We return with joy this morning to Matthew chapter 12 – Matthew chapter 12. And I want us to look together at verses 38 through 42 – 38 through 42. We’ve titled this message ‘Judgment on Christ-rejectors,’ and that is really clearly its theme as we examine these particular verses. To begin with, let me say that the Bible is abundantly clear that all men are sinners, that all men are separated from God and on target for divine judgment. From the beginning of the Scripture really to the end, this message is given repeatedly, that man is sinful and lost and separated from God.
Now it is not always apparent how lost man is to other men. It is not always easy to determine how sinful man really is, because there is in the world of men a sort of a relative goodness. There are religious, moral, good people who say they believe in God and do kind and good things to others. But ultimately, the sinfulness of man is always made manifest under one condition, and at this point it becomes unavoidable and explicit. The sinfulness of man is clearly seen when a person comes face-to-face with Jesus Christ. At that point, there can be no hiding it. No matter what the life is like, it is unmasked for its sinful reality in confrontation with Jesus Christ. The sin issue becomes crystallized when a person is forced to face Christ. That’s the crux of the revelation of man’s sinfulness.
Now before you look at Matthew 12, I want to read you three verses from the fifteenth chapter of John to give you an understanding that will help elucidate the text in Matthew 12. In John 15, our Lord is meeting with His disciples in the upper room. The unbelief of the nation of Israel is already crystallized and made manifest. They have already set in motion the plot to kill Him. This is the night of His betrayal, the night before His arrest, only hours before His death. And as He speaks in this upper room to His disciples, whose feet He has just washed, He gives them all kinds of insights that they might be held together by the truth when He is gone. And one of the things He promises them is that there will be difficulty, that the world will hate them because it hated Him.
And then He moves to talk about the people who rejected Him. And in verse 22 He says this, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin. But now they have no cloak for their sin.” Now here He is referring to the Jewish leaders who appeared on the surface to be holy. They appeared to be righteous. They were certainly religious. They appeared to love God and to obey God and to keep God’s laws and to uphold God’s word. They were the most religious people in the world at that time, as far as their world was concerned. And nobody really knew how utterly vile and sinful they were, because of the mask of religion, which they wore so well.
But when Jesus came and they were confronted with Him, immediately by their rejection of the living Son of God, no matter what else they pretended to be, it was clear how sinful they were. And so the Lord calls them whited sepulchers; He calls them a brood of snakes; He calls them evil, vile, perverted, wicked men with black hearts and poisoned mouths. He curses them again and again, as recorded in the twenty-third chapter of Matthew. And the real evil of those hearts would never really have come to the surface if Jesus hadn’t showed up. But by what they did in rejecting Him, turning on Him, hating Him, and ultimately taking His life, they manifested the true character of their evil hearts.
In fact in verse 23 Jesus says, you see, “He that hateth Me hateth My Father also.” The truth about them is now known; they don’t love God. They – what? – they hate God. They hate God. Because if they loved God, they would have loved Me. Obviously, He is God. In verse 24 He said, “If I had not done among them the works which no other man did, they had not had sin. But now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father.” Now what that passage is saying is this. That when you come face-to-face with Jesus Christ, you may have hidden your sin well for a long time, but if you reject Jesus Christ, at that point, the mask is off and the truth is out. No matter what you appear to be on the surface, you are a vile, wretched sinner as manifest in your rejection of Jesus Christ. The heart of evil is unveiled in confrontation with Christ.
Now that is precisely what we have back in Matthew 12. The Pharisees had kept up the charade; they had kept up the façade; they had kept up the hypocrisy. The masquerade was very successful until Jesus showed up. You know, that’s true today in many ways. There are many religious people who seem to go along very well with their religious masquerade until somebody confronts them with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and when they reject it, the real truth is made manifest. They don’t love God at all. You take the cults, the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who appear so religious and so good and so holy and so righteous and so obedient to the laws as they believe or as they proclaim God gives them, and you confront them with Jesus Christ, and all of a sudden the hypocrisy is revealed. Isn’t it? The mask is off. They don’t love God; they hate God; they despise God, because they hate His Son. The same thing can even occur in the liberal churches, churches where people go to talk about the Bible, at an arm’s length, and politics and book reviews and social problems and psychological solutions. And then you walk in and introduce the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the mask is off. They don’t love God. That is always the revealer.
