Jonah and Jesus

There are two ways to learn a lesson – the hard way and the easy way. The hard way is when we have to learn the lesson ourselves. Better to learn from someone else without having to repeat it. That is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11)

That is the reason, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus gave the disciples the most amazing Bible study of all time: “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27; 44-45)

That is why this summer we are concluding our sermon series – “Christ in all the Scriptures” in the Minor Prophets. Over the past year or so, we have been reading each book of the Old Testament to see “what is said in all the Scriptures” concerning the Lord Jesus.

Jonah and Jesus from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

We have seen how every central character, every key event, every prophecy, every Feast and every Festival revealed ever more brightly the person and work of the God’s anointed Son.  We have seen that the coming of Jesus the Messiah was no accident. The Lord Jesus is central to God’s redemptive plan for the world, revealed progressively through history and Scripture.

The book that inspired the series, is Christ in all the Scriptures. Written by A. M. Hodgkin, in 1909. It has rightly become a classic. In our series so far we have discovered:

Amos: Jesus and David’s Fallen Tent (Amos 9)
Hosea: Jesus the Bridegroom (Hosea 1)
Daniel: Jesus the Son of Man (Daniel 7)
Ezekiel: Jesus the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34)
Jeremiah: Jesus and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31)
Isaiah: Jesus is the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53)
Psalms: The Cross of Christ (Psalm 22)
Esther: The Providence of God (Esther 4)
Kings: Solomon, Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 4)
Samuel: The Son and Lord of David (2 Samuel 9)
Ruth: Jesus and a Timely Redemption (Ruth 1-4)
Judges and the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6)
Joshua: Joshua and the Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5)
Deuteronomy: Moses and the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18)
Numbers: The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21)
Leviticus: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
Exodus: The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12)
Genesis: The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)
Genesis: Abraham, Melchizedek and Jesus (Genesis 14)

See here for the texts and videos

Today we come to Jonah. Jonah is nothing less than, “a literary masterpiece.” While the story line is so simple that children can easily follow it, the story is also marked by literary and theological sophistication. The author employs structure, humour, hyperbole, irony and satire to communicate his message with great power. The book is essentially a funny story – satire used to great effect to expose vice or folly.

Three observations: (1) The object of the satire is Jonah himself and what he represents—a bigotry and ethnocentrism that regarded God as the exclusive property of believers; (2) The purpose of the satire is to expose Jonah’s critical attitudes compared with God’s mercy, a mercy not limited by national boundaries; (3) The vehicle of the satire is a vivid, memorable funny story, with Jonah emerging as a laughable figure—someone who runs away from God and is caught by a fish, a childish and pouting prophet who prefers death over life without his tree in the shade.

Now it is also important to point out that Jonah is portrayed as an historical figure.

Hodgkin observes, “The writer of a parable would not have been likely to invent an imaginary story about a real man. Jonah’s candid record of his own faults is another evidence of the truth of the account, as also the fact that the Jews admitted the book to the Canon of Scripture, though it militated against their national prejudices in exhibiting God’s mercy to another nation.”

The Purpose of Jonah:

The primary purpose of Jonah is to show that God is compassionate, and to challenge us to reflect upon our own compassion for the lost. Jonah reveals that God’s compassion is boundless. It is not limited just to “us” but also available for “them.” Jonah is the object of God’s compassion throughout the book, and the pagan sailors and pagan Ninevites are also the benefactors of this compassion. The story ends uniquely in the Bible with a rhetorical question, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?” (4:11).

The question is, do we have the same concern for the lost?While Jonah was concerned about a plant that “perished” (4:10), he showed no such concern for the Ninevites. Conversely, the pagan sailors (1:14), their captain (1:6), and the king of Nineveh (3:9) all showed concern that people, including Jonah, not “perish.” Are we as concerned for those who are perishing? The theme of Jonah? The compassionate mercy of God.

The purpose of Jonah? The salvation of the world. Jesus leaves us in no doubt as to the historicity and significance of Jonah.

Jesus cites Jonah twice in reply to the demand by the Pharisees for a miraculous sign of his authority. “He answered,

“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:39-41).

Why does Jesus identify with Jonah? How does Jonah point us to Jesus? Lets observe: Jonah and the Whale. Jonah and the Resurrection. Jonah and this Generation.

1. Jonah and the Whale

“Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.” (Jonah 1:17-2:1)

We don’t know for sure what kind of fish swallowed Jonah. But the top contender would have to be the Sperm Whale. It is the largest animal in the Mediterranean Sea and can grow to over 60 ft long. An average sperm whale has a mouth 20 feet long, 15 feet high and 9 feet wide. What ever the “huge fish” note that God provided it. God now has Jonah’s undivided attention, and the prophet prays. When God brings a trial, He usually gives us time to contemplate the lesson He is teaching. Jonah had 3 days to contemplate:

“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” (Jonah 2:4-7)

Jonah isn’t praying to be saved from the fish but thanking God for being saved by the fish. He understands that his deliverance from drowning and his rescue by the fish is a result of the providence of God. He is in the fish to be disciplined not punished.

