The Nations Blessed to Hear the Word
In Luke 11 we see how the good doctor has flowed from the topic of prayer to the topic of the Holy Spirit. The works of the Holy Spirit are opposed by those who are blind and deaf. Those whose eyes and ears are divinely blessed are those who can see and hear.
Then, because someone demanded a sign, Luke says that Jesus gave them the sign of Jonah, which is the most important prophetic witness to the law of cleansed lepers. Because leprosy is a slow death, it is a biblical type of mortality. This law, then, explains the legal and spiritual process behind immortality. The sign of Jonah shows that to come into immortality, one must receive the Holy Spirit, even as the whale swallowed Jonah, whose name means “dove,” and who represents the Spirit in the matter of Sonship.
The Sonship Message in Jonah
In other words, when people are blessed to hear and obey the word, they are begotten by the Spirit through the word (1 Cor. 4:15, KJV). That holy seed that is begotten in them is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). This is the revelation of Sonship, as John 1:11-14 sets forth:
11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right [exousia, “authority”] to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born [genneo, “begotten”] not of blood [haima, “blood,” or physical bloodline], nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…
The message of Sonship explains how we can become children of God and thereby come into immortality. This is the main message underlying the story of Jonah.
Jonah also reveals another truth that shocked and offended the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. It is the fact that, like the Israelites before them, most of the Judeans were still blind and deaf, even though they excelled in religious zeal. It was for this reason that Jesus spoke in parables, citing the prophecies of Isaiah about their blindness and deafness toward the word of God.
The story of Jonah reveals his reluctance to preach the word outside of the borders of Israel and Judah. It reveals the fact that he did not want the Ninevites to hear the word. When Nineveh repented and cried out to God, the prophet was angry and confessed that he knew God would be compassionate on the people of Nineveh—which was why he tried to escape to Tarshish in the first place (Jon. 4: 2).
That same attitude prevailed among the Jews in Jesus’ day. Non-Jews were despised, and even foreign proselytes were treated as second-class citizens, having to remain in the outer court of the temple in times of worship. Jews were jealous of their supposed special status with God and did not want others to become Sons of God.
The story of Jonah, however, shredded their exclusive view of Sonship, and Jesus told them that the sign of Jonah was the only sign that would be given to them. Why? Because this sign (by Jonah’s example) showed the main source of their blindness and deafness. Their exclusive viewpoint prevented them from being part of the “one new man” that God was forming out of all nations (Eph. 2:15), because the Jews bristled at the idea of being one body with non-Jews.
And so Jesus explains the meaning of the sign of Jonah in Luke 11:30-32, saying,
30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South shall rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
The Queen of Sheba
The example of the Queen of Sheba supports the story of Jonah, because both prove Jesus’ main point about the sign of Jonah. Jesus said the Queen of Sheba had travelled a great distance to hear the word, because she had ears to hear. Her response to Solomon’s wisdom—which was really the wisdom of God—is recorded in 2 Chron. 9:5-7,
5 Then she said to the king, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. 6 Nevertheless I did not believe their reports until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half of the greatness of your wisdom was not told me. You surpass the report that I heard. 7 How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom.”
The Queen of Sheba then gave Solomon 120 talents of gold (2 Chron. 9:9). The number 120 is always associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Hence, this indicates prophetically that she received the Holy Spirit as a result of hearing the word.
This story is remarkable also in that the Queen was a woman. If she had come to Jerusalem in the time of the second temple, she would have been excluded from the inner court. There is no evidence that Solomon’s temple was built with a dividing wall in the court yard. This was an innovation in the second temple. The women and non-Jews had to remain outside of the dividing wall which had been built to keep such second-class believers farther from God. This is precisely what Paul referenced in Eph. 2:14, 15,
14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 … that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.
Solomon’s name means peaceful, being derived from shalom, “peace, harmony, wholeness.” He is therefore a type of the Prince of Peace, who came to reconcile all men to Himself as “one new man.” The story of the Queen of Sheba, then, prophesies of Christ, the true Prince of Peace, bringing harmony between Israel and the nations.
