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The Sign of Jonah: Three Principles of Divine Judgment
Luke 11:29-36
Sunday Morning, October 18, 2020
I am convinced by the context that in these verses in Luke’s gospel, the Lord Jesus is serving a warning to the people in the crowd about the upcoming judgment. In Luke 11:16, some of the people demanded from Jesus a sign from heaven. In verse twenty-nine Jesus tells them that it “is a wicked generation that seeks for a sign.” Furthermore, in verse thirty-one, Jesus tells them that the Queen of the South will rise up in “judgment and condemn” people. In verse thirty-two, it is the people of Nineveh who will rise and judge the people of that generation.

The final judgment is not a pleasant subject. People in our day shy away from discussion of a final judgment be-fore God, although I think people intuitively know they must stand in judgment and give an account to God. There are some in our day who complain about the perception of God being a God of anger and judgment, prefer-ring a God of love and forgiveness. I believe the Bible presents God as being a God of love, forgiveness, judgment and wrath.

We know a final judgment is coming because God reveals that judgment in His Word. We find in Revelation 20:11-15 a clear and sober description of our future day of judgment and accountability as we all stand before a just and holy God.

11Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

The Bible tells us that the final judgment takes place before a great white throne and that God Himself will be the judge. There are several books mentioned in which are recorded all of the deeds each and every human being has done and they become the basis for judgment. We are told that every person from all of history must stand before God at this judgment. The result of the judgment is that the condemned will be thrown into their eternal state of punishment in a place called “the lake of fire.”

What is of most interest to me is that the criterion for judgment is whether or not a person’s name is written in the book of life. This book is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments and is also known as the Lamb’s book of life. It is here that a person’s name is written the moment they receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is a decision that requires commitment to Christ. It requires a recognition that only Jesus Christ can save and that all human efforts and religion are futile and useless. The greatest and most important question every person must ask is, “Is my name written in the book of life?”

In our text today, Jesus will call upon two Old Testament examples to point out the reality of judgment for the lack of faith. He will call upon the people of the great Assyrian city of Nineveh to whom the Lord sent the prophet Jonah to warn about judgment. Then He will refer to the Queen of the South who is also known as the Queen of Sheba. She is remembered for her willingness to spare no expense to discover God’s wisdom. Then the Lord will use the metaphors of light and darkness to call people to trust in Him. Jesus is the Light of the world and apart from Him all else is darkness. Let us begin with the sign of Jonah.


A Wicked Generation. While no specific time is marked in these verses, it seems best to see that verse twenty-nine follows the events of the preceding verses. For that reason, the “crowds that were increasing” are the same crowds we saw in verse fourteen that were present when Jesus cast out the demon from the mute man and he be-gan to speak. In other words, the crowds were increasing because the word went out that Jesus had performed a miracle and more people arrived to see if He would perform another.

We remember that one of the responses to Jesus’ miracle were the skeptics who (in verse sixteen) refused to believe that Jesus was the promised God-Messiah and demanded a sign from heaven. Jesus identified these skeptics as a “wicked generation.” By that He meant the people of Israel of His day who had witnessed hundreds of supernatural miracles and heard Jesus’ divine teaching and still refused to be persuaded that Jesus was God. Nothing He did convinced them and for that reason they remained in their sins.

Jesus uses the word “generation” to refer to the majority of people at that time. He was now traveling through Judea and what was true of the unbelieving Galileans was true of the Judeans. They were wicked because while they outwardly appeared to be righteous, their response to Jesus showed they were filled with wickedness. These people were not misled or ignorant; they were wicked–intentionally wicked. In seeking a sign from heaven, they were seeking something other than Jesus.

The Sign of Jonah. What exactly is the “sign of Jonah” to which Jesus here refers? I am sure you remember Jonah’s story. God called the prophet Jonah to travel to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh to warn them to repent from the Lord’s coming judgment. Jonah hated Nineveh and chose not to go and instead tried to sail to Tarshish. A great storm arose and Jonah was tossed overboard where he was swallowed by a great sea creature. After three days in the creature’s stomach, he was indelicately deposited on the shore and then went and preached to the Ninevites, who after hearing Jonah’s message, repented and God then chose to delay His judgment.

The “sign of Jonah” also appears in Matthew’s gospel. There, Jesus mentions the three days and three nights Jonah spent in belly of the sea monster and then says that “so will the Son of Man spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” clearly referring to His resurrection. Matthew focused on Jesus resurrection as being part of the sign to that generation.

However, Luke does not mention Jesus’ resurrection, but instead focuses on that generation’s coming condemnation for their refusal to repent. Luke uses a comparison between the people of Nineveh in Jonah’s day and the people of Israel in Jesus’ day. The only thing they had in common is the hearing of God’s message. Jonah preached God’s truth to Nineveh and Jesus preached God’s truth to the people of Israel.

The Judgment of the People of Nineveh. Jesus informs us that the people of Nineveh will stand up and condemn that wicked generation. This is incredible information! What Jesus has just told us is that those people from ancient Nineveh who repented at Jonah’s preached and accepted God’s Word will be raised from the dead and be gathered around God’s throne at the judgment and be witnesses against all those people of Jesus’ day who heard God’s Word and rejected it. These two groups of people, separated by hundreds of years of history, will face each other. One will be justified by faith and the other condemned for eternity.

The people of Nineveh were justified because they believed God’s Word. But they did more than that–they turned from their wicked ways. In other words, they repented. God’s truth led them to action. These people had no covenant relationship with God as did Israel. Yet, when they heard God’s truth, they turned to Him by the hundreds and thousands. This stands in stark contrast to Israel of Jesus day who refused to repent.

