“Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” (Matt. 12:38)
What is 'a miraculous sign'?
Jesus indicates that this "generation" - actually referring to the people or society - around him at the time - 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 miracles such as images of Jesus' face, or miracle healing waters, or appearances. They seem to need these miracles in order to believe in God's existence - or believe in Jesus. As a result, there are now some pretty crazy "miracles" - like facial images on slices of bread and so on.
While people in general are busy looking for miraculous signs, the Supreme Being has been sending His messengers to teach sincere seekers who truly want to find Him. While people await thunderous voices from the sky or amazing miracles, the Supreme Being sends His humble and devoted loving servants who speak simply and clearly.
There have been so many sent by God throughout history. Consider for example John the Baptist, Jesus' teacher. John also had a teacher, his father, who was a priest. His father had a teacher.
This succession goes all the way back to Solomon, Jonah, David, Jacob, Moses and Abraham, who all were teaching and passing on the same message from and about the Supreme Being.
Men of Nineveh and the Queen
Jesus used both the men of Nineveh - from the Book of Jonah - and the Queen of Sheba to make a point about the wickedness of the people in 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.
Solomon and Jonah were lovers of God
Both Solomon and Jonah were, just as Jesus was, humble and devoted confidential loving servants of the Supreme Being and 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.
'The One greater' is God
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.” (Matt. 20:16)Jesus also said: "Blessed are the meek" (Matt. 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.
'Son of man' mistranslation
Furthermore, the "son of man" mentioned here is an incorrect translation of the Greek word υἱός (huios) - defined by the lexicon as "one who depends on another or is his follower, pupil or servant" when not a male son of a physical family. In other words, the word is describing a devoted follower or loving servant.
This means that Jesus is referring to himself as the servant of humanity (ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos) means "mankind"). This is a humble self-deprecation, consistent with Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples and other acts of humility. Consider also David's remark about himself as he prayed to God:
"O Lord, what is man that you care for him, the son of man [servant of humanity] that you think of him?" (Psalms 144:3)And consider how the Supreme Being called Ezekiel the "servant of humanity:"
“Son of man [servant of humanity], I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me..." (Ezekiel 2:3)The servant of God is also the servant of all of humanity because he comes to deliver God’s message to bring us back to the Supreme Being. Because the loving servant of God has humbly surrendered his life to the Supreme Being, every part of him, including his physical body, is devoted to the Supreme Being. This is the ultimate service to all of humanity.
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, modern ecclesiastical 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)
*Here is the translation of Jesus' statement from the Gospels of Jesus:
“A wicked and adulterous society seeks a sign: But no sign will be given to it except for the sign of the Prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, so shall the Servant of Humanity be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. The men of Nineveh would rise in judgment of this society and would condemn it; because they had a change of heart after the preaching of Jonah – and there beheld the presence of the One who is greater than Jonah. The queen of the south would rise up in judgment of this society, and would condemn it, for she came from the outermost regions of the land to hear the wisdom of Solomon – and there beheld the presence of the One who is greater than Solomon." (Matt. 12:39-42)