The Sign of Jonah and Christ’s Resurrection

By Osamagbe Lesley Egharevba | Lagos, Nigeria

When Muslim folks read the above passage (Matthew 12:39-40), what comes to their minds is that Jesus is saying that He was not going to die or be raised from the dead. In his debate with Paul K. Williams on whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, Ahmed Deedat’s main argument was from Matthew 12:40. He asked the audience if Jonah was in the belly of the fish dead or alive for three days; and the response was that Jonah was in there alive for three days and three nights. Hence, Deedat’s argument was that since Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish alive, Jesus was in the tomb three days and three nights alive – thus he maintained that Jesus did not die and there was nothing like resurrection. Some other modern Muslim debaters have adopted this argument and offered it as evidence to prove that the Bible teaches Jesus did not die nor did He resurrect from the dead. But how sound is this argument?

In the first place, I would like to say that it is one thing to deny the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – but an attempt to use the Bible to prove such falsehood shows that one is either completely ignorant or deliberately mischievous. No sincere person should read the scriptures and even attempt to use it to prove that Jesus was not raised from the dead because there are abundant passages of the scriptures that prove that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. Paul said that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).

What was Jesus saying in Matthew 12:39-40? Does the sign of Jonah prove that Jesus was going to be alive in the tomb? Obviously not! Indeed, what some Muslims have done to this text is to overstretch the comparison that was made and then use it in a way that is not intended. A careful reading of that passage would reveal that nothing was said in the text about Jonah being dead or alive in the belly of the fish; and to introduce that into the text to prove a point is ridiculous. When there is a comparison in a text, it is very wrong to use it in any other way except as that comparison is intended. Consider this statement that was made by Jesus in John 3:14; “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” Here is a similar comparison to that of Matthew 12:40, and if I were to behave like the Muslims and ask the question; “Did Moses lift up the serpent in the wilderness dead or alive?” what would be the answer? Indeed, Moses did not lift up a live serpent – the serpent was lifeless! Would that not prove that Jesus was going to be lifted up (crucified) dead? But the truth is: none of these passages has any reference to “dead” or “alive.” The point of comparison in Matthew 12:40 is three days and three nights while the point of comparison in John 3:14 is that Jesus was going to be lifted up.

Having said that, let us now see if the Scriptures prove that Jesus Christ would die and be raised from the dead. A good passage to look at is Matthew 28:1-7:

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

A careful reading of this passage would reveal that the angel not only told the women that Jesus is risen from the dead but He emphasized that this was exactly as Jesus said. This means that Jesus had made a statement before his death that He was going to be raised from the dead. Since the angel referred to Jesus’ statement to show that Jesus would be raised from the dead, that shows clearly that the argument from the sign of Jonah as advanced by the Muslims, is false and makes no logical sense. But can we find anywhere in the scriptures where Jesus made the statement that He would be raised from the dead? I think that the answer to this question will put an end to the argument.

In Matthew 16:4, Jesus said “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Here is another instance where Jesus makes reference to the sign of Jonah in the book of Matthew. But what does this mean? I would not bother much to explain its meaning but one thing is sure: whatever the sign of Jonah means, it certainly would not refer to anything that would contradict the rest of what Jesus said in the chapter! Does the sign of Jonah means that Jesus would not be raised from the dead? Pay attention to verses 21-23 of Matthew 16:

From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”    

In this verse, Jesus Christ was talking about His suffering, His death and resurrection. The Bible says that he showed His disciples that He MUST be killed and be raised the third day! Was the angel mistaken in Matthew 28:6 to have referenced Jesus? Not at all for Jesus actually said so! But notice that Peter thinks differently while Jesus was saying these things! He thought that would not be possible for the Messiah and Saviour of the world to be killed and he even rebuked Jesus and told Him that such would not happen to Him. Jesus noted that such thinking is satanic! To think and say that Jesus would not die and be raised the third day is Satanic! That shows that anyone who is opposing or denying the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ today is simply satanic and qualified to be called “Satan.” Without a doubt, the sign of Jonah would not be referring to the argument that Jesus would not die. If it means that Jesus would not die, why would Jesus refer to it in Matthew 16:4 and then come to verses 21-23 to speak about His death and resurrection and then even call someone who oppose it “Satan”? Clearly, the Muslims are mistaken on this argument. If the Muslims believe the Bible as the word of God even as their Quran teaches them to (and as some of them have claimed to believe), they should be willing to accept what it says and not twist certain passages to prove a false teaching that they have conjured up in their minds. No one can believe the Bible and then oppose the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who will Judge the world at His appearing (II Timothy 4:1; Acts 17:30-31).

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