A Greater than Jonah – Part 1

When King Ahaz of Judah was offered a sign by the Lord, he rejected it. Nevertheless, the Lord promised the house of David a sign, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’, Isa. 7. 14; the sign of the virgin birth!

By contrast, in Matthew, chapter 12, an evil and adulterous generation requested a sign of our Lord. Reluctantly, they were given the sign of the prophet Jonah. Christ compares Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the great fish to His three days and nights in the heart of the earth. Implicit in this sign is resurrection, pictured by Jonah, but fulfilled by Christ. He is a risen, living Saviour, ‘but now is Christ risen from the dead’. Hallelujah! What a sign, and what a Saviour!

Jonah is spoken of twice by Matthew and once by Luke in the New Testament, Matt. 12. 38-41; 16. 4; Luke 11. 29-32. The Lord gives both personal authentication and historical credence to Jonah in these passages. He gives us grounds to speak of Jonah as a prophet, and as a type of Himself in relation to death and resurrection.

The correlation between Jonah and Jesus Christ is seen both by way of comparison and contrast. That Christ is greater than Jonah may be seen in respect of His:


(i) Consider what they were called: Jonah: ‘a dove’; Jesus: ‘Jehovah the Saviour’.

Doubtless his parents had high hopes for their son, and wished to see dove-like characteristics in their boy. Instead, he grew talons, and was more of a hawk than a dove! He was the son of Amittai whose name suggests faithfulness to God. Jonah failed to display faithfulness to God and failed to live up to his own name.

Our Lord, on the other hand, was true to His name, Jesus: Jehovah the Saviour. He also brought satisfaction to the heart of God, for He was the true Son of the Father. Indeed, the features of the dove, absent from Jonah, are found in our blessed Lord. The dove-like features of Christ match the description of our great high priest, ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens’, Heb. 7. 26.

In the Song of Solomon chapter 5 verse 2 the dove is a symbol of purity. This reminds us of the impeccable Christ of God. He is holy.

When the disciples were instructed as to preaching the gospel of the kingdom, two traits were to mark them: ‘as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves’. He is harmless.

When we think of the birds sent out from Noah’s ark, the raven could happily feed on the rotting carcasses that surrounded it. The dove, so totally different in its nature, returned to the ark with the olive twig. So our blessed Saviour was uncontaminated by His time in this world, before returning to His Father. He was undefiled.

The dove, or pigeon, was categorized as clean and, therefore, fit for sacrifice. Joseph and Mary offered two turtle doves or young pigeons, Luke 2. 24. If we think upon the fitness of our Lord for sacrifice, we remember that He was ‘clean’ and separate from sinners.

The dove or pigeon is known for its ‘homing instinct’. Pigeon fanciers take their birds great distances before releasing them. They fly home and are soon found back in their cote. So our Lord and Saviour returned to His Father, and the glory of heaven. He was made higher than the heavens.

(ii) Consider where they came from Gath-hepher in Galilee; Nazareth in Galilee.

Our Lord ‘originated’ from a neighbouring town, Nazareth, the place of His boyhood. Both were Galileans. The councillors of the Sanhedrin cried, ‘Search and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet’, John 7. 52. How wrong they were in relation to Jesus and Jonah, and possibly, Nahum! But then they probably discounted Jonah because his mission was to the Gentiles.

(iii) Consider their commission: to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.

Jonah began his ministry to Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II, 2 Kgs. 14. 25, before his commission by God, ‘Arise go to Nineveh … and cry against it’, Jonah 1. 2. Nineveh was a great city, the capital of the Assyrian empire; its ruins are in the present day country of Iraq.

Jesus was on a mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matt. 15. 24, before He engaged in His wider ministry to the world, 1 John 4. 14. James quotes Peter, Acts 15. 14, ‘God … did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name’.

So both were commissioned by God, and their ministries began with Israel but embraced Gentiles subsequently: Jonah sent to a great Gentile city, and Jesus to a great Gentile world. Both were sent in response to wickedness and sin, Jonah 1. 2; 1 John 3. 5.

(iv) Consider their character

Jonah was a fickle servant. Because of his political outlook as a nationalistic Israelite, he refused to go to Nineveh, choosing rather to flee the presence of God, and move in a diametrically opposite direction towards Tarshish, Spain.

In contrast, Jesus was the flawless servant. He was totally absorbed with the will of God. ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me’, John 4. 34, and, again, ‘Not my will but thine be done’, Luke 22. 42. Three times we are reminded of the Lord’s obedience.

In His life, ‘Yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered’, Heb. 5. 8.

When faced with Calvary, He was ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’, Phil. 2. 8.

Following His death and resurrection, ‘by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous’, Rom. 5. 19.

Notice Jonah’s four steps down in declension … the disobedient one, Jonah 1. 3, 5; 2. 6.

Contrast Jesus’ seven in condescension … the obedient One, Phil. 2. 6-8.

Jonah paid the price of his disobedience.

Jesus, though obedient, paid the price of our sinfulness … crucifixion.

Men’s lives were endangered because of the disobedience of one man … Jonah, Jonah 1. 12.

Men’s lives were declared righteous because of the obedience of one Man … Jesus, Rom. 5. 19.


Jonah enlightened the crew of the ship and told them that he must be cast out of the ship.

Jesus was treated as an outcast when He was led out through the Sheep Gate of the city of Jerusalem. They cried, ‘Away with him’. They did not want Him in their temple or in their capital city. He was regarded as the off-scouring of the earth, labelled with malefactors and criminals. Finally, at the cross they treated Him as an outcast of humanity and crucified Him.

Jonah became the victim for all those in the ship. ‘For I know that for my sake this great tempest is come upon you’, Jonah 1. 12. We can reverse Jonah’s language as we consider Christ, ‘For we know that for our sakes that great tempest is come upon Thee’. Jesus became the victim for all in this world of ours.

When we see Thee as the Victim,

Bound to the accursed tree,

For our guilt and folly stricken,

All our judgement borne by Thee’. {James G. Deck}

Jonah’s act of self-sacrifice saved those on board ship.

Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice has provided salvation for the ‘whosoever’.

The moment Jonah entered the stormy waters of the Mediterranean the raging sea became calm.

When Jesus entered the waters of divine judgement during the three hours of darkness upon the cross, He made peace by the blood of His cross.

Jonah became the saviour of the seafarers on the ship.

Christ became the Saviour of the world.

Two elements were at work in the experience of Jonah. What God did. What men did.

‘For thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee’, Jonah 1. 14, with 1. 4.

‘So they took up Jonah and cast him forth into the sea’, Jonah 1. 15, with 1. 11.

Similarly, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both seen to be active in relation to the Christ of Calvary. Acts chapter 2 verse 23 relates to Christ: ‘Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain’.

Although not always chronologically helpful, there is a remarkable coincidence of language between the incident with the seafarers and those involved in the trial and execution of Christ.

Jonah and the seafarers … they cast lots as to his complicity, Jonah 1. 7.

Jesus and the soldiers … they cast lots for His seamless cloak, John 19. 24.

Jonah and the seafarers: ‘Whence comest thou? What is thy country?’ Jonah 1. 8.

Jesus and Pilate: ‘Whence art thou?’ John 19. 9. ‘If my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight … but now is my kingdom not from hence’, John 18. 36.

Jonah and the seafarers: ‘lay not upon us innocent blood’, Jonah 1. 14.

Jesus and Judas, ‘I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood’, Matt. 27. 4.


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