4. No Sign but the Sign of Jonah
According to both the Qur'an and the Bible, Jesus performed many signs and wonders among the people of Israel (Surah al-Ma'ida 5:110, Acts 2:22). Even though they could not deny these works (John 11:47), they nevertheless refused to believe in him and that right to the very end of his course. As he was completing his ministry we read of their response to all that he had done among them:
Time and again we read that the Jews came to him seeking signs (Matthew 12:38) and on one occasion they expressly asked him to actually show them a sign from heaven itself (Matthew 16:1). On other occasions they taxed him with questions like these:
While the Greeks of that age were primarily philosophers, the Jews wanted every claim proved by the ability to do and perform signs. As the Apostle Paul rightly said in one of his letters:
The Jews knew full well that Jesus was, in his own way, claiming to be the Messiah. If so, they reasoned, he must do signs to prove his claim. Although he had already done many great signs, they still were not satisfied. They had seen him feed up to five thousand men with only five barley loaves and two fishes (Luke 9:10-17) but they reasoned that Moses had done similar miracles (John 6:31). In what way could he prove that he really was the chosen Messiah, they reasoned? What sign could he do to show them that he was greater than Moses?
In those days people were not readily persuaded by great signs. When Moses turned his rod into a serpent, Pharaoh's magicians did likewise. They also emulated his feat of turning water into blood and bringing swarms of frogs from the Nile. It was only when Moses brought out thousands of gnats from the dust that the magicians conceded: “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19), for they were finally unable to do likewise. So also the Jews were only prepared to consider Jesus' claims when he could outdo the signs of the prophets of old. They saw him feed five thousand men and heal lepers and men born blind; raise up paralytics, cast out demons; and ultimately raise a man from the dead even though the man had already been dead for four days. They conceded these miracles.
All this did not satisfy them, however, for other prophets had performed similar miracles. What sign did Jesus have for them which outweighed them all? Surely if he was the Messiah he could do greater things than these? Why, Moses gave their forefathers bread from heaven to eat. As it was predicted of the Messiah that he would do similar signs (Deuteronomy 18:18, 34:10-11), they therefore came to Jesus eventually and “asked him to show them a sign from heaven” (Matthew 16:1). Jesus absorbed their earnest quests for signs and said to them:
They wanted a sign that would prove beyond all shadow of doubt that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Here Jesus gave them a clear answer and set before them just one sign by which they could be assured of his claims, namely, the Sign of Jonah. Although we have mentioned it already, it will be useful at this point to refer to it once again:
Here Jesus quite plainly outlined the proof of his claims. Jonah had been three days and three nights in the stomach of the fish. Not only was this a sign to Nineveh, it also prefigured the sign Jesus was to be for his people and not for them alone but for all people in all ages. He would be in the “heart of the earth” for a similar period. What did this mean? Would he be dead? Why would he be there three days? Assuredly the Jews must have been very perplexed about this claim, but every time they asked Jesus for a sign, he promised them no other sign but the Sign of Jonah. During one incident with them he plainly told them its meaning.