Richard E. Young

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Chapter 5 - The Sign of Jonah


Jesus said that "an evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah" (Matthew 16:4). Paul said that, "for indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom" (I Corinthians 1:22). This implies that the "sign of Jonah" was not meant for the Gentiles but for the Jews. The Greeks were only interested in something they could reason out and prove. A sign is not something that can satisfactorily be evaluated with reason and proved and thus would not have been of any interest to the Greek mind. This in no way makes the Greek approach superior to the Jewish. The Greek mind set is, in fact, incapable of discovering or knowing God's will. Paul confirmed this when he stated that God could not be known by reason (I Corinthians 2:21a). Since God is sovereign He does not have to subject Himself to analytical examination as one could do to a rock or animal specimen. Hence, He would not necessarily be discoverable by us and it would be completely up to Him to reveal Himself to us. The Hebrews understood this much about God and the inadequacy of the Greek approach. But the Jews, like all fallen men, tend towards unspiritual ways to seek God. And the seeking of signs was one of those ways, for Jesus specified that "an evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign." Consequently there is a problem with the sign of Jonah. It is given to those who are unable to discern it as a sign. The very character of a person that requires a sign robs them of the ability to recognize it when it appears. Jesus stated as much when He quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 to explain why he taught in parables:

13"Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14> In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; 15 for the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them'" (Matthew 13:13-15).

So what is this that is a sign only to those unable to discern it as a sign? On one level this seems to be a reference to the death and resurrection of Christ. For just as Jonah was "raised" by the Gentile sailors, cast into the sea, and then three days later restored to the world of the living so was Christ. Jesus was raised up on the cross by the Romans, buried for three days, and then resurrected. But just as Jonah's release from the fish was only a preparation for what was really the central theme of the book of Jonah so was the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ the foundation upon which the actual sign of Jonah rests. It is a sign that requires no wrangling over the historical accuracy of the resurrection event for this sign has stood before all of Israel from generation to generation since the death and resurrection of the Messiah. If we take Jonah as a type for Israel, and the sailors and the men of Nineveh as representatives for the Gentiles, then the sign becomes God bringing the Gentiles to repentance and revealing Himself to them while Israel unhappily watches God work independently of Israel. The Gentiles come to know Yahweh, the God of Israel, who they were not seeking before. The sign of Jonah can also be identified as the "mystery of the Church." The mystery is that God has drawn out a people for Himself, independent of Israel and the Law, to be grafted into His family. Paul wrote of this mystery in his letter to the Ephesians:

4 "By referring to this [the mystery revealed to Paul], when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Ephesians 3:4-6).

In the same letter Paul later wrote concerning the relationship of husbands and wives; he related that discussion to a higher level when he said, "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:32). Paul also referred to this mystery in Romans:

23 And they [Israel] also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you [Gentiles] were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches [Israel] be grafted into their own olive tree? 25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery - so that you will not be wise in your own estimation - that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "the Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. 27 this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins" (Romans 11:23-27).

Here Paul also refers to the flip side of the sign of Jonah; that is, Israel and their response to God's work among the Gentiles. But in all of the Hebrew Scriptures only in Jonah is the mystery of the Gentile Church so well described. Certainly there are other places which suggest the Church. For example, when Abraham sent his servant to obtain a wife for Isaac, Rebekah became a type for the Church (Genesis 24). We see the picture of God the Father sending His Holy Spirit into the world to obtain a bride for His Son. There was also the story of Ruth, the non-Jew, who accepted the God of Israel and was grafted into the people of God through Boaz. There, Ruth represents the Church and Boaz, Christ. Most of the other depictions of the Church are even less distinct, such as Enoch as a type for the raptured Church. The Prophets, as well, hint at the Church. They spoke of how the nations would come to Zion to worship the Lord. The significance of this is that they were still referred to as non-Jews when they come to know the Lord and worship Him; in Jewish eyes, to properly know and worship the Lord one must first become a Jew. To refer to the nations as joining with the Lord and coming to Zion to worship Him - yet remaining distinctly non-Jewish - greatly betokens the Gentile Church. But Jonah goes beyond all other prophetic intimations and tells us much more clearly that repentance and salvation will come to all of the peoples of the earth independent of Jewish tradition or adherence to the Mosaic Law:

"The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God" (Isaiah 52:10).

47 "For so the Lord has commanded us, 'I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.'" 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:47-48).

Contents | Introduction| Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Glossary | Translation