So Jesus had effectively stripped the masked. He had unrobed, if you will, the Pharisees and the Jewish people, and showed them to be vile, wretched sinners. Now this didn’t sit too well with them, as you can imagine. Right? They weren’t really thrilled about this. And so by the time you come to Matthew chapter 12, they are hardened in their rejection. They have seen Christ, heard Him teach, seen His miracles, seen the character and quality of His life, experienced His power. Their conclusion is, He is a Sabbath-breaker – they say that early in chapter 12 – and He is satanic – they say that later in chapter 12. A satanic Sabbath-breaker. Now by that verdict of Jesus Christ, they reveal their evil hearts. They reveal they don’t love God. You can’t reject Jesus Christ and love God. You hate both or love both, because they are one and the same. And so they have already reveled their hearts.
Now each time they do this – go back for a minute into chapter 12 – they say that Jesus is a Sabbath-breaker, and they do this in public, of course. They’re trying to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. They want to hold their place, You see?. They’re sitting at the top of the religious pile. They love the acclaim of men. They love to sit in the chief places and be called, “Father,” and all of that, as Matthew 23 says. They love to be up on top and have everybody’s respect and be thought of as holy and sanctimonious and pious and all of this. And so they want to maintain their power and control and dominance and hold over the people. And so when the people begin to become attracted to Jesus, they feel they must discredit Him publicly before the people, so that they can maintain the place of supremacy.
And so they accuse Jesus of being a Sabbath-breaker, and they do it publicly, but by the time the accusation is over, He literally attacks them. And He says, “You don’t understand your own Scriptures. You don’t understand the Sabbath. And least of all do you understand that I am the Lord of the Sabbath.” And so they attack Him a second time in chapter 12. This time they say, “No, He’s not only a Sabbath-breaker, but He’s satanic,” verse 24. And He turns right back on them and says, “That kind of an accusation is absurd. It is prejudiced, and it is rebellious, and betrays your vile hearts. And you will be damned for it, and you’re beyond the point of forgiveness and repentance. You will never be forgiven.” So each time they attack Him, they lose. But they have one final shot. They are trying to discredit Him in the face of the people, and they have one final attack at the end of Matthew 12. It appears in verse 38.
Now I really believe that Matthew has reached a climax in the flow of his gospel. They have reached the pinnacle of their rejection in verse 24 when they say He’s satanic. There is no hope for them to be redeemed, because they have all the evidence they could possibly have and they have concluded the very opposite to the truth. They are hopeless. They are damned by their unbelief. And so Matthew has reached a high point. This is the final, full-fledged rejection of Israel. And so as he comes to the conclusion of chapter 12, the words that Jesus speak become words of judgment. And especially from verse 38 to 45 does Jesus speak judgment on these who have rejected Him. And the occasion is their last attack, and He turns it into a speech about judgment. And then by the way, closes the twelfth chapter with an invitation in verses 46 to 50, which we’ll see later on. They approach Jesus, then, with their final attack.
Now keep in mind, they really aren’t interested in anything He does or says. They are only trying to make Him look bad in the eyes of the people. That’s why they accused Him of being a Sabbath-breaker. That’s why they accused him of being satanic, because they could see the people beginning to turn toward Him. And now they have one more shot to discredit Him, and it comes in verse 38. Look at it. “Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered saying, ‘Master, we would see a sign from Thee.’” Now I call this little section from verse 38 to 40 ‘the last sign’ – the last sign. And then in 41 and 42 is ‘the last sentence’ – the last sentence.
Remember that they had been devastated by Jesus’ attack. He had just said something to them that was beyond anything they had ever imagined that they would hear. In verses 31 and 32, He said they had blasphemed the Holy Spirit, and they would never be forgiven for that in this age or in any age in the future. He had just told them that they were rotten trees with rotten fruit, they were a generation of snakes, they were speaking evil because they had evil hearts, and He told them by their evil words they would be damned. So He has really spoken strongly to them. I mean, He has spoken as strongly as could be possible. They are trying, at this point, to keep their cool, because if they blow it right here, they’re going to lose their reputation with the people. So they apparently retreat at this point, and they get together to try to figure a strategy as to how they might come back with an attack that will ultimately discredit Christ. At this point, they look like the losers, and they have to give it one more shot. They’ve got to get on top in this one-upmanship approach.
