The Sign ff Jonah: Jesus in the Heart of the Earth -- By: Michael W. Andrews

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 61:1 (Mar 2018)
Article: The Sign ff Jonah: Jesus in the Heart of the Earth
Author: Michael W. Andrews

The Sign ff Jonah:
Jesus in the Heart of the Earth

Michael W. Andrews*

* Michael Andrews is director of adult education at Holland Park Church, 1131 Holland Road, Simpsonville, SC 29681. He may be contacted at

Abstract: Jesus associated himself with the “sign of Jonah” on multiple occasions in response to Jewish leaders demanding that he prove his authority. Possible explanations of the sign are examined here with an emphasis on Jesus’s statement that he would be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40). A close reading of Jonah 2 reveals that Jesus was describing himself as one who must suffer, but that he was depending upon his Father to rescue him from his descent into death. Unlike traditional explanations which assume that the statement must be restricted to the specific period that Jesus was in the tomb, this approach suggests that Jesus’s descent began in the Garden of Gethsemane before he died.

Key words: sign of Jonah, death, suffering, temple, heart of the earth, three days and three nights


What sort of action could Jesus perform that would prove his identity? He healed people and cast out demons; yet the Pharisees and teachers of the law were not convinced. They even suggested that Jesus was using demonic power against the demons. They demanded a “sign” that would remove all doubt (Matt 12:38; 16:1; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; cf. John 2:18; 6:30), but Jesus knew that no miracle would be enough to persuade those who did not believe. Therefore, he refused to accept the challenge. In some of the Synoptic accounts, Jesus instead identified with an unlikely prophet—Jonah—and claimed that the similarity between the two of them would be all that he would offer. According to Matthew’s first account, Jesus suggested that he too would be swallowed up for “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40). This statement will be the main focus of the discussion here, but it must be understood both in the context of Jesus’s comments and from the perspective of the book of Jonah. Many explanations of this sign have been offered, but few have endeavored a close reading of its primary background in the second chapter of Jonah. The key to a better understanding of Jesus’s ...

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