“This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Luke 11.29b).[i]
Take a moment and mull over what Jesus is saying to the increasingly larger crowd gathering about Him (Luke 11.29a). Speaking of his own generation (of those gathering around him) he labels them evil. In Matthews retelling of the same event he adds another colorful adjective to describe his contemporaries; “adulterous” (Matt 12.39).
A Needed Smack…
Kind of smacks in the face of the stereotypical version of Jesus paraded around in our time, doesn’t it? Lowly Jesus, meek and mild Jesus, kindly and somewhat beggarly Jesus, Jesus who is all about love and never has a harsh word to say, Jesus who desires all to come to Him and be saved. The Jesus of today is never sarcastic, never mean, never harsh or bold. The Jesus of today surely wouldn’t call people evil or wicked or adulterous (i.e., whorish)! I have a word for this version of Evangelical consensus: Bologna!
And yet, biblical testimony says something else entirely. Though Jesus was surely all those wonderful things that we love to spout in order to gain a hearing from the world around us, He was also those things that learned men and women get red faced over. He says and does things that professing believers shake their head at and say, “That just seems so out of character of the Jesus I know.” That’s because the Jesus many profess to know is a 1960’s flower child and not the Holy of Holies in the flesh.
The fact is very simple, there is a time and a place for everything under the sun (cf. Eccl 3.1-8) And this includes a time for stiff rebuke, for calling things what they are without giving a million qualifications so people aren’t butt hurt. Lord knows getting struck on the behind is a form of abuse that should never be done by a parent. Let alone by the Sovereign God over all creation. Ahh…wait a minute…nope that’s wrong God does sharply rebuke, He does smite us when because we deserve it, and willfully wounds our precious self-esteem (a.k.a., pride).
Jesus calls those gathered around them evil, unfaithful whores, but He doesn’t leave it at that…He gives them the reason: “…an evil generation…seeks for a sign.” That is to say, wicked people demand proof! This may seem a bit extreme to our ears, but context is everything. The truth is that Jesus had already given the people (religious leaders and common folk) plenty of signs (what we would call evidences).
In Luke 11 and Matthew 12 Jesus has just healed a demon possessed person. This caused the people “to marvel” (Luke 11.14). Not all in a good way, for “some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11.15-16; italics mine). Essentially there were three responses to the evidence that Jesus provided that day of His deity, His anointed status. The first one is not mentioned, it is belief. Only those that were numbered among the faithful would have believed what they had witnessed and not assumed it was a parlor trick. The second group accused Jesus of being in league with Satan, who they assumed was the master of this Nazarene’s house (i.e., life). The third group wanted more signs to test him (i.e., to judge the validity of Jesus’ claims).
In vv. 17-26 the Lord rebukes group #2. He calls their logic into question stating that a divided house by its very nature will not stand. He then challenges them to see that what they are witnessing is not the power of the devil, but “the finger of God” (Luke 11.20). In short, they are seeing a demonstration of God’s dominion exercised through the rightful king over all creation (cf. Psa 5.2; 10.16)—including demonic forces.
The second half of v. 29 provides Jesus’ response to group #3. We shouldn’t assume that group #3 is only made up of common folk and not the leaders in Israel, for later on in His ministry we find that the religious leaders wanted the same thing as those found here in Luke 11:16 (see Matt 16.4). The request made by group #3 is rooted in a desire to “test” Jesus.
A Wrong Assumption…
Why is that important for the reader to note? Because some reading such things assume that a request for evidences, proofs, or signs by the skeptic (i.e., the unbeliever) is innocent or perhaps even academic. That is to say, they are just trying to learn the truth. Of course, this assumption is driven by the idea that when it comes to evidence people are neutral. However, the desire to “test” a claim is an instance of no-neutrality, for that person(s) assumes the authority of a judge. They believe that they are capable of judging (discerning) the validity and/or veracity of the evidence, sign or proof before them.
But Jesus knowing what is in their heart’s cuts to the chase (Luke 11.17). And so, when he rebukes group #2 a woman cheers the Lord on from the crowd (evidently, she was a member of group #3) saying to Him: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” (Luke 11.27). He immediately responds, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11.28; italics mine). Which brings us to the last point Jesus makes to those listening.
The Sign or Evidence…
Remember, He has called them evil and He has based His judgment on their seeking a sign from Him. He’s already done plenty of things that verify His personal claims of being; of who He really is. And yet, the people don’t believe. They say, “We need more evidence!” Jesus responds, “you shall have none!”
