John 2:18–19 (MEV): Then the Jews said to Him, “What sign do You show us, seeing that You do these things?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
We arrive upon this seen after Jesus has just cleared the outer temple courts by means of a whip. He forcefully removed the merchandising trade that was happening in the place for worship. This outer court was the place for Gentiles to come and worship. Having trade in that space displaced the Gentiles and prevented them from drawing near to God.
This bit of intrigue draws that attention of the religious authorities of the day. They obviously understand Jesus acts with authority. They want to identify that authority. It provoked them to question Jesus. It wasn’t about the origins of the authority, as that is silently assumed by the question. They wanted a sign from God to prove the godly authority Jesus used was indeed from God.
Signs and Belief
As we read a bit further, it’s clear how the signs Jesus did provoked a response of belief. The direct relation between belief and signs is evident.
John 2:23 (MEV): Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.
John 3:2 (MEV): He came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
The signs Jesus did were the assurance to some of the people that He was from God. Jesus even spoke of the necessity of this people to see signs.
John 4:48 (MEV): Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
In other words, by what sign will you prove yourself?
One can read on in the book of John. And as recorded in that book, a similar question was posed to Jesus a bit later in His ministry.
John 6:30 (MEV): Therefore they said to Him, “What sign do You show then, that we may see and believe You? What work will You perform?
Here, the unbelieving religious folk ask for a sign. For them, seeing a sign would allegedly let them believe the words of Jesus. (Remember how Paul spoke of the foolishness of preaching?)
The folks asking for a sign here have already been witnesses to one. Jesus fed them from a few loaves and fishes. They ate their fill as they witnessed the sign. Yet they are wanting a sign. As it would be recorded, the very next line from these folks should have reminded them of what they experienced. They were fed bread in the wilderness from the Father.
John 6:31 (MEV): Our fathers ate manna in the desert. As it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus did not directly answer this question. At least not in the forthright manner He did when it was first posed. He did point them to the bread perhaps hoping they might remember the sign that filled their bellies the day before.
In Three Days
That is the key. When Jesus directly answered the question, it was always to draw attention to the end of His life… His death, burial and resurrection. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
It’s a simple answer.
We know from other Gospels this is the sign of Jonah. John never referenced the prophet Jonah in his writings. I find the absence interesting.
It is my opinion that the Gospel of John is the Gospel written primarily for the Gentile mind. Mind you, the context is very Jewish-centric of necessity. But things are written in a way for an outsider to understand.
In the same way, the prophet Jonah was sent to a Gentile city, Nineveh. It was to these people that he ministered. When the prophet entered the city, he proclaimed the coming judgment. It is that foolishness of preaching. He didn’t use any signs. These Gentiles believed him. They repented, and God relented.
The other Gospel writers recorded similar demands for signs to Jesus. In every answer, Jesus again pointed to His death, burial and resurrection. Except it always included a reference to the sign of Jonah.
Matthew 12:38–42 (MEV): Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from You.”
But He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man 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 will condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. And now One greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and will condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. And now One greater than Solomon is here.
Matthew 16:1–4 (MEV): The Pharisees and Sadducees came and, testing Him, asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.
He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and overcast.’ O you hypocrites, you can discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” So He left them and departed.
Even those that had the benefit of witnessing the miracles of Jesus firsthand didn’t believe. Though some did because of the other signs. And some did because of the preaching. Some wouldn’t believe even if someone came back from the dead.
Jesus did arise from death after three days in the grave. It is the sign He pointed all toward. He gave what they asked.
Jesus was highlighting the one thing that saves, His being raised up after death. It wasn’t immediate, but His body was three days in the grave. Yet He lives today.
It’s because He lives that any of us could be saved. And being saved is as easy as believing the witness Jesus gave and highlighted, the sign of Jonah.
He died for your sins. He was buried and He rose again to give you new life.
Do you believe that?
If so, tell someone.