The Sign of Jonah

Jesus has just eradicated the argument that he drives out demons by the power of Satan (Luke 11.15) and now, in Luke 11.29-32, he tackles the issue of the people asking for a sign (from v.16). Hence, we need to keep this in context. Some groups of people want to rip this from its context and will even it turn it on Christians, calling us a wicked and perverse generation (see Matt 12.39) when we ask them to back up their claims. But if we understand this passage (and the parallel passages) in thier contexts, we know exactly to whom Jesus is talking. Notice, v.29, that he crowd was increasing. Obviously a crowd was already present when he had taught about the divided kingdom that cannot stand. It had been people in the crowds who had pressed him for a miracle. It had been people from the crowd who had grumbled about his power. But now even more people are joining to hear Jesus teach.

The Convicted Seer

Jesus, not mincing words, calls the situation and the people for what it is. They are a “wicked generation” comparable to the likes of the Ninevites. And why are they wicked? They seek a sign. What’s wrong with that? Well, in the first place, Jesus has already provided ample signs for the people, miracles that confirmed the word he had been speaking. From mutes, to the blind, to the dead, Jesus has worked tremendous works. Those should have been enough. But in the second place, there were improper motives for the seeking of the miracles. They sought to test Jesus (v.16) by asking for a sign. Their hearts were not right and were in fact hardened.

And so Jesus says that there will be no sign given to these people save for the “the sign of Jonah.” What does the convicted seer have to do with the concerned Savior. Jesus continues in v.30 that Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites. So how was Jonah a sign? The parallel passage in Matthew gives us a little more information: Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the fish and the Son of Man will be three days and nights in the heart of the earth. And so, by the resurrection, the supreme proof that Jesus was the unique Son of God, Jesus will be a proof to that “wicked generation.” So someone today who claims to be a miracle worker and calls you a “wicked generation” fails to recognize that this was directed to the people Jesus was speaking to. And if these modern day miracle workers want to back up their statement, then they must do it the same way Jesus did with a physical resurrection.

The Conscientious Sovereign

Jesus does not stop there. He continues about a monarch who had heard of the great wisdom of Solomon. The Queen of the South is none other than the queen of Sheba from 1 Kings 10. And this is not an obscure reference thrown in by Jesus haphazardly; this is a selected account given to hammer home the guilt of these people before him.¬†Something (Gk. neuter, implying something more than “someone greater”)¬†greater than Solomon is present before them. As wise and powerful as Solomon was, he was riddled with mistakes and gross sin, including idolatry. Hence, Jesus, greater than Solomon, is present and the queen of Sheba will rise up to condemn the men of¬†Jesus’ generation for their unbelief. What an astounding rebuke! To be compared to a Gentile woman! Surely the Jews were infuriated by this.

The Converted Sinners

But Jesus goes even further. Even the pagan Gentile nation of Ninevah will rise up to condemn that generation present. Why? Because they heard the message of Jonah and repented at the preaching. Even more will they condemn that generation because “something greater than Jonah” has come on the scene and stands in their midst. The “something greater” may refer to all that has been involved in bringing the Christ into this world and beginning his kingdom. Hence, the sum of all that God has been doing stand before them in Jesus and yet they refuse to hear his message and so be saved. Therefore, these past generations, the queen and the people of Ninevah, will rise up to condemn that generation.

I think the same thing can happen to our generation as well. We can become a “wicked generation” by refusing the same gospel that is preached to us. We can reject the purposes of God for our own life. And in so doing, we then stand condemned by the past generations and by God himself for we rejected that which is greater than Solomon and Jonah. We have had the “sign of Jonah” all this time in the actual, factual, historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. And to deny that grand sign is to reject the salvation that it brought with it.

Outline from John Phillips’ commentary on Luke.