“…No sign will be given to [this generation] except the sign of Jonah” (11.29c).
Obviously, we find ourselves on the horn of another question: “What is the sign of Jonah?” What evidence did Jonah present to the Ninevites when preached to them? Allow me to shorten your inquiry and keep you from hopping down numerous rabbit trails, ending up at the wrong destination. Jesus says that the sign of Jonah is…” Jonah” (Luke 11.30).
What it isn’t…
It says nothing about Jonah in the belly of a fish for three days. That was a sign of judgment against Jonah for disobedience. A reminder to Jonah the prophet who the Lord of his life truly is. A sign to Jonah of God’s mercy (he deserved to die for rebelling) and of blessing/life (the reward of obedience).
Fanciful conjecture is unneeded at this point, and to be frank unwanted. The context of Luke 11 and the words of Jesus provide all the information we need to ascertain the meaning of the sign of Jonah that is promised to this evil, whorish generation. The sign of Jonah, which is Jonah, that was given to Nineveh was this: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jon 3.4). This is the message that God had given His prophet to preach (Jon 3.2).
Remember what Jesus said to the woman who yelled out to Him:
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11.28).
Jesus is the Same Sign…
Jonah preached bad news to the Ninevites. Their only hope was to believe the message (God’s Word) and turn from their wicked ways (i.e., repent). From the moment Jesus stepped into His ministry role, after His baptism by John, He preached the same sort of message to His generation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1.15; Matt 4.17). Jesus’ teaching and word possessed authority (Luke 4.32), the kind of power that could drive Satan and his little minions from where they were entrenched (Luke 4.35; 11.14). Those to whom the Lord proclaimed the Word of God were presented with one hope: believe the message, repent of their rebellion and live. If they refused to do so they would die in their sins (John 8.24). Thus, Jesus is the same type of sign as Jonah (Luke 11.30b).
The Demand and Unfortunate Response by some…
Recently I read an atheist’s comments that in the Bible Jesus provided evidence, God provided evidence, but Christians today do not provide evidence. Such individuals speak as if they just “see” the evidence, then they will believe the message. This attitude is precisely the same one that Jesus faced, rebuked and condemned. Some well-intentioned, but misguided Christians today assume that they must submit to these demands from unbelievers for signs, proofs, and evidences in order for the unbelievers to “test” them.
Two problems are apparent with such an approach. First, it establishes a precedent that Scripture denies—it places man in the judgment seat and God in the dock (to borrow from C. S. Lewis). Second, it assumes that when it comes to evidences that people are neutral and given enough, we might push the unbeliever over the edge into belief.
Sin is more than outward actions like picking a fruit from a forbidden tree and eating it. Sin is rooted in the heart/mind of man. That’s what Jesus said. He also said that if people won’t believe God’s Word, then they won’t believe outward signs either (cf. Luke 11.28-30; 16.31).
I have heard far too many atheists and agnostics say that if God would do some miracle they would believe. They say this mockingly against the Christian faith. For in the next breath, when pressed, they will admit that even if they saw something, they’d still probably doubt the God of the Bible. Anthony Flew who eventually changed his mind saying that there must be something out there that brought things into being, also said that he did not entertain, nor did he want to do so, the possibility that the Christian God is the one at back of it all.
As for evidences…
For the devout unbeliever who says that there is no evidence for the Christian faith, or not enough evidence for the Christian faith, I will offer the following response. Yes, there is. The evidence of the Creator is all around you. The evidence of the biblical God’s existence is clearly perceived both in supernatural revelation and what is often termed natural revelation. Every believer whose life has been radically changed from a hater of God to a lover of God is positive proof. Every babe born. Every cell replication. Every breath that you draw in your lungs is sufficient proof for the existence of God. Your own conscience, your desire for justice and righteousness, and your want of love and goodness (among other things) are expressions of having been specially made in the image of the God you strongly detest.
We all live in the same world. We all have access to the same evidences. The only reason we see things differently is that our starting points are different. We view the same evidences through different sets of lenses.
The question that ought to drive us, that needs to be entertained although is sadly often ignored is this: Which view of reality gives meaning and purpose to life and the values we hold dear? The Christian worldview alone provides consistent, non-arbitrary grounds for all of life. The Christian worldview alone provides the necessary preconditions that make knowledge possible.
Where it starts…
Belief starts not with evidences, but with the Word of God that makes sense of them (Rom 10.17; 1Cor 2.14-16). So, with two, I leave you:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gently and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 12.28-30)
“…the Scriptures…bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5.39, 40).
[i] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).