An Evil Generation Seeks a Sign

09 Jul

Resurrection - 7Luke gives us a vivid picture in Luke 11:29 of the crowd as the people began to throng Jesus (G1865 – gathering thick together); the people simply continued to add to the crowd already there after Jesus healed the mute man (Luke 11:14). It is difficult to imagine such a thing occurring in the streets of Galilee or during Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. However, it would be very easy to understand such a thing occurring in the Temple, while Jesus was at Jerusalem during one of the annual Jewish festivals, when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flocked to the city (cf. Luke 10:38).[1] On this occasion Luke tells us Jesus was involved in a fierce debate with the Jewish authorities, whom he declared were an evil generation of leaders, who sought sign after sign after sign without ever committing themselves to obey God.

While there is nothing wrong with demanding proof of Jesus’ words, the problem with the proof seekers here is that Jesus gave the proof of his words (Luke 11:14) before the skeptic asked for it, yet they wanted more. Jesus condemned them, not because they sought proof for his claims, but because they sought sign after sign, without ever acknowledging the signs in abundance that they were already given.

The skeptics wanted a sign from heaven (Luke 11:16), and Jesus responded to their request by saying the only sign he would offer them at this point was that of Jonah, the prophet. Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh (Luke 11:30). However, Luke presents an abbreviated version of the Jonah sign, if we contrast his version with that of Matthew (Matthew 12:39-40). In doing so, Luke emphasized the prospect of judgment. The Ninevites were going to be judged by God, and Jonah warned them. Similarly, Jesus warned the Jews, if they didn’t repent and believe the Gospel, they, too, would be judged (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 13:3, 5). The difference between Jonah’s hearers and those in Jesus’ day was, the Ninevites repented and were preserved, but the Jews of the first century AD didn’t repent, and they came under national judgment in 70 AD.

Nevertheless, just because Luke doesn’t mention the fact that Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, it doesn’t mean the resurrection was irrelevant to his message. On the contrary, the Jews sought after a sign but gentiles after wisdom (1Corinthians 11:22). The Ninevites understood Jonah’s message and were convicted in their hearts of their sinfulness. No Jew of Jesus’ day could have thought of the message of Jonah without remembering what had happened to him. They knew he prophesied to Nineveh through a miracle. Consequently, Jesus was saying that the heavenly sign they sought and the only one he was prepared to give would be his own resurrection. Just as Jonah rose after being three days and three nights in the grave of the belly of the great fish (Jonah 2:2), so Jesus would rise to life after being in the grave for three days and three nights.

The problem is the heavenly sign the Jewish skeptics sought, and that which Jesus was prepared to give them, would occur only after these same men killed their Messiah. The heavenly sign would come to them too late. They would no longer be able to receive Jesus as their Messiah in the same context he offered himself during his public ministry. After his resurrection, they could still receive him as Messiah, but it would be under a spiritual context. They probably would have escaped the national judgment that occurred in 70 AD, but Rome would still rule over them in the world.

At the end of the day, however, Jesus was justified in offering only the sign of Jonah in response to his critics (Luke 11:16, 29), because, when they did witness the heavenly sign Jesus offered them, they hid it, refused to acknowledge it, and paid men to suppress it (Matthew 28:11-15), proving Jesus’ words, that they were and evil and wicked generation.


[1] Martha’s home was in Bethany, less than 2 miles from Jerusalem.

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Posted by on July 9, 2017 in Gospel of Luke


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