The Sign of Jonah

Matthew 12:38-50

Jerry A Collins




v                 What is the only miraculous sign we should look for?

v                 How should we understand ‘a wicked and adulterous people’?

v                 Why should there be a change in our relationships with Christ?


Religion is all about reforming yourself. Cleaning up your life—like the person described here who had a life that once was dominated by sin—but wanted to be reformed. So following a religious regimen of some kind would help them to do that. But the moral goodness is no good because there was not a corresponding commitment to Christ in regeneration—a new life. There was still that emptiness of soul without the power of God in it. Having the form of godliness without the power. They are now susceptible to even greater deception and a tool of Satan than before because their hubris—lack of knowledge of sinfulness—blinds them further to their condition. The only thing they have to look forward to is judgment and further condemnation. We can see this kind of spirit exemplified in the religious leaders of Jesus day. They were willing to hold people captive to their way of thinking and in the process left those people in the dark as to Jesus because following the religious leaders rules kept them so.


Scribes and Pharisees This is the crowd demanding to be convinced. It is the same religious leadership that had just accused Jesus of doing Satan’s work vs 24. So you can expect ulterior motives here. They are being disingenuous and dishonest. Jesus knows this. Really, they are not interested in some sign that would convince them to believe, but they are trying to discredit Jesus.

Sign This would be an amazing feat of some kind—a miracle to convince them He is truly the Messiah. He has been doing these signs left and right, time after time, here and there. But they seem to want some big, huge, out of the ordinary, all at once, kind of sign that would be absolutely convincing and unable to be ignored. Now I thought Jesus had already done some of those—raising officials daughter from the dead chp 9; giving blind men sight chp 9; exorcising demon possessed chp 9. Actually, a sign in the Bible is a miracle that authenticates the person and claims of Jesus. It would convince people about the validity of Jesus. These same religious leaders had just seen such a miracle and accused Jesus of doing it by Beelzebub. They tipped their hand and so their question here is deceptive. They even call Him ‘teacher’ yet they despised him and plotted to take his life. They are a despicable lot and religious people usually are. Their request for signs, like others, is contrary to the nature of faith. It does not require signs to convince people to believe. Some signs are legitimate to ask for but not to challenge God to convince us to believe. Moses Ex 12, Isaiah 7, and Gideon Jdgs 6 all asked for sign of God’s presence and favor. That is different than these.


A. Unbelief thinks it needs convincing but needs to trust in the death and resurrection of Christ 39-40   Jesus calls sign-seekers an evil and adulterous generation. People who share this same nature are wicked toward others and adulterous toward God. Hosea describes people like this as unfaithful to God. They deliberately reject God and devise their own caricature of Him. Distorted and false, this god replaces the God of scripture and so are unfaithful to the true image—even as that image is staring them in the face. So the sign Jesus promises is one they will have to wait for. That big, spectacular, sign will be the sign of Jonah. It would confirm for all that Jesus was that Messiah. Rejecting every other sign, there will be one more to wait for--Jesus death and resurrection. Like Jonah 3 days and 3 nites so Jesus 3 days and 3 nites. So the sign would be confirmed from their own crime—guilty of His death—they would have another opportunity to believe. That was given in Acts 2 when Peter summarized their crime in 2:22-24; 36 and pierced to the heart by this evidence they cried out ‘what shall we do’ and the answer was ‘repent’. That resurrection would make them much more guilty than now but as we know many of them did believe because of the sign of the crucified and resurrected Lord.

B. Unwilling to believe will deliver certain judgment 41-42  Mentioning Jonah connects us to Nineveh where he was sent to preach and a revival followed. So much so that God withheld His judgment upon the city and that generation was spared. These people who were pagan Gentiles, from another nation, with far less revelation than Israel, repented  and  believed  at   Jonah’ message.   Why couldn’t they do the same? People of Jesus day could have believed without all of this convincing just as the Ninevites for one greater than Jonah is here. How about another pagan Gentile believer—this time a woman from the south? She too had very little information but she came and heard and was convinced. Both she and the Ninevites believed and Christ is greater even than Solomon. So if pagans can believe with the little they had—Jesus being much greater than either, preached more profound things, did amazing miracles—they should have believed. The problem was not the evidence but their unbelieving and rebellious hearts.

C. Religion only makes you more susceptible to unbelief and its consequences 43-45 Religion insulates you from believing, illustrated by a person exorcised of a demon. Once the spirit is exorcised he has no place to live—restless and unable to settle—which  reveals the need for these spirits to have a body as a medium. In this story the man is empty or unoccupied meaning he is not possessed of anything, swept and put in order. He has improved in some ways but to no avail. The original spirit sees the opportunity to repossess and brings other spirits with him this time and re-enters making the last state worse than the first. All the improvement was lost. There is no lasting value of religious cleaning if no new possession of a clean spirit. So false religions make people more hardened more deceived more unbelieving. If they received Christ into their lives they would be protected from evil but since refused that house swept clean by religion would be inhabited by even greater forces of evil. Hardened, corrupt and treacherous, they would be controlled by wickedness.


John 7:5 says his brothers did not believe in Him before His resurrection. Maybe they were ones who believed as Peter preached on day of Pentecost! But Jesus made clear that true discipleship is not through family blood ties but only through obedience to the will of the Father who is in heaven. You cannot believe in God and despise His Son. You cannot reject Jesus and have a relationship with God. People who are our relatives here may not be in the kingdom.


1. The Gospel is Jesus taking possession of the life by faith. Without Christ within there can be no victory over sin. You cannot just offer Jesus as a friend—He is a Savior.

2. People who received more knowledge about Jesus held more accountable than those with little to go on.

3. Unbelievers who know a good deal about Christianity must be warned that morality and goodness without commitment to Christ leaves empty soul to be occupied by evil spiritual forces—Paul said all religions are of demons 1 Cur 10:20; Dt 32:17. A Mormon is far greater tool of Satan than a drunk.

4. Believers should never require of God signs because we have a hard time believing. Our faith is based only on the Word of God and He requires that we believe that no matter how staggering—Job. God expects us to walk by faith not signs.