Did Jesus Give Many Signs Or Only One Sign?
Does Jesus’ statement to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 12:39, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” contradict John’s statement in John 20:30, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book”?
First, we need to understand the historical context of Matthew 12:39 (found in Matthew 12:38-42, Mark 8:11-12, and Luke 11:29-32):
Matthew records that it was “some of the scribes and Pharisees” who sought a sign from Jesus. Mark records it was the Pharisees who sought a sign from Jesus (Mark 8:11). Luke records that “the crowds were thickly gathered together” and Jesus spoke to them (Luke 11:29). Luke also records in Luke 11:15-16 that “some” among this crowd falsely accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub while others were “testing” Him – no doubt with evil intent – seeking a sign from Him. From all gospel accounts, it was the crowds and some of the scribes and Pharisees who were seeking this sign with evil intent. Mark records that the Pharisees came to test Him (Mark 8:11, to which Jesus “sighed deeply in His spirit”). Matthew specifies that the group to which Jesus stated “no sign would be given” was the group described by Jesus as “an evil and adulterous generation”. “Adulterous” implies that these were God's chosen people (that is, His Old Testament bride) who had been spiritually married to Him, but who had been unfaithful to Him by continually breaking the Mosaic covenant.
Prior to this incident, Jesus had performed many signs. For example, in Matthew 12:22-24, Jesus had performed a sign of demon exorcism. The only explanation those hard-hearted, closed-minded Pharisees could come up with was that He was performing miracles by the power of Satan. Jesus showed the folly of their thinking in some powerful logical arguments in Matthew 12:25-37. These people were still wanting Jesus to continually show a sign, yet they showed no demonstration of trust and obedience to the Messiah. The law of Moses made it clear that a test of a true prophet is that he would be able to perform genuine miracles, showing that he and his message were from God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:15-22).
In its context, Jesus would not perform a sign that would be given to it. Who is the “it”? It is the evil and adulterous generation. The context is limiting Jesus’ remark to the evil and adulterous generation - those who were disobedient. Jesus would keep on performing miracles even after this incident, but it would be for those who had good and honest hearts who were willing to listen (such as the feeding of the “about” 5,000, Matthew 14:13-21). Not every Israelite was a part of the evil and adulterous generation. Many had obeyed the will of God by being baptized by John’s baptism (Luke 7:29-30) and would receive further signs from Jesus.
The one sign that Jesus would do for the evil and adulterous generation was His bodily resurrection from the dead. The overwhelming evidence of the resurrection of Jesus is clear (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Those who trust in the evidence of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection will be willing to confess such and bury their old man of sin in baptism in obedience to the doctrine of Christ (Romans 10:9-10; 6:3-6; Colossians 2:11-12).
In light of this issue we have addressed, we especially challenge Muslims to ponder the following: If you take the false position that Matthew 12:39 and John 20:30 contradict, then you must also be consistent and conclude that the Qur'an is contradictory because it holds to the fact that Jesus performed many miracles (or signs), not just one (Surah 2:87,253; 3:49; 61:6).
Secondly, we cannot separate the verses of what the gospel writers are stating. Jesus is pointing to and predicting His bodily resurrection from the dead which would occur three days after His crucifixion. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, Jesus would also be in the grave for three days and be raised up on the first day of the week (Mark 16:1-2). Muslims do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, Muslims can not cite Matthew 12:39 and John 20:30 as an alleged contradiction because they do not even believe in this “sign” from Jesus.
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