The Sign of the Prophet Jonah


The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

April 10th, 1963 @ 12:00 PM

Matthew 12:39

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:
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Dr. W.A. Criswell

Matthew 12:38-41

4-10-63    12:00 p.m.


Could I again invite all of us, if we are not involved or committed to some other spiritual responsibility, invite you to share with us this tremendous Easter night service this coming Sunday evening at 7:30 o’clock.  There are eleven thousand seats that can be placed in that great Dallas Memorial arena, and what a victory, what a trophy of grace to lay at the feet of our living, risen Lord if we could be there Easter Sunday night to share in that tremendous service of praise and glory.  Come if you can.

It is a gladness to welcome you at these noonday services.  This is the forty-fourth year our church has conducted them downtown, and ever since this theater has been built, they have been conducted in this beautiful place.

The theme of the services this year is “The Signs of God.”  Monday, The Signs of the Times; Tuesday, yesterday, The Sign of the Virgin Birth; tomorrow, Thursday, The Sign of Christ’s Second Coming; and Friday, Good Friday, the day of the cross, the subject, The Sign of the Cross.  And today, Wednesday, The Sign of the Prophet Jonah.  Reading from the twelfth chapter of the First Gospel:

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 . . . generation seeketh after a sign; but there shall no sign be given to it, save the sign of the prophet Jonah:

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s stomach; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here.

[Matthew 12:38-41]


May I speak first of the incomparable work of that great prophet Jonah?  No other prophet or preacher or man of God in the history of religion ever achieved a result comparable to that achieved by Jonah.  He lived in the days of the kingdom of Jeroboam II who reigned over the northern ten tribes [1 Kings 12:20-21].  And he flourished from about 785 to 745 BC.  He brought to pass; he wrought the greatest spiritual turning to God in the history of creation.  In one sermon he won a whole vast capital city to the Lord Jehovah [Jonah 3:1-10]

At Pentecost, when Simon Peter preached, in one sermon he won three thousand people to the Lord [Acts 2:14-41].  The greatest revival in the story of Christendom was conducted by Charles G. Finney in about 1830 in the small city of Rochester, New York.  Six months he preached, and in that six months, there were more than a hundred thousand people who accepted Christ and were baptized into the churches of upper New York State. 

But this man Jonah, in one sermon won a city [Jonah 3:1-10].  How many people were in it?  There were one hundred twenty thousand infants [Jonah 4:11], and judging by that the city had a population of toward a million souls.  And in one tremendous sermon, this man Jonah turned that great vast city, from the king down to the butler, to the Lord God in heaven [Jonah 3:1-10].  So much so that it astonished Jesus Himself, and He uses it here as a sign of repentance and revival [Matthew 12:40]

But another thing astonished the Lord as He spake of the prophet Jonah.  He was amazed and no less astounded at the hardness of heart of the generation to whom He Himself, the Son of God, came preaching.  “These men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, here an incomparably greater opportunity!” [Matthew 12:41].  It is an astonishing and amazing thing, the colossal, indescribable, unbelievable indifference of the men of the generation who lived when Christ came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.  “Repent ye repent ye: for the kingdom of God is at hand” [Matthew  3:1-2], so declared the great forerunner, and so echoed the Son of heaven Himself [Matthew 4:17]. 

Their vast indifference and their open opposition is unbelievable. When the wise men came from the East announcing His birth, the scribes searched the Scriptures and said, “He is to be born in Bethlehem” [Matthew 2:1-6].  Five miles away, less than the distance from here to White Rock Lake, and not any one of the scribes or the Pharisees bothered to go over there, to journey over there, to trek five miles to see what marvelous thing God hath done.

And when He came to preach at Nazareth [Luke 4:16], they rose up with one accord to throw Him headlong off of the cliff on which their city was built [Luke 4:28-29].  And when He delivered the great sermon on the bread of life in the synagogue of Capernaum [John 6:31-59], with one accord they all stomped out, every one of them [John 6:66].  Only His disciples remained, and they were thinking about leaving [John 6:60-61, 67-68].

Finally they crucified Him, raised Him beneath the sky [Matthew 27:32-50].  What an astonishing, unbelievable thing, and it’s a sign of judgment, God says.  “The men of Nineveh shall rise from the dead when this generation is raised, and shall condemn it: because they repented, they turned at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah, the Son of God, is here” [Matthew 12:41].

Then Jonah is used as the sign of another, an incomparable act and miracle of God.  The Pharisees said, “Master, we would see a sign from Thee” [Matthew 12:38].

But Jesus answered and said, “This evil generation seeks for a sign.  No sign shall be given it save the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the stomach of the fish, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” [Matthew 12:39-40], the sign of the prophet Jonah, and what a sign.

You see the Lord God said to Jonah, “Arise, go to the capital city of Assyria and cry against it.  Preach the gospel to it” [Jonah 1:1-2].  And when Jonah heard the call of the Lord he rose up to flee from the presence of Jehovah God.  And the Lord sent a great wind into the sea and a mighty tempest [Jonah 1:3-4].  And estranged, this prophet Jonah, when the Lord called him to go to Nineveh, he goes down in the opposite direction, and he buys him a ticket on a boat to go to the farthest extremities of the earth in a diametrical and opposite direction [Jonah 1:3].