And so verse 38 says certain of them came back. Now this was probably a specially-appointed committee who were prepared with the right approach and who represented the whole snake pit of Pharisees and scribes. They were the lawyers. They had to have spent at least 30 years on the earth, be that age, and have spent years and years of that time studying and studying and studying the law, until finally they were granted the right to be a lawyer or an interpreter of the law. They took the chair, if you will, of the scribe. They were recognized as authorized experts in the law, those who were able to understand and interpret and apply the law of God. And so here they come, the recognized experts, the scribes and the Pharisees with them.
And they say, “Master” – and this betrays their hypocrisy. They’re trying to come off as pious. They’re trying to come off as sanctimonious, and they want to keep their reputation in front of the people. So in their hypocrisy, for the peoples’ sake, they acknowledge Jesus in a way that the people seem to perceive Him, as a master, a teacher, a rabbi. It is a title of great respect. One who knew the law, one who could teach the law, one who was an authority in the law. And so they say, “Master,” and it just drips with hypocrisy. They did not respect Him at all; they despised Him. But they nonetheless try to keep up their reputation. And they ask this question, “We would see a sign from Thee.”
Now the very implication of the question is important, because the people would have perceived this differently than you would if you just read it. You see, when a scribe came, in an official assembly of scribes and Pharisees, to ask a question like this of a man like Jesus, the question would carry tremendous weight. The people would feel that it was a question attached to the scribal understanding of the law. In other words, if they are asking this of Jesus, then this must be what the law requires of Him. You see? In other words, the assumption would be that the scribes must have determined from the law that if He is the Messiah, He should do a sign. And that is probably what they thought; that this was some very official question. “We would see a sign.” The people, then, were being told – get this – that this person Jesus had not yet sufficiently validated His claim to being the Messiah, that there was yet a sign that needed to be done.
Now what kind of sign are they asking? I mean the healing after healing after healing, casting out of demons, transformation of lives, salvation, forgiveness of sin. I mean, what could they want more than the thousands and thousands of miracles that they had already seen? What else could they ask for? Well, there’s really a simple answer. If you go to the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, I believe you find a parallel situation there, where they come back with the same question again and they get the same answer. We know it’s parallel because the terms are all the same. But this time we get a little more insight into the kind of thing they were asking for. Verse 1, the Pharisees with the Sadducees came and test Him. They desired that He would show them a sign. What kind of sign? A sign from where? Heaven. And so He says, “Well, when it’s evening” – and so forth – and the sky – and he begins to talks about the heaven, the heaven that they perceived. They were asking for a sign from heaven, so He started to talk about the sky and all of that. An then He says, in verse 4, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign, and there will be no sign given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah,” and He left.
No go back to Matthew 12. They comes back in verse 38 here, and they say, “We want a sign.” And He says, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign. There will be no sign given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Get the same answer, and I think it came in 16 again because basically it was the same question. Now what am I leading to? Watch this. When they said, “We would see a sign,” I think they wanted a sign from heaven. I think they wanted that. And I think that’s exactly what they were after. Well, what do you mean by that? Well the Jews were always after a sign. They always wanted to see some supernatural verification of everything. In fact in 1 Corinthians 1:22, the Apostle Paul says, “The Jews demand signs.” It was characteristic of them to expect certain wonders to prove that a man was a messenger from God. I think, in great measure, that’s why the Lord gave the ability to the apostles and those who worked with them to do signs and wonders and mighty deeds, because that was the expectation level of the Jews. Prove yourself by doing something extraordinary.
For example, when Rabbi Eliezer was challenged one time, he appealed to certain signs. And the Jewish tradition says that the people were challenging Eliezer, who’s a non-biblical character, but they were challenging his teaching and his authority. And so first a locust bean moved 400 cubits, if you believe their tradition it did. Next, the channels of water were made to flow backwards. Then, the walls of a certain building leaned forward and were only stopped by the bidding of another rabbi. And finally, Rabbi Eliezer exclaimed, “If the law is as I teach, let it be proved from heaven,” and at that moment, a voice came out of the sky saying, “What have you to do with Rabbi Eliezer? For the instruction is as he teaches.” Now what a lot of hocus-pocus, but that’s typical of the Jewish mentality even through history, where if someone said he was from God, they wanted some kind of a sign.
