In Matthew 12:38-42, we read about the parable of “the Sign of Jonah.”
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, 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. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.’”
Okay, this wonderful parable is rich with meaning. What I need to do is start to unpack some of that meaning for you.
First of all, let me quote verse 40. It says, “...so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” If you have ever wondered where Hell is located, it is in the heart of the earth. This is where Jesus says Hell is. Imagine, scientists say that the core of the earth is molten lava. It is very hot down there. That certainly suits the environment of Hell, with the burning sulfur and molten lava. So if someone ever questions you, where is Hell? It is where Jesus went into, in the heart of the earth.
During the pre-resurrection times, there used to be Paradise down there too, a place that was separated from Hell by a big chasm. In Chapter 33 I taught on this subject. The righteous people were in Paradise and the unrighteous people were in Sheol. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man was in agony while Lazarus was in the Bosom of Abraham.
But I do not feel that Jesus was merely telling a story here. I felt that Lazarus was a real person. It is one of the few times that Jesus used a Christian name in a parable. This seems to imply that Lazarus did exist. It is a comforting thought to know that Abraham—someone who the Jewish people looked up to as their father—had Lazarus in his bosom, holding him and comforting him. It is good to know that in Heaven, we have a memory. If we have suffered on earth it would be good to know that we are being comforted and the tears would stop flowing even when we remember the hard times on earth. This makes the joy, peace and serenity of Heaven so much more compared to our hard earthly life.
Jesus says in verse 39, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.” We live in a generation which is like that. There are certain factions within the church who condemn signs and wonders and think that anyone who is operating in the gift of healing and miracles is a false prophet and not from God. They have a right to their opinions, the same as I have a right to my opinion. There are many accusations about the Pentecostal church that hold weight. People can make accusations and find some sort of substance in what they are saying about the excesses of the Pentecostal church in some ways.
But then I have been amongst some Pentecostals who experience the joy and bliss of the Holy Spirit. These people are free; they are not bound by religion. They are most often prosperous. They are most often happy and full of joy and peace. They manifest the true presence of God. Some people would say that bursting out in laughter is not a good thing. Anyone can say that until they are in a middle of a depression and they burst out in laughter and it fills their whole being with joy and peace.
So, part of the church condemns signs and wonders, and it is probably from verses like these that generate such opinions. Also, teachers who do not believe in the miracles of this generation help perpetuate such opinions, but remember that Jesus says a sign might be given to a generation that is adulterous. Jesus, in James 4:4, said that anyone who seeks after his own, to spend things on his own pleasures is an adulterer. I will just turn to the scripture and read it for you in context.
James 4:2-4 starts:
“You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
This is the type of adulterer that Jesus is talking about—a generation that is serving the lusts of the flesh—a generation that is devoured by consumerism, consumed by a lust for wanting more and more—a generation that only pays lip service to Jesus Christ, but their real god is their bellies—their real god is the things that they can buy and consume, and the things that bring temporal joy and happiness.
An adulterer is a person who is married, but flirts and has sex with another person. As Christians we are called to be the bride of Christ, we are called to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and so when we focus all our attention, time and money to other things or we lust after other things, we are really committing adultery against Jesus Christ. This is the sort of adulterous generation that we live in, the same as the generation that Jesus lived.
“...and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (v.39c).
So, what is the sign of the prophet Jonah in this generation? Well, you will find in Revelation 11:3 that the two witnesses are the last prophet Elijah and, I believe, Enoch. Some people think these prophets are Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets who were transfigured before Jesus, John and Peter in Matthew 17:2. Other Bible scholars say they represent the two olive trees or the two lamp-stands which are symbols of the witnessing church. Many things in Scripture are not clearly set forth and these two witnesses are purposely unidentified. .
It says in Revelation 11:7-12: “When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
“Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them, and they heard a loud voice from Heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they ascended to Heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.”
So, in this last day—in this adulterous generation—we need a sign like Jonah. Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale. Jesus disappeared off the face of the earth for three days and came back. These two witnesses—our current sign of Jonah—will be killed and lie on the streets dead for three and a half days. I assume that their spirits will be in Heaven for that time, and then they will come back. That is what Matthew 12:39 covered.
Now, the Queen of Sheba is mentioned in Matthew 12: 42. The Queen of Sheba came to Solomon, and brought with her a hundred and twenty talents of gold. (This would be forty ton of gold.) At that time, the annual revenue of gold in Solomon’s Kingdom was 666—normally a bad number. Six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold were brought to Solomon’s Kingdom every single year, which is now billions and billions of dollars’ worth of gold. This one Queen: brought a tremendous offering of gold to Solomon to measure her respect of him.
The Queen of Sheba came to see Solomon. Jesus was saying: someone better than Solomon was in their midst and He was not getting their recognition. He says in verse 41 that the men of Nineveh will rise up in judgment against this generation. Some preachers say that some of the people of Nineveh that were not even Jews are going to be saved. They are going to come back in a righteous way and judge the generation where Jesus lived. This is proof that certain people, pre-Moses or pre-Christ, are saved and are going to be delivered.
What is the application for this? One of the main points is that we have to treasure Jesus above all else. We can live in a generation that is adulterous and which is seeking after a sign, but we should not be lusting after the things of the world. We do not have to be adulterous. We can live in an adulterous world, but we can be not of this world. We can make Jesus the true focus of our devotion—the true focus of our time.
Reading a book like this is a good thing—a good practice for you to do, but even better than reading a book is to put its teachings into practice. A good way to put this book into practice is to minister to other people—buy yourself multiple copies and give them to your non-Christian friends!