What Does Matthew 12:40 Mean?

for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Matthew 12:40(NASB)
Picture courtesy of Moody Publishers

Verse Thoughts

The Jewish leaders knew Christ claimed to come from heaven as their Messiah and King. They recognised the miracles and wonders He performed, which had been foretold by Old Testament prophets and clearly authenticated His claim. But His message was unacceptable to these religious folk, because He did not fulfil their preconceived expectation.

Israel's opposition came to a climax in Matthew 11, when the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of casting out a demon by the power of Beelzebub, and we see a distinct change in Christ's teaching... for He began to teach about His coming kingdom in parables.

Every area of His message, ministry, power and authority was challenged including the astonishing healing miracles He had performed in their midst. Nothing He did satisfied their bigoted hearts, and they insisted Jesus prove His Messianic claims through a heavenly-sign.

In earlier generations signs from heaven had been given to encourage God's people and increase their faith. Walls had tumbled; axe heads floated; human eyes had witnessed the angelic host of heaven engaged in battle and Isaiah even saw the Lord seated on His throne, high and lifted up... and His train filled the Temple.

However, Jesus read their heart and identified them as an evil and adulterous generation of unbelieving Jews, who had rejected God's word and were plotting His death. He knew they were attempting to trap Him and would not play into their hands. Jesus did not exactly refuse a sign, but would only give them "the sign of the prophet Jonah". 

When God commanded Jonah to preach repentance to the sinful citizens of Nineveh, he ran away to sea to escape God's call. However, The Lord prepared a great fish to swallow his servant who died in the belly of the monster, but was brought back to life after three days, to complete his mission. The sign Christ spoke of prefigured His own passion, death, burial and resurrection from the grave.

Jesus was angry at their unbelief. Their refusal to hear His word and craving for a heavenly sign identified them as "an evil and adulterous generation", and He warned that no sign would be given... except the sign of the prophet Jonah - "for just as Jonah was in the stomach of the sea creature for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights".

The only sign Jesus would give this brood of vipers, who were wilfully blind, was that of His death, burial and resurrection from the dead, after being buried for three days. This 'sign of the prophet Jonah' is the most amazing sign they could have been given, for the resurrection of Christ is the sign that secures the resurrection to life of all believers.. for He is the First-fruit from the dead. 

The resurrection of Christ from the grave is the most compelling sign He could have given to these disbelieving Jews, and a few were brought to faith following His resurrection and ascension into heaven. The resurrection of Jesus continues to be a sign that has caused countless unbelieving people, who desired to know 'who moved the stone' to come to faith. His death, burial and resurrection is the most thrilling truth for all who have trusted Christ for salvation for we KNOW - that because He lives, we too will live. Praise His holy name.

My Prayer

Heavenly Father, how we praise that thank You for the sign of Jonah, which not only prefigured the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, but has given all who believe on the Him a blessed hope - knowing that because He rose to life immortal, we too will rise to newness of life. We pray for lost souls who doubt Your word and ask that in Your grace You would convict many of their need of Christ, and open their blinded eyes, before it is too late, so they too may come to a knowledge of the truth - this we ask in Jesus name, AMEN.

Picture courtesy of Moody Publishers

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