While celebrating the feast of Sukkot, we did a Bible study in the park with a few precious friends. The study was about the book of Jonah. We thought it appropriate for Sukkot because Jonah built a sukkah for himself (Jon 4:5). We actually never got to the sukkah-part of the study because our friend David showed us that the sign of Jonah is about more than just the time Y’shua would spend in the earth. This study made such an impression on us that we would like to share it with you. This is the second part in the series about Y’shua in prophecy. The first part was about Psalm 22 and how significant Y’shua’s last words were. You can read it at “ Y’shua in Prophecy – Part 1- Psalm 22.”
Do you know the full extent of what is meant by the sign of Jonah?
When Y’shua was asked for a sign by the Pharisees, He said that no sign shall be given them except the sign of Jonah. We have always believed that the sign of Jonah is only referring to the time Y’shua would be in the earth after His death, three days and three nights. This is an important part; however, we have learned that there is so much more to the sign of Jonah.
We shall start off by sharing the scriptures that refer to the sign of Jonah and then go to the book of Jonah to share with you why we say there is more to this.
The Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees asks for a sign
When Y’shua tells the scribes and Pharisees that only the sign given to them would be the sign of Jonah, He actually gave them a clue. This clue refers to His death and about Him being in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. Take note of who He was speaking to here, the scribes and Pharisees and later the Sadducees. Who are these people?
Here is a short description of them in the time of Y’shua from the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Scribes and Pharisees
In the 1st century, scribes and Pharisees were two largely distinct groups, though presumably some scribes were Pharisees. Scribes had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents (contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, mortgages, the sale of land, and the like). Every village had at least one scribe. Pharisees were members of a party that believed in resurrection and in following legal traditions that were ascribed not to the Bible but to â€œthe traditions of the fathers.â€ Like the scribes, they were also well-known legal experts: hence the partial overlap of membership of the two groups. It appears from subsequent rabbinic traditions, however, that most Pharisees were small landowners and traders, not professional scribes.1
The Saddusees was a different sect, here is some more information.
As a whole, the sect fulfilled various political, social, and religious roles, including maintaining the Temple.
The religious responsibilities of the Sadducees included the maintenance of the Temple in Jerusalem. Their high social status was reinforced by their priestly responsibilities, as mandated in the Torah. The Priests were responsible for performing sacrifices at the Temple, the primary method of worship in Ancient Israel. This also included presiding over sacrifices on the three festivals of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Their religious beliefs and social status were mutually reinforcing, as the Priesthood often represented the highest class in Judean society. It is important to note that the Sadducees and the priests were not completely synonymous, â€œnot all priests, high priests, and aristocrats were Sadducees; many were Pharisees, and many were not members of any group at all.â€ 2
From these two quotes, we learn that all three groups mentioned here, the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees knew the Tanakh very well. They would be able to figure out what Y’shua meant when He gave them the sign of Jonah. This sign given to them would make perfect sense to them when they consider the death of Y’shua afterward. It would confirm to them that He was the prophesied Messiah. This teamed with His quote from Psalm 22 as discussed in the previous article titled “Y’shua in prophecy – Psalm 22â€.
We shall first look at the quotes where Y’shua gave them this sign. We shall then go to the book of Jonah and see for ourselves how this specific account from Jonah’s life is prophetic of Y’shua’s death and resurrection.
The sign of Jonah
This question about a sign was asked of Y’shua twice and each time He gave the same answer.
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, â€œTeacher, we want to see a sign from You.â€ 39 But He answered and said to them, â€œAn 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.
1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Y’shua, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 But He replied to them, â€œWhen it is evening, you say, â€˜It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.â€™ 3 â€œAnd in the morning, â€˜There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.â€™ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? 4 â€œAn evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.â€ And He left them and went away.
The narration is a bit different in the book of Luke, but it concludes with the same sign of Jonah.
29 As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, â€œThis generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. 30 â€œFor just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
Why did they want to see a sign? They wanted to test Y’shua to see if He was indeed the Messiah.
Why is this sign of Jonah so significant? When we do the detail of this study you will be in awe, you will understand why this is indeed the most convincing sign that Y’shua could have given them. We already see from the first verse we quoted here, a reference to Y’shua’s death. This is an important clue for us. Note also that Y’shua gives fewer explanations the second time, and in the book of Luke. He said, “For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” According to this verse, Y’shua would become the sign, just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites.