But there is more to this than just that, because they had had sign upon sign upon sign, but they wanted one from heaven, or really in heaven. They wanted a spectacular, sensual display of control over the celestial sphere. I mean, they would have liked to have seen Him rearrange the constellations, have the stars all go rocketing all over the place, or have clouds go gyrating into all unique forms and come out spelling in Aramaic, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Messiah.” They would have loved to have seen Joel’s prophecy come to pass and to have Him turn the moon into blood, to black out the sun, to paint the sky with a wave of His hand in rainbow colors completely from one end to the other, totally causing the blue to be disappearing. Or they would have even liked if there had been an angel parade from the Milky Way to the temple, a great long string of angels. I mean, they wanted a Fourth of July fireworks show in heaven.
You know why they asked this question of Him? Because they believed He couldn’t do it, and they wanted to discredit Him in front of the people when He didn’t. That was their whole intent. See, if He was the Messiah, let Him do that. And the implication was that that’s what He was supposed to have done, although no such prophecy exists at all. They did it to embarrass Him. They did it to discredit Him. See, they not only don’t believe in Him, they not only blaspheme Him, they want to embarrass and discredit Him in front of everybody, so that nobody will believe Him. They have now not only personally rejected, personally blasphemed, but they now take on the ministry of getting everybody else to reject Him. And so that’s their ploy. They are impudent, insulting, and hypocritical. And His reply is most interesting. Verse 39, “He answered and said unto them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.’” In other words, He says the only kind of people who want that kind of a show are evil and adulterous. The implication being, if you were really united to God in the way that you were originally to be united to Him, as His wife in the covenant, if you had been faithful to God, you wouldn’t need that kind of thing. You manifest the adultery of your hearts in even seeking such. He characterizes then the entire Jewish nation of His day, and He says, “You’re adulterous. You have created a breach in the covenant relationship to God, which is seen in the Old Testament as a marriage bond. You have violated your vows. You have followed after false deities.”
They had had a period of their history in which they were idolatrous, and at that point, their harlotries were committed with idols. And in this time, they were no longer idolatrous in the formal sense, since the Babylonian captivity. But they nonetheless were unfaithful to God, and they had committed harlotries, if you will, with their legalism and their traditions and their self-righteousness and their own egos. They had still abandoned God; their harlotries were no longer attached to the gods of the Canaanites, but to the gods of their own design and their own devising. As Psalm 73:27 says, they had played the harlot. Isaiah indicts them in chapter 50 and chapter 57. Isaiah indicts them in strong terms for their harlotries.
In Jeremiah chapter 3 verses 6 to 10, Jeremiah condemns them for their harlotries. He does it in Jeremiah 13:27. He does it in Jeremiah 31:32. The sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel, all through the whole chapter is an indictment of their harlotries, and they were carried away into Babylonian captivity because of their adultery. They had violated their covenant with God and gone after false gods and committed spiritual adultery. Hosea writes of it, chapter seven, and the whole book is a picture of it. I mean, they had done this. They were the adulterers and adulteresses who had made friendships with the world and had become at enmity with God, as James 4:4 describes it. This was their history.
You say, is it true even in Jesus’ day? They weren’t idolatrous. No, they were no longer idolatrous after they went into the Babylonian captivity, in the sense of the formal gods, the actual named gods of the Canaanites and other peoples, but they were just as idolatrous and just as adulterous here for their worshiping their man-made, traditional, legalistic system of self-righteousness. And by the way, isn’t it obvious that they had no covenant with God if they would kill His Son? Obvious.
And so He says, “Anyone who seeks such a sign gives manifestation of being a part of those who have abandoned God and their covenant with Him. You are a nation of adulterers and adulteresses, and that is obvious because you seek a sign. You don’t even know God or you would know you need no sign.” Then He says this, “There shall no sign be given to it.” He couldn’t do it. They were right. But He couldn’t do it not for the reason they thought. It wasn’t that He didn’t have the ability. Oh, He had as much ability. Listen, He was the one that put it all there. He could have rearranged it any time He wants. And if you wonder about that, get into the book of Revelation and read when He will, because He will. He could have done it from the power viewpoint. He couldn’t have done it from the moral viewpoint, because Christ is not in the business of bending to the whims of those who want no relationship to Him. Do you understand that? Morally impossible to grant such to those who hate Christ.
