“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now One greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now One greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:39-42)
Why is Jesus talking about a 'generation'?Jesus is responding to some Pharisees who asked him:
“Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” (Matthew 12:38)The translation of Jesus' answer utilizes the word "generation," translated from the Greek word γενεά (genea). Yes, this can refer to a genealogy, but it can also mean "the whole multitude of men living at the same time," and "a group of men very like each other in endowments, pursuits, character."
In this context, Jesus is speaking about a certain culture of people. A particular society and culture that existed around him at that time - one that insisted upon miracles and signs to indicate who should be followed.
In this case, Jesus is referring to the people or society around him at the time who were not interested in having a change of heart. They were more interested in materialism.
So they were seeking to see amazing miracles in order to prove that Jesus was the "messiah" they were waiting for.
This applies to today as well. We find so many are focused in finding "signs" such as images of Jesus' face, or miracle healing waters, or appearances. They seem to need these "miraculous signs" in order to believe in God's existence - or believe in Jesus.
As a result, there have been some pretty crazy "miraculous signs" - like facial images on slices of bread and shadows that look like Mother Mary and so forth.
Has this 'generation' continued?Such a culture and society (looking for 'signs') has remained in many parts through the centuries. Yet as they have sought miraculous signs, the Supreme Being has been sending His messengers to teach sincere seekers who truly want to find Him. This is Jesus' message.
While many await thunderous voices from the sky or amazing miracles, the Supreme Being has continued to send His humble devoted loving servants who speak simply and clearly. Much of the time they are unnoticed by society at large.
There have been so many of these messengers sent by God throughout history. Before Jesus, consider John the Baptist and John's many disciples. John also had a teacher, his father Zechariah, who also was a devoted servant of God and a priest.
This succession of teachers extends all the way back to Solomon, David, Samuel, Eli, Jonah, Joshua, Moses, Jacob, Abraham and Noah and all their various followers who all were teaching and passing on the same message of the Supreme Being.
Consider also the disciples of Jesus. Most of them went on to pass on to others the teachings of Jesus. James, Peter, Thomas, Matthew, John, Bartholomew and many others (at least 70 according to Luke 10).
Then there were the disciples of Jesus' disciples, such as Cornelius the Centurion and Saint Evodius, both disciples of Peter, and Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John.
Many of these messengers were persecuted and murdered for their preaching activities. Yet their lives and teachings went virtually unnoticed by society and history at large.
Why does Jesus talk about the 'men of Nineveh' and 'the Queen'?Jesus compares the situation to the men of Nineveh - from the Book of Jonah - and the Queen of Sheba to make a point about the wickedness of the society around him.
Jesus is saying that even they - who were fallen until they each respectively had a change of heart - would condemn the society around Jesus.
The people of Nineveh, for example, heard Jonah's message about God and began to repent their ways and worship the Supreme Being. This was not due to some big miraculous sign but rather, simple preaching of Jonah as the Supreme Being had instructed Jonah to do:
[God speaking to Jonah] "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me." (Jonah 1:2)Jesus is detailing in his statement that the people of Nineveh - who had been called "wicked" by God - repented their ways because Jonah's preaching convinced them to fast and pray to the Supreme Being:
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)Jesus is also saying that those people around Jesus would be judged as "wicked" even by the "wicked" people of Nineveh. In other words, they were very wicked.
In the same way, the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon to "test him." She was not devoted to God but instead wanted to embarrass him (after all, Solomon was known as the wisest person). Parts of the Talmud indicate that the Queen also wanted to seduce Solomon.When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the LORD, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. (1 Kings 10:1)Instead of getting the better of Solomon with these tests Solomon converted her. She ended up glorifying God (See Chronicles 2 chapter 9) and essentially becoming Solomon's student.
In other words, both the men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba were converted by these two great Prophets and servants of God. They each had a change of heart.
Yet each would have "condemned" the people surrounding Jesus - because those people were unwilling to have a change of heart even though they were hearing Jesus' teachings.
What did Solomon and Jonah have in common?Both Solomon and Jonah were humble and devoted confidential loving servants of the Supreme Being. This means the Supreme Being was present in their teachings as well, as evidenced by God's instruction to Jonah quoted above.
None of them would claim they were better or greater than each other, however. This is not the character of a humble surrendered servant of the Supreme Being. They would, however, make the claim that the Supreme Being is greater than others, as Jesus did. This is an oft-repeating proclamation of every bonafide prophet and spiritual teacher, as evidenced throughout the scriptures.
Now those people surrounding Jesus were also in a position to receive the teachings of the Supreme Being through Jesus - just as the Nineveh people received Jonah's teachings. Yet as Jesus states, they were not listening to him. They were only looking for miraculous signs instead of simply hearing Jesus' teachings.
Who is 'the One greater'?Many have interpreted part of Jesus' statement to mean that Jesus is claiming that he is greater than Jonah and Solomon ("and now One greater than Jonah is here... [and later] One greater than Solomon is here"). Does this make sense?
Is this the same Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples and said:
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)Jesus also said:
"Blessed are the meek" (Matthew 5:5)It would be completely out of character for Jesus to then be referring to himself as the "One greater..." It is obvious he is referring to the Supreme Being as being "One grater..."
And the reason why Jesus is referring to the "One greater" in the third person is that Jesus is not the Supreme Being. Jesus is teaching about and representing the Supreme Being, just as Jonah and Soloman did before him. This is confirmed in other statements by Jesus:
“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me." (John 7:16)Here again Jesus is referring to the "One" - but in this case, we can easily tell that Jesus is not referring to himself, as he specifically says: “My teaching is not my own."
But we know from this that because Jesus is delivering the teachings of the Supreme Being, that the Supreme Being is thus present in Jesus' teachings. This is why Jesus can refer to the Supreme Being as being present ("One greater than Jonah/Solomon is here").
And the reason why Jesus is speaking of the Supreme Being as greater than Solomon and Jonah is that the people he was speaking to (the Pharisees and their followers) revered Solomon and Jonah as prophets. So Jesus is illustrating that Solomon and Jonah worshiped the same Supreme Being that Jesus is teaching about.
What is the "sign of Jonah"?This is that Jonah trusted the Supreme Being when he was swallowed by the fish, and the Supreme Being protected Jonah. Jesus compares this to his own sacrifice because it will also illustrate the trust Jesus has in the Supreme Being.
Jesus showed that the Supreme Being had saved him as he displayed his illuminated appearance three days after his body was killed. The body that Jesus showed after three days was not his physical body. It was an illuminated appearance, as evidenced in Mark 16:12: Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.
Thus, while people are mesmerized by this seemingly 'miraculous sign' of Jesus "rising from the dead," in reality Jesus illustrated that we do not die when the body dies. Otherwise, why wouldn't the two Marys have recognized him when they saw him? Also, the disciples did not recognize him, and he even came to their dinner table without them recognizing him.
Rather than focusing on Jesus' teachings and the message of his life, many institutions and their teachers want us to "believe" because of Jesus' 'miraculous signs.' Meanwhile, they overlook Jesus' most fundamental teaching:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)