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The Sign of Jonah Echo in Luke and Matthew

Rev. Dr. Michael H. Koplitz
LUKE 11:29–32 29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an
evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.
30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this
generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation
and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of
Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will rise
up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the
proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

MATTHEW 12:38–42 38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish
to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks
for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just
as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days
and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. 41 The people of Nineveh
will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the
proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! 42 The queen of the South
will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends
of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

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Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the
fish three days and three nights. (Jon. 1:17 NIV)

The echo in both Matthew and Luke of the story of Jonah was clear to find since Yeshua called it
out so clearly. The imagery of this echo is the rebellious people of Ninevah would be given the
chance to repent of their sign. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire and they are
considered the worst of the ancient peoples of the Mesopotamian valley. The sign to the people
in Yeshua’s day was the sign of Jonah. Since tradition says Jesus was in the grave three days
the echo of Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days is invoked by the author.
The Assyrians murdered thousands of God’s people when they destroyed the Northern Kingdom
of Israel and almost completely destroyed the South Kingdom. Jerusalem was sieged but not
destroyed. God offered the Assyrians His forgiveness after they did such a horrible thing.
The leaders of Yeshua’s generation were viler than the Assyrians in rejecting God’s Son.
However, the people of Yeshua’s day would be given the chance to repent of their sins and their
treatment of God’s Son because of the sign. The sign was the Resurrection.
The writers of Matthew and Luke are using the Jonah echo because it does fit the tradition of
Jesus being in the Earth for three days. It is interesting Luke has to repeat the sign of Jonah using
a parallelism:

39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no
sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
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40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster,
so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.

The listener to this original story would have known what the sign of Jonah was. It did not have to
be repeated. Matthew repeats this information perhaps telling us the Gentiles who entered the
church did not have the Hebrew Scripture background as the Jewish followers of Christ had. The
repetition is used to make the point stronger. Therefore, there may have been followers in the
church who questioned the three day period between the crucifixion and the resurrection.
When you read the accounts of the crucifixion and the resurrection the story does not indicate
anyone was looking for Jesus between these time frames. After all why would they look? He was
known to be dead and buried. On the third day, after death, it was the Middle Eastern custom to
visit the grave and speak to the person one last time. Imagine the shock of Yeshua answering
back and in the flesh!
Could Yeshua have come out of the grave earlier than the third day? Why not? We don’t know if
He did and if so what He did during that time. If Jesus rose on Easter morning did he arise just
before the women arrived at the tomb? Also, the third day began the night before since the day
began at 6:00 PM after sunset in the Middle Eastern calendar. We have a 12 hour span of time
in which we have no idea what Yeshua was doing if He arose exactly after three days.
Since the writing of these two Gospels were done after the events, a possible 30 year gap, the
authors wrote narratives to adhere to the beliefs of the authors. I believe the Jonah sign was used
because it corresponds to the belief Yeshua was in the grave for three days. Personally I don’t
consider it a “scientific” proof of the three days but rather a spiritual one. The echo from Jonah
would seal the spiritual proof.
It is interesting to note there is some discussion about the three days in the Gospels but the story
of the crucifixion to resurrection does not explicitly state the three days in the grave occurred. It
just notes – after the Sabbath. Friday to Sunday are the three days. I am curious if this “fact” was
so important why not state it in the narrative. See Matthew’s account:
So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his
disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from
the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." 65 "Take a guard," Pilate
answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." 66 So they went and made
the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. After the Sabbath,
at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at
the tomb. (Matt. 27:64-28:1 NIV)
It is possible the echo of the sign of Jonah was used to prove the three days. It is a good echo to
tell the leaders of the Jews that they were acting like Assyrians in their disobedience of God’s
Word but they would be given the chance to repent.
Until there is physical proof the three days in the grave stands as a doctrine of faith.

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