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Matthew 12:41

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The men of Nineveh shell rise in judgment - The voice of God, threatening temporal judgments, caused a whole people to repent, who had neither Moses nor Christ, neither the law nor the prophets; and who perhaps never had but this one preacher among them. What judgment may not we expect, if we continue impenitent, after all that God has bestowed upon us?

A greater than Jonas is here - Πλειον, for τι πλειον, something more. The evidence offered by Jonah sufficed to convince and lead the Ninevites to repentance; but here was more evidence, and a greater person; and yet so obstinate are the Jews that all is ineffectual.

  1. Christ, who preached to the Jews, was infinitely greater than Jonah, in his nature, person, and mission.
  • Jonah preached repentance in Nineveh only forty days, and Christ preached among the Jews for several years.
  • Jonah wrought no miracles to authorize his preaching; but Christ wrought miracles every day, in every place where he went, and of every kind. And
  • 4. Notwithstanding all this, the people of Judea did not repent, though the people of Nineveh did.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible
    Verses 38-42

    We would see a sign from thee - See Luke 11:16, Luke 11:29-32. A “sign” commonly signifies a miracle - that is, a sign that God was with the person or had sent him. Compare the notes at Isaiah 7:11. Luke adds that this was done “tempting him;” that is, trying him, doubting if he had the power to do it. If these persons had been present with him for any considerable time, they had already seen sufficient proofs that he was what he claimed to be. They might have been, however, those who had recently come, and then the emphasis must be laid on “we” - we, as well as the others, would see a proof that thou art the Christ. In either case it was a temptation. If they had not seen him work a miracle, yet they should have believed it by testimony. Compare John 20:29. Perhaps, however, the emphasis is to be laid on the words “from heaven.” They might profess not to doubt that his miracles were real, but they were not quite satisfactory. They were desirous of seeing something, therefore, that should clear up their doubts - where there could be no opportunity for dispute. A comet, or lightning, or thunder, or sudden darkness, or the gift of food raining upon them, they supposed would be decisive. Possibly they referred in this to Moses. He had been with God amid thunders and lightnings, and he had given them manna - “bread from heaven” to eat. They wished Jesus to show some miracle equally undoubted.

    Matthew 12:39

    An evil and adulterous generation - The relation of the Jews to God was often represented as a marriage contract - God as the husband, and the Jewish people as the wife.

    See Isaiah 57:3; Hosea 3:1; Ezekiel 16:15. Hence, their apostasy and idolatry are often represented as adultery. This is the meaning, probably, here. They were evil, and unfaithful to the covenant or to the commandments of God - an apostate and corrupt people. There is, however, evidence that they were literally an adulterous people.

    There shall no sign be given to it … - They sought some direct miracle “from heavens.” Jesus replied that no “such” miracle should be given. He did not mean to say that he would work no more miracles, or give no more evidence that he was the Christ, but he would give “no such miracle” as they required. “He would give one that ought to be as satisfactory evidence to them that he was from God, as the miraculous preservation of Jonah was to the Ninevites that he was divinely commissioned.” As Jonah was preserved three days by miracle and then restored alive, so he would be raised from the dead after three days. As on the ground of this preservation the Ninevites believed Jonah and repented, so, on the ground of his resurrection, the people of an adulterous and wicked generation ought to repent, and believe that he was from God. “The sign of the prophet Jonas” means the “sign” or “evidence” which was given to the people of Nineveh that he was from God - to wit, that he had been miraculously preserved, and was therefore divinely commissioned. The word “Jonas” is the Greek way of writing the Hebrew word “Jonah,” as “Elias” is for “Elijah.”

    Matthew 12:40

    For as Jonas was three days … - See Jonah 1:17

    This event took place in the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere between Joppa and Tarshish, when he was fleeing from Nineveh. It is said that the “whale” seldom passes into that sea, and that its throat is too small to admit a man. It is probable, therefore, that a fish of the “shark kind” is intended. Sharks have been known often to swallow a man entire. The fish in the book of Jonah is described merely as a “great fish,” without specifying the kind. It is well known that the Greek word translated whale, in the New Testament, does not of necessity mean a whale, but may denote a large fish or sea-monster of any kind. - Robinson, Lexicon.

