Sacred Texts  Christianity  Calvin  Index  Previous  Next 

Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Matthew 12:38-42; Luke 11:16, 29-32

Matthew 12:38-42

Luke 11:16, 29-32

38. Then some of the scribes and Pharisees asked him, saying, Master, we desire to see a sign from thee. 39. But he answering said to them, A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh a sign,  160 and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 40. For as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41. The men of Nineveh will rise in judgment with this generation, and will condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, lo, a greater than Jonah is here.  161 42. The queen of the south will rise in judgment with this generation, and will condemn it: for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, lo, a greater than Solomon is here.  162

16. And others tempting, sought from him a sign from heaven. — (A little after.) 29. And while the multitudes were crowding together, he began to say, This is a wicked generation: it seeketh a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 30. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of man be also to this nation. 31. The queen of the south will rise in judgment with the men of this nation, and will condemn them: for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, lo, a great than Solomon is here. 32. The men of Nineveh will rise in judgment with this nation, and will condemn it: for they were brought to repentance by the preaching of Jonah; and, lo, a greater than Jonah is here.


Luke 11:16. And others tempting sought from him a sign. Something similar to this is afterwards related by Matthew, (Mt 16:4,) and by Mark, (Mark 8:11, 12.) Hence it is evident, that Christ repeatedly attacked them on this subject, so that there was no end to the wickedness of those men who had once resolved  163 to oppose the truth. There can be no doubt that they ask a sign, in order to plead, as a plausible pretense for their unbelief, that Christ’s calling has not been duly attested. They do not express such submissiveness as to be prepared to yield to two or three miracles, and still less to be satisfied with a single miracle; but as I hinted a little before, they apologize for not believing the Gospel on this pretense, that Christ shows no sign of it from heaven.  164 He had already performed miracles before their eyes sufficiently numerous and manifest; but as if these were not enough for the confirmation of doctrine, they wish to have something exhibited from heaven, by which God will, as it were, make a visible appearance. They call him Master, according to custom; for such was the appellation given at that time to all scribes and expounders of the law. But they do not acknowledge him to be a prophet of God, till he produce a testimony from heaven. The meaning therefore is: “Since thou professest to be a teacher and Master, if thou desirest that we should be thy disciples, let God declare from heaven that He is the Author of thy teaching, and let Him confirm thy calling by a miracle.”

Matthew 12:39. A wicked generation He does not merely charge that age with malice, but pronounces the Jews—or at least the scribes, and those who resembled them—to be a wicked nation; thus declaring that they labored under a hereditary disease of obstinacy. The word γενεά sometimes denotes an age, and sometimes a people or nation. He calls them adulterous, that is, spurious or illegitimate,  165 because they were degenerated from the holy fathers; as the prophets reproach the men of their age with being not the descendants of Abraham, but the ungodly seed of Canaan.

Seeks a sign. This leads to the inquiry, Does Christ address them with such harshness of language, because they wished to have a sign given them? for on other occasions God manifests that He is not so much displeased on this account. Gideon asks a sign, (Jud 6:17,) and God is not angry, but grants his request; and though Gideon becomes importunate and asks another sign, yet God condescends to his weakness. Hezekiah does not ask a sign, and it is offered to him, though unsolicited, (Isa. 38:7, 8.) Ahaz is severely blamed for refusing to ask a sign, as the prophet had enjoined him to do, (Isa 7:11.) It is not solely, therefore, because they ask a sign, that Christ makes this attack upon the scribes, but because they are ungrateful to God, wickedly despise so many of his wonderful works, and try to find a subterfuge for not obeying his word. What a display was this, I do not say of indifference, but of malice, in shutting their eyes against so many signs! There was, therefore, no proper ground for this annoyance; and they had no other object in view than to appear to have a good reason for rejecting Christ. Paul condemns their posterity for the same crime, when he says that the Jews require a sign, (1Co 1:22)

A sign shall not be given to it. They had already been convicted by various miracles, and Christ does not abstain from exerting his power among them, for the purpose of rendering them inexcusable, but only means that one sign would stand for all, because they were unworthy of having their ungodly desire granted. “Let them rest satisfied,” says he, “with this sign, that as Jonah, brought up from the bottom of the sea, preached to the Ninevites, so they will hear the voice of a prophet risen from the dead.” The most of commentators, I am aware, display greater ingenuity in expounding this passage; but as the resemblance between Christ and Jonah does not hold at every point, we must inquire in what respect Christ compares himself to Jonah. For my own part, leaving the speculations of other men, I think that Christ intends to mark out that single point of resemblance which I have already hinted, that he will be their prophet after that he is risen from the dead. “You despise,” he says, “the Son of God, who has come down to you from heaven: but I am yet to die, and to rise from the grave, and to speak to you after my resurrection, as Jonah came from the bottom of the sea to Nineveh.” In this manner our Lord cuts off every pretense for their wicked demands, by threatening that he will be their Prophet after his resurrection, since they do not receive him while clothed with mortal flesh.

