THE SIGN OF THE PROPHET JONAS
Matt 12:38-40 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from Thee. But He answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Also see Luke 11:16; 11:29-30)
Evidently some of the scribes and Pharisees were discontent with Jesus' answer to their blasphemous denunciation of the Holy Ghost, through whom Jesus received His miraculous power from God. Because of this, some of the scribes and ...Pharisees desired to see another miracle. This is similar to the miracles Moses requested of God to prove he was to lead the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage (See Ex. 4:8-9). Whether they wanted similar signs to prove Jesus to be the Son of God and the promised Messiah, or, in failing to do so, prove Him to be a false Christ, we are not told. Maybe they requested a sign just to fill their own pride and curiosity. These various reasons have been thoroughly discussed and given to much debate by bible scholars. In a corresponding scripture, Luke says that they were seeking a sign from heaven, not to prove Him to be the Messiah, but to tempt Him (Luke 11:16).
Through the hardness of their hearts, the scribes and Pharisees refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore, when Jesus referred to them as an adulterous generation, it was an apt analogy. Literally, they were a physically adulterous nation, but they were also a spiritually adulterous people. The prophet, Jeremiah, used this comparison in a very descriptive manner. He wrote that, as God's chosen people, He was married unto you (Jer. 3:14). Later he wrote that the nation of Israel, as God's wife, treacherously departeth from her husband (See Jer. 3:20), meaning Israel broke this "marriage vow" and departed from God. In the lesson text, Jesus tells these unyielding Jews that they, also, were an adulterous generation. The reason being that they, having refused to accept the many miracles He had already performed as proof that He was the Son of God, would never accept another miracle as conclusive evidence of His deity.
Jesus told them that they were seeking after a sign;and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. Certainly Jesus performed many miracles after this particular event, but He refused to give them a specific sign at this time because of the obstinate, self-gratifying manner these disbelieving Jews asked it of Him. Jonas (or Jonah) miraculously remained alive for three days and three nights in the whale's belly (See Jonah 1:17), and afterwards, proceeded to preach the salvation offered by God to the Ninevites. With His omniscient wisdom, Jesus knew these Jews would not receive another miracle by Him as proof that He was the promised Messiah. Therefore, He promised them a future miracle like that which God performed on Jonas for the benefit of the inhabitants of Nineveh. This would be the final, undeniable miracle that would prove that He was the Son of God and Savior of the world. Just as Jonas was three days and nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. On numerous occasions during His earthly ministry, Jesus foretold the length of time He would be entombed. And in each instance He indicated, or directly told, His listeners that on the third day of His burial He would conquer death, arise, and, once again, walk on earth. These references are found in Matt. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 26:61, Mark 10:34, Luke 9:22, 18:33, 24:6-7, and John 2:19.
In the language of the Hebrews, to be in the heart of the earth, simply means to be buried in a tomb. In prophecy, Jesus said this example of Jonas was likened unto His death, burial, and resurrection. On that resurrection day, the final miracle of Jesus was performed. On that day, when Jesus came forth from the grave, the world was given undeniable proof the He was the promised Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior of the world. Some, because their minds had become calloused by false teaching, and due to their unrepentant hearts, continued to reject Jesus as their Savior. The ultimate miracle of Jesus' resurrection, nor any other miracle or sign from heaven, could not change their unyielding hearts. Only those that were truly searching for the hope of salvation with open and receptive hearts and minds, were able to accept Jesus as their Savior, find forgiveness through Him, and continue to obey His will thereafter.