Punishment looks back at what was done. Discipline looks forward to what might be. For Jonah the belly of a fish wasn’t a pleasant place to live, but it was a good place to learn the hard way of God’s salvation – by first hand experience. Jonah and the huge fish.

2. Jonah and the Resurrection

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)

Now if you have a problem with Jonah and the whale, you have a bigger problem with Jesus and the resurrection. For Jesus relies on Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the fish to predict and explain his own death and resurrection. Hodgkin notes:

“[Jesus] used it as a most solemn sign regarding the most solemn event of His life on earth. And He has expressly told us that in the great Judgment Day, the men of Nineveh shall rise up and condemn the men of this generation, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold a Greater than Jonah is here [Mat 12:38-41]. We cannot imagine our Lord using these solemn words of a fictitious people and of a fictitious repentance… To us who believe in the greatest miracle of all– the incarnation and resurrection of Christ– it is but a little thing to believe that God saved Jonah in this way to be a type of our Saviour’s resurrection. We have no alternative to believing Christ’s word that He did do so.”

The early Church had no such qualms. Hodgkin writes, “Carved in rude outline on the walls of the catacombs of Rome, there is no more favourite representation than that of Jonah as a type of resurrection. ”On the horizon of the Old Testament, there has always blazed this sign of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus– the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Jonah and the Whale. Jonah and the Resurrection.

3. Jonah and this Generation

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” (Jonah 3:1-2)

God gave Jonah a second chance. He obeyed and the people of Nineveh repented. And Jesus cites their repentance to warn the people listening to him:

“The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:41)

Jesus clearly intends us to understand that the story of Jonah foreshadows and points to his own redemptive work. There is a big difference, however, between Jonah and Jesus. Jonah was reluctant to take the gospel to Nineveh. Hodgkin observes,

“His reluctance was, no doubt, partly to be found in the prevalent idea of his country, that all other nations were outside the pale of God’s mercy. But beyond this, Assyria was the dreaded foe of Israel, the scourge with which (Jonah perhaps knew that) God was going to punish his country (see Hosea 9:3). For generations, Assyria had been making fierce raids on the lands bordering on the Mediterranean, and the punishments which she inflicted upon her captives were cruel.” It was for example, the Assyrians who devised crucifixion as a means of torture and execution. Jonah was initially reluctant to obey God’s call, even after his encounter with the huge fish. But there was no such reluctance with Jesus.

Tim Keller points out when, Jesus says,

“One greater than Jonah is here,” and he’s referring to himself: I’m the true Jonah. He meant this: Someday I’m going to calm all storms, still all waves. I’m going to destroy destruction, break brokenness, kill death. How can he do that? He can only do it because when he was on the cross he was thrown—willingly, like Jonah—into the ultimate storm, under the ultimate waves, the waves of sin and death. Jesus was thrown into the only storm that can actually sink us—the storm of eternal justice, of what we owe for our wrongdoing. That storm wasn’t calmed—not until it swept him away. If the sight of Jesus bowing his head into that ultimate storm is burned into the core of your being, you will never say, “God, don’t you care?” And if you know that he did not abandon you in that ultimate storm, what make you think he would abandon you in much smaller storms you’re experiencing right now? And, someday, of course, he will return and still all storms for eternity. If you let that penetrate to the very center of your being, you will know he loves you. You will know he cares. And then you will have the power to handle anything in life with poise:

John Ortberg adds,

“Redeeming is what God is into. He is the finder of directionally-challenged sheep, the searcher of missing coins, the embracer of foolish prodigal children. His favorite department is ‘Lost and Found.’ If there is one way that human beings consistently underestimate God’s love, it is perhaps in His loving longing to forgive.” Over the centuries, generations of God’s people have identified with Jonah’s waywardness, his repentance and eventual obedience to God’s call in his life.

On the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the most sacred day in the Jewish year, Jonah is read as a penitential and confessional prayer. Let us pray it together now.

We have grown accustomed to sin and the fragments of scripture lie shattered in our life; charity has withered with calculation and the sparks of purity have burnt out. Yet still we come on Yom Kippur and God who said ‘I have forgiven’ whispers it again to us and waits for our reply. What shall it be? What form will it take? Let us repair what can still be repaired. Let us give back the gain we earned by injustice. Let us make peace with our injured brother. Let us restore the person we wronged. Let us admit what is false in ourselves. Let us put right what is wrong in our family life. Let us not sour the joy of living. The gates of His mercy are still open. Let us enter in. Amen.  


With grateful thanks to: James Bruckner: Jonah NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan) Jacques Ellul, The Judgement of Jonah (Eerdmans) Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Hodder) Rosemary Nixon, Jonah Bible Speaks Today (IVP) John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be (Zondervan) Andrew Reid, Warning Signs: Jonah (Matthias Media)

And also sermons by: Mark Axelrod, “Responding to Tough Times” Peter Bines, “Prayer in a Humble Place” Joshua Coogler “Jonah Praying” Robert Leroe “The Psalm of Jonah” Tim Richards, “Jonah Running to God” Mike Wilkins “Praying in the Belly of a Fish” Accessible from