Jonah, a sign
How was Jonah a sign to the Ninevites? The Ninevites were Assyrians, known for their cruelty and were known enemies of Israel. It is taught that the people of Nineveh worshiped a fish god and when they witnessed Jonah coming from the fish, they believed he was somehow related to this fish god. H. Clay Trumbull wrote of this as follows:
What better heralding, as a divinely sent messenger to Nineveh, could Jonah have had, than to be thrown up out of the mouth of a great fish, in the presence of witnesses, say, on the coast of Phoenicia, where the fish-god was a favorite object of worship?
. . . The recorded sudden and profound alarm of the people of an entire city at his warning was most natural, as a result of the coincidence of this miracle with their religious beliefs and expectations.3
There is however a major problem with this theory of Trumbull. If the people worshiped a fish god and thought Jonah was somehow related to him, they would have repented to their fish god, and this would actually increase the wrath of YHVH. They would not have been spared, but severely judged if this was the case.
A more plausible and scriptural theory, would be to see it for what it was, a miracle from YHVH. The people witnessed the miracle of a man being swallowed by a fish and coming out alive after three days and three nights in the fish. Jonah became a sign of the miracle working power of the only true Elohim, and that caused the people to repent.
In the book of Luke it is written: “For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” Let us explore this further.
Y’shua and the sign of Jonah
What did Y’shua mean when He gave the Pharisees and Sadducees the sign of Jonah? We need to read the book of Jonah carefully and consider this episode of Jonah’s life compared to the death of Y’shua. Why the death of Y’shua? Because that it the clue He gave: “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.“
Let’s start at the beginning…We find some general resemblances between the life of Y’shua and Jonah.
Salvation to the gentiles
Jonah was sent to Nineveh and we know that the Nivevites were not only gentiles, they were pagans. Jonah with his prophetic message brought salvation to those who were formerly lost.
2 â€œArise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.â€
Y’shua, through His death and resurrection brought salvation to all including the gentiles.
11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called â€œUncircumcisionâ€ by the so-called â€œCircumcision,â€ which is performed in the flesh by human handsâ€” 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without Elohim in the world. 13 But now in Messiah Y’shua you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah.
That is the first resemblance and a very important one. The only difference is that Y’shua did it willingly while Jonah tried to run away.
The storm at sea and Jonah was asleep
Another resemblance is the storm at sea; both Jonah and Y’shua were asleep in the boat while the storm was raging.
4 YHVH hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. 5 Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep.
24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Y’shua Himself was asleep.
Both were instrumental in the calming of the storm, although in very different ways. Jonah was thrown overboard ( Jon 1:12), while Y’shua calmed the storm by rebuking it (Matt 8:26).
Jonah and the sacrificial death of Y’shua
The next seven comparisons are specifically related to the crucifixion or impalement of Y’shua.
1. Lots were cast
The first resemblance is that lots were cast. In the case of Jonah lots were cast to determine who was responsible for the great storm. It fell on Jonah.
7 Each man said to his mate, â€œCome, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.â€ So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
In Y’shua’s case lots were cast to determine who would get His clothing.
24 And they crucified Him, and divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take.
2. The sea was becoming increasingly stormy
This next passage is quite amazing. Read the two passages and keep in mind that waters are prophetic of people according to Rev 17:15.
11 So they said to him, â€œWhat should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?â€â€”for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 He said to them, â€œPick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.â€ 13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on YHVH and said, â€œWe earnestly pray, O YHVH, do not let us perish on account of this manâ€™s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O YHVH, have done as You have pleased.â€
22 Pilate said to them, â€œThen what shall I do with Y’shua who is called Messiah?â€ They all said, â€œCrucify Him!â€ 23 And he said, â€œWhy, what evil has He done?â€ But they kept shouting all the more, saying, â€œCrucify Him!â€ 24 When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, â€œI am innocent of this Manâ€™s blood; see to that yourselves.â€
Do you see this?
3. Three days and three nights
This is the part we usually focus on when we look for the sign of Jonah. This is very important as it is referring to a literal three days and three night; no less, no more.
