Summary: We all know what the first sign of Jonah is, which is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Is there a second sign?
The Second Sign of Jonah: A Study on Jesus’ use of the Prophet Jonah
Jonah was an Old Testament prophet who lived nearly 800 years before Christ, which makes him the earliest of the Minor prophets. The story of Jonah and the whale (great fish) is the subject of many a Vacation Bible Study and children’s Sunday school lessons. It has caused its share of controversy among scholars. Did Jonah actually get swallowed by a whale or great fish. We must of course remember that God is God. He prepared the fish. He would have made it possible for Jonah to have survived whether it was a whale, great fish, or a submarine for that matter. All of these red herrings have led eyes away from the true significance of Jonah which Jesus brings out in several places in the New Testament.
Jesus repeatedly upheld the authority of the Scripture, which to us today is the Old Testament. It was a witness to Him. Jesus tells the Pharisees to search the Scripture, it testified of Jesus and eternal life. The Scripture testified of His birth, sacrificial death and resurrection of the dead. He taught His disiples to read the Scripture in this way. He used Scripture to enlighten the Emmaus disciples. He later opened the eyes of the disciples so that they might understand that the Law, Prophets and the writings, the three divisions of the Israelite canon, that they testified about Him.
Jesus in His ministry referred directly or indirectly to Jonah on several occasions. Jonah appears in Matthew 12:39-41. A similar reference occurs in Luke 11:29-32 with less detail such as the tree days and three nights that Jonah spent in the belly of the fish. Also missing is the reference to the resurrection of Jesus. What is common to them is that the pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus responded with indignation that this was a request from an evil and adulterous generation. No sign would be given but that of the Prophet Jonah. He also added that he gentile Ninevites would rise up in judgment against them because they had repented at the preaching of the lesser Jonah, whereas they had not repented at the preaching of the greater Jesus.
Matthew’s mention of the three days and three nights in the belly of the fish is compared to Jesus spending three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. This has caused some issues with those who read that Jesus rose on the third day in all other places. If Jesus died on Friday and rose on Sunday, that would not be three days and three nights. There are many who have tried to harmonize this. for example, some postulate that Jesus died on Thursday. There may have been two Sabbaths, one the regular weekly Sabbath, and the other the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As it was impossible to synchronize the 7th day of the week with the phases of the lunar month which is 28 ¼ days, these two Sabbaths could occur in different days of the week. But this is again another red herring. What we need to concentrate on is that the first sign of Jonah points to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. This would prove to the Jews and the world that Jesus is the Christ. The Resurrection is controversial enough, but the same God who can prepare a great fish to swallow Jonah is able to raise Jesus from the dead. We don’t prove the Resurrection by proving that the miracles of the Old Testament happened or could happen. The Resurrection proves instead that all of the miracles of the Old Testament are true. If God can raise the dead, then a fish can swallow Jonah and iron can swim.
Another, shorter reference to Jonah occurs in Matthew 16:4 when both the Pharisees and Sadducees sought a sign from heaven. He calls them a wicked and adulterous generation who was able to predict the weather by looking at the sky but were blind to spiritual things. He repeated without elaboration that the only sign would be the sign of Jonah.
The next time the name Jonah appears is in Matthew 16:17 where Jesus calls Simon by his full name “Simon Bar-Jonah.” Why would Jesus emphasize that Simon was the son of Jonah who would not be named “Peter?” Understanding the connection leads us to the second sign of Jonah.
In John 1:42 and in John 21:15, Simon is called the “Son of John.” Although John and Jonah sound alike in both Hebrew and English, they are not the same name. Jonah means either “dove” or perhaps “disobedient” whereas John means “God is Gracious.” So was Peter’s father’s name Jonah or John? Does Jesus deliberately play on the similar sounding names to bring out a point? Jesus was about to rename Simon in Matthew, so using Jonah here indicate the mission which Peter was about to undertake, to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.