So Jonah is congratulating himself upon hiding away and fleeing away from the presence of the Lord; but oh, the agents that God has; fire, and flood, and wind, and sea, and water.  Oh, how God sometimes can reach into His box of damnations and scatter judgment over a city, over a nation, over the earth!  And the Lord God up there in heaven was a-looking down at the little Jonah in his boat, fleeing away from the presence of the Lord.

And the Lord crooked His little finger, and He said to one of His winds, “Come here.  Come here.  Come here.  You see Jonah?  You see?  See Jonah.  Look at him down there.  Go get him.  Go get him.  Catch him.  Shake the living daylights out of him!”  And one of God’s winds went down there and encompassed the boat, and encompassed Jonah [Jonah 1:4].  And I tell you when one of God’s winds gets hold of a ship, it’s hard to unfasten his fists and his jaws.  So they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow him up [Jonah 1:15, 17].  And after those three days and three nights, the Lord spake to the fish, and it cast Jonah out on the land after he’d come to himself and yielded his spirit to the voice and call of the Almighty God [Jonah 1:17-2:10].

Now isn’t that some story?  Isn’t that some story?  We had a marvelous preacher by the name of L. R. Scarborough, a Texas, West Texas cowman who was converted, God blessed his ministry, and he built that great seminary of ours in Fort Worth.  When I was a youngster I heard Dr. Scarborough tell this story.  He said, “Upon a day his little boy came in from Sunday school and said, ‘Dad, I sure don’t believe what that Sunday school teacher said to me today.’  Well, what is the matter today?” said the preacher.

“Well,” said the little boy, “she told a fish story so outlandish I don’t believe anybody could believe it.”

“Well,” said Dr. Scarborough, “was it the story of Jonah and the whale?”

“Yeah,” said the little boy.

“Well, you come here,” said the preacher, “and let’s go in my study and sit down.  You know I’ve had trouble with that story all of my life.”  So they went in and sat down.  And the preacher said, “Now, son, you tell me what’s your trouble?”

“Well,” said the little boy, “I just don’t believe it.  She said, the Sunday school teacher said that whale swallowed Jonah up and stayed in that stomach three days and vomited him out on the land and he’s still alive.  I just don’t believe that.”

“Well,” said Dr. Scarborough, “you know I’ve got trouble with that story too, but my trouble is not the same.”  And the preacher said to the little boy, he said, “Son, you know if I could understand how God could make a man, and if I could understand how God could make a fish, then it is very and comparatively easy for me to understand how God could put the two together.”

Now you look at the word, and let’s always stay by the word.  “And the Lord had prepared a great fish” [Jonah 1:17].  Now when you go around and look at these whales, and you say, “Reckon Jonah lived in that,” that’s beside the point.  I don’t know what kind of a fish that was.  Whatever it was, God prepared that fish, and don’t try ever to limit Almighty God.  Why, if the Lord God hath so desired and so elected, He could have put on the inside of that big fish He prepared, He could’ve put a whole suite of beautiful rooms, paneled in blue, and red, and gold, and wall to wall carpeting, and plush armchairs, and all of the luxuries that go.  If God had wanted to, He could’ve put a TV in it, and strung the antenna, the antenna from the tail fin down to his left gill.  Don’t limit God!  The Lord prepared that fish to teach Jonah a lesson.  And when he came to himself, in obedience to the word of the Lord, he was ready to deliver God’s message to God’s waiting people” [Jonah 3:1-4].

Now the point of the story, and the great meaning of its message is this; it was God that preserved Jonah.  And it was God that raised him from the depths of the sea.  And that’s the sign of the prophet Jonah that our Lord refers to in the twelfth chapter of the First Gospel.  “There shall be no sign given to this generation, but the sign of the prophet Jonah:  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, of the big fish; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” [Matthew 12:39-40].  That is, as God preserved Jonah, and as God raised Jonah out of the depths of the sea [Jonah 1:17-2:10], so it is the Lord God that shall raise the Son of Man from the heart of the earth and from the depths of the grave [Psalm 16:10].

God here calls it a sign, the sign of the resurrection [Matthew 12:39].  Now briefly, what is the sign of the resurrection?  First: the sign of the resurrection of Christ is the authentication of His ministry as being truly from God [John 2:18-21].

When He came in His first Judean ministry and had cleansed the temple [John 2:13-17], the same Pharisees and Sadducees and leaders gathered round Him and said, “What sign showest Thou?  What sign showest Thou, seeing Thou doest these things?” [John 2:18].

And the Lord replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” [John 2:19].   And He spake concerning the temple of His body [John 2:21].

And when He was crucified, and when He was dying on the cross, these same wags walked up and down in front of Him and threw that same boast into His face.  “Thou that destroyest the temple, save Thyself, raising it again in three days.  Come down from the cross, and we will believe Thee” [Matthew 27:39-42].   And when He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], that was the sign of God that His ministry and His words were the truths of heaven.

