There seems to be a paradox at work here regarding Jesus’ reaction to people following him. We know from other passages that he desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. He’s not willing that anyone perish but that all come to repentance. But his reaction when the crowds start to increase? He calls them a “wicked generation” and refuses to give them what they apparently want: A flashy sign. Doesn’t he know that that’s what the people want? Won’t that bring them to faith? Doesn’t he want as many people following him as possible?
I don’t know all the ins and outs of this issue, but I do know this: He’s looking for quality over quantity of disciples. It does no one any good if they fool themselves into thinking they’re following Christ and are saved when they’re not. That’s why you see him seemingly driving people away from him even when they look like good candidates. My point? We dare not water down the demands of repentance when presenting the Good News of salvation. If you’re new to my thoughts on this subject, they’re here.
As always, instead of giving people what they want, he gives them what they need at this juncture: A stern warning. He points them to two main examples, and again we see an emphasis on God’s extension of grace to Gentiles.
The first is the “Queen of the South,” which is another name for the Queen of Sheba. Her encounter with Solomon is recorded here, but you might be familiar with the story already. She heard of the famous King Solomon, and came from a great distance (probably modern day Yemen) to meet him face-to-face. She wanted to see what she could learn from him.
The second example is even more dramatic. It’s difficult to express just how evil and wicked the Ninevites were. This was the capital of Assyria, one of the cruelest, bloodiest, most horrible empires in world history. God condemned Jonah for refusing to go to them, but his actions were entirely understandable. He went to them under extreme duress, preached a message of pure judgment (“Forty days and Nineveh will fall!”). There was (as far as we know) not one word of grace in his sermons, but they listened and—in godly fear and hope—repented and turned to the Lord. And God heard them and forgave.
What’s Jesus’ point? On Judgment Day, when the books are opened and people stand before the Throne, the Queen and those Ninevites will accuse those people who rejected Jesus’ message. The Queen never heard the entirety of God’s revelation, but she heard enough to believe. The Ninevites heard even less than she did, and they also believed. If those Gentiles responded so positively to so little, you have even less excuse. Oh and by the way, if anyone ever tries to tell you that the book of Jonah is not literally true, I think I'd trust Jesus to be a little bit better interpreter than those jokers. Apparently he considered the story to be literally true, since these people will one day be called as prosecution witnesses in God's court.
And one reason you have even less excuse is not just because of the completeness of the message; it’s also the person who’s presenting it to you. King Solomon was an incredible monarch, one of the great kings of Israel. He built the original temple, and more importantly was the author of some of God’s word. Jonah was great prophet, sent by the Lord on a very important mission. He has a book of the Bible named after him.
But now there’s Someone who’s much greater than Solomon or Jonah. He’s not an earthly king, he’s the King of kings. He’s not just a prophet; he’s the One the prophets were talking about. And if those people in the past considered God’s message to be so important, how shall anyone escape if they neglect a message from God’s Son?
This is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. R.C. Sproul says the Scripture passage that frightens him the most is “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” When I think about all the Bible studies, translations, commentaries, sermons, etc. that we have, it scares me a little too. And maybe more than a little.
Lord Jesus, you truly are greater than Jonah or Solomon. Am I listening to you better than those pagans? What are you asking from me?