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The Resurrection of Jesus and the Sign of Jonah

by Brant Pitre November 12, 2018 0 Comments



Why do the first Christians believe that Jesus was raised?

There were three major reasons that the early Christians, who were all Jewish Christians remember, gave for believing the Resurrection. First, the empty tomb. All four Gospels tell us that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea after his death and that when they went back on Sunday morning, because they had to rest for Saturday, Saturday was the Sabbath so they couldn’t do anything to the body on Saturday, so they wait for dawn on Sunday morning, they go back on Sunday morning, and what do they find? The tomb is empty. That's the first sign of the Resurrection, that is the first motive of credibility. The tomb is empty. That’s the first sign of the Resurrection, it’s the first motive of credibility for the Resurrection. Now, it's necessary for the tomb to be empty, but it’s not a sufficient reason because the tomb could get emptied in other ways, right. I mean somebody could have stolen the body — even though that was impossible because it was guarded by a Roman guard, soldiers, and the penalty in Rome for falling asleep on guard duty was execution. So you don’t fall asleep at the post if you’re a Roman soldier because they’ll put you to death immediately. So the empty tomb is not enough, there had to be another reason.

The second reason for believing the Resurrection was the appearances of the risen Jesus. So again we have multiple accounts: Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20-21 and 1 Corinthians 15, that tell us that Jesus appeared to Peter, Jesus appeared to James and John, he appeared to Mary Magdalene, he appeared to the 11 apostles, he appears to Thomas, he appears to 500 brethren, 500 Christians at one time, St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. So we have all these appearances of Jesus which was really the major motivation for thinking oh wow, he’s back, right. He is alive again. He’s raised from the dead.

Now the third reason though is the one I want to focus on as we wrap up here with the presentation, and it is the fulfillment of Scripture. Now this is one that modern-day Christians don't usually make. A lot of times when you hear contemporary Christian apologists saying why they believe in the Resurrection, well they’ll say things like this: the apostles believed in the Resurrection so fervently that they preached it throughout the Roman Empire and they gave their lives for the sake of the Resurrection, so we should believe it too. Like in other words, the argument is why would they have died for what they knew to be a lie. Does that make sense? Now that's a good argument but it's got a couple of problems. Number one, that’s not the way they argued for the Resurrection, right. In other words, there’s kind of a disconnect. The ancient Christians didn't say you should really believe Peter because he’s so zealous for it, because people can be zealous for things that are actually wrong. Like there are people who give their lives today in the service of radical terrorism that are sincere, but they’re sincerely wrong. So that’s a subjective argument but there’s also an objective argument for Jesus’ Resurrection, and it’s that his Resurrection was the fulfillment of Scriptures.

If you look in 1 Corinthians 15, Luke 24, and John 20, over and over again in the New Testament it says Jesus died and was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. So as soon as you see that you have to ask yourself, what scriptures? And then you run into a problem, because if you go to the Old Testament there isn't any prophecy of Isaiah or Jeremiah or Daniel that says the Messiah will be raised on the third day. It doesn't exist, there isn’t a prophecy. Yet all the New Testament writers, not all of them but many of them, are saying Jesus was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. So what Scriptures are they referring to? Well there’s only one Scripture in the Old Testament that links with this, and it’s not a predictive prophecy like we would normally think, it's a story from the Book of Jonah. Jesus links his Resurrection only one time with the Old Testament. It's in his famous account of the Sign of Jonah. So I know you probably heard this saying of Jesus before at mass but bear with me and let’s listen to it again. Watch what happens. Remember, the Pharisees come to Jesus and they say hey, if you’re the Messiah prove it, like give us some proof here, give us some evidence, perform a sign. And how does Jesus respond? He’s very nice to them. He calls them wicked and adulterous. He says:

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall 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 whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:38-41)

Alright, so what’s Jesus doing? He’s alluding to the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament and he’s drawing two analogies. He’s saying just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights so will the Son of Man, now you know what that means right, it’s that himself as Messiah will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. Then he says and the men of Nineveh — Nineveh was the great pagan city and the capital of Assyria that Jonah went to and preached to and they all converted — and he says the men of Nineveh are going to rise up at the judgment and they’re going to condemn this generation because they repented when Jonah preached to them, but something greater than Jonah is here. Namely what? Himself. That's Jesus’ one allusion to the three days of the Old Testament prophecy of the Resurrection.

Now I'll be honest with you, for a long time when I read this prophecy I kinda went away not all that impressed. Like with all due respect Jesus, I get it three days, three nights, but it’s kind of a weak analogy for the Resurrection. And also, to lots of people the story of Jonah is so unbelievable. I mean how can a man live in the belly of the fish for three days with no air, no water, no food. It just sounds like Pinocchio, right. You all have the Pinocchio image, right, the Disney movie. It sounds more like folklore or fairytale. And so most people don’t think of the Sign of Jonah when they think about Jesus’ Resurrection. But then one day I went back and actually read the Book of Jonah, and I looked at it in Hebrew and something leapt out at me. Namely this, if you read the Book of Jonah very carefully you will see Jonah is not alive, he’s dead. It says it. Is Jonah alive for three days? Jonah 1 says this:

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying…

Here’s the key. Everyone skips the prayer, watch the prayer.

