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Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 12:38-42

The Sign of Jonah

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.


Readers who have been following this series over the past few weeks will notice that throughout Matthew 12, the Pharisees have followed and disputed with Jesus.

None of the following passages, including today’s, are included in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. More’s the pity, because how many times do people today fall into the same mindset of the Pharisees two millennia ago? I speak of unbelievers and mockers: agnostics and atheists.

The Pharisees dogged Jesus from early on in the Sabbath that Matthew recounts in this chapter. They took Him to task for allowing the disciples to munch on grain in their hunger. They took issue with His healing a man’s withered hand shortly after in the synagogue. They accused Him of being in league with Satan in His healing. These men, revered by the Jews for upholding faith and tradition, were, in reality, evil mockers and unbelievers. Hence, Jesus’s warning that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin and calling them a brood of vipers: the mouth reveals the heart.

Today’s passage tells us what happened next. A group of the scribes and Pharisees asked our Lord for a sign to prove to them who He is (verse 38). Matthew Henry thought this was a different group to the previous one. John MacArthur thinks this was a small group — possibly the most senior — of the first.

It was appalling for them to have asked for more signs when they had already seen so many miracles. Even worse, they were asking Him for a sign just for themselves! Jesus told them so (verse 39). He said that the only sign they would see would be that of Jonah. This was a reference to the period between our Lord’s upcoming death and resurrection: three days.

Whilst on the subject of Jonah, Jesus quickly segued into Jonah’s mission, which he rebelled against, hence, his three days in the belly of the great fish. When he repented and agreed to follow God’s instruction to go preach to the heathens in Nineveh, God opened up the great fish’s mouth. Jonah was released. He went to Nineveh. When the people heard his exhortations, they immediately repented, fasted and wore sackcloth and ashes. God called off His divine judgement on the people of Nineveh.

What Jesus was saying is that if the people of Nineveh repented because of Jonah’s words, how much greater are His words — and His miracles (verse 41). Yet, the Jewish hierarchy — upholders of the faith and anticipating the Messiah — refused to accept that He was in their midst.

Our Lord then referred to another story of conversion, that of the Queen of the South — the Queen of Sheba (verse 42).

My exposition of the parallel account of today’s reading — Luke 11:29-32 — explains more about this fabulously wealthy woman, who ruled over the region that is modern-day Yemen, hence Queen of the South. She had heard of the wisdom of King Solomon — there were extensive trade routes even thousands of years ago — and decided to journey with her entourage to meet him. The journey took several months and included crossing the desert. Once she heard Solomon speak, she believed in God.

Jesus was saying that the queen travelled a very great distance to hear Solomon. Yet, right in front of these unbelieving Pharisees was the Son of Man, much greater — the Messiah — and they derided Him.

For these reasons, she — along with the people of Nineveh — would rise in judgement on Jesus’s contemporaries, especially the Pharisees.

The same judgement will be levied upon current unbelievers who have heard the Gospel. Henry says:

if we do not hear the wisdom of Christ, the forwardness of the queen of Sheba to come and hear the wisdom of Solomon will rise up in judgment against us and condemn us for Jesus Christ is greater than Solomon.

MacArthur warns of cults and sects such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses:

There are people today who reject Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Christ and the wisdom of Christ. They may be sitting in a religion, or a church, and someday, pagan Ninevites and a pagan queen, by contrast, will condemn them in judgment. What it is saying is that those who are far off that belief prove that those who are near are responsible [for believing]. If you try to exist within the framework of Christianity and reject Jesus Christ, yours is the greatest condemnation.

It is easy to be trapped in error and heresy, because each contains a germ of truth. This is why it is important to study the Bible and use a good commentary, not a sensationalist one.

There are also many legalistic ‘Christians’ who think the path to holiness lies in following Mosaic Law. These are not necessarily people who have converted from the Jewish religion, either, but any number of Protestants of European descent. Be wary of those who claim to believe in Christ yet never talk about the New Testament other than citing a handful of verses from St Paul’s letters. Most of their biblical references come from the Old Testament, particularly prophets. They tie these into socio-political ‘prophecies’ for the present day. Yet they never speak of the Old Testament foretelling Jesus. One has to wonder what they believe. Ask them. They will be evasive, unable to answer. That’s all we need to know.

Next time: Matthew 12:43-45

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