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The Pharisees Question Jesus - James Tissot (1886-1894)

Some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law told Jesus, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

Jesus answered,

“A wicked generation asks for a sign! But none will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Just like Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

The Queen of the South will rise at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through dry places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

The Pharisees and the Saduccees Come to Tempt Jesus - James Tissot (1886-1894)While Jesus was talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, waiting to speak to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

Jesus told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Pointing to the disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

What the story means to us today

Signs are a gift, not a demand. Faith is expected from us.

The Pharisees are unable to exercise faith. They ask Jesus to produce a sign instead. Jesus had already produced many public miracles, miracles that the Pharisees accepted and believed were the result of demonic powers. A sign, however, is like a magic trick – producing fire from the sky or turning a river to blood.

On occasion, God granted signs to strengthen faith, but the Bible makes it clear that signs are a gift, not a demand. The same is true today. Signs cannot be required for belief – it would contradict the principle of faith. And the principle of faith ensures mankind requires a token of effort to attain God’s good grace.

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Additional thoughts and considerations

The men of Nineveh stand up at the judgement and condemn the Pharisees

Jesus mentions Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish and the “men of Nineveh”. This is a reference to Jonah 3:1 where Jonah warned the men of Nineveh they must denounce evil or be destroyed. The men of Nineveh were Assyrians, the enemy of God’s people, Still, they listened to Jonah, a mere man, and donned sackcloth and repented as Jonah asked. Thus, they were spared by God.

Unlike the Pharisees, the Ninevites had faith. Jesus said, when judgement is issued, the men of Nineveh, the enemy of God’s people, will be spared – but not Jesus’ contemporaries, the Pharisees, who cannot muster the faith required to accept Jesus’ New Covenant message.

The Queen of the South rises at the judgement and condemns the Pharisees

Queen of Sheba from Bellifortis by Conrad Kyeser (1405)The Queen of the South (aka, the Queen of Sheba) went to Jerusalem to marvel at Solomon’s wisdom (1 Kings 10:1). She had faith that Solomon had God-granted wisdom and travelled from “the ends of the earth” to witness it.

The Queen of Sheba accepted Solomon’s wisdom, but the Pharisees refuse to accept the wisdom of someone even greater than Solomon. Jesus tells the Pharisees that at judgement time, the Queen of the South will rise with the men of Nineveh and condemn the unbelieving generation of Jesus’ time.

The impure spirit seeking rest

Jesus tells the Pharisees, when an evil spirit leaves a person, it finds no rest. If it returns and the person is suitable for occupation, it will reenter the person with additional evil spirits that are even more wicked.

The point Jesus makes is that not only can you not disregard Jesus’ message, you cannot remain neutral either. Exorcism alone does not save a demon-possessed person – there must be something good to replace the evil that was cast out. Jesus tells the Pharisees that if they refuse to believe, they will become even more vulnerable to evil.

Why did Jesus refuse to speak to his mother and brothers?

When Jesus is told his mother and brothers are waiting outside, he responds, “Who are my brothers and sisters? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.” The event is mentioned in Mark (Mark 3:31) and Luke (Luke 8:19) too, with more background added.

The point is clear here and in other verses in the New Testament. It is a statement revealing what it really takes to be a disciple of Jesus. This should not be taken as a rejection of Jesus’ family, but rather an emphasis on the importance of spiritual family.

The science and history behind the story

Nineveh

Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day Iraq. It was the largest city in the world for about fifty years until 612 BC when it was torn apart by a civil war. Much archaeological evidence exists that confirms the city’s history.

Queen of the South (the Queen of Sheba)

Annas and Calaphas - James Tissot (1836-1902)The Queen of Sheba’s identity is unclear. Most historians identify the Queen of Sheba with the kingdom of Sabia, centered around the oasis of Marib, in present-day Yemen. Others believe she was the queen of Egypt or Ethiopia.

Bible Text

NIV

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

12:38 Then some of the experts in the law along with some Pharisees answered him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 12:40 For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. 12:41 The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them—and now, something greater than Jonah is here! 12:42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon—and now, something greater than Solomon is here!

12:43 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but does not find it. 12:44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’ When it returns, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order. 12:45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first. It will be that way for this evil generation as well!”

12:46 While Jesus was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and brothers came and stood outside, asking to speak to him. 12:47  Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside wanting to speak to you.” 12:48 To the one who had said this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” 12:49 And pointing toward his disciples he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 12:50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, painting by Giovanni Demin (1789-1859)New King James Version

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”

39 But He answered and said to 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. 40 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. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

43 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. 44 Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”

46 While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. 47 Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”

48 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

38 Later a few religion scholars and Pharisees got on him. “Teacher, we want to see your credentials. Give us some hard evidence that God is in this. How about a miracle?”

39–40 Jesus said, “You’re looking for proof, but you’re looking for the wrong kind. All you want is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles. The only proof you’re going to get is what looks like the absence of proof: Jonah-evidence. Like Jonah, three days and nights in the fish’s belly, the Son of Man will be gone three days and nights in a deep grave.

41–42 “On Judgment Day, the Ninevites will stand up and give evidence that will condemn this generation, because when Jonah preached to them they changed their lives. A far greater preacher than Jonah is here, and you squabble about ‘proofs.’ On Judgment Day, the Queen of Sheba will come forward and bring evidence that will condemn this generation, because she traveled from a far corner of the earth to listen to wise Solomon. Wisdom far greater than Solomon’s is right in front of you, and you quibble over ‘evidence.’

43–45 “When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.

“That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in.”

46–47 While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you.”

48–50 Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, “Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. 39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. 42 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. 44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. 45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

46 While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. 47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. 48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? 49 And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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