THE SIGN OF JONAH:
A MUSLIM CONNUNDRUM
Answering Muslim Objections to the Resurrection
"Some of the Torah-teachers said, 'Rabbi, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.' He replied, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign. No, none will be given to it but the sign of the prophet Yonah (Jonah). For just as Yonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea-monster (whale), so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the depths of the earth" (Matt.12:38-40, JNT; Jonah 1:7).
According to Muslim critics of the resurrection of Yah'shua (Jesus) the Messiah, this sign given by Yah'shua (Jesus) -- the sign of Jonah -- proves that Yah'shua (Jesus) did not die and was not resurrected. Why not? Because Jonah did not die! Just as Yah'shua (Jesus) lay in the tomb, apparently dead to the outside world, so too did Jonah lie in the whale (sea-monster) "apparently dead" to those who had cast him off the ship. Just as Jonah was spat out of the whale still alive, so also did the tomb "spit out" Yah'shua (Jesus) still alive. Thus, the Muslim says, Yah'shua (Jesus) prophesies in a clear and unmistakable way of what is going to happen to Him -- He will appear to be swallowed up in death but after three days emerge alive -- not resurrected (because Jonah's mortal state did not alter) but the same revived, mortal person who was put on the cross.
Muslims claim that Yah'shua (Jesus) was crucified but did not die and that He Himself testified of this using the sign of Jonah. They say that he resuscitated, that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb not to anoint a dead body but to massage it back to life. They say that Yah'shua (Jesus) told her not to touch Him because He was still in pain, and that the expression, "I have not yet ascended unto My Father" given in explanation is but a Jewish idiom meaning, "I'm not dead yet!"
I do not propose to examine the medical objections to such a theory because I believe this has already been done more than satisfactorily by others more qualified than I. Rather, I wish to examine the prophetic side of this controversy. Why did Yah'shua (Jesus) give the "sign of Jonah"? Does this sign not seemingly support the Muslim claim that Yah'shua (Jesus) never died or was resurrected at the time the Bible indicates? For as you may know, the Muslims have a tradition that Yah'shua (Jesus) died in old age in Srinagar, Kashmir, north India, where His alleged tomb lies to this day.
I have to admit that when I first heard this Muslim objection to a physical resurrection apparently coming out the mouth of Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself, about two years ago, I had no answer. I just shelved this as one of those "unanswerable questions". Yesterday one of my colleagues in the ministry telephoned me to say that this challenge had been given him by a Muslim in Oslo who had told him that if he could answer this question that he would embrace the Christian faith.
I recalled the impasse I had experienced two years ago when I had listened to a tape-recorded debate between American evangelist Josh MacDowell and a prominent Muslim debater from South Africa. MacDowell's opponent set forth the sign of Jonah as an objection to the resurrection. At that time I only had one of the two tapes of the debate which I had by chance picked up in a flea market in England and therefore only knew the Muslim's point-of-view. I thereafter wrote to MacDowell keen to get his second tape and hear his rebuttal. Though MacDowell's defence of the faith was brilliant he did not answer the "Jonah Question" which left me frustrated. So when Brother Rustad called me from Oslo I knew the time had arrived to answer this question. I listened to MacDowell's tape again, at least up to the point where his opponent raised the Jonah question, and then turned the cassette player off. I determined to go back to the Biblical account and see what it said.