Luke 11:30. As Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites. He declares that he will be a sign to them, as Jonah was to the inhabitants of Nineveh. But the word sign is not taken in its ordinary sense, as pointing out something, but as denoting what is widely removed from the ordinary course of nature. In this sense Jonah’s mission was miraculous, when he was brought out of the belly of the fish, as if from the grave, to call the Ninevites to repentance. Three days and three nights This is in accordance with a well-known figure of speech.  166 As the night is an appendage to the day, or rather, as the day consists of two parts, light and darkness, he expresses a day by a day and a night, and where there was half a day, he puts down a whole day.

Matthew 12:41. The men of Nineveh will rise in judgment. Having spoken of the Ninevites, Christ takes occasion to show that the scribes and others, by whom his doctrine is rejected, are worse than the Ninevites were. “Ungodly men,” he says, “who never had heard a word of the true God, repented at the voice of an unknown and foreign person who came to them; while this country, which is the sanctuary of heavenly doctrine, hears not the Son of God, and the promised Redeemer.” Here lies the contrast which is implied in the comparison. We know who the Ninevites were, men altogether unaccustomed to hear prophets, and destitute of the true doctrine. Jonah had no rank to secure their respect, but was likely to be rejected as a foreigner. The Jews, on the other hand, boasted that among them the Word of God had its seat and habitation. If they had beheld Christ with pure eyes,  167 they must have acknowledged, not only that he was a teacher sent from heaven, but that he was the Messiah, and the promised Author of Salvation. But if that nation was convicted of desperate ungodliness, for despising Christ while he spoke to them on earth, we are worse than all the unbelievers that ever existed, if the Son of God, now that he inhabits his sanctuary in heaven, and addresses us with a heavenly voice, does not bring us to obey him. Whether the men of Nineveh were truly and perfectly turned to God I judge it unnecessary to inquire. It is enough for the present purpose that they were so deeply affected by the teaching of Jonah, as to have their minds directed to repentance.

42. The queen of the south. As Ethiopia lies in a southerly direction from Judea, I willingly concur with Josephus and other writers, who assert that she was the queen of Ethiopia. In sacred history she is called the queen of Sheba, (2Ch 9:1.) We must not suppose this Sheba to be the country of Saba, which rather lay toward the east, but a town situated in Meroe, an island on the Nile, which was the metropolis of the kingdom. Here, too, we must attend to the points of contrast. A woman who had not been at all educated in the school of God, was induced, by the desire of instruction, to come from a distant region to Solomon, an earthly king; while the Jews, who had been instructed in the divine law, reject their highest and only teacher, the Prince of all the prophets. The word condemn relates not to the persons, but to the fact itself, and the example which it yields.



Ausquels il respondit, et leur dit, La nation meschante et adultere (ou, bastarde) requiert un signe;” — “to whom he answered, and said to them, The wicked and adulterous (or, bastard) nation demandeth a sign.”


Et voyci, il y a ici plus que Ionas;” — “and, lo, there is here a greater than Jonah.”


Et voyci, il y a ici plus que Salomon;” — “and, lo, there is here a greater than Solomon.”


Qui une fois s’estoyent endurcis;” — “who had once become hardened.”


Que Christ ne leur monstre aucun signe d’enhaut qui soit pour seelet ceste doctrine;” — “that Christ shows them no sign from above that is sufficient to seal this doctrine.”


Il entend qu’ils sont enfans bastars;” — “he means that they are bastard children.”


Quant aux trois nuits, il y a ici (cornme on scait bien) une figure que les Grecs et Latins appellent Synecdoche;” — “as to the three nights, there is here (as is well known) a figure which the Greek and Latin writers call Synecdoche.”


D’un oeil pur, et sans mauvaise affection;” — “with a pure eye, and without evil disposition.”

Next: Matthew 13:1-17; Mark 4:1-12, 24-25; Luke 8:1-10, 18; 10:23-24