The scribes and the Pharisees were notorious for their criticism of Jesus and went so far as to suggest that he was performing miracles by the power of Beelzebub the prince of the devils (Matthew 12:24). After Jesus told these hypocrites that they would be judged for their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it says in Matthew 12:38, “Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.” The fact that the scribes and Pharisees used the title Master to refer to Jesus and then asked him for a sign showed their disrespect for his authority. Essentially, what these men were doing was asking Jesus to show them his credentials. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t believe Jesus was their Messiah and wanted evidence that he was who he claimed to be. At a deeper level, these men expected Jesus to act like their version of what they thought God’s Messiah would be, a revolutionary that would overthrow the Roman government.
In spite of their disrespectful attitude, Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees that he would give them a sign similar to the one that was given to Nineveh, the wicked city where Jonah the prophet was sent with a message of God’s judgment (Jonah 1:2). Jesus said, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39). Interestingly enough, Jesus didn’t tell the scribes and Pharisees that his resurrection would be the sign of his authenticity, but told these sceptics that the proof he would give them that he was their Messiah would be his death and burial. In other words, the proof that Jesus was the Jew’s Messiah was that he would be killed by the very same people he came to save. This was also a prophetic sign because it was foretold hundreds of years earlier that Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die for God’s chosen people (Isaiah 53).
Jesus depicted the spiritual state of God’s people as being susceptible to demonic influence (Matthew 12:45). This may have been the case because Satan had gained significant ground in God’s territory through Roman occupation. Jesus’ illustration showed that God’s people should expect things to get worse, rather than better, after the Roman government was out of the picture. He said, “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return unto my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43-45).