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)
R. Reed Lessing writes:
In the context of Matthew 12, as Jesus speaks about the repenting Ninevites in the same context as Solomon and the queen of the South, there is no indication that He or His opponents regard Jonah’s experience in the fish for three days and three nights as anything less than literally and historically true. Against those who contend that Jesus is only arguing analogically – for which a fable or a parable would serve just as well as a historical account of a real persona and real events – a key part of the context is His reference to the “men of Nineveh.” Jesus not only regards them as historical figures, but as people who “will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it.” The passage makes no distinction between the historicity of Jonah and the fish, of the Ninevites, and of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, which shall be “the sign of Jonah.”
Jesus continues, ‘the men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment against this generation” and judge it because the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, “and behold, one greater than Jonah is here.” This is followed by the “queen of the South,” who will rise on Judgment Day and condemn “this generation.” She came from “the ends of the earth” to hear the wisdom of Solomon and came to believe in the true God of Israel, whereas the present generation largely rejected Jesus, even though “one greater than Solomon is here.” In Jonah the city is saved, whereas in Matthew the city is destroyed (Jerusalem, Mt 22:7; 23:27-24:28). Thus the sign of Jonah in Matthew is of a greater piece with Matthew’s purpose of linking the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple with the failure of the Jews to accept Jesus’ call to repentance.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 53
Q. 53. Which is the third commandment?
A. The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.