The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. (Matt. 16:1)
Jesus' statement here illustrates the simplicity of his message. Firstly, he mentions the practicality of 'signs.' He illustrates how one can simply read the signs about the future weather just by looking at the sky. The sky will show signs on future weather. It is a practical matter.
But then Jesus states that instead of seeing practical signs about the current society, those who are “wicked and adulterous” are looking for some kind of "miraculous sign" from God's representative.
This is because they are not sincerely looking for God. They also are not examining history. What does Jesus mean by "signs of the times"? Jesus is speaking of the state of the society at the time. He is seeing the natural progression for those who become prideful and disrespecting of the Supreme Being.
These points are clarified by Jesus' reference to “the sign of Jonah.” What is “the sign of Jonah?” In the Book of Jonah, we can read the beautiful story of Jonah. Jonah, a devoted servant of God, was requested by the Supreme Being to go to the great city of Nineveh to give them a message, because the people of the city had abandoned their faith in the Supreme Being and were living in ways that were displeasing to God. God asked Jonah to go to the city and preach to them to abandon their ways.
However, Jonah tried to escape the request of the Supreme Being by traveling by boat to Tarshish. As he was on the boat a great storm came up, and the other sailors were forced to put Jonah overboard to avoid the boat capsizing, and as soon as they did, the storm calmed. Then Jonah found himself swallowed by a large fish (presumably a whale) and for three days, Jonah lived inside the whale until he was deposited onto the beach. During those three days, Jonah came to terms with the Supreme Being and commited to God a great prayer, often referred to as Jonah's prayer:
“In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and You listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, and the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all Your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, 'I have been banished from Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.' The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the moutains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But You brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered You, Lord, and my prayer rose to You, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to You. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:1-9)
This prayer goes to the heart of Jesus' message. Here Jonah submitted to the Supreme Being as he found himself in danger, and was given mercy and rescued by God. Once rescued, Jonah went on to follow God's instruction and preach to the city of Nineveh. He told them that they had forty days to make changes or the city would be destroyed. The people of the city responded, and the Book of Jonah closes with God clarifying to Jonah His compassion for the city's 120,000 people.
This “sign of Jonah” illustrates Jesus' role as well. Jesus is being sent by the Supreme Being to save the people of Israel. He was sent with a message. And what is that message? The same message that Jonah delivered, and the same message our current "wicked" generation needs to hear: That we need to return to our loving service relationship with our Best Friend and Savior, the Supreme Being.
This is our innate position. This is why we were created. What makes for a “wicked” society is turning away from this relationship and rejecting the Supreme Being. Deciding that our own enjoyment is more important than our relationship with the Supreme Being produces the downfall of individuals and societies of made up of like-minded individuals.
Why should we return to our relationship with God? Is it that God is simply an angry ruler that wants to force Himself upon us? No. If He wanted to force Himself, He could surely make each of us bow down and serve Him. Rather,He simply wants our love and worship to be given freely on a voluntary basis. He wants us to decide we want to serve Him.
So how can the threat of destruction help us? It must be remembered that these physical bodies are temporary. They are not us: We are the living spirit-person within this physical body and when the body dies we live on.
What happens to our temporary physical bodies might be compared to a dream. We might dream we fall and die but then we wake up. We look back at the dream and realize that it was just a lesson. A teaching moment for us to ponder the meaning of. The same goes with the physical events that happen to our temporary physical bodies. Within the illusory nature of the temporary physical body and the seeming pleasures of the physical world, the Supreme Being has designed lesson plans in an attempt to wake us up.
If God did not provide some calamities, how would we ever be able to wake up? The Supreme Being doesn't want us to continue to suffer - being empty and lonely - forever. He wants us to return to Him. So He designed the physical world with plenty of calamity to provide us an incentive to get out. Otherwise, we'd be stuck here in hell forever.
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)