The Expository Files


Jesus Pre-empts the Skeptics

Matthew 12:38-40


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A skeptic is a person who habitually doubts, questions or disagrees.  A religious skeptic is one who doubts, questions and generally disagrees with the Bible. For centuries biblical skeptics have attacked the Bible.  One favorite tactic is to point to certain passages or events in the Bible that they consider to be unnatural and beyond belief.  How, they argue, could a rational person believe the six-day account of creation in Genesis; the epic worldwide flood; the walls of Jericho miraculously tumbling down or the story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish?  The skeptic believes his reasoning and conclusions to be strong enough to reduce all Bible believers to abject silence. Jesus, however, was not silent.  He responded to the skeptics arguments and did so long before their skeptical objections were even made.

It almost seems as if our Lord put forth a special effort to pre-empt the skeptics.  He often made reference to the very same Old Testament miracles that skeptics would later use to discredit the Bible. For example, Jesus refers to the creation of Adam and Eve; Jonah’s three days in the belly of a great fish; the flood of Noah’s day and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In doing so, Jesus puts his personal seal of credibility upon those events, declaring that they were indeed actual events, both historical and factual.  It might be said, therefore, that two thousand years beforehand, Jesus pre-empted the skeptics. 

Jonah and the Great Fish

One such “pre-emptive” passage is Matthew 12:38-40 where Jesus refers to Jonah.  Of course, the modern skeptics always points to the story of Jonah as the classic example of a Biblical fairy tale. But, did Jesus consider the account of Jonah to be a fairy tale, merely a fictitious story? 

Notice that in Matthew 12:38, Jesus is approached by the scribes and Pharisees who said, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”   Jesus responds by saying, “No sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah.   For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” 

The three days and three nights that Jesus spent in the tomb was an actual event.  The three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the belly of the fish was a “sign” of Jesus’ burial.  Jesus, therefore, understood the account of Jonah to be an actual, historical event that stands as an appropriate sign of his own burial.  A false story or fairy tale (as the skeptics describe the account of Jonah) would not signify the actual, historical event of Jesus’ death.  The real event of Jonah’s life thus stands as a sign of the real event in the life of Jesus. 

Jesus, therefore, pre-empts by hundreds of years the skeptics as he testifies to the historical credibility of the Old Testament account of Jonah. 


The words of Jesus therefore establish the credibility and reliability of the miraculous yet true stories found in the Old Testament.  Let us continue to read them, believe them and pass them down to our children – in spite of the skeptics and their foolish and vain skepticism. 



  By Edward Barnes
From Expository Files 22.1; January 2015