And then He said this, and this is fascinating. He said, “There will no sign be given to this generation, but” – and here’s the last sign – “the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Now what is that? Now we all remember the story of Jonah, don’t we? He took a short ride in a long fish. He was called by God to preach in Nineveh, he said, “I don’t want to go to Nineveh.” Took a boat and went the opposite direction. Storm. Finally he came up and said, “Look, I think the problem is me. Throw me out.” They threw him out; the great fish swallowed him up; he was in the fish three days. Disobedient prophet would make anything sick, and the fish vomited him up on the shore. He went to Nineveh, preached, the whole place repented, sackcloth and ashes. God spared His judgment.
Jesus said, “This generation will be given no sign but the sign of the prophet Jonah.” What is that? What is the sign of the prophet Jonah. Look at verse 40 and it tells you. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” That’s the sign. It’s a prophecy, beloved. No keep this in mind. In the Old Testament, you have at least two types of prophecy. One is what I like to call verbally predictive prophecy, where a statement is made about something that is going to come to pass. A scepter shall come. A king will be on the scene. A greater Son of David. A virgin shall conceive. One shall come out of the Root of Jesse. All of those verbal prophecies pointed to Christ.
But you have a second kind of prophecy, and that is what I call typically predictive prophecy, not only verbally predictive but typically. That is, it is a type; it is a picture. Something in the Old Testament is a picture of something in the New. And the story of Jonah, while it doesn’t verbally predict anything about Christ, typically predicts the most monumental thing about Christ, His – what? – His resurrection. And throughout the Old Testament you have those kinds of pictures. Now I believe the only time you have an Old Testament type is when it is so stated to be in the New Testament. In other words, if there is an Old Testament type, you can only know that it’s a type if in fact the New Testament tells you that, and in this case that’s exactly what we have.
Jesus here says the story of Jonah was a prophecy. It was as much a prophecy as Isaiah 53. It was a predictive prophecy given in picture rather than in word. And as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. It looked like the end of Jonah, but it wasn’t. it looked like the end of Jesus, but it wasn’t. Jonah was buried in the depths; Jesus was buried in the depths. Jonah came out; Jesus came out. A picture of the resurrection. It was three days for Jonah; it was three days for Jesus. It was a perfect picture.
A couple of thoughts come to mind as I look at verse 40. One is that Jesus believed the story of Jonah. Isn’t that good? Aren’t you glad for that? I read a commentary this week that said that just because Jesus refers to Jonah doesn’t mean He really believed it was true. Well you may want to believe Jonah was a liar, but it’s awfully difficult to believe Jesus was a liar and was in complicity with the lie of Jonah. If Jesus said this is the story, then this is the story. Jesus validates the authenticity of Jonah. Than another note is the term great fish. Some people say a whale and so forth. The term is simply a great fish. It’s the same as the one used in Jonah in the Hebrew language. In whatever language, it just means a great fish. That’s all. It is used – I know Homer – I was reading this week. Homer used it in classical Greek to speak on one occasion of a seal, on another occasion of a whale, on another occasion of a shark, so we don’t really know what particular kind of fish it was. It may have been a special fish. God just made the thing, dropped it in down there and had it do its thing, and that was the end of the species. I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, but whatever it was, it was big enough for Jonah to get all the way down in there.
And then you’ll note one other thing. It says three days and three nights, and people always seem to have trouble with that because they say, “Well, You see, if Jonah was there three days and three nights – that’s a 24-hour period, 72 hours. You got to have the Lord in the earth 72 hours. And if He raises on Sunday morning, you’ve got to push Him all the way back into the middle of the week, and there goes the Friday crucifixion.” Well you don’t really need to do that because the phrase ‘a day and a night’ simply was a phrase referring to a 24-hour period or any part of that period. It was the only way you could refer to a 24-hour period unless you used the obscure term, which is used in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verse 25, nuchthēmeron, which is very rarely used, to refer to that. So when you’re going to refer to a period, the normal way to refer to it would be as a night and a day. That’s what they called a 24-period. And the Talmud says, “Any part of one is as the whole.” That’s a quote from the Talmud. So Jonah was in the fish some part of three days, as the Lord was in the earth some part of three days, not necessarily the whole 72 hours.
For example, you might even say, “I went to San Diego and I was just there a day.” Does that mean that you got there immediately when the sun rose and didn’t leave until it set? No, if you say you were there a day, we could think you were there 24 hours or you could have been there two. Just be there just for the day. I mean, in other words, the day doesn’t necessarily force you to the 24-hour period, and in this language neither does the day and night force you to the 24-hour period. It’s simply a term to designate any portion of the day.