The moment I opened the passage in Matthew 12:38, the Ruach (Spirit) gave me the answer which for two years had eluded me: "Rabbi, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." He replied, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign? No, none will be given to it but the sign of the prophet Yonah." Can you see it? It is written plainly in black-and-white. Let me re-state Yah'shua's (Jesus') words slightly differently and then perhaps you will also see:
"'Rabbi, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.' He replied, "The only sign I am giving this wicked and adulterous generation is the sign of the prophet Jonah.'" Notice that this was not the sign given to believers but to the sign-seekers -- the "wicked and adulterous generation." The sign of Jonah is for the wicked and adulterous! And what are the wicked and adulterous going to conclude from it? That Yah'shua (Jesus) was not resurrected! What do the wicked and adulterous conclude about Yah'shua (Jesus)' resurrection today? That it never happened. Is that not what the unbelievers in Yah'shua (Jesus's) day concluded -- the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes (Torah-teachers)? Yes it was. Who are the modern-day "Torah-teachers"? Atheists, liberal "Christians", New Agers, Muslims and others who deny that Yah'shua (Jesus) was ever resurrected. For them Yah'shua (Jesus) will be as Jonah -- a mere man. A prophet, a holy man, a teacher of wisdom -- yes -- for Yah'shua (Jesus) is all of these things to the category of people I have named -- but as the resurrected Son of Elohim (God)? No! Yah'shua (Jesus) gives signs commensurate with peoples' faith. To true Christians who acknowledge His deity and resurrection, other signs are given. To those who will believe He was just a sage, or a prophet, or a teacher of goodness, only the sign of Jonah is given.
Were this to be the only evidence of Yah'shua (Jesus)' dealing with unbelievers we might perhaps have a small element of doubt but the Master speaks in similar ways to unbelievers. Do you remember when the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection and the life hereafter, posed Yah'shua (Jesus) a difficult question about the Law of Levirate? They cite the case of a woman whose husband dies without leaving an heir. According to the Law of Levirate the man's brother is required to marry her to raise up seed to inherit his land and property. So she marries her husband's brother. But he dies, so she marries his third brother, and so on, until she has been married to all seven, none of whom leave her an heir. She finally dies. The Sadducees ask: "At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?" (Mark 12:18-27). Now Yah'shua (Jesus)' reply has been used by Christians in the same way that logically they should have used the reply given to the Torah-teachers about the Sign of Jonah. For Yah'shua (Jesus) said: "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of Elohim (God)? When the dead rise, they will neither marry not be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising -- have you not read the Book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how Elohim (God) said to him, 'I am the Elohim (God) of Abraham, the Elohim (God) of Isaac, and the Elohim (God) of Jacob'? He is not the Elohim (God) of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" (v.24-26, NIV).
Do you see the parallel? Who are the dead here? The Sadducees, for they are spiritually dead. "He is not the Elohim (God) of the dead, but of the living." As in so many other places, Yah'shua (Jesus) is playing on words -- here "dead" first meaning those who are dead in the flesh and then those who are dead in the spirit (see Matt.8:22; Lk.9:60). Christians have universally, with few exceptions, interpreted this passage to mean that marriage ceases after death, but that is not what Yah'shua (Jesus) says at all. He says that marriage ceases for those who, like the Sadducees, who deny the resurrection, are spiritually dead. They, and all those who deny the resurrection, will become angels -- servants of the sons and daughters of Elohim (God) who are to become a "kingdom of priests to serve Elohim (God) the Father" (Rev.1:6; 5:10; 20:6). Therefore those who deny the resurrection, will be come angels or servants of those who do not.
The objections raised by Muslims to supposed inconsistencies concerning the resurrection of Yah'shua (Jesus) and of man in the Bible are easily explained. More importantly, the resurrection is amply attested to in other scriptures by many "infallible proofs" (Ac.1:3, KJV).
Unfortunately for our friend who promised he would become a Christian if we could explain the Sign of Jonah, this is not the way into the Kingdom. He must accept the resurrection in faith and then he will be shown the truth, as we who have met Yah'shua (Jesus) have been. Then, and only then, will the Ruach (Spirit) reveal the solution to the apparent 'inconsistencies' in the Gospels.
The Bible will only reveal its mysteries to those who believe. It is not amenable to scientific dissection if the aim is to discredit it. The Sign of Jonah should be a warning to everyone who doubts; for they who doubt will only be given signs to establish them in their doubts (Jn.4:48; 12:37).
For those of us who were not eye-witnesses to the resurrection we have the testimony of thousands who were. What, then, shall we do? Shall we wait for the Master to rebuke us on the Day of Judgement for our "lack of faith and ... stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen" (Mark 16:14) and "stand condemned" (Jn.3:18) or accept in faith and make an effort to obtain the praise that comes from Elohim (God) (Jn.5:44)?
"The work of Elohim (God) is this: to believe in the One He has sent"
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 30 January 2011
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