38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation; and look—something greater than Jonah is here! 42 The queen of the south will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and look—something greater than Solomon is here! — Matthew 12:38-42
The Danger of Seeking Signs and Wonders
by Steve Smith
This passage of Scripture exemplifies the challenging interaction Jesus often had with the Jewish religious leaders of His day. These scribes and Pharisees’ simple request in verse 38 tells us some important things about what was in their hearts.
First, they referred to Him as “Teacher.” They did this as a disingenuous mask of their hypocrisy. They were subtly, perhaps sarcastically, showing respect so as to legitimize their request. Second, their request for a sign was an indication of their lack of faith, not of their faithful submission. Jesus had already provided ample evidence of His authority for anyone who humbly sought to see Him for who He really was.
It’s important to note that Jesus was not implying it was wrong to test the validity of someone who claimed to be God’s prophet. In Deuteronomy there are warnings against false prophets and criteria by which any prophet’s validity should be tested. But in this case, He knew that was not what these men were after. If there was any question as to their intent, Jesus dispelled it by exposing them as “an evil and adulterous generation [that] demands a sign.”
His subsequent citing of the story of Jonah in the belly of the fish accomplished two things. First, He paralleled Jonah’s time in the fish’s belly (three days) with the three days He would spend in the tomb. The miracle of His resurrection was paralleled with the miracle of Jonah’s delivery from the fish. Second, Jesus pointed out that even the evil people of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s proclamation. How much more, He said, should their generation recognize the message given to them in their sacred Scriptures. Israel was rejecting the One who was “greater than Jonah.”
Perhaps the account of this encounter with these unbelievers should challenge us to examine our own request for a “sign” from God in order for us to believe. Are we like the scribes and Pharisees? We have not only the benefit of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, but also something these religious leaders did not yet have...His resurrection.
Is that reality sufficient for us, or do we still seek something more to assure us of His validity? Sure, Jonah lamented God’s decision not to punish the people of Nineveh after they repented, and he had to be reminded of God’s love for them (Jonah 4). And even the disciples often struggled with lack of faith and had to be reprimanded by Jesus as a result. But they, too, did not yet have the benefit of His resurrection, as we do, to marvel at. Perhaps we need to recognize that the only sign we need to point to is that of His resurrection, the reality in which we place our complete faith and trust.
- Who do you know who gives the impression that they are “religious,” but in their hearts would require a modern-day sign to truly believe in Jesus? How can you best share with them the reality of the resurrection?
- When we find ourselves doubting the power Jesus has in our lives, how can we rest in the reality of His resurrection as being sufficient for us? Can we deny our need to see some visible “sign” or “wonder” to truly believe in His powerful work in our lives?
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.