“I called to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried... I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God.

Now pause there. In the Old Testament what is Sheol and the Pit? What are those names for? It’s names for the realm of the of the dead. So where does Jonah go? Where does he cry out to the Lord? From the realm of the dead. If you have any doubts look at the next line.

When my soul fainted within me…

Literally in Hebrew that’s the nephesh, right, same word we use for soul, his life. In other words, when I died, when my soul expired.

I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to thee, into thy holy temple.

So in his dying breath Jonah begs God for mercy. He cries out to the Lord and the Lord responds.

And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

So what does it vomit out? I would suggest to you that it vomits out Jonah's corpse.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise,”

Same word in Hebrew, the word is cum. Remember when Jesus goes to the little girl, what does he say? Tal’itha cu’mi. Little girl what? Arise.

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” (Jonah 1:17-3:1)

This time Jonah does it, right. I’m not going through that again, okay. So he gets up, he goes to Nineveh, he preaches to the city and the whole city repents. This is the capital of Assyria. These guys are pagans. They are wicked. The Book of Jonah says they don't know their right hand from their left. In other words, they’re so immoral they don't know what's good and what's bad. They don't know what's up and what’s down. They’re completely, completely lost. And yet when Jonah preaches the word to them every single one of them repents, from the pagan king all the way down to the pagan servant at the bottom of the totem pole, everyone in the whole city. It's a miracle that they all repent.

So with that in mind, now that you’ve got the Old Testament, go back to Jesus’ words: no sign will be given to this generation except the sign of the prophet Jonah. So what is Jesus saying? Just as Jonah died and went to Sheol, there's your connection to the Creed by the way. Why do we say Jesus descended into hell? Because hell is the Greek translation, Hades, of the Hebrew word Sheol. It doesn’t mean Jesus was damned, it means he descended to the realm of the dead. He was really dead. His soul and his body separated. His soul went into the realm of the dead. So he descends to the realm of the dead for three days and then on the third day he is raised. And then what does he do? He does exactly what Jonah does. He sends his apostles and he says go forth to all the nations, to the pagans. Teach them everything I told you, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. And guess what happens? Not just one pagan city converts, but all the pagan cities. Within two centuries the entire Roman empire is converting. Millions and millions and millions of pagans, who for centuries had worshiped idols and false gods and demonic spirits and temples to this goddess and that god, all that collapsed. One by one they all become Christians and they all start to worship not just Christ, but the God of the Jews that they had despised.

So what is the Sign of Jonah? It’s not just a miracle of the Resurrection, it's the miracle of the conversion of the pagans. And you don’t have to take my word for it. You can go back to the early church fathers, last quote here, these ancient Christians. When ancient Christians would argue that Jesus was the Messiah, one of the main things they would love to point out was look around, the whole world is converting to worship the God of Israel. This is what he said. This is from Eusebius, he was a Fourth Century church historian, and look what he says. There’s a lot more than this. This is in his book The Proof of the Gospel:

Behold how today, yes, in our own times, our eyes see not only Egyptians, but every race of men who used to be idolaters . . . released from the errors of polytheism and the demons, and calling on the God of the prophets! . . . Yes, in our own time the knowledge of the Omnipotent God shines forth and sets a seal of certainty on the forecasts of the prophets. You see this actually going on, you no longer only expect to hear of it, and if you ask the moment when the change began, for all your inquiry you will receive no other answer but the moment of the appearance of the Savior. . . . And who would not be

struck by the extraordinary change—that men who for ages have paid divine honor to wood and stone and demons, wild beasts that feed on human flesh, poisonous reptiles, animals of every kinds, repulsive monsters, fire and earth, and the lifeless elements of the universe should after our Savior’s coming pray to the Most High God, Creator of Heaven and earth, the actual Lord of the prophets, and the God of Abraham and his forefathers? (Eusebius of Caesarea, The Proof of the Gospel, 1.6.20–21)

Wow. How do you explain it? And look around everybody, they’re still converting today. The nations are still converting. If you look at what’s going on in Africa, what’s going on in Asia right now, and if you look at what’s going on even where there is terrorism and martyrdoms of Christians, the blood of those martyrs is the seed of the church. People are converting by the millions, by the tens of millions, to Christianity to this day. How do you explain that? How do you explain that if you’re just an atheist, if you’re an atheist or an agnostic? Is that just a coincidence that it just so happened that the Prophet said that the nations of the world would come to worship the God of Israel, and they just so happen to all throw their idols away and begin to worship the God of Israel at the time immediately following the death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Is that a coincidence? I think it’d take a lot more faith to believe that. That’s more of a miracle than just believing that Jesus was who he said he was, and that the Gospel is true, and that Christ really is not just the Messiah but the divine Son of God. So at the end of the day when we look at the evidence, when we look at the biblical and the historical evidence, we still have to answer the question, who do you say that I am?

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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