This is our sixth study on this topic. Please click HERE for an intro to this study.
38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”
39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
In this text we see that the Pharisees wanted to see a sign from Jesus. They of course were already seeing miracles of healing, but they wanted something more spectacular. Evidently, they wanted more proof that He was who He said He was. They wanted a show. This reminds me of what the second end times beast will do, the one called “the false prophet.” In Revelation 13:13-15 it says that he will perform great signs, even make fire come down out of heaven; and he will “give breath to the image of the beast.” He will do these things obviously to win the people over and for an evil purpose.
Jesus knew their heart and would not give them what they wanted, because it would be evil and adulterous (a spiritual adultery, or idolatry). Instead, He gave them a sign from Scripture, the sign (or miracle) of the resurrection. This sign was given in the experience of Jonah: that “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” This saying was a type of Christ’s interment and resurrection.
The message that Jesus gave the Pharisees was meant not just as a prophecy of His resurrection, but more as a rebuke for their wanting a sign. He rebuked the Pharisees (v. 14) by telling them that even the wicked people of Nineveh were better (more responsive to God) than they were because the people of Nineveh repented by the preaching of Jonah, but they refused to repent even though one greater than Jonah was there—Jesus Himself.