Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just 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 at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. – Matthew 12:38-42 (ESV)
Jeffrey Gibbs writes:
What is “the sign of Jonah the prophet” (12:39)? Jewish literature in the Second Temple period paid a fair amount of attention to the prophet Jonah. According to Chow’s survey, amidst the variety of discussion and focus upon the narrative of the book of Jonah, “Jewish writers in the first century and earlier tend to focus on Jonah’s miraculous saving from the belly of the fish” Jesus himself gives an explicit but shorthand description for what the sign of Jonah will be in his own ministry: “For just as Jonah was in the belly of the sea monster for three days and three nights” (12:40).
Strictly speaking, the comparable sign in Jesus’ ministry will be the fact that, just as Jonah spent this time in the sea monster’s belly, Jesus will spend this time in the heart of the earth. However, it is obvious in the book of Jonah that the greatest significance of the “three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17) is that after Jonah spent this time in the fish’s belly, he then came out again to new life on the dry land. In other words, the prophet spent only three days and three nights confined in his burial at sea. Even so, Jesus here predicts in somewhat cryptic fashion that he will spend three days’ time in the heart of the earth – but only three days’ time. Then he will exit to new life!
Jesus resurrection, then, is the sign of Jonah. What can – and will – validate the claims that Jesus is making about himself and his ministry? It will be the great overwhelming fact that his death will not endure; on the third day he will rise to resurrection life. It is uncertain whether, at this time in his earthly ministry, any of his opponents (or disciples for that matter) understood the significance of Jesus’ words. However, since Easter Sunday, all who hear or read these words in Matthew cannot fail to appreciate their core message. All that Jesus claimed about himself is true. All that he said he would do, he has done. His resurrection renders it all valid.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 46
Q. 46. What is required in the first commandment?
A. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.