The Sign of Jonahas
Religious texts relate a very valuable lesson to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike in the form of the story of Prophet Jonahas, a story of repentance and forgiveness. Jonahas was a Prophet of God who survived the ordeal of being swallowed alive by a whale or large fish. For Christians, the resemblance of Jonahas to Jesusas is of great significance. In previous articles, we have explored the various resurrection and crucifixion theories from a Biblical, historical and medical perspective, to show how Prophet Jesusas escaped death on the cross and went in search of the lost sheep of Israel. This article will explore the meaning of the sign of Jonahas in relation to Prophet Jesusas and how the real sign and mission of Jesusas, actually became apparent after the crucifixion.
The Sign of Jonahas
The sign of Jonahas as mentioned in the New Testament is:
“And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.”
“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.”
In the above verses, Jesusas refers to a very important prophecy and sign, and he emphatically states that this would be the only sign given. Now let us explore how the prophecy was fulfilled and look at specific points which clearly indicate the similarities between Jesusas and Jonahas.
Was Jonahas Alive and Jesusas Dead?
In relation to the resemblances between Jonahas and Jesusas, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas says:
“Matthew (Chapter 12, Verse 40) says that ‘just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man shall be three days and three nights in the bowels of the earth.’ Now it is clear that Jonah did not die in the belly of the fish; the utmost that happened was that he was in a swoon or a fit of fainting. The holy books of God bear witness that Jonah, by the grace of God, remained alive in the belly of the fish, and came out alive; and his people ultimately accepted him. If then Jesus had died in the belly of the fish, what resemblance could there be between a dead man and the one who was alive, and how could a living one be compared with one dead and vice versa? The truth is, that Jesus was a true prophet and he knew that God who loved him, would save him.”
There cannot possibly be any resemblance in the signs of these two prophets, if Jonahas went into the fish’s belly alive and came out alive, and Jesusas went into the heart of the earth dead and emerged resurrected.
What is The Significance of The Three Days and Three Nights?
The most important thing to bear in mind regarding the signs of these prophets is that although they were fundamentally similar, they were not identical. The one thing that troubles many is that the number of days and nights spent in the tomb by Jesusas, does not exactly correspond to the number of days and nights spent by Jonahas in the belly of the fish. The Holy Qur’an is not specific regarding the number of days of Jonah’sas ordeal:
“And surely Jonah also was one of the Messengers, When he fled to the laden ship; And he cast lots with the crew of the ship and was of the losers. And the fish swallowed him while he was blaming himself. And had he not been of those who glorify God, He would have surely tarried in its belly till the Day of Resurrection.”
Additionally, in relation to the biblical terminology of days and nights, an interpretation of Matthew 12:40 mentions that “the three days and three nights need not imply complete days; but parts of a twenty-four-hour day counted as representing the whole day.”
There is no mention whatsoever anywhere that the sign of Jonahas would only be fulfilled if Jesusas remained in the heart of the earth (tomb) for a specific number of hours and minutes. The truth is that there were sufficient similarities between the two signs to fulfil the words of Jesusas.
The Prayers of Both Jonahas and Jesusas Were Heard
Another striking resemblance to associate the sign or trial of Jonahas with that of Jesusas, is that both prophets offered their most heartfelt supplications at the time of their ordeals and God accepted both of them.
Whilst in the belly of the fish and in a state of deep distress, the Bible mentions that Jonahas prayed wholeheartedly and repented:
“Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, 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.”
After Jonahas angrily left the people of Nineveh because of their arrogance, he truly repented and was heard by God, as is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an:
“And remember Dha’l-Nun, when he went away in anger, and he thought that We would never cause him distress and he cried out in depths of darkness, saying, ‘There is no God but Thou, Holy art Thou. I have indeed been of the wrongdoers.’ So We heard his prayer and delivered him from the distress. And thus do We deliver the believers.”
Likewise, Jesusas was distressed by the imminent crucifixion he was to face and he too passionately supplicated to God for help:
“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.”
And when Jesusas was put on the cross, he again cried to God:
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
The above verses clearly indicate that Jesusas did not wish to sacrifice himself and thus was greatly distressed. God heard Jesus’as heartfelt supplications and he was saved from death on the cross.
