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.

Confirming the Word

Since my sophomore year of high school, I have been into lifting weights. In fact, just a little later today I will be hitting the gym to workout. Suppose I were to come to you and tell you that I could bench press 400 lbs. What would be your the first thing you would ask me to do? “Prove it.” Right? You want proof that I can indeed bench press 400 lbs. And if I could not then you can know whether or not I can do what I claim to be able to do.

Well, in all honest, I cannot bench press 400 lbs. While I can probably max out at 230 or 240, that is not 400 lbs. But this serves to illustrate what is happening in Luke 4.31-44 (and even into chapter 5). Jesus is making some very bold claims: as we saw in verses 18-21, he is claiming to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah. God has made some claims about Jesus as well: Luke 3.22b, God says that Jesus is his Son. Even the devil knows who Jesus is when he tempted him: “since you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4.3, 9). So Jesus is claiming to be able to spiritually bench press not just 400 lbs., but and entire world of sin. After all, that is his mission – to die for the sins of the world. Only the Son of God can offer a sacrifice that is acceptable to the Father that will enable God to forgive the sins of mankind.

But it is not enough for Jesus to claim this. He, being human, understands the mind of man and knows what man will ask him to do: prove it. The cry of every man and woman is for proof that Jesus is the Son of God and is able to do what he claims he can, namely redeem us from a world of sin, forgive us all our sins, and grant us eternity with the Father. So Jesus, prove it.

Authority over demons

Verses 31-32 gives us the context for the following miracles. Jesus is teaching (v.31) as he travels throughout Galilee and the people are amazed at his teaching. But they are not amazed because of his eloquence or deep booming voice or because he was some kind of a showman. Certainly Jesus could have been all these but the reason the people are amazed at his teaching is because “his message had authority.” There was power behind. What kind of power are we talking about?

Verses 33-37 gives us the first demonstration of the authority behind his message. Jesus exercises authority over demons. A man with a demon in the synagogue has a confrontation with Jesus and acknowledges who Jesus is: the Holy One of God. Notice the spirit realm knows and acknowledges the second person of the Godhead. Jesus, vested with divine authority to back the message preached, rebukes the demon and causes it to come out of the man. The people are amazed and the news about Jesus spreads. The have heard his teaching (v.36) and recognize the power and authority behind it.

Authority over sickness

Now we see Jesus as the master over human disease and sickness. Peter’s (Luke calls him Simon in this context) mother-in-law is sick. Jesus heals her. Many people come as the sun is setting. There are sick people and also more demon possessed people. Jesus heals the sick and still has the power to drive out demons. He is not just a one shot guy who can only perform a miracle when it is convenient or by slight of hand when no one is looking; his power is constant. Notice also there is more confirmation from the spirit realm as to the identity of Jesus: he is the Son of God and the Messiah.

Jesus does not allow his power or fame to distract him. Very early he wakes up and goes out spend some time in a solitary place no doubt praying (see Mark 1.35). Luke is highlighting Jesus’ dependence upon the Father as the power source and the one who enables him to do what he is doing. Jesus is constantly mindful of the fact that God is at work through him. We would all do well to note the humility of Jesus in acknowledge the Father as the source of all power. We should not become so busy that we cannot take time out of our day (even if it is early in the morning) to have some quiet time with the Father in prayer.

I believe the temptation is always in front of Jesus to remain popular. The people want him to stay (as perhaps his hometown did) and be their miracle worker – clear the hospitals, cleanse the town, etc. But because Jesus has had time to refocus and realign himself with the will of God, he recognizes that he must move on and keep preaching elsewhere. And that is what he does in the synagogues of Judea.

We see Jesus traveling about preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God. But his message is not merely word; there is action, power behind it. Jesus is confirming the word spoken by the miracles he is working thereby giving authority to his message. And we have this same confirmed word today. Christ and his apostles have done the dirty work of confirming the word for us, thus proving it and the power behind it. We do not have a dead letter religion, Catholicism notwithstanding. We have a living word and with authority. We have eyewitness testimony and confirmation of the word. And we “will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts” (2 Peter 1.19).