    Three days and three nights - It will be seen in the account of the resurrection of Christ that he was in the grave but two nights and a part of three days. See Matthew 18:6. This computation is, however, strictly in accordance with the Jewish mode of reckoning. If it had “not” been, the Jews would have understood it, and would have charged our Saviour as being a false prophet, for it was well known to them that he had spoken this prophecy, Matthew 27:63. Such a charge, however, was never made; and it is plain, therefore, that what was “meant” by the prediction was accomplished. It was a maxim, also, among the Jews, in computing time, that a part of a day was to be received as the whole. Many instances of this kind occur in both sacred and profane history. See 2 Chronicles 10:5, 2 Chronicles 10:12; Genesis 42:17-18. Compare Esther 4:16 with Esther 5:1.

    In the heart of the earth - The Jews used the word “heart” to denote the “interior” of a thing, or to speak of being in a thing. It means, here, to be in the grave or sepulchre.

    Matthew 12:41

    The men of Nineveh - Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire.

    It was founded by Asshur, Genesis 10:11. It was situated on the banks of the River Tigris, to the northeast of Babylon. It was a city of vast extent, and of corresponding wickedness. It was 48 miles in circuit; its walls were 100 feet high and 10 thick, and were defended by fifteen hundred towers, each 200 feet in height. It contained in the time of Jonah, it is supposed, six hundred thousand inhabitants. The destruction of Nineveh, threatened by Jonah in forty days, was suspended, by their repentance, two hundred years. It was then overthrown by the Babylonians about six hundred years before Christ. During the siege a mighty inundation of the river Tigris took place, which threw down a part of the walls, through which the enemy entered, and sacked and destroyed the city. This destruction had been foretold one hundred and fifteen years before by Nahum Nahum 1:8; “But with an overwhelming flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof:” and Nahum 2:6; “The gates of the river shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved.” Its ruins have been lately discovered by Layard, and have contributed much to the establishment of the truth of Scripture history. Those remains are on the east side of the river Tigris, nearly opposite to the city of Mosul.

    Shall condemn it - That is, their conduct, in repenting under the preaching of Jonah, shall condemn this generation. They, ignorant and wicked pagan, repented when threatened with “temporal” judgment by a mere man - Jonah; you, Jews, professing to be enlightened, though threatened for your great wickedness with eternal punishment “by the Son of God” - a far greater being than Jonah - repent not, and must therefore meet with a far heavier condemnation.

    Matthew 12:42

    The queen of the south - That, is, the Queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10:1

    Sheba was probably a city of Arabia, situated to the south of Judea. Compare the notes at Isaiah 60:6.

    From the uttermost parts of the earth - This means simply from the most distant parts of the habitable world “then known.” See a similar expression in Deuteronomy 28:49. As the knowledge of geography was limited, the place was, “in fact,” by no means in the extreme parts of the earth. It means that she came from a remote country; and she would condemn that generation, for she came “a great distance” to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but the Jews of that age would not listen to the wisdom of one “much greater” than Solomon, though present with them.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    Though Christ is always ready to hear and answer holy desires and prayers, yet those who ask amiss, ask and have not. Signs were granted to those who desired them to confirm their faith, as Abraham and Gideon; but denied to those who demanded them to excuse their unbelief. The resurrection of Christ from the dead by his own power, called here the sign of the prophet Jonah, was the great proof of Christ's being the Messiah. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale, and then came out again alive, thus Christ would be so long in the grave, and then rise again. The Ninevites would shame the Jews for not repenting; the queen of Sheba, for not believing in Christ. And we have no such cares to hinder us, we come not to Christ upon such uncertainties. This parable represents the case of the Jewish church and nation. It is also applicable to all those who hear the word of God, and are in part reformed, but not truly converted. The unclean spirit leaves for a time, but when he returns, he finds Christ is not there to shut him out; the heart is swept by outward reformation, but garnished by preparation to comply with evil suggestions, and the man becomes a more decided enemy of the truth. Every heart is the residence of unclean spirits, except those which are temples of the Holy Ghost, by faith in Christ.
    Ellen G. White
    Prophets and Kings, 273-4

