1) The text in Matthew 12:38-40 has caused perplexity with many Bible students. It reads: "Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we want to see a sign from You. But he answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and no sign will be given to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish; so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.'"
Answer: This text has been a subject of conjecture for students of Scripture, leading some to advocate the Wednesday crucifixion theory by pitting this single text against 13 which speak of Christ rising on the third day, and 4 texts which say He will rise "in three days."
Careful examination of the text will show that Christ did not intend it to lead to a laborious reckoning of the date of His crucifixion, but rather to a study of its spiritual implications. The immediate context throws light on this point: "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonas, and behold, a greater than Jonas is here."
2) What was it in Jonas' warning that led the people of Nineveh to repent?
Answer: It was, no doubt, the peculiar conditions that attended his mission. The message he bore was, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." But what was there to convince them that his message was indeed from God? Jonah 1:10 says that the sailors on the boat sailing for Tarsus "knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them." Thus Jonah spoke freely of his past to the heathen, so he must also have related his unusual experience in the whale's belly to the Ninevites. The acid burns on his skin, caused by the digestive fluids of the whale, testified to the truthfulness of his story. The power which moved the Ninevites to repent was doubtless the Holy Spirit, but the dramatic story which attended the warning had an electrifying effect on the hearers, who were convicted that this was a divine warning.
3) What was Christís purpose in drawing this parallel between Jonah and Himself?
Answer: Christ's purpose was to lead us not to arithmetic calculations, but to serious contemplation of His great sacrifice. We are to study the identity of Nineveh, whose "wickedness is come up before God," and the "evil and adulterous generation" which sought after a sign. Of Nineveh the prophet Nahum wrote, "Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery... Because of the multitude of the whoredom of the well favored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredom, and families through her witchcrafts." Nahum 3:1-4. To such a wicked city God sent Jonah to preach a warning, and they repented in sackcloth and ashes. But now the "evil and adulterous generation" does not repent, even when confronted by the greater sign of one "greater than Jonas." This is the main thrust of "the sign of Jonas."
The "evil and adulterous generation" required a sign of Jesus in the same spirit as Satan challenging Him to perform a miracle to prove His divinity. In reply Christ cited the "sign of Jonas" as His most convincing proof. It consists not in the "magic" of a dead man coming back to life; for the miracle of Christ raising Lazarus, who had been dead four days, was more sensational than His own resurrection, and should satisfy the simple minded who argue, "Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." Abraham replied, "If they hear not Moses and prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Luke 16:31.
4) Is this the key to the "sign of Jonas?."
Answer: Yes. Christ's "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" will persuade only those who hear Moses and the prophets, because they alone can truly appreciate the saving truths revealed in Christ's sufferings and be drawn to Him in love.
In comparing Jesus' experience with Jonas' we note three more parallels: (1) Voluntary sacrifice. For the safety of his fellow mariners, Jonas said, "Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you." Jesus said, "I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself." John 10:17,18. (2) ubmission to God's will: Jonas prayed, "I will pay what I have vowed." Jonah 2:9. Jesus prayed, "not My will, but Yours be done." Luke 22:42. (3) Jonas' prayer was offered in the whale's belly, Christ's in Gethsemane.
This last analogy points to another prophetic figure: the dragon that stood "before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born." Rev 12:4. We are not told whether the child was devoured before it was "caught up to God, and to his throne." We surmise that the child was actually swallowed like Jonas, but the dragon had to "vomit out" Jesus after three days, who was then caught up to God and to His throne.
5) Yes, that is a very striking parallel!
Answer: The parallel is no coincidence. Since Jesus cited Jonas' experience as a prophetic type of Himself, and said it was the only sign given to an "evil and adulterous generation," we take this correlation as God's design to help us better to appreciate His plan of salvation.
What is called "a great fish" in Jonah's story is elsewhere called "Leviathan." Job 41:34 says "he is king over all the children of pride." In Isaiah 27:1 we read, "In that day the Lord with his severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; and he will slay the reptile [KJV dragon] that is in the sea." Revelation 12:9 says, "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world: he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
6) What scriptural basis have you for saying that Satan actually swallowed Jesus and then vomited him out after three days just like Jonah and the whale?
Answer: Let us first study Matt. 12:40, "so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." In the New Testament, "heart" (kardia) consistently refers to the seat of the passions, not to a geometric point in space. If we took "heart of the earth" simply to mean the place of Christ's burial, the analogy does not exactly fit. For in the tomb Christ was resting peacefully, while Jonas, after he was swallowed, was in great agony. The analogy would be truer to compare Jonas' three-day ordeal to Christ's final three-day encounter with Satan. From the time Judas closed the deal to betray his Master, the tempter, who had repeatedly failed to cause Jesus to sin, was now ready to launch his last offensive. Said the Lord, "The rule of this world coming, and he has nothing in me." John 14:30. When Christ entered Gethsemane, He began to be "sorrowful and deeply distressed,? and said, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.'" Matt. 26:37,38. "And an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." Luke 22:43,44. Then on the cross Jesus cried in despair, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" Matt 27:46.
7) So you believe that it is more fitting to apply the "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" to these last hours of Christ's supreme agony?
Answer: Yes. From all appearances, the devil had everything going his way in that brief space of time. The world exulted, as Christ had foretold, "You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice." John 16:20. Because He had apparently fallen victim to their murderous designs. Leviathan had swallowed the "male child." For those three days and three nights the dragon vented all his hatred on the Son of God. Said Jesus, "When I was daily with you in the temple, you did not try to seize Me, but this is your hour, and the power of darkness." Luke 22:53.
