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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 11: Matthew 16, by Kevin M. Williams

Yet Yeshua’s words, that the Ninevites would stand in judgment of Israel is consistent with rabbinic thought, at least to some degree. The notion has its roots in ancient Jewry with the question, “Why would such a prominent prophet of God be so recalcitrant to go to Nineveh?”

Their conclusion? “Were Jonah to go to Nineveh he would be the instrument of a terrible condemnation of Israel. Jonah had to choose between obeying God and defending the honor of Israel. In order to shield the child from the wrath of its Father, he chose not to go to Nineveh.”3

In other words, rather than have Nineveh elevated spiritually above Israel and the chosen people, Jonah chose to assume God’s wrath on himself. One commentator even goes so far as to say that Jonah was “zealous to sacrifice himself for the sake of Israel.” Does that sound familiar?

The four chapters of Jonah do not lead to this conclusion. However, if this is how the Hebrew people viewed Jonah, then his personal sacrifice for their sins would be a valid sign worth mentioning by Matthew, would it not? It should be noted again, that Matthew is considered the gospel to the Hebrews, addressing Hebrew issues more than any of the other gospel accounts. Regardless of what our modern Christian view is, if