“Note, It is natural to proud men to prescribe to God, and then to make that an excuse for not subscribing to him; but a man’s offence will never be his defence.
II. His answer to this address, this insolent demand,
1. He condemns the demand, as the language of an evil and adulterous generation, Matthew 12:39. He fastens the charge, not only on the scribes and Pharisees, but the whole nation of the Jews; they were all like their leaders, a seed and succession of evil-doers: they were an evil generation indeed, that not only hardened themselves against the conviction of Christ’s miracles, but set themselves to abuse him, and put contempt on his miracles. They were an adulterous generation, (1.) As an adulterous brood; so miserably degenerated from the faith and obedience of their ancestors, that Abraham and Israel acknowledged them not. See Isaiah 57:3. Or, (2.) As an adulterous wife; they departed from that God, to whom by covenant they had been espoused: they were not guilty of the whoredom of idolatry, as they had been before the captivity, but they were guilty of infidelity, and all iniquity, and that is whoredom too: they did not look after gods of their own making, but they looked for signs of their own devising; and that was adultery.
2. He refuses to give them any other sign than he has already given them, but that of the prophet Jonas. Note, Though Christ is always ready to hear and answer holy desires and prayers, yet he will not gratify corrupt lusts and humours. Those who ask amiss, ask, and have not. Signs were granted to those who desired them for the confirmation of their faith, as to Abraham and Gideon; but were denied to those who demanded them for the excuse of their unbelief.
Justly might Christ have said, They shall never see another miracle: but see his wonderful goodness; (1.) They shall have the same signs still repeated, for their further benefit, and more abundant conviction. (2.) They shall have one sign of a different kind from all these, and that is, the resurrection of Christ from the dead by his own power, called here the sign of the prophet Jonas this was yet reserved for their conviction, and was intended to be the great proof of Christ’s being the Messiah; for by that he was declared to be the Son of God with power, Romans 1:4. That was such a sign as surpassed all the rest, completed and crowned them. “If they will not believe the former signs, they will believe this (Exodus 4:9), and if this will not convince them, nothing will.” And yet the unbelief of the Jews found out an evasion to shift off that too, by saying, His disciples came and stole him away; for none are so incurably blind as those who are resolved they will not see.
Now this sign of the prophet Jonas he further explains here; (Matthew 12:40) As Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, and then came out again safe and well, thus Christ shall be so long in the grave, and then shall rise again. [1.] The grave was to Christ as the belly of the fish was to Jonah; thither he was thrown, as a Ransom for lives ready to be lost in a storm; there he lay, as in the belly of hell (Jonah 2:2), and seemed to be cast out of God’s sight. [2.] He continued in the grave just as long as Jonah continued in the fish’s belly, three days and three nights; not three whole days and nights: it is probable, Jonah did not lie so long in the whale’s belly, but part of three natural days (nychthemerai, the Greeks called them); he was buried in the afternoon of the sixth day of the week, and rose again in the morning of the first day; it is a manner of speech very usual; see Esth. iv. 16; v. 1; Luke ii. 21. So long Jonah was a prisoner for his own sins, so long Christ was a Prisoner for ours. [3.] As Jonah in the whale’s belly comforted himself with an assurance that yet he should look again toward God’s holy temple (Jonah 2:4), so Christ when he lay in the grave, is expressly said to rest in hope, as one assured he should not see corruption, Acts 2:26,27. [4.] As Jonah on the third day was discharged from his prison, and came to the land of the living again, from the congregation of the dead (for dead things are said to be formed from under the waters, Job 26:5), so Christ on the third day should return to life, and rise out of his grave to send abroad the gospel to the Gentiles.
3. Christ takes this occasion to represent the sad character and condition of that generation in which he lived, a generation that would not be reformed, and therefore could not but be ruined; and he gives them their character, as it would stand in the day of judgment, under the full discoveries and final sentences of that day. Persons and things now appear under false colours; characters and conditions are here changeable: if therefore we would make a right estimate, we must take our measures from the last judgment; things are really, what they are eternally.”
(Commentary on Mat 12:38-42)