Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Messianic Symbolism of Jonah

Jonah the wayward prophet provided a messianic sign or foreshadow in what he experienced. Hurled overboard a ship, he sank beneath the waves and was prevented from resurfacing by the crashing, pounding breakers. He even became entangled in seaweed, it winding around his head! (Jonah 1:15, 2:5) He was then swallowed by some type of giant aquatic beast by divine intervention. (Jonah 1:17)[1]

The time he spent there has been identified as the “Sign of Jonah” by Jesus at Matthew 12:39-40. As Jonah was in the belly of a leviathan for three days, so Jesus would be in the grave for a similar length of time, for parts of three days. Thus, as fulfilled, the “Sign of Jonah” is a remarkable messianic foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection: the “Gates of Sheol” (Isaiah 38:10) opened for him like leviathan’s jaws opened for Jonah. Notice, however, that Jesus was resurrected as a spirit person in the spirit realm. (John 8:21; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Philippians 2:9; 1 Peter 3:18) Could the surface of the water and the dry land that Jonah returned to be symbolic of that for this application only, as his aquatic gastric grave was symbolic of Sheol only? Jesus descended from heaven and called it the “realms above.” (1 Corinthians 15:47; Philippians 2:7-8; John 8:23) As he was born as a man, he was not able to return to the spirit realm on his own. (Galatians 4:4) This is similar with Jonah, his descending from above to beneath the surface of the water and being obstructed from resurfacing on his own. Significantly, as Jonah was completely swallowed by the aquatic beast, so Jesus as a person was in the grave.[2] How would it make any sense if Jesus was not completely in the grave, if only his human nature was in the grave as taught by Trinitarianism? If the Sign of Jonah applied only to Jesus’ human nature, then it is a very “watered down” sign indeed.

In summation, Jonah’s messianic symbolism was fulfilled with Jesus in these ways:
  1. Jesus’ descent from the spirit realm to earth and birth as a man: Jonah’s descent from above into the waters.
  2. Jesus’ death in the grave for parts of three days: Jonah as good as dead inside an aquatic beast for three days.
  3. Jesus’ resurrection back to the spirit realm: Jonah being ejected from the aquatic beast and ascent out of the waters.
The last two of course being identified by Jesus as the Sign of Jonah. (Refer to figure below.)

[1] One reference describes the sequence of events this way in graphic detail:
Jonah plummeted into the raging waves. Perhaps he struggled, floundering a bit, and saw amid a chaos of foam and spray that the ship was swiftly moving away. But the mighty breakers crashed over him and forced him under. He sank down and down, sensing that all hope was gone.
Jonah later described how he felt at this time. Fleeting images crossed his mind. He thought with sadness that he would never again see the beautiful temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem. He had the sensation of descending to the very depths of the sea, near the roots of the mountains, where seaweed entangled him. This, it seemed, was to be his pit, his grave.—Jonah 2:2-6.
But wait! There was something moving nearby—an immense, dark shape, a living thing. Looming close, it darted at him. A great maw opened over him, engulfed him, swallowed him down! (The Watchtower, January 1, 2009 pages 27-8)
Ironically, Jonah was saved and preserved by this aquatic monster.

Critics of Jonah may overlook the fact that this story is about acts of divine intervention. So of course it is not explainable by natural causes! That is the whole point. The very text at Jonah 1:17 identifies it as a supernatural event, for it says Jehovah God “appointed” an aquatic creature to swallow (and preserve) him. The NET Bible footnote on this verse adds:
Joyce Baldwin notes, “Here, with YHWH [Jehovah] as the subject, the verb [minnah, “to send, to appoint”] stresses God’s sovereign rule over events for the accomplishment of his purpose (as in 4:6-8, where the verb recurs in each verse). The ‘great fish’ is in exactly the right place at the right time by God’s command, in order to swallow Jonah and enclose him safely” (Joyce Baldwin, “Jonah,” The Minor Prophets, 2:566).

[2] It is interesting to note that both Jonah and Jesus had flora wrapped around their heads. In Jesus’ case however, his head wrapping was done in sadistic mockery by Roman soldiers who braided a crown of thorns and placed it on his head. (Mark 15:17; John 19:2) “While the particular plant in question has been linked by many with Paliurus spina-christi, a shrub growing to a height of 6 m (20 ft) and having flexible branches with stiff thorns, no certain identification is possible.” (“Thorn,” Insight on the Scriptures, 2:1096.)

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