Jonahas and Jesusas Complete Their Mission to Preach
Jonahas and Jesusas Went in Alive and Came Out Alive – Jonahas was alive both when he was swallowed by the fish and remained in its stomach for a period, and then when the fish vomited and expelled him. Likewise, Jesusas was alive but had fainted when he was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb. If, however, Jesusas had died on the cross and had been placed in the heart of the earth dead, and was then resurrected, there would be no resemblance with the sign of Jonahas.
Jonahas and Jesusas Went in Alive and Came Out Alive
The real sign of Jonahas becomes apparent after the trials for both Jonahas and Jesusas, as Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra explains:
“…the true miracle of the Prophet Jonah was that he was granted a term of preaching and people witnessed that the self-same person who had made off fearing on account of his own weakness, proved a successful reformer and people on accepting him made an intrinsic change.”
Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra further adds:
“The Ninevites saw him not when he entered the fish’s belly; nor did they see him when he stayed alive in its belly and nor did they see him when the fish disgorged him. But when Jonah went back to the people of Nineveh and they saw that it was the same person who had taken to flight in fear, and God the Almighty had forced him back and granted him success where he thought there were no prospects, this became a mighty sign of the dominion and power of the Almighty God which the people of Nineveh witnessed. The Messiah had similarly claimed about himself ‘For as Jonah was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation.’ (Luke 11:30)”
Just as Jonahas survived in the belly of the fish and returned unto the Ninevites to preach, likewise Jesusas also escaped death on the cross and successfully fulfilled his mission to preach to all the tribes of Israel, as mentioned in the New Testament:
“But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
“And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also; For therefore am I sent.”
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold… them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra has given us a detailed explanation of how the mission of Jesusas resembled that of Jonahas:
“…like the Prophet Jonah, the Messiah will go to the lost tribes of Israel and communicate to them the word of God and that they will hear him and that it will be a sign which the lost sheep of Israel will witness as did the people of Nineveh.”
However, the mission of Jesusas would not be an easy one just as it was not for Jonahas, as Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra further elaborates:
“… the Messiah was afraid of setting out to Afghanistan and Kashmir as was the Prophet Jonah afraid of going to Nineveh. For, by going over there, he [had] to give up his tongue, leave his people and his dear and near ones. An easy course was that the Messiah should live among his own people and staying back in Palestine continue preaching to the Jews. But as the Prophet Jonah sought to evade and God put pressure on him through creating circumstances that forced him back to Nineveh and made him realise that there was no sense in running away from the Almighty God and that he must, therefore, betake himself to wherever the Lord wanted him to go; similarly in the case of [Jesus] Messiah […] Almighty God created such conditions [which] compelled him to leave for Kashmir and Afghanistan, in the manner of Prophet Jonah […] Now when did Jonah go to the inhabitants of Nineveh to preach? The answer is, when he came out of the fish’s belly. Similarly the real period of work for the Messiah [Jesus] occured when he rose from the grave. If it had not happened and the Messiah had not preached after rising from the tomb and had not gathered the lost sheep, he would have proved to be a liar […] (We seek refuge with God against such belief).”
Jesusas Fulfils The Sign of Jonahas
In relation to the promised sign of Jonahas Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas says,
“As Jesus was a true prophet and as he knew that God, whose beloved he was, would save him from an accursed death, he made a prophecy in the form of a parable, revealed to him by God, in which he hinted that he would not die on the Cross, nor would he give up the ghost on the accursed wood; on the contrary, like the prophet Jonah, he would only pass through a state of swoon. In the parable he had also hinted that he would come out of the bowels of the earth and would then join the people and, like Jonah, would be honoured by them. So this prophecy too was fulfilled; for Jesus, coming out of the bowels of the earth, went to his tribes who lived in the eastern countries, Kashmir and Tibet, etc. viz. the ten tribes of the Israelites who 721 years before Jesus, had been taken prisoner from Samaria by Shalmaneser, King of Assur, and had been taken away by him. Ultimately, these tribes came to India and settled in various parts of that country. Jesus at all events must have made this journey; for the divine object underlying his advent was that he should meet the lost Jews who had settled in different parts of India; the reason being that these in fact were the lost sheep of Israel who had given up even their ancestral faith in these countries, and most of whom had adopted Buddhism, relapsing, gradually into idolatry. Dr. Bernier, on the authority of a number of learned people, states in his Travels that the Kashmiris in reality are Jews who in the time of the dispersal in the days of the King of Assur had migrated to this country.”
