“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.” (Matt. 12:39-42)

This statement was given by Jesus in answer to some Pharisees who asked Jesus: “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”

Jesus responds by criticizing the society of that day, calling them “a wicked and adulterous generation.” Certainly that society is nothing compared to the wickedness of modern culture.

Jesus also makes some statements that many have interpreted to believe that Jesus is claiming that he is greater than Jonah and Solomon. This is certainly not the case. In previous statements of Jesus we find that he submitted that even John the Baptist was greater than he. What to speak of Jonah and Solomon!

This interpretation of Jesus’ statement as promoting himself is curious, because if a person is greater than another, he will simply say, "I am greater." How many people do we know will speak of themselves as the third person? If we walk into a business meeting and introduce ourselves, we will say, "my name is John Doe and I am in corporate sales." We won't say, "someone in this room is named John Doe, and someone in this room is in corporate sales" will we? Certainly not. As a matter of tradition, people speak of third parties as third parties and themselves as first parties.

The “One greater” person Jesus is referring to is God, the Supreme Person. The reason why Jesus is referred to the "One greater" is because Jesus is not God. Jesus is teaching about and representing God. God is thus present in those teachings. Both Solomon and Jonas were, just as Jesus was, humble and devoted servants of God, and certainly God was present in their teachings. None of them would claim they were better or greater than each other. They would, however, claim that God was greater than all. This is a oft-repeating proclamation of every prophet.

Now when Jesus refers to the "son of man," or correctly translated, the "servant of mankind," we know he is speaking not directly of himself either, but of an act that was to become part of his service to God. Spending three days in the "heart of the earth" after the death of Jesus' physical body was an act of service. Who was being served? God. Jesus was to serve God and all of God's children in that activity. Jesus was the perfect devoted servant, doing the will of God.

The thesis of Jesus' statement is that while people are constantly looking for signs that yield spirituality, God is sending his messengers to teach us directly. We can certainly look back into the history of the prophets and of Jesus and say that those activities certainly were signs of God's existence. The people of Nineveh, for example, heard Jonah's message from God and began to repent their ways and worship God. This was not a sign but the preaching of Jonah. Jesus was saying that even those people, who had themselves been "wicked" and repented (as Jonah's preaching convinced them to fast and pray to God) would judge the people around Jesus as "wicked". Now those people surrounding Jesus were receiving clear instructions from God through Jesus, yet they were only looking for miraculous signs instead of hearing Jesus' teachings.

In other words, they were ignoring Jesus' teachings to love and serve God, just as today this society celebrates the days of the birth and the death of Jesus physical body (as miraculous signs), yet does not celebrate or honor Jesus' teachings!

This article is republished from The Real Teachings of Jesus.