Jonah in the whale’s belly is a sign of Jesus Christ on the cross, but the prophetic links continue all the way to the time of Jacob’s trouble
When the book of Jonah is taught and preached, more often than not it is around two main scriptural components. The first message most expositors take from Jonah is the fact that Jesus in the gospels connects Jonah’s time in the whale’s belly to His time on the cross, and the 3 days and nights that followed. The second most used topic taken from Jonah centers around his rebellion to follow God’s instructions to obey the call on his life as a preacher and a prophet.
“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. 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: 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. 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.” Matthew 12:38-41 (KJV)
But there is a third element found in Jonah’s account that, though it is often overlooked, yields a rich spiritual power to those who find it. It is found of those Bible students who are willing to obey 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) and study like the ‘workmen’ we are commanded be. Jonah has a secret, and today you will see what that is, and how it will help you to be a stronger, more victorious Christian in your daily walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us begin our study of the prophet Jonah by establishing a few key points:
- YES, JONAH WAS ACTUALLY SWALLOWED BY A WHALE: “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17 (KJV). Many a fruitless argument has been waged over whether or not Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale and literally spent 3 days and 3 nights in the whale’s belly. I say it’s fruitless because the verification of those events are attested to personally by Jesus Christ in Matthew 12:40 as shown at the top of this article.
- JONAH IS A PROPHETIC SIGN OF JESUS ON THE CROSS: Jonah when in the whale tells us that he has died and cried out to the Lord from the pit of Hell. “And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” Jonah 2:2 (KJV). His description of his deathly agony continues. “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.” Jonah 2:5,6 (KJV). While Jonah literally experienced this horror, it is also a type picture of what Jesus Himself would accomplish at the cross and the subsequent 3 days and 3 nights He would spend in the depths of Hell, literally and actually. ‘Good Friday’ you say? Not on your life, Jesus went to the cross on a Wednesday. This is why Jesus tells the Pharisees the only sign they were going to get would be the sign of Jonah – Jesus on the cross.
- JONAH IS CALLED TO THE GENTILES, NOT THE JEWS: Jonah in the whale’s belly is a sign of Jesus Christ on the cross, but the prophetic links do not end there. You will notice that God has called Jonah to preach to the gentile Ninevites, and the entire nation repents and gets right with God even down to the animals. “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.” Jonah 3:5-8 (KJV). This is a prophetical type picture of the ministry of the 144,000 witnesses in the time of Jacob’s trouble who will preach to an unsaved and mostly gentile world, with the end result being a huge number of gentiles getting saved in the Tribulation. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9,10,13,14 (KJV).
So as you can see, far from being simply an entertaining Sunday School story we tell children, the events found in the book of Jonah are jammed-packed with hardcore prophetical importance. Now that we have laid the groundwork for what Jonah is really all about, let us now dig a little deeper and see if we can uncover Jonah’s ‘secret’.
Discovering the true meaning of the story of Jonah
We are all familiar with the story of Jonah. God calls him to preach to the wicked gentile Ninevites, and Jonah doesn’t want to do it. So instead of obeying God, Jonah boards a boat to Tarshish, thinking he will place himself beyond God’s call. But quickly we see this is not to be the case.
“But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.” Jonah 1:3,4 (KJV).
From the very moment Jonah boarded the boat, two things happened. First, God sent a mighty storm that was so intense that the seasoned mariners were terrified that their ship was about to be ripped in two. Second, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship to catch up on some much-needed sleep. What?? Talk about a dichotomy, but there it is. And it is right here where we are introduced to why Jonah could sleep soundly and peacefully while the sailors were beside themselves in fear.
“Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep. So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.” Jonah 1:5,6 (KJV)
The Bible doesn’t say that Jonah was ‘napping’ or trying to catch ‘40 winks‘, it says that Jonah was ‘fast asleep’. That means he was sleeping deeply and restfully, like someone without a care in the world. Yet, for the sailors up on top, it is a living nightmare. How can this be?