The sign of Jonahas was clearly fulfilled which points to the fact that Jesusas did not die on the cross, in fact he continued on his journey to preach and he lived to an old age as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an:
“And We made the son of Mary and his mother a Sign, and gave them refuge on an elevated land of green valleys and springs of running water.”
The above verse means: “God’s messengers are at first rejected and persecuted but eventually they succeed and their rejecters come to grief and that in consonance with this Divine law, Jesus, the last Israelite Prophet also met with severe persecution at the hands of his opponents. They got him hung on the Cross. But true to His law and promise God delivered him from the accursed death by crucifixion, and to off-set his seeming failure in the early stages of his mission gave him shelter along with his mother, in a land full of green meadows and running springs, where his mission prospered and where he lived to a ripe old age. As Jesus’ death, like his birth, has become a subject of great controversy, and some confusion and doubt still persist as to how and where he passed the last days of his crowded life, and as the question of the manner of his death forms a vital question with the Christian Faith, a somewhat exhaustive note on this very important, albeit baffling religious question is called for.”
It is clearly evident that Jesusas did not die on the cross; so where did the belief in his death for mankind come from? It was Paul who created the concept that belief in Jesusas alone can save mankind:
“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
However, Jesusas not dying on the cross nullifies Paul’s stand on Christianity and his argument that Jesusas died for the sins of mankind, ending the law with his death, meaning that man no longer needs to follow the law and belief in Jesusas alone can lead to salvation: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”For many people in the world, the belief that Jesusas did not die on the cross would mean that he did not sacrifice himself or atone for the sins of mankind; nor is he sitting at the right hand of God. It would mean that there could no longer be any salvation or redemption. Jesusas fulfilled his mission to preach and he is one of many prophets who paved the way for Islam. In Islam true salvation does not require an intercessor or intermediary, it can be attained by any individual through belief in, love for and sincere worship of a living God, who is the possessor of all attributes.
About the author: Navida Sayed is a long serving member on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions and is currently Editor of the Christianity Section. She has been the Coordinator of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Women’s Research Team UK since 1992, whose work has predominantly revolved around Biblical Studies.
1. Luke, 11:29-30 (King James Version).
2. Matthew, 12:39-40 (King James Version).
3. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, Jesus in India (Tilford, UK: Islam International Publications Limited, 2003), 17.
4. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Saffat, Verse 140-145.
5. Craig S. Kener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, (USA: IVP, 1993), 81.
6. Jonah, 2:1-2 (King James Version).
7. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Anbiya, Verse 88-89.
8. Matthew, 26:36-44 (King James Version).
9. Matthew, 27:46 (King James Version).
10. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmadra, Did Jesus Redeem Mankind, (Rabwah, Pakistan: Shirkat-ul-Islamia Limited, 1960), 151.
11. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmadra, Did Jesus Redeem Mankind, (Rabwah, Pakistan: Shirkat-ul-Islamia Limited, 1960), 152.
12. Matthew, 15:24 (King James Version).
13. Luke, 4:43 (King James Version).
14. John, 10:16 (King James Version).
15. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmadra, Did Jesus Redeem Mankind, (Rabwah, Pakistan: Shirkat-ul-Islamia Limited, 1960), 162.
16. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmadra, Did Jesus Redeem Mankind, (Rabwah, Pakistan: Shirkat-ul-Islamia Limited, 1960), 162, 163, 165.
17. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India, (Tilford, UK: Islam International Publications Limited, 2003), 17-18.
18. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Mu’minun, Verse 51.
19. The Holy Qur’an: With English Translation and Commentary Vol. 5 (Tilford, UK: Islam International Publications Limited, 1988), 1804, http://www.alislam.org/quran/tafseer/?page=1804®ion=E1&CR=EN,E2.
20. Romans, 10:9-13 (King James Version).
21. Romans, 10:4 (King James Version).