What comes to your mind
when you think of the Hebrew prophet Jonah?
Fish, a big fish, a
whale, a run-away prophet are some of the typical
answers I get.
What came to Jesus' mind
when He thought of Jonah?
The prophet Jonah tells
us that he is the son of Amittai (1:1). His name
means "Dove" and he belonged to the Ten Tribes of
Israel, and grew up near Nazareth at Gath Hepher. He
was a prophet who was given a second chance. His
religion was controlled by his emotions rather than
Jonah was confronted with
the reality that the God of the Hebrews loves the
Gentiles. He would rather forgive the repentant
sinner than punish.
HISTORY OR FABLE
Either this is true or
the greatest fish story ever told! Did God have the
creative power to "prepare a great fish to swallow
up Jonah"? Could God speak to a fish and cause it to
vomit out Jonah upon the dry land? Jesus accepted
the account of Jonah as historical (Matt. 12:39-41;
16:4; Lk. 11:29-30). How big is your God? The
sovereign God of creation can handle the miraculous
in the book of Jonah. God can take care of the great
monster fish; let's make sure our hearts are right
Until recently Bible
scholars never interpreted the book of Jonah as a
parable or fiction. Jonah is a simple historical
narrative. It is not an involved allegory as some
modern writes suggest. No allegory in the Old
Testament has as its hero a historical person. If
the book is an allegory it does grave injustice to
the real Hebrew prophet Jonah.
If you are willing to
accept the fact that Yahweh is the great God of
creation and salvation you will not have any
problems with Jonah. For Yahweh to "appoint a great
fish to swallow Jonah" and Jonah to be in the
stomach of the great fish is no greater event than
Jesus, the Son of the living God being raised form
the dead. I suspect that is the real problem people
have with Jonah and other miracles in the Bible. If
we can get rid of miracles we can get rid of all
moral responsibility to God, or so we think.
Jonah was a Hebrew
prophet who lived about 800 B.C. or a little after
during the reign of Jeroboam II. His message is to
"present with compelling persuasiveness the
responsibility of the saved to save others." It
presents the missionary imperative of Israel. Yahweh
is a God of grace who also loves non-Jewish people.
The LORD commissioned
Jonah to go to the great pagan gentile city of
Nineveh the enemy of Israel and preach a message of
warning of coming judgment.
"But Jonah . . ." arrests
our attention. He is the fleeing prophet running
from God and from his vocational demands. Yahweh is
anxious to share evidences of His grace,
forgiveness, mercy and compassion for a lost world
even though it maybe the enemy of His chosen people
(4:11). "And should I not have compassion on Nineveh
. . . ?"
Jonah resisted breaking
out of his nationalistic religion. He was regional
in his thinking. He was foolish enough to think that
he could flee from the presence of Yahweh. You are
not going to flee from Yahweh by going to Tarshish
or any other pagan city. Jonah "paid the fare" went
down into the ship to go "from the presence of the
LORD" (v. 3).
Somewhere in the
Mediterranean Sea "the LORD hurled a great wind on
the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so
that the ship was about to break up" (v. 4). Did God
get Jonah's attention? No, but He sure got the pagan
supposititious sailor's attention (v. 5).
Jonah was sound asleep
and when the sailors cast lots the "lot fell on
Jonah" (vv. 5-9). He confessed up and when the
sailors heard which God Jonah was trying to flee
from they became "extremely frightened" (vv. 10-14).
After prayer and sacrifice they took matters in
their own hands.
"So they picked up Jonah,
threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its
raging. Then the men feared the Lord greatly, and
they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow
Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish
three days and three nights" (vv. 15-17).
In the Hebrew way of
reckoning time Jonah was in there one whole day and
the parts of the other two days, the day before and
the day after, and, therefore three days. The Jewish
people, even in Jesus’ day, did not reckon time as
we do. They counted the day on which any period
began as the first day, and then they did the same
thing on the day the period ended. Thus, Jonah was
in the belly of the giant fish three days.
Jonah prayed (2:1-9),
"Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited
Jonah up onto the dry ground" (v. 11). God called
Jonah a second time, "arise, go to Nineveh . . . .
So Jonah arose and went . . . and they turned from
their wicked way . . ." (vv. 2, 3, 10).
SOMETHING GREATER THAN
JONAH IS HERE
Like the Jewish rabbis of
His day, Jesus accepted the book of Jonah as
historical (Matt. 12:38-41). Jesus called Jonah's
experience in the "great fish" a "sign" of His own
coming resurrection from the dead.
