What does Matthew 12:39 mean?
ESV: But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
NIV: He answered, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
NASB: But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation craves a sign; and so no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet;
CSB: He answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
NLT: But Jesus replied, 'Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.
KJV: 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:
NKJV: But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
Verse Commentary:
Some scribes and Pharisees have asked Jesus for a sign. Presumably, they wanted to see Him do some specific miracle, different from those He has already done, in order to convince them He was the Messiah. Jesus instantly and flatly refuses them.

The reason for this rejection is that Christ has already performed countless miracles right in front of these skeptics. They've chosen to reject the enormous evidence in front of them (John 5:39–40), no matter how ridiculous the excuse (Matthew 12:22–24). Based on how they have responded to those displays of God's power in Him, why would Jesus give them more (Matthew 7:6)? Instead, Jesus declares these hecklers part of an evil and adulterous generation.

Asking for "even more" signs from God, when He has provided so much already, is evidence of hard-hearted and obstinate disbelief (Romans 1:18–20; Psalm 19:1). God does not give signs on demand to prove Himself, but only out of His own grace and in His own timing. And what He gives is more than enough. The claim "if God would do this exact thing, then I would believe" is nothing more than a deceptive excuse.

Jesus doesn't merely condemn the Pharisees, but also the wider culture of His day. Overall, the people of Israel, both in that era and today, have rejected Jesus as the Messiah. He calls the nation around Him "adulterous," using the Old Testament metaphor for spiritual unfaithfulness to God. Since Jesus is the Son of God, the true Messiah, rejecting Him is similar in a way to rejecting one's own spouse for another (John 3:36; Ezekiel 16:32).

To those with such a deliberately resistant view, Jesus says no sign will be given. The only further sign these skeptical people—specifically meaning those of Jesus' era—will be shown is the sign of the prophet Jonah. Reading His words after His resurrection from the dead (John 2:18–22), the meaning becomes clear. Christ's impending resurrection is the sign this generation of Israelites should take notice of for evidence that Jesus is truly the Son of God.
Verse Context:
Matthew 12:38–42 starts with a request from some of the scribes and Pharisees. They want Jesus to provide an on-demand miracle. Of course, Jesus has very recently performed two (Matthew 12:9–13; 22)! In other words, Jesus' critics are saying they want "different" miracles, which is just an excuse to reject what they've already seen. Christ responds by calling such an attitude evil and adulterous. Instead, they will only receive the sign of Jonah, whose experience in a sea creature is compared to how the Son of Man will be buried for three days. Those who correctly respond to God's call for repentance and submission will rightly condemn those who are obstinate and refuse to believe.
Chapter Summary:
Matthew 12 features confrontations between the Pharisees and Jesus over several issues. Among these are working on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath, and the source of His power to cast out demons. Jesus counters each argument and rebukes the Pharisees sharply for their obstinate unbelief. He even notes that those who maliciously ascribe His miracles to demons are unforgivable. He warns them, and the rest of their current generation, about the judgment to come. Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers and rejects their demand for another miracle. All they'll be promised is the sign of Jonah. The Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days. Jesus also states that all who do His Father's will are His family.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 11 depicted Jesus preaching and teaching after sending out His chosen disciples in pairs in chapter 10. Chapter 12 immediately picks up with more confrontation with the Pharisees. Jesus responds to those criticisms and rebukes their evil hearts as the source of their evil words. In the following chapter, Matthew will shift His focus onto Jesus' parables.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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