17 And YHVH appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.
This period, being literal, is confirmed by Matt 12:40. Y’shua was speaking here and He would not say one thing and mean another.
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.
Those of you, who still believe in Good Friday and Easter Sunday, please consider this. If Y’shua went into the grave on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday, He would only have been in the grave for one day and two nights. It does not line up with Scripture! The truth is in Pesach, not Easter. Start celebrating YHVHs appointed times, not menâ€™s, and you will learn His truth.
4. Jonah and Y’shua both called out in distress
The next part from Jonah chapter two, is a prayer Jonah prayed after being swallowed by the fish. Read through this and consider Y’shua and you will find that what happened to Jonah bare resemblance to Y’shua’s death.
Jonah called out in distress…
2 and he said, â€œI called out of my distress to YHVH, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.
and Y’shua cried out with a loud voice…
46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, â€œEli, Eli, lama sabachthani?â€ that is, â€œMy Elohim, My Elohim, why have You forsaken Me?â€
This brings us to the next point. A very important point if you understand what is happening when Y’shua cries out â€œMy Elohim, My Elohim, why have You forsaken Me?â€ You can read more about it in our previous article titled “Y’shua in prophecy – Psalm 22″
5. Being expelled and forsaken
Jonah experienced being expelled from YHVH’s sight.
4 â€œSo I said, â€˜I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.â€™
Y’shua experienced being forsaken by YHVH.
46 About the ninth hour Y’shua cried out with a loud voice, saying, â€œEli, Eli, lama sabachthani?â€ that is, â€œMy Elohim, My Elohim, why have You forsaken Me?â€
Or was Y’shua making a very important point here, proving that He is indeed the prophesied Messiah? You can read more about the significance of this phrase in the previous article, as stated in the previous section.
6. Plant material wrapped around the head
In the case of Jonah, weeds were wrapped around his head. This may represent the crown of thorns that would be put on Y’shua’s head.
5 â€œWater encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head.
29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, â€œHail, King of the Jews!â€
7. Both Jonah and Y’shua descended
In his prayer, Jonah said that he descended to the roots of the mountains.
6 â€œI descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, But You have brought up my life from the pit, O YHVH my Elohim.
Y’shua in His death descended into the lower parts of the earth
9 (Now this expression, â€œHe ascended,â€ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?
Salvation is from YHVH
Just before Jonah is vomited out onto dry land, He said these words: Salvation is from YHVH.
9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from YHVH.â€
The Hebrew word for salvation is Y’shua. Here is a clipping from the NASB Interlinear text:
Is this not absolutely amazing? When you look at this segment out of the life of Jonah as prophetically portraying the sacrificial death of Y’shua and you read this phrase “Salvation is from YHVH” you see YHVH’s plan. His plan is salvation to all, and He made it possible through the death and resurrection of Y’shua.
After this statement was made by Jonah, YHVH commanded the fish and he spewed Jonah out on dry land.
Jonah spewed out by the fish and Y’shua is resurrected
When Jonah was spewed out by the fish, his life was given back to him.
10 Then YHVH commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.
This verse points to Y’shua’s resurrection from the dead. YHVH raised Y’shua up after being dead for three days and three nights.
32 â€œThis Y’shua Elohim raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.
Jonah went to Nineveh and warned the people of their imminent judgment, and they fasted and repented. YHVH heard their sincere plea and relented from judgment. Jonah in this sense brought salvation to this gentile nation.
We have seen from this study how this episode from Jonah’s life points to the sacrificial death and resurrection of Y’shua.
Y’shua, through His sacrificial death and resurrection brought salvation to all; Jew and gentile. In everything, Y’shua is greater than Jonah. However, we see, through this study, how the life of Jonah could be the sign Y’shua gave to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jonah’s calling to go to Nineveh is prophetic of YHVH’s great plan of salvation to all.
We may have missed some other points of comparison between the life of Jonah and Y’shua. Please study this book of Jonah for yourself and share your findings with us. We would love to hear from you! Please also sign-up for our weekly articles as we will continue to search for and share YHVH’s truth with whoever wants to hear it.
- H. Clay Trumbull, “Jonah In Nineveh,” Journal of Biblical Literature 11 (1892): 10-12.
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