Opposition by legalism 6: An evil and adulterous generation

The signs of Jonah and the Queen of Sheba

Matthew 12:38–42

The conflicts of Jesus

40 Blogs of Lent: Day 22

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just 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. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
Matthew 12:38–42 ESVUK

A playground climbing frame in the shape of a fish.

Now it gets personal. The attacks are now against the person of Jesus. Jesus replies by reviewing Jewish history.

Jonah was a Jew who went to the gentiles, the Queen of Sheba, a gentile who went to the Jews. This allusion to Gentiles would have angered the Pharisees at a time when there was a conflict between Jews and Gentiles.


Jonah would not look like a good comparison to make, Jonah was a lousy prophet. In 2 Kings 14:23–25 Jonah ‘prophesied’ to King Jeroboam II of Israel that he would get his land and possessions back. In contrast another prophet, Amos, prophesied the opposite: Amos 6:13–13. Jonah was the kind of prophet who would tell someone what they wished to hear, that God’s favour was with them, rather than what God was actually saying, that God’s justice is against them. So when God told Jonah to prophesy in Nineveh, Jonah not only disobeyed but tried to get as far away from Nineveh as possible — Tarshish.

The story of Jonah is “death” inside the fish, burial and resurrection. This is the sign that Jesus offers is his actual death, burial and resurrection.

Jonah was:

  • was disobedient to God,
  • reluctant,
  • did not actually die,
  • hated the people of Nineveh
  • and had a message of doom and destruction.

In contrast, Jesus:

  • was obedient to the Father,
  • came of his own free will,
  • gave his life …
  • … for the whole world that he loved.
  • His message was grace and salvation.

The problem for the Jews was the resurrection of Jesus Matt 28:11–15 shows them unwilling to believe that Jesus was raised. In the first seven chapters of Acts, the Apostles preached the resurrection of Jesus, ‘God raised him up.’ The death of Jesus was not preached until their preaching moved outside Judea and Galilee. Before that, there was no need, they all knew that Jesus had died.

The Queen of Sheba

The Queen of Sheba heard of the wisdom of Solomon and came with gifts of gold and spices. Whether Sheba was in southern Arabia or Ethiopia is irrelevant to this, either journey would have taken several days. Solomon’s kingdom, although great, does not match that of the kingdom of God.

Jesus kingdom is the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is greater than Solomon in wisdom, wealth and works. What we have in the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ far surpasses anything Solomon ever had. We sit at Christ’s table hear his words and share his blessings.

People of Nineveh will witness against the rulers of Judea because they heeded the warning of Jonah and repented, The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time did not repent.

The Queen of Sheba will witness because she travelled miles to hear Solomon’s wisdom. Yet Jewish leaders rejected the wisdom of Jesus who was in their midst.

Please do not make their mistake and reject Jesus.

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