Jesus said that there would be signs to indicate His coming at the end of the age. In the Olivet Discourse with His disciples, Jesus lengthily answered the Disciples’ questions as to these warning signs. (Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 17:20-3) He wanted us to look to those signs as proof of His word. (Matthew 24:25 & Matthew 24:42).
To the Pharisees, however, the hypocritical and unbelieving Pharisees who kept pestering Jesus for a sign that would prove He is the Messiah rather than relying on faith and belief, He gave a completely different answer. In Matthew 12:38-42 He rebuked them sharply, “But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
You know the story. God wanted Jonah to preach to the fallen in the city of Nineveh (which is today’s Mosul, Iraq). Jonah hated Nineveh and ran away. He boarded a boat and a storm came. Soon the men noticed that Jonah was the cause of the storm so Jonah abashedly allowed them to toss him overboard. Jonah was swallowed by a whale (actually a great fish), and was inside its belly for three days and nights. (Jonah 1)
A careful reading of Jonah 2 will elicit the interpretation that as Jonah was sinking to the bottom of the sea and falling unconscious, he prayed for forgiveness, then died. My stance is biblically supported through the verses of Jonah 1:2; 5-7; and through Mt 12:38-40, but more on that in a moment). God sent the fish to scoop up Jonah, who was kept for three days inside the great fish’s belly and then spit up on land, alive.
The Greek renders the word “fish” in this verse dagah. Nineveh at that time was a Dagon-worshiping bunch. Dagon was a Philistine fish-god, referred to in Judges 26:23; I Sam. 5:1-7. Dagon the fish-god is still worshiped today. Imagine the impact of an unbelieving population to have seen a man spit up by a great fish and begin talking about the One True God who trumps this Dagon.
The unbelieving generation to whom Jesus was talking in Matthew 12:38-42 were the Pharisees, who had the advantage of reading the scriptures to verify what they were seeing in front of them, and yet they still refused the Truth. So for the short answer, Jesus compared Jonah’s sign with His upcoming sign. We know that Jesus died and lay in the belly of the earth for three days, and therefore in comparing Him sign with Jonah’s we also conclude Jonah died. Jesus’ warning to look to Jonah should not be dispensed with because He has risen.
So in the news there are things happening that could be called signs. They are certainly perplexing. The planet Jupiter lost a belt. Yes, indeed. One year it was there and next day it wasn’t.
And, off Israel, a gray whale was spotted. So what, you ask? Well, gray whales have been extinct in that part of the world for three hundred years. “The whale population which lives in the northeastern Pacific normally migrates southwards in around October, heading for warmer waters around the Gulf of California in a huge round trip of at least 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers), AFP reported.” It is called the ‘most amazing sighting in history of whales’. It swam for several hours off Herzliya Marina, close to Tel Aviv. They are saying it is a “miracle” and “back from the dead.” Scientists say the North Pacific whale either took an arctic route between ice floes, or Arctic route, swam through the Panama Canal, or continued another 8,000 miles to the south and round Cape Horn at the bottom of South America. Take a look at the map and start tracking a route from Baja CA to Israel either going north to the Bering Sea, south to Cape Horn, or through the Panama Canal across the Atlantic. That is one determined whale.
I have found a useful approach to bible understanding and prophecy interpretation is, after prayer, to just think. Don’t take anything at surface level without asking, “What could it mean?” and asking the Spirit to bring you into deeper understanding. Sure, a gray whale off Israel is an amazing incident. Don’t let it end there, though. Think…Israel…why Israel? The whale could have stopped far, far earlier. There were twenty other countries along a 10,000 mile route he could have stopped at instead of the mere 168 miles along Israel’s land-sea border. Instead, he went through the Straits of Gibraltar or the Suez Canal to specifically get to Israel.
Additionally, when you think of Israel and a whale, what immediately comes to mind? Jonah. And with Jonah, the sign that Jesus Himself gave to a wicked and [spiritually] adulterous generation of their need to repent and believe.
I can’t make a case that the gray whale’s resurrection off the coast of Israel has biblical meaning but even the scientists say it “is bizarre in the extreme“. With bizarre events comes thoughts of Jesus’ promise that the end time will have “fearful events and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:11). A sign in the Bible is some event or activity which may or may be supernatural, that would convince OR confirm the Person and claims of Jesus. A sign is usually a miracle with a clear intent; it was a miracle designed to reveal something specific. The Greek word ‘signs’ in that verse means ‘miracle’. “Is the sea off the coast of the Holy Land harboring a miracle? That was the question for biologists after a gray whale appeared off the shores of Israel, Sky News reported on Thursday.”
In my own mind it is not even a question. It is a sign, and with that particular sign we are reminded of the consequences of running from God’s will, His power, and also His redemptive mercy. Will you heed it today?