Jesus had been performing
miracles as He ministered to people's needs. A group
of Pharisees and scribes were pressuring Him for a
sign form heaven, a miraculous sign. They wanted to
have their sensations tantalized. It appears that
they pressed him on various occasions for these
attesting miracles and He steadfastly refused. He
told them in their begging for signs that God had
already given them a sign and it was before their
eyes. They refused to believe the sign.
These people were not
sincere and Jesus knew it. They were asking Him to
accredit Himself by doing some striking miracle.
They demanded proof that He was the Messiah and they
wanted it now. They wanted something unmistakably
from God right now. They wanted something produced
on demand for instant gratification. Where is the
evidence that God is at work in Your life? They
wanted to impose their own rules on God.
Jesus responded saying,
"An evil and adulterous generation craves for a
sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the
sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was
three days and three nights in the belly of the sea
monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and
three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of
Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the
judgment, and will condemn it because they repented
at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something
greater than Jonah is here " (Matthew 12:39-41).
Jonah and his strange
experience is a type of Christ and His resurrection.
When Jesus said, "a greater than Jonah is here" He
was not referring to a legendary character, but a
real man and a real experience. Otherwise the
comparison would not have made sense because Christ
rose from the dead. It is clear that Jesus accepted
this Old Testament account as the record of a
historical fact. Just as the very big fish swallowed
up Jonah, so the earth will swallow up Jesus; and as
Jonah was delivered from his imprisonment, so will
Jesus who is Jonah's great Antitype rise from the
than Jonah is here." What is that something?
Jesus takes us back to
Jonah 1:17. "Jonah was three days and three nights
in the belly of the sea monster." It is no fairy
tale He has in mind. It is the miracle God gave to
Jonah. Jesus reminded the Pharisees and Sadducees
again of the sign of Jonah in Matt. 16:4. There is a
greater event than Jonah here. Then He openly told
His disciples the meaning of the sign after Peter's
great confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of
the living God (v. 16). After telling His disciples
to tell no one that He was the messiah He opened His
heart to them.
Don't miss these words in
v. 21. "From that time Jesus began to show His
disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer
many things from the elders and chief priests and
scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the
What was the reaction of
the disciples? It was astonishment, rejection and
horror. Peter took Him aside as if to hold Him back
from suicide and began to rebuke Him saying, "God
forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You" (v.
Jesus turned to Peter and
said, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling
block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on
God's interests, but man's" (v. 22).
This is the "something
greater than Jonah." It is the death, burial and
resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living
God! That Jonah could live through his experience is
nothing short of a miracle. It was a sign given by
God. The pagans of Nineveh believed the message of
Jonah and repented.
When Peter preached his
greatest sermon he reminded his audience of
something greater than Jonah. He said,
Men of Israel, listen to
these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to
you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which
God performed through Him in your midst, just as you
yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the
predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you
nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and
put Him to death. But God raised Him up again,
putting an end to the agony of death, since it was
impossible for Him to be held in its power . . .
This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all
witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the
right hand of God, and having received from the
Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured
forth this which you both see and hear (Acts
Dr. Luke gives an account
of Jesus' conversation with the crowds of people who
were looking for a miraculous sign from heaven
(11:29-32). "As the crowds were increasing, He began
to say, ‘This generation is a wicked generation; it
seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to
it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a
sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to
this generation. The Queen of the South will rise up
with the men of this generation at the judgment and
condemn them, because she came from the ends of the
earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold,
something greater than Solomon is here. The men of
Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the
judgment and condemn it, because they repented at
the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something
greater than Jonah is here’" (Luke 11:29-32,
I am always intrigued by
the words of Jesus. He does not say "someone
greater," but "something greater." Jesus does not
compare Himself with Jonah but something. Jonah
experienced a kind of death, burial and
resurrection. However, Jesus experienced true death,
true burial and true resurrection. Jesus’ experience
of the death, burial and resurrection was greater.
The experience of Jonah foreshadowed the real
experience of Jesus.
One of the amazing things
about Jonah is that it was in the very city of Joppa
where Jonah went to find the ship that centuries
later the apostle Peter received from God the
revelation that Gentiles were included in His chosen
people on the same basis as Jewish people (Acts 10).
Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in
Christ alone. Both Jewish people, non-Jewish and
pagans can have a right standing with God by simple
faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Is our response to Jesus
any different? We can respond with arrogance that we
know more in our modern age of understanding than
Jesus knew, or with hostility like the Jewish
leaders of Jesus' day, or we can simply bow in
humble repentance and submission like the
How important is the
resurrection of Jesus Christ? The apostle Paul
responded, "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as
Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him
from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart
a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and
with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation"
The all-sufficient work
Jesus Christ includes God's free gift of eternal
life. Have you received His free gift of eternal
life by grace through faith in Christ alone?
1:15-17 Something Greater than Jonah is Here
the Old Testament