There’s an incident in the New Testament when the Pharisees and Sadducees gang up on Jesus and demand a sign to authenticate Jesus’ words and actions. They come not seeking faith, but to test Jesus and see if they can ensnare Him somehow. Jesus sees through their deceit and says, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”
I’ve always assumed the “sign of Jonah” is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection: Just as Jonah is in the belly of the fish for three days, so Jesus would be in the depths of death until the third day when He rises from the grave.
A while ago, a devotional I read suggested an additional meaning: Consider how Jonah is sent to Nineveh with a message of repentance. Ninevites are considered “outsiders” to God’s chosen people; they are Gentiles who stand at a distance from God’s covenant promises. Yet it is to these very people Jonah is sent, and it is these very people who respond favourably to the invitation to be at peace with God. (The Ninevites respond better to God’s prophet than the Israelites themselves often did!)
Similarly, Jesus’ death and resurrection open the way for all people to be saved regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or background. No longer are Israelites alone God’s special people; in Christ, we are all God’s chosen people, no matter where we come from.
Jonah’s mission to Nineveh – his “sign” – foreshadows the Gospel of Jesus for all nations. There are no longer any outsiders, people too far away to be touched by God’s grace. The Great Commission Jesus gave to His first disciples is still our Great Commission today – to “go and make disciples of all nations.” So in a sense, Jonah’s story continues to be your story and my story: You and I are Jonah, sent by God to the “Nineveh” that might be where we work, where we go out for supper, where we vacation. If “outsiders” like the Ninevites could be saved, then there’s hope for you and me and everyone we meet.