Present before the people of Israel was the Son of God–One who was greater than Jonah. Jonah went to Nineveh to preach the city’s destruction, while Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Jonah performed no miracles in Nineveh, while Jesus performed countless miracles throughout Israel. Yet the pagan Gentiles of Nineveh repented and turned to the Lord while Israel of Jesus’ day rejected and turned away. They will stand in judgment and be condemned for hearing the message of salvation in Jesus Christ and rejecting Him.


The Queen of the South. To understand Jesus’ reference to the Queen of the South, we must look to the Old Testament book of First Kings. In chapter one, Solomon is anointed as king as the successor of King David. By chapter four, Solomon has become the wisest, wealthiest and most powerful king Israel ever knew and Israel prospered under his administration. In chapter eight, after years of construction, Israel’s beautiful new temple was completed and dedicated.

The Bible tells us that at the temple’s dedication that hundreds of singers joined together with one voice to praise and glorify the Lord. As they sang, they were accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments of music. They sang, “Praise the Lord for He is good and His lovingkindness is everlasting. At that moment, the temple was filled with the cloud of the glory of God, showing His approval for the temple and for the devotion of the people in worshiping the living God.

From the Ends of the Earth. The person Jesus called the Queen of the South, comes to visit King Solomon in First Kings chapter 10, and is there called the Queen of Sheba. Bible scholars tell us that Sheba was the ancient name of a place on the Arabian Peninsula in the area of modern Yemen. The journey from her country to Israel was over 1,000 miles and in those days, could have taken months of travel. We are told she traveled to Jerusalem with a very large entourage and much wealth just to see and hear King Solomon.

She evidently had a long list of questions for the King. Solomon carefully answered every question in detail and provided solutions for all her problems. The Queen said, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard. How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom.” (1 Kings 10:6-8) As part of her discovery, the Queen also came to faith in the Lord. She said, “Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9)

Something Greater Than Solomon. Amazingly, this pagan woman, who came seeking wisdom, found the truth that the Lord is God and she believed in Him. She heard Solomon’s wisdom and discovered much more. The people of Jesus’ day heard wisdom from One infinitely greater that Solomon. The Lord Jesus was full of grace and truth and for a time, those people had the greatest resource of wisdom that ever walked on earth. Yet the majority of them rejected His wisdom and His truth. They rejected Him. For that reason, the Queen of the South will be resurrected with the righteous and as that generation of Israel stands in judgment, she will condemn it. She sought wisdom and found it. Jesus Christ sought them and they rejected Him.


The Potential of Seeing the Light. God created light on the first day of creation. He also separated the light from the darkness. Since we average half of our days in light and half in darkness, people have always found ways to bring some form of light into the darkness of night. In Jesus’ time and place, people normally used oil lamps to provide light. In a simple illustration, Jesus says that lamps are lit to be displayed and to give light–not to be concealed. People need to see the light.

Clearly, Jesus is not speaking of oil lamps but of spiritual light. The Lord gives light through the Word of God. We are told, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) As the light from a lamp illuminated a person’s path at night, so the Bible brings God’s light on the way we live. Jesus is the Source of Light. John 1:9 tells us, “There was the true Light which coming into the world, enlightens every man.” The Lord Jesus reveals His light through the Word of God. The One who is Light shines the Light through His Word.

The Problem of Light and Darkness. The problem is that although the light is present, some people cannot see it. The problem is not lack of light but lack of sight. The Light came to the people but the spiritually blind refused to see it. Israel rejected the Light. Those who were spiritually blind were responsible for their own blindness. We are told in John 3:19-20, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

In fact, because they refused to accept Christ and worship Him that they descended into deeper darkness. Listen to Romans 1:21, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they be-came futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” The problem of the people in the crowd whom Jesus addressed was that they had rejected the Light. Light accepted brings more light. Light rejected only brings darkness. The skeptics in the crowd who sought for a sign only descended into greater darkness because they rejected the Light who is Jesus Christ.

The Priceless Joy of Living in the Light. There is a special promise in verse thirty-six: The light of God’s truth brings increasing illumination. For those who are willing to repent and receive Jesus as Savior, God brings spiritual illumination. The person who is full of light and wholly illumined is a person who is walking in the light. They are able to receive wisdom and knowledge from the Word and are guided by its teaching. Such a person possesses an inner spiritual light that does not require signs. Ephesians 5:8-13 reveals what it means to walk as children of Light. The people in the crowd were a wicked generation because they rejected the Light and therefore lived in darkness.

What a tragedy! These people actually had Jesus Christ, the Light of the world; the God-Man right there in person with them and many still departed in darkness. Because they failed to listen to the message of salvation in Christ, they remained in spiritual blindness. These verses have shown us that there is no natural, inner light in any person. Light comes only from God, while Satan is responsible for spiritual darkness. People have no power to expel spiritual darkness on their own. They must turn to Jesus Christ, the true Light, the source of power and light to drive out the darkness.

Are you walking in the Light as Jesus is in the Light? As believers, we are Light in the Lord and we must allow the light of the Lord Jesus shine through us, in our thoughts, attitudes, actions, and habits. Let His light shine in you.

Judgment is coming. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Remember, no person is too great a sinner that God’s love and grace cannot redeem them. Jesus died so that we could receive eternal salvation simply by believing in Him. Will you call upon the Lord today? Will you ask Him to forgive your sins and give you His great salvation?

Updated by Pastor Vernon Welkner, 10/19/2020