Matthew 12:38–42: Seeking for a Sign

by May 1, 2023Premium, The Gospel of Matthew

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In the previous few sections, we have seen how the opposition to Jesus has been rising. The Pharisees have begun to conspire against him, how to destroy him (Matt. 12:14), and they have begun to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the people by accusing Jesus of depending upon the power of Satan (Matt. 12:24). In this passage, the tension continues to rise. The Pharisees will gain the support of the scribes in opposing Jesus, and, together, the two will demand that Jesus offer to them a sign for their inspection. Jesus will not do for them what they ask, but he instead promises to do something better by proving his authority through the “sign of the prophet Jonah” (v. 39). Here, Matthew begins to reveal to us the gospel truth that Jesus was vindicated by his resurrection.

Discussion Questions

1. How does this passage (vv. 38–42) connect with the confrontations of the Pharisees with Jesus in the earlier parts of this chapter (“then”; v. 38)? Why do the Pharisees bring the scribes along with them (v. 38)? When the scribes and Pharisees ask Jesus for a “sign,” what are they really asking him to do? What does the Old Testament tell us about Israel as an “adulterous” people? Why does Jesus apply this term to the scribes and Pharisees (v. 39a)?

2. Who was Jonah? Why does Jesus say that he will give to his generation the “sign of the prophet Jonah” (v. 39b)? What is Jesus talking about when he says that the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth (v. 40)? How should we understand the phrase “three days and three nights”? Why was the resurrection such an important sign to vindicate the ministry of Jesus? What does the rest of the Bible say about the significance of the resurrection?

3. Who were the “men of Nineveh” and how much information did they have when they repented (v. 41)? Who was the “queen of the South” and how much information did she have when she came to hear the wisdom of Solomon (v. 42)? What should we make of the fact that both of these are Gentiles at a great geographical distance from Israel? Why does Jesus say that these groups will rise up to condemn the unbelieving Jews?

4. What signs do we have to test Jesus’ claims today? Why do the Scriptures warn us against walking by sight, rather than by faith (2 Cor. 5:7)? What do the Scriptures teach us about how to test claims of religious teachers (Deut. 18:15–22; Acts 17:11; 1 Cor. 12:3; 1 Thess. 5:20–21; 1 John 4:1–3)? What is challenging for you to believe about Jesus? How might you evaluate your own questions in the light of the Scriptures?