Here we equate "your hour, and the power of darkness" to the three-day period of Satan's seeming supremacy. As far as externals were concerned, he had complete mastery over Jesus, even to the extent of taking His life. But spiritually, Jesus was Victor over this power of darkness; for He was "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." In the turbulent sea of hatred and the tempest of human passion, Christ retained His divine serenity and perfect mastery over all things. It is ever true that "all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven. And among the inhabitants of the earth, no one can restrain His hand or say to him, What have You done?" Dan. 4:35.
However, in Christ's humanity God risked the honor of His name, as in the case of Job, whose life is on record to help us fathom the purposes of God. The Job drama discloses all that is at stake in the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Unwittingly, Job suffered to vindicate his Redeemer. The character of God was on trial. Before the whole universe Satan accused God of selfishness--that He secured the loyalty of Job through bribery. By this Satan sought to undermine the very foundations of God's government of love and righteousness. For selfishness is sin, and Satan's challenge was an attempt to prove the sinfulness of God. If Job failed the test, God would have been proven to be sinful, and Satan would have won the right to coexist with God. Yes, he would have been vindicated as wiser than God---having deeper insight than the Creator into human nature.
8) So you mean that when Christ came to dwell among men, Satan had another chance to prove his case. If he could make Christ sin, he would have proven the perpetuity and supremacy of evil. Am I right?
Answer: Yes. So you see, the very character and the sovereignty of God were at stake. It was a contest of moral power, not of physical might. And because the intrusion of sin was a new, mysterious factor in God's universe, all creation must fully appreciate its inimical nature before it can be forever banished. Therefore God gave to Satan---the author of sin---every opportunity to prove his claims. In the meantime God presented Christ as His first and last answer to the challenge of sin.
In the ensuing conflict the adversary has resorted to every form of evil and deception to win his case, but God cannot deny himself. He is the embodiment of love and truth, therefore by love and truth alone He must conquer. "I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath." Isa. 45:23.
The very essence of sin--the transgression of law--is irreconcilability with God. Its intrusion has alienated the human race from its Creator. Christ came to live a life of true harmony with His Father--being "obedient to to the point of death, even the death of the cross." He thereby revealed to man the love and truth of God, which has the power to break man's slavery to sin and lead to reconciliation with God.
Here is a contrast between Jesus and Jonas: Jonas' ordeal in the belly of the whale was the result of his refusal to obey, while Jesus' agony in Gethsemane and on Calvary resulted from His willing and resolute obedience.
9) That is a precious thought---there is a parallel between Jesus and Jonah, and also a contrast. Yet in both cases God was vindicated.
Answer: Yes! Now listen to these words written by Ellen White: "Few give thought to the suffering that sin has caused our Creator. All heaven suffered in Christ's agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity. The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him. When there came upon Israel the calamities that were the sure result of separation from God---subjugation by their enemies, cruelty, and death---it is said that 'His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.' 'In all their affliction He was afflicted; . . . and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.' Judges 10:16; Isaiah 63:9."
"His Spirit 'makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.' As the 'whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together' (Rom 8:26,22), the heart of the infinite Father is pained in sympathy. Our world is a vast lazar house, a scene of misery that we dare not allow even our thoughts to dwell upon. Did we realize it as it is, the burden would be too terrible. Yet God feels it all. In order to destroy sin and its results He gave His best Beloved, and He has put it in our power, through cooperation with Him, to bring this scene of misery to an end." Education 263, 264.
This is the message in the sign of Jonas, who said, "I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm." This is the spirit of Jesus, who came to seek and save that which is lost. "For the Son of man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." Luke 9:56. And this is the message of love which Christ hoped would lead the "wicked and adulterous generation" to repent. In Jonas' episode the Ninevites were impressed with God's determination to warn them of their peril. It was God's goodness that led them to repentance. So they shall indeed rise in judgment with this generation if we are not impressed with the much greater spectacle of the crucified Christ.
10) Now will you please summarize the analogy of the three days and three nights.
Answer: We should stress the three days and three nights as the duration of Christ's last period of agony, not the time He rested in the tomb. For His sufferings have much to do with His saving power. "For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." Heb. 2:10. So our understanding of the Son of man being in "the heart of the earth" means that for three days and three nights He was physically the victim of the evil designs of the wicked world. (Cf. Deut. 32:1) If one must fix the limits of Jesus' agony, we submit Matthew 26:2-15, when Judas received the silver, as the beginning, and John 19:30, when "Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, 'It is finished!' And bowing His head, He gave up His Spirit." as the termination of His struggle on earth. For the moment He died, He was forever free from the temptation of the "power of darkness." His coming forth from the tomb was but an inevitable sequel to this final victory.
The fact that Christ cites the sign of Jonah as the only sign given to this generation indicates that He attaches great importance to it. In the agonies of Christ the love and justice of God are vindicated; the price for our redemption is paid, and the true features of Satan are unmasked. "For offenses must come, but woe be to that man by whom the offence comes!" Matt. 18:7. God is absolved of all responsibility for the existence of sin; for now it is seen that He is its greatest victim and sufferer. "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He, by the grace of God, should taste death for everyone." Heb. 2:9
This is God's answer to those who quibble that since Christ took back His life after He gave it (See John 10:17), He didn't really die. This text says that He was made flesh "for the suffering of death." His vicarious suffering is measured by its intensity, not duration. Christ's infinite capacity for suffering made it possible for Him--only Him--to "taste death [the second death] for every man." This is God's message of love in the sign of Jonah; the gospel of salvation in a nutshell.