And so there is the picture then of the resurrection. That is a sign. No sign will be given but the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s the last sign, folks. After that, we don’t read of Jesus doing any miracles. Oh yes, in His glorified body He came and went with the apostles, and He could appear and seemingly disappear, but as far as actually performing miracles after the resurrection, Christ Himself does not do those. This was the last sign. And may I hasten to add, it didn’t help the situation. It was clearly a sign from heaven, for no one could raise the dead but God, and yet Jesus was right. In Luke 16, when He said, “If they don’t believe Moses and the prophets, they will not believe though one” – what? – “should rise from the dead.” And they didn’t believe. In fact the Jewish leaders actually paid the Roman soldiers to lie about what happened. They didn’t believe. But this was the last sign, and when they rejected this, that was the coup de grâce. It was over. That was it. You see, when we are confronted with the living Christ and His death and resurrection from the dead, then the matter of destiny will be determined. And if you turn your back then, no matter how religious you appear, no matter how holy you try to be, you show yourself to be a vile sinner who hates God because of what you do with Christ. That was the only sign they would ever see, and they showed their true sinfulness in the face of that sign.You know, we live on this side of the resurrection. Our whole society in America knows the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have Easter every year. The Western world knows that. And so many people appear to be so good and so righteous and so holy and so religious and so concerned about God, and they reject Christ and His resurrection, and they are showing themselves to be liars. They don’t love God; they hate God. You see, when you come to Christ, then the cloak comes off – John 15. What you do with Him is the determiner.
Now from the last sign, we immediately see the last sentence, verses 41 and 42. And I’m just quickly going to show you this most important passage. Watch verse 41. By obvious association with Jonah, the Lord passes to speak of Nineveh, the city to which He went. And He says this, “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Or, “Something greater than Johan is here.” What is this saying? Think back to the story of the Ninevites. They were Gentiles, pagans, idolaters. They had no law of God. They were outside the covenants and the promises. They were dark; they were alienated from God, without understanding. Into their midst comes a prophet by the name of Jonah. Do you know what his own testimony is? This is what he said about himself. “I am sinful. I am foolish. I am rebellious.” Jonah chapter 1 and chapter 4. I wouldn’t say that’s a great recommendation.
So you got a people with no advantages and you’ve got a sinful, rebellious, foolish, disobedient man who just got vomited up by a big fish, doing something he didn’t want to do in the beginning. His whole message is a message of doom. That’s all he talks about: Doom, devastation, destruction, damnation. And he’s talking to a people with no advantages. You know something else? He didn’t do any miracles either, so there were no signs. And yet do you know what happened? Do you know what happened when he preached? Listen to what it says, chapter 3 verse 5, “So the people of Nineveh believed God.” Did you get that? They believed God. “And proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” From the leaders to the common folks. “And word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne and laid his robe from him and covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.” That was the attitude – the oriental attitude of repentance.
“And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, ‘Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed nor drink water.’” He calls a fast. He even gets the animals in the deal. “And let man and beast be covered with sackcloth.” They even put sackcloth on the animals “And cry mightily to God. Yea, let then turn every one from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way.” That tells me it was genuine. God said – God said it was genuine. He stamped it with genuineness. It wasn’t till 150 years later that city was destroyed. After this generation had died away. This generation’s repentance was true, “And God repented of the evil that He had said He would do upon them, and He did not do it.”
Listen, a Gentile, pagan, idolatrous people outside the covenants, outside the law of God got a half-baked, disobedient, foolish, rebellious, and wicked prophet who came and preached nothing but doom to them, gave no miracles, and the whole place repented and believed God. Contrast that – verse 41 says, “A greater than Jonah is here.” Here is a different situation. These are Jews, not Gentiles. These are the people of God, people of the covenant, of the promises, of the adoption, people of the fathers. This is God’s people, people who had the law. And one came to them greater than Jonah. Who was it? It was the God of Jonah in human flesh, and He was perfect, and He was sinless, and He was compassionate, and He was powerful, and His message was not a message of unmitigated doom but a message of grace and mercy and forgiveness and salvation. And He did miracle after miracle and sign after sign after sign. And they hated Him and killed Him. And so says our Lord, in judgment, the people of Nineveh will rise up and condemn this people, for with much less did they believe and repent. They act as a historical condemnation of the unbelief of Israel.
