Matthew 16:1-4 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came. They tested Jesus [to obtain proof he was Messiah] by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. (2) He answered them …. (3)…”You know how to discern the face of the sky but not the signs of the times. (4) An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign…”So he left them and departed.
No subject is probably more misunderstood than the TIMING of God. Pharisees and Sadducees, the main stream religious people of Jesus day, were spiritually blind when it came to discerning the Messianic signs that proved God’s work among them. They wanted additional proof of Jesus’ calling on their own terms; a sky event. But by the time they tested Jesus, the sky event of ‘peace and goodwill’ over Bethlehem had long since passed. They had missed the timing. However, Jesus gave them a second chance to have their eyes opened so that they could begin discerning the ‘Timing Signs‘ of a Prophet.
“Matthew 16 (4) …but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”
Recall that the Prophet Jonah, who lived 3 miles north of Nazareth around 780BC, was called by God to a task he disagreed with. The wickedness of Nineveh
(modern Mosul, Iraq), the largest city of the world at that time, lying on the northern banks of the Tigris river, had gotten God’s attention. The wrath of God (judgment) was impending. Therefore, God stirred His prophet, a man who could abrogate His judgment and sooth His anger.
Jonah in disobedience, went the opposite direction of God’s will. Why? In his own words Jonah said,
Jonah 4:2 And Jonah spoke to the LORD after the city of Nineveh repented and was spared, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I went the opposite way of Your call; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and full of steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”
Jonah didn’t want to minister to Gentiles! Especially the cruel immoral Ishtar idolaters of Nineveh. To paraphrase Isaac Asimov in his commentary on the book of Jonah, “this would be akin to a Jew being asked to preach repentance in Berlin during the summer of 1945.” Jonah knew that when God gave him this assignment, it was an intercession mission to withhold God’s wrath. Jonah had no compassion for Assyrians.
Our interest in this episode is simple. What was Jonah’s sign that shows us where we are in God’s Timing?
Jonah 1:11-15 ESV Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. (12) He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” … (15) So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.
To Biblically literate Jews, a “sign” commonly signifies a prophet – that is, a sign that God was with the person or had sent him.
Jesus foretold of a ‘sign from heaven’, answering the the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees demand, but they failed to understand the parable Jesus spoke regarding Jonah. (I would like to point out that the Jonah Sign parable was recounted 2X in the book of Matthew, chapters 12 and 16. Also, that water baptism was the authentication sign given to John the Baptist by God… Heaven or man? Mark 11:30; just as Spirit Baptism is the sign given to Jesus…Holy Ghost and Fire Matt 3:11).
Together, the SIGN of John the Baptist and the SIGN of JESUS together comprise the SIGN of Jonah. Read on.
Matthew 12:38-41 KJV Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. (39) But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: (40) For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (41) The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
Here are 13 elements of the Jonah sign (you may wish to read the book of Jonah*, as Jews do traditionally on Yom Kippur before the gates of the Temple are closed).
- Jonah goes to Joppa, hops a ship to Tarshish, 2,500 miles opposite of God’s call.
- Jonah is sleeping in the wrong vessel while trying to escape the call of God. God turns Jonah by sending a storm. God’s call is inescapable.
- The storm intensified, rousing Jonah from his slumber. Jonah can’t run from God’s call to spare Nineveh from judgment.
- The will of God is divined by unbelievers on the Joppa vessel, caught between Jonah and God. Jonah’s call is the reason for the storm endangering them personally.
- The unbelievers try all options to save their ship, lightening it, taking down it’s sails, before finally ejecting God’s cargo, Jonah himself.
- Jonah is cast off the vessel of unbelievers as his call will destroy the ship if they permit him to stay on. The unbelievers are desperate to separate themselves from Jonah. Jonah surrender’s his will and consents to die (repents) before being cast into the water.
- Being cast into the water (type of baptism), creates Jonah’s identity with God’s mission and also, God’s transformation of him personally. This is the key transformation event in Jonah’s life.
- A great fish is prepared to swallow and transport Jonah back to his calling, which begins at the port of Joppa.
- Jonah spends 3 days inside the great fishes’ belly, fasting and praying, surrendering his will to God’s purpose.
- Jonah cries out to God from the desert of separation, the great fishes’ belly. Jonah has been buried with Christ, his self will completely crucified. He cries in his poem, ‘Yeshuah Yahweh’, Salvation LORD (Jonah 2:9).
- The great fish regurgitates Jonah on dry land, the very place Jonah embarked to run from God’s call.
- God repeats His word the 2nd time to Jonah, instructing him to go ‘cry against Nineveh’. Jonah now is ready to obey.
- Jonah complies with God’s prayer request and begins the long 550 mile journey from Joppa to Nineveh.
[*Book of Jonah is 47 verses long and mentions the word “big” 14 times]
Jonah had to enter the great fish to accomplish God’s mission. Saving Gentiles was important to God, albeit not initially important to the Prophet of Israel. Jesus compares Jonah’s mission with his own. Here are the parallel points of the Jonah sign, all following the pattern of death-burial-resurrection, the very definition of Jesus purpose, the universal gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4):
- Jonah despaired his mission, then ran. Jesus prayed fervently in the garden not to run from his mission.
- Jonah was cast off the ship. Jesus was cast out from the House of Israel.
- Jonah was awoken from his rest. Jesus was beaten and whipped at the Praetorium of Pilate.
- Jonah was cast off the ship to calm the raging storm. Jesus was cast out of Judaism, ignored and not given coronation as Israel’s King, then crucified by the Priests, Romans, and Jews. His friends abandoned him and ran from the cross.
- Jonah was swallowed by the great fish. Jesus was buried in a rock hewn tomb.
- Jonah spent three days in the fish’s belly. Jesus lay dead in the tomb for 3 days.
- Jonah was vomited out of the great fish onto dry land. Jesus resurrected from the tomb and was seen by 15 people on the 1st day.
The ‘sign of the Prophet’ was given to the religious orthodoxy, but could not be seen by them due to spiritual blindness. The ‘sign of John the Baptist‘ signaled the means of preparation for the Spirit in Israel. That sign (water baptism) was ignored and declared unnecessary. Then the ‘sign of Jesus‘ signaled the arrival of the Church, the great fish, Spirit Baptism, caught in a net dipped in water. The Sign of Jonah is now completed: Death, Burial, Resurrection (the gospel). This Jonah Sign identified Repentance, Water Baptism, and the Infilling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) as the means of entering the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). This is how to become a great fish. Only the spiritually blind cannot see this.
John 3:5 KJV Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Acts 2:38 KJV Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The sign from Heaven was given. Thereafter, Christians identified themselves with a 1st century symbol; the fish. The TIMING of the Messiah and His Church Kingdom had arrived. But there are many Scribes and Pharisees who still refuse to obey and escape the wrath of God by admitting, “Salvation Lord”, death, burial, resurrection; sign of the fish.
As Jesus foretold, the city of Nineveh will arise to condemn the blind and disobedient of this great sign at the judgment seat of Christ. Timing is now, the day of salvation.
[Historical Note: The Nineveh Plains are predominately settled by Assyrian Christians after having been driven out of Mosul by Al Qaeda and Sunni Moslems. Unwittingly driven to prosperity, the Nineveh plains have been found to contain 25 billion barrels of oil]