had Lazarus in his bosom, holding him and comforting him. It’s good to know that in heaven, we’ve got a memory. If we’ve suffered on earth it would be good to know that we’re being comforted and the tears would stop flowing even when we remember the hard times on earth. This makes the joy, peace and serenity of heaven so much more compared to our hard earthly life.

Hell is down in the middle of the earth. Some people say Jesus didn’t go to hell. What the scriptures do say is He went and preached righteousness to the people who’d come before. The people, as I’ve said in a previous chapter, the people between Adam and Moses deserved to hear the Gospel because they didn’t have any law to be answerable to.

Jesus says in verse 39, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.” We live in a generation which is like that. There are certain elements of the church who condemn signs and wonders and think that anyone who’s operating in the gift of healing and miracles is a false prophet and not from God. They have rights to their opinions. There are many opinions that are true. There are many accusations about the Pentecostal church that hold weight. People can make accusations and find some sort of substance in what they’re saying with the excesses of the Pentecostal church in some ways.

But then I’ve been amongst some Pentecostals who experience the joy and bliss of the Holy Spirit. These people are free; they’re not bound by religion. They’re most often prosperous. They’re most often happy and full of joy and peace. They manifest the true presence of God. Some people would say that bursting out in laughter is not a good thing. Anyone can say that until you’re in a middle of a depression and you burst out in laughter and it fills your whole life with joy and peace.

So, part of the church condemns signs and wonders and it’s probably from verses like these that they get their opinions from and from their teachers who don’t believe in the miracles of this generation. But it helps to say that it serves us well to consider that Jesus says a sign might be given to a generation that’s adulterous. Jesus, in James 4:4, said that anyone who seeks after his own, to spend things on his own pleasures is an adulterer. I’ll just turn to the scripture and read it for you in context.

James 4:2 starts:

2You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

This is the type of adulterer that Jesus is talking about, a generation that’s serving the lusts of the flesh, a generation that’s devoured by consumerism, consumed by a lust for wanting more and more; a generation that only pays lip service to Jesus Christ but their real god is their bellies, their real god is the things that they can buy and consume, and the things that bring temporal joy and happiness.

An adulterer is a person who is married, but flirts and has sex with another person. As Christians we’re called to be the bride of Christ, we are called to love God with all our heart, mind and soul. And so when we give attention, time and money to other things or we lust after other things, we are really committing adultery on Jesus Christ. This is the sort of adulterous generation that we live in, the same as the generation that Jesus lived.

“…and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (v.39c).

So, what’s the sign of the prophet Jonah in this generation? Well you’ll find in Revelation 11 that the two witnesses are the last prophet Elijah and, I believe, Enoch. That they’ll come as witnesses on earth and bring judgment in the last days when the season of grace has gone from the earth and it’s time for judgment. It says in Revelation 11:7,

7 When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. 8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. 9 Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. 10And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

11 Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.

So, in this last day, in this adulterous generation, we need a sign like Jonah. Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale. Jesus disappeared off the face of the earth for three days and came back. These two witnesses, our current sign of Jonah, they’ll be killed and lie on the streets dead for three and a half days. I assume that their spirits will be in heaven for that time. And then they’ll come back. That’s what verse 39 covered.

Now, the Queen of Sheba in verse 42 is mentioned. The Queen of Sheba came to Solomon. And she brought a hundred and twenty talents of gold. At that time, the revenue of gold in Solomon’s kingdom was 666, normally a bad number. Six hundred sixty-six talents of gold were brought to Solomon’s kingdom every single year, which is now billions and billions of dollars worth of gold. She brought a tremendous offering of gold to Solomon to measure her respect.

The Queen of Sheba came to see Solomon. Jesus was saying, someone better than Solomon was in their midst and he wasn’t getting their recognition. He says in verse 41 that the men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment against this generation. Some preachers say that some of the people of Nineveh that weren’t even Jews are going to be saved. They’re going to come back in a righteous way and judge the generation where Jesus lived. This is proof that certain people, pre-Moses or pre-Christ, are saved and are going to be delivered.

What’s the application for this? One of the main points is that we’ve got to treasure Jesus above all else. We can live in a generation that’s adulterous and who’s seeking after a sign. But we shouldn’t be lusting after the things of the world. We don’t have to be adulterous. We can live in an adulterous world but we can not be of this world. We can make Jesus the true focus of our devotion, the true focus of our time.

Reading a book like this is a good thing, a good practice for you to do. But even better than reading a book is to put it into practice. A good way to put this book to practice is by ministering to other people - get yourself multiple copies and give it to your non-Christian friends!

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