    Christ during His earthly ministry referred to the good wrought by the preaching of Jonah in Nineveh, and compared the inhabitants of that heathen center with the professed people of God in His day. “The men of Nineveh,” He declared, “shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Matthew 12:40, 41. Into the busy world, filled with the din of commerce and the altercation of trade, where men were trying to get all they could for self, Christ had come; and above the confusion His voice, like the trump of God, was heard: “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:36, 37. PK 273.1

    As the preaching of Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so Christ's preaching was a sign to His generation. But what a contrast in the reception of the word! Yet in the face of indifference and scorn the Saviour labored on and on, until He had accomplished His mission. PK 274.1

    The lesson is for God's messengers today, when the cities of the nations are as verily in need of a knowledge of the attributes and purposes of the true God as were the Ninevites of old. Christ's ambassadors are to point men to the nobler world, which has largely been lost sight of. According to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, the only city that will endure is the city whose builder and maker is God. With the eye of faith man may behold the threshold of heaven, flushed with God's living glory. Through His ministering servants the Lord Jesus is calling upon men to strive with sanctified ambition to secure the immortal inheritance. He urges them to lay up treasure beside the throne of God. PK 274.2

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    Ellen G. White
    Prophets and Kings, 270-1

    As Jonah entered the city, he began at once to “cry against” it the message, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Verse 4. From street to street he went, sounding the note of warning. PK 270.1

    The message was not in vain. The cry that rang through the streets of the godless city was passed from lip to lip until all the inhabitants had heard the startling announcement. The Spirit of God pressed the message home to every heart and caused multitudes to tremble because of their sins and to repent in deep humiliation. PK 270.2

    “The people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he causeth it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water: but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?” Verses 5-9. PK 270.3

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    Ellen G. White
    My Life Today, 349

    Christ Redeems Me Unto Eternal Life

    And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Revelation 21:4 ML 349.1

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    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 406

    Now the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Christ, asking for a sign from heaven. When in the days of Joshua Israel went out to battle with the Canaanites at Bethhoron, the sun had stood still at the leader's command until victory was gained; and many similar wonders had been manifest in their history. Some such sign was demanded of Jesus. But these signs were not what the Jews needed. No mere external evidence could benefit them. What they needed was not intellectual enlightenment, but spiritual renovation. DA 406.1

    “O ye hypocrites,” said Jesus, “ye can discern the face of the sky,”—by studying the sky they could foretell the weather,—“but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” Christ's own words, spoken with the power of the Holy Spirit that convicted them of sin, were the sign that God had given for their salvation. And signs direct from heaven had been given to attest the mission of Christ. The song of the angels to the shepherds, the star that guided the wise men, the dove and the voice from heaven at His baptism, were witnesses for Him. DA 406.2

    “And He sighed deeply in His spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign?” “There shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.” As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, Christ was to be the same time “in the heart of the earth.” And as the preaching of Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so Christ's preaching was a sign to His generation. But what a contrast in the reception of the word! The people of the great heathen city trembled as they heard the warning from God. Kings and nobles humbled themselves; the high and the lowly together cried to the God of heaven, and His mercy was granted unto them. “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation,” Christ had said, “and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Matthew 12:40, 41. DA 406.3

    Every miracle that Christ performed was a sign of His divinity. He was doing the very work that had been foretold of the Messiah; but to the Pharisees these works of mercy were a positive offense. The Jewish leaders looked with heartless indifference on human suffering. In many cases their selfishness and oppression had caused the affliction that Christ relieved. Thus His miracles were to them a reproach. DA 406.4

    That which led the Jews to reject the Saviour's work was the highest evidence of His divine character. The greatest significance of His miracles is seen in the fact that they were for the blessing of humanity. The highest evidence that He came from God is that His life revealed the character of God. He did the works and spoke the words of God. Such a life is the greatest of all miracles. DA 406.5

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