Jonah’s spiritual secret is so simple yet profound
Jonah’s spiritual ‘secret’ was that he personally knew the nature and character of the God he served. He had seen Him work and move in the past, he had the testimony of all the scripture written up to that point, and he believed everything that he knew to be true about God. Not only that, because he knew who God was, he also knew what God would do in a given situation, and he trusted in that with all his heart.
How much did Jonah believe in what he knew to be true about God? He believed it enough to bet his own life on the fact that he would not be killed in that storm on the boat because God had a call on his life to go to Nineveh. Think about this amazing level of faith Jonah had in God and in what the Bible declares to be true about God. He didn’t just mouth the words or understand it intellectually, he knew in his heart it was true and he trusted in his faith in God. What else was there to do but to go to sleep?! Does this remind you of anyone else?
“Now it came to pass on a certain day, that he went into a ship with his disciples: and he said unto them, Let us go over unto the other side of the lake. And they launched forth. But as they sailed he fell asleep: and there came down a storm of wind on the lake; and they were filled with water, and were in jeopardy. And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm.” Luke 8:22-24 (KJV)
Will you look at that? Who do we see here sleeping in the hold of the ship while the fisherman cry out in peril of their lives? We see Jesus, just like Jonah, fast asleep in the ship while the storm rages above. The disciple come to Him excitedly, waking Him up and crying out ‘ we perish!’. And what does Jesus have to say to them? He rebukes them.
“And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.” Luke 8:25 (KJV)
It is in this question by Jesus to His disciples that we have fully discovered Jonah’s spiritual secret. Jesus asks “where is YOUR faith”, and He asks it rhetorically because it is obvious that they don’t really have much faith, if any at all. But by this point they certainly should have, don’t you think?
By the time we see Jesus in the boat in Luke 8, the disciples had already seen Jesus heal the servant of the Centurion, heal the man with the withered hand, listened to the entire Sermon on the Mount, seen Jesus provide a miraculous overflowing catch of fish, heal people of leprosy, and the list goes on and on. Yet when it was their turn ‘in the fire’, they had not very much faith at all. They should have been able to fall asleep just like Jesus was, but they could not. They were missing a key ingredient that Jonah had in abundance.
What does your storm look like?
So many times Jonah gets a bad rap for his disobedience to what God called him to do, and maybe rightly so, but in doing that we overlook his amazing faith in the God he knew personally and trusted personally. Now apply it to yourself, let’s make it real. Think about the last time, and maybe it’s happening right now as you read this, that God allowed you to go through a really rough and fiery trial.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
Maybe God has allowed you to lose your employment and become homeless for a season. Maybe you were recently diagnosed with bad news from the doctor. Maybe you have lost a spouse or a child, and feel like your whole world is coming apart at the seams. Maybe it’s one or more of any number of dozens of things that can happen in our lives that can and do shake us to our core.
Now what’s your reaction, is it one of faith or fear? The sailors on Jonah’s boat were very strong men who were highly experienced seamen. But the storm that God laid on that boat rocked them to their core, that’s how bad it was. Jonah slept soundly because he knew who God was, and he knew that God would deliver him.
“And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” Jonah 4:2 (KJV)
Jonah could sleep on the boat because he knew God would deliver him. Jonah didn’t want to preach to the wicked Ninevites, whom he hated, because he knew God would have mercy on them and allow them to repent. How about you, Christian, what do you know about God?
- Do you know enough about God to know He cares for you? “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (KJV)
- Do you know enough about God to place your life in His hands? “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” John 10:28 (KJV)
- Do you know enough about God to know He has saved you? “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:13 (KJV)
- Do you know that God will hear and answer your prayers? “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26 (KJV)
Jonah knew the nature and character of God, and trusted in that with his whole heart and soul. His falling asleep in the boat is not presumption or arrogance, it is trust! Are you in a storm today? Trust in the Lord, and then rest in that trust. Sleep in that trust.
This is Jonah’s spiritual secret, trusting in the Lord, and then resting in it. This is what Jesus was teaching the disciples on the boat. This is the secret to, and the essence of, the Christian life.
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5,6 (KJV)