Dr. Luke, of course, was interested in healing breaches and restoring health (shalom) to the conflicts and resentments that existed between nations and between men and women. The Queen was not only a foreigner, but a foreign woman. Hence, in this story, we see Luke repairing two breaches at the same time, chipping away at “the dividing wall” that he and Paul had opposed for so many years.
Jesus’ main explanation of the sign of Jonah was the repentance of the Ninevites themselves. The people of Nineveh were non-Israelites, and, in fact, they were the ones who would soon conquer Israel and deport them to the areas near the Caspian Sea. They would be considered to be God’s enemies.
As an Israelite nationalist, Jonah would have been happy to see the city destroyed. But he knew God well enough to know that God intended to show mercy on them. His simple message, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4), was not a problem to Jonah. Jonah was happy with the message of impending doom on Nineveh. But Jonah also knew the compassion of God. He knew that God loved non-Israelites, too. He knew the law found in Lev. 19:34,
34 The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
In the big picture, we all reside on a common planet as neighbors. Hence, Jonah was commissioned to go to Nineveh, a neighboring city in a foreign land, to give them the word of God. Jonah may have tried hard to preach the most dire warning possible out of resentment against Nineveh, but the people repented, and God spared the city.
Nineveh, which in no way can be construed to be an Israelite city, was Jesus’ primary example of the love that God shows for non-Israelites. Likewise, the fact that Nineveh had a population of 120,000 (Jonah 4:11) shows that this story is really about the worldwide outpouring of the Holy Spirit (120), in order that the glory of God (1,000) may cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Just as the Queen of Sheba gave Solomon 120 talents of gold, so also the population of Nineveh was 120,000. Both of these examples, at heart, reveal the work of the Holy Spirit that is given to those of other nations who have ears to hear the word of God.
The Great Paradox
We see a great paradox in this. Israel was chosen to fulfill the promise to Abraham in being a blessing to all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). By divine interpretation, to bless means to turn them from their iniquities (Acts 3:25, 26), that is, to cause them to repent so that they might be saved and absorbed into God’s Kingdom. Yet Israel itself was blinded to the point where only a tiny remnant of grace would repent.
So we see that the nations are blessed by Abraham, being given eyes to see and ears to hear so that they could repent. At the same time, those who were called and chosen to convey that message of blessing chose to hoard those blessings for themselves, and in hoarding them, they remained blind and deaf, not being of the blessed group that Jesus set forth in the Beatitudes.
Only after God divorced Israel (Jer. 3:8), stripped them of their name Israel, and cast them out of the land—and only after they themselves became “gentiles”—did their blindness begin to lift. By identifying with the ethnos, “the nations,” they received the blessing that was extended to the ethnos. Hence, the gospel of Christ was preached to them in later centuries, as they migrated from Parthia into Europe, and these eventually formed the “Christian West.”
As Israelites, they were blind and deaf. But as ex-Israelites of the dispersion, their eyes and ears were opened. In that sense, it was a blessing to be part of the ethnos, and at the same time, God has used the situation to begin uniting all nations into “one new man.” Israel’s exclusive attitude and narrow religious spirit was stripped from them as the “lost tribes” forgot their roots in Israel and began to think of themselves as “gentiles.”
This also shows how God’s judgments are based in love and are corrective in nature. God has a good purpose in all of His judgments and has determined a positive outcome.
Jesus’ audience, however, were the descendants of the House of Judah, which had returned from Babylon under Zerubbabel and Ezra. God had not divorced Judah as He did with Israel, because Jesus had yet to be born of that tribe and nation. Judah had to be in a marriage covenant with God in order for Jesus to be born of Judah as a legitimate son. Hence, Judah remained under the same blindness of the Old Covenant marriage relationship that had afflicted all Israel (Exodus 4:11; Deut. 29:4).
Jesus Himself was not blind or deaf to the word of God, for He was the Chief of the remnant. He spoke in parables to the deaf and blind, but He also gave explanations to those who were blessed. Luke himself, as a Greek doctor, understood from his discussions with Paul that he enjoyed equality in the Kingdom of Christ, who ruled with impartiality. For this reason he took special care to bring forth those teachings of Jesus that repaired the breaches between Jew and non-Jew and between men and women.
The sign of Jonah is one of the greatest of these examples.