Greater Than Jonah
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:41b (Holman) “. . .and look–something greater than Jonah is here!”
The Pharisees demanded a miracle from Jesus. He would not oblige them. Jesus knew miracles could wow their eyes, but not necessarily win their hearts.
No more signs were needed to validate Jesus. Nineveh, with less evidence than the Pharisees had already experienced, repented and believed, thereby leaving the Pharisees without excuse for their unbelief. If one greater than Jonah was with the Pharisees, they were under far more obligation to repent than Nineveh was.
Jesus was greater than Jonah by far. The prophet was imperfect, Jesus perfect. Jonah preached one sermon, Jesus spoke often. Jonah had little time with his listeners. Jesus was present day after day, month after month. Jonah, to his hearers, was a foreigner, an alien, an enemy. Jesus was Israel’s own kith and kin.
Jonah saw one miracle, Jesus did many convincing proofs. He “performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. . . .There are many other things that Jesus did, which, if they were written one by one, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written” (John 20:30,31;21:28).
Nineveh welcomed a preacher of wrath. Jonah preached condemnation to Nineveh and couldn’t have cared less about them. Being his enemies, he wanted them destroyed. Jesus, by contrast, spoke with love, and predicted the downfall of another capital city with tears and weeping, yet the Pharisees rejected Him.
The Ninevites were brutal and wicked (Jonah 1:2). They had no prior knowledge of God, no Moses, no David, no Bible. Their repentance leaves all without excuse, not only Pharisees of Jesus’ day, but also unbelievers in our era. When we consider the huge number of chances people in our culture have to hear about Jesus and believe in Him, I shudder for unbelievers.
Increased advantage increases responsibility. The Ninevites will in the last day worsen the guilt of all in our day who had more and better opportunities.
Large numbers of the people in our country, though surrounded by Bibles, Christian TV and radio, devotional books, and churches, still remain reluctant to deal with the most important question of life, “What will you do with Jesus?”
Jesus made claims for Himself which demand thoughtful attention and investigation. Never did anyone but fringe lunatics make more audacious claims about themselves than Jesus did about Himself.
In our text, Jesus claimed superiority over the one prophet who was listened to by a Gentile nation. In the next verse, Jesus claimed to be greater than Israel’s wisest king, Solomon. Elsewhere Jesus claimed to be greater than the Temple.
Take time to ponder the significance of this triple assertion. God promised Israel the Messiah, the anointed One, would come and combine in Himself the three Old Testament officers who were inducted into office by being anointed, a symbol of God’s spirit being poured upon them. Jesus, greater than Jonah, is the ultimate prophet. Greater than the Temple, Jesus is our never dying everlasting High Priest. Greater than Solomon, Jesus is King of kings.
Prophet, Priest, King–Jesus claimed to combine all three in one Person. As Maclaren said, it is either sober truth or the most insane, arrogant, self-assertion; if it be true that self-consciousness is ever the disease of the soul, and the religious teacher who begins to think of himself is lost, how marvelous is this assertion.
Jesus made outlandish claims. Hear a few closely. “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:14). “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
He claimed to be God. “Before Abraham was, I am. . . .The Father and I are one” (John 8:58; 10:30). Claiming to be greater than the Sabbath, He set Himself above the day of worship to God, thereby making Himself its object of worship.
In addition to these incredible claims, He also had the audacity to say, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:24). The irony would be illustrated if I wrote a book entitled “Humility, and Ten Impressive Ways I Proudly Achieved It.”
Jesus’ self-promoting/self-deprecating words would repulse us if spoken by others, but they fit on His lips. If anyone else claimed to be what Jesus claimed to be, we would know the speaker was lying or delusional, yet people believe Jesus.
He is perfect, like Giotto’s circle. Giotto, to prove he was qualified to do art work for the Pope, drew freehand a perfect O, one which could not be duplicated or improved. Jesus is a perfect Giotto’s circle, no irregularity of outline, flawless.
With 20/20 hindsight we can see this clearly, yet many today refuse to seek or believe in Jesus. All who believed with less evidence will testify against us.
The Pharisees thought they were the most sanctimonious of all, the best of the best. Their religious pride, though disdained, is unwittingly imitated by too many today, by people who are totally satisfied with their spiritual condition, who think they have arrived and see no reason to change, to seek to improve.
The smug today will be humbled someday. In the spiritual realm, things won’t always be as they appear to be now. The first will be last, the lowly exalted.
This is one huge reason a Judgment Day is needed. Inequities have to be settled. Everything needs to be set right. Since God is just, there will have to be a time when the score is settled. When all is said and done, God will be proven fair.
Once all has been laid bare, all evidence revealed, many will be forever unhappy, but none will ever be able to say God didn’t do right by them. He is fair.