He is not done. He has one other illustration of the final sentence in verse 42. He recalls another event in their history from 1 Kings chapter 10. “The queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it.” Now stop there. Now here’s someone else going to condemn this generation – the queen of the South. Who is the queen of the south? If you were to read 1 Kings chapter 10, and we won’t take the time to go into it all, you would read there of a lady we know as the Queen of Sheba. The land of the Sabeans, which was at a great distance from Israel and was a land in Arabia. Now this particular group of people were very a prosperous people. They had existed on the trade route to India, and they had become incredibly rich because of their proclivity for successful trading. They had also parlayed some agricultural genius into great wealth. The had developed trades and skills, so that this queen was literally wealthy beyond imagination.
It says there that she would stand in judgment with this generation and condemn it. She is a Gentile. She is an Arab. She is a she. A Gentile Arab woman is going to condemn the chosen people. She is. Why? Because, “She came from the farthest parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon.” Stop there. What does that mean? She heard about Solomon. She heard he was the wisest man in the world. And in those days, there weren’t any books to speak of, so if you wanted to know what a wise man thought, what’d you do? Well you had to go talk to the wise man. There was no other way. And so she came from the farthest parts of the earth, it says. Now it was a long ways away. And from their perception, it looked like the farthest parts of the earth. In fact in Joel 3, I think it’s verse 8, it says this same land is called a nation afar off, and Jeremiah 6:20 talks about this being a far country. So it’s a great distance, crossing all the desert with all of her entourage and all of the stuff she brought with her. And you can read 1 Kings 10, it is staggering. I mean, this was no, “I’m just going to drop over and see Solomon. I’ll be back on Monday,” deal. This was a major enterprise.
So you say, so what’s so big about that? Well listen, here’s a Gentile, pagan, idolatrous, godless, lawless, woman queen of a bunch of pagan people who hears about a man who has the wisdom of God. And she crosses the desert with all of her entourage from a remote land to come without an invitation to seek that wisdom. And you know what happened when she got there? It was more than she thought it would be, and she was so astounded that she started unloading on Solomon treasure after treasure after treasure after treasure. He didn’t need that. That was her way of honoring him and thanking him. Think about it.
Look at the end of verse 42. “And behold,” and there’s that exclamation – it’s unbelievable, “a greater than Solomon is here.” You don’t even have to take a journey. And He’s here. And was is the implication: And you don’t care. Here is a Gentile woman with no advantages and no invitation who crossed the desert with all of this stuff to hear wisdom from the lips of a man who speaks the truth of God, and you won’t even listen when He is in your midst, and He’s a greater than Solomon. He’s the God of Solomon. No wonder she will rise up and condemn you in judgment. She would have had an excuse for not attaining the wisdom of Solomon, but the Jews didn’t have any excuse for not attaining the wisdom of Christ. So Jonah and the queen will rise up and condemn the unbelieving and unrepentant Jews of Jesus’ day.
You want to know something? We can draw that into our own day. There are people today who reject Jesus Christ and they reject the resurrection of Christ and they reject the wisdom of Christ. And they may be sitting in a religion, they may be sitting in a church, and someday pagan Ninevites and a pagan queen, by contrast, will condemn them in judgment. You see, what it’s saying is that those who are afar off who believe prove that those who are near are responsible to believe. And if you try to exist within the framework of Christianity and reject Jesus Christ, yours is the greatest condemnation. Let’s bow in prayer.
Lord, the clarity of Your Word strikes us to the heart. Oh, we see how Jesus cut through all of the façade of these hypocrites who came and pretended to be religious, pretended to love God, pretended to worship and obey God, but in fact, would be condemned by the remotest pagans who truly believed and repented. We pray, Lord, that there might be application in this, that we might not only understand that it happened in the life of our Lord and His time, but that we’ll understand that it happens again today. People in our society, even in our churches, will be condemned by people from afar off who have believed and repented, when many who have heard of Christ and know of the sign of His resurrection have refused to believe.
Lord, we pray that You’ll bring every person here into confrontation with Jesus Christ: His life, His wisdom, His resurrection from the dead, that in that confrontation the mask might come off and people might know their sin. And in the knowing, they might come to Thee for the forgiveness that You offer. Thank You, Lord, for teaching us in Your Word this morning that Jesus Christ alone is the point of decision that determines eternity. We pray in His name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.