The same thing about when they laid Him in the tomb, “We heard that deceiver say,” said these same scribes and Pharisees, “We heard that deceiver say that the third day He would rise from the dead.  Now put a guard there, Pilate, and see to it that the disciples do not steal His body away, and the last lie be worse than the first” [Matthew 27:63-64].

The resurrection of Christ is a sign of God, first:  the authentication of His ministry, that He was a prophet and an emissary from heaven.  The second great thing, the sign of the resurrection of Christ, the sign of the prophet Jonah:  it is a declaration of the deity of our Lord.  Romans 1:4, “Declared to be the Son of God . . . by the resurrection from the dead.”  That word translated “declared,” horizō; the word horizon comes from it, the marked out line between the earth and the sky.  The actual meaning of that word is “marked out.”   Out of all of the men who’ve ever lived, and out of all of those who ever died, this Man Jesus is marked out by the Lord God by the resurrection from the dead as being the Son of heaven, deity Himself [Romans 1:4].

One time a man came to Napoleon Bonaparte and said, “I’m establishing a new religion, but I can’t get anybody to believe in me.”  And Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Well, that’ll be simple.  That’ll be simple.  You get yourself crucified, and the third day get yourself raised from the dead, and we’ll believe you.”

It is a sign and a declaration of the deity of the Son of God—declared, marked out, chosen, designated the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead [Romans 1:4]. 

A third: it is an open avowal of our justification.  In this glorious verse in the Book of Romans 4:25, “He was delivered for our offenses, but He was raised for our justification”—to declare in the courts of heaven, “These are Mine.  These who have trusted in Me, to be presented blood-bought, washed, clean and white in the presence of the host of glory”; our justification in heaven.

And last, the sign of the resurrection: it is a pledge of our own being raised from the dead [Romans 8:11]; 2 Corinthians 4:14, “The Lord God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead shall raise up us also through Him, by Him.”

First Thessalonians 4:13-14, “My brethren I would not have you without knowledge concerning them that are asleep, that ye sorrow not, as others who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus shall God bring with Him.”  It is a pledge of our own personal individual immortality, glorification, and resurrection at the great consummation of the age.

First Corinthians 15:23, “Christ the first fruits; our Lord first; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.”

“This I say, brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.  But I show you a mystery;  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead—just like the resurrection of our Lord—and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed” [1 Corinthians 15:50-52], all of us; not the least of His saints will God leave in the dust of the earth, not a bone left in the region of death, not a rag for the devil to gloat over.  We shall all be changed!

“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this moral must put on immortality.  When this mortal shall have put on immortality, and this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, then shall be brought to pass the same that is written; Death is swallowed up in victory” [1 Corinthians 15:53-54]—the sign of the prophet Jonah [Matthew 12:39-40]; death is swallowed up in victory.

“O Death, where is thy sting now?  O Grave, where is thy victory now?”  [1 Corinthians 15:55].  “Thanks be unto God for our unspeakable, indescribable, immeasurable, eternal victory through Jesus Christ our Lord” [1 Corinthians 15:57].

Lifted up He was to die;

“It is finished!” was His cry;

And now in heaven, exalted high,

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, the glorious King,

All His ransomed home to bring,

Then anew, this song we’ll sing:

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

[Hallelujah!  What a Savior! Philip P. Bliss, 1875]

The sign of the prophet Jonah: the power of God who raised Him from the dead [Romans 8:11], shall deliver us someday in the likeness of the glorious beauty that crowned the life, and love, and ministry of our blessed, our risen, and our living Lord [2 Corinthians 4:14].  Amen and amen.

And in that hope and that blessed assurance, O God, may we walk in Thy presence, live our days, do Thy work, our assignments in the earth, and when the task is finished, not in death, and despair, and in darkness, and in defeat, in the grave, but in the life of heaven that is yet to come; praise our Lord, world without end, amen.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Incomparable work of this prophet

A.  Never such a revival
in history of mankind as that wrought by Jonah

      1.  One sermon won
a whole city(Jonah 3:5-8)

B.  Jesus was astounded at
Jonah’s work

Jesus astonished at hardness of heart of the generation to whom He came

Their incomparably greater opportunity (Matthew 3:1-2, Mark 1:45)

Their vast indifference and open opposition

Scribes sent Magi to Bethlehem, but did not bother to go themselves (Matthew 2:1-6)

Nazareth so offended they sought to kill Him (Luke

c. He
was left alone after His message on Bread of Life (John

Finally they crucified Him

Sign of Jonah a sign of judgment (Matthew 12:41)

II.         A sign of resurrection(Matthew 12:40)

A.  God prepared a fish
to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:1-4, 12, 17)

B.  God raised Jonah from depths of sea, Jesus from the grave (Jonah 3:1-4, Matthew 12:39-40)

III.        The resurrection of Christ a sign from

Authenticated His ministry as being truly from God(John
2:18-21, Mark 15:29-32, Matthew 27:40-42, 63-64)

B.  Declaration of His
deity(Romans 1:3-4)

C.  Open avowal of our
justification(Romans 4:25, 5:10)

D.  Pledge
of our own resurrection(1 Corinthians 6:14,
15:23, 51-57, 2 Corinthians 4:14, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)