Is Jesus the Messiah? We struggle with that and the ones who struggle the most are religious elites. I must not be one of them. I must believe. I must not ask Jesus to prove himself. Jesus died and was resurrected from the dead. That is all I need to know.
Then some of the religious elites (aka scribes and Pharisees) said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” Matthew 12:38
“The Jews require a sign” (1 Cor. 1:22). To ask for a sign was evidence of unbelief: They wanted Him to prove that He was the Messiah. We wonder what further proof could have been given! Had they searched their own Scriptures, and sincerely examined His life, they would have concluded, “This is the Son of God!” But for Jesus to have given them a sign would have been wrong. He would have catered to their unbelief and allowed them to set the standards for faith. No matter what miracle He performed, it would not have pleased them.
Jesus reviewed their history.– The Prophet Jonah was a Jew sent to the Gentiles, and the Queen of Sheba was a Gentile who came to visit Solomon, a Jew. Because of the bitterness between the Jews and the Gentiles, this reference to the Gentiles must have irritated the Pharisees. But we have noted other occasions when either Jesus or Matthew mentioned the Gentiles.
Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh because he had experienced (in the great fish) “death,” burial, and resurrection. The only sign Jesus would give to His nation was death, burial, and resurrection. The messages in the first seven chapters of Acts center on the resurrection of Christ, not on His death on the cross.
The Jews of that day believed that He had died, for this was the chief topic of conversation. But they did not believe that He was alive. In Acts 2–7, the Holy Spirit gave to the nation of Israel abundant witness that Jesus was alive. This was the only sign they needed.
Jesus is greater than Jonah in many ways. He is greater in His person, for Jonah was a mere man. He was greater in His obedience, for Jonah disobeyed God and was chastened. Jesus actually died, while Jonah’s “grave” was in the belly of the great fish. Jesus arose from the dead under His own power. Jonah ministered only to one city, while Jesus gave His life for the whole world. Certainly Jesus was greater in His love, for Jonah did not love the people of Nineveh—he wanted them to die. Jonah’s message saved Nineveh from judgment; he was a messenger of the wrath of God. Jesus’ message was that of grace and salvation. When we trust Christ, we are not only saved from judgment, but we receive eternal, abundant life.
Jesus is also greater than Solomon in His wisdom, wealth, and works. The Queen of Sheba was amazed at what she saw in Solomon’s kingdom; but what we have in the kingdom of God through Christ far surpasses Solomon’s glories. To sit at Christ’s table and hear His words, and to share His blessings, is much more satisfying than to visit and admire the most spectacular kingdom, even that of Solomon.
The main lesson behind this history lesson is this: The citizens of Nineveh will witness against the rulers of Israel, for they repented at Jonah’s preaching. The Queen of Sheba will also witness against them. She traveled a long distance to hear Solomon’s wisdom, yet the Jewish leaders rejected the wisdom of the Messiah who was in their very midst!
The greater the opportunity, the greater the judgment. It is a tragic feature in the history of Israel that the nation rejected their deliverers the first time but accepted them the second time. This was true with Joseph, Moses, David, the prophets, and Jesus the Messiah.
- Matthew 12:38–42 — 38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 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. 41 “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 “The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
- Matthew 16:1–4 — 1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 But He replied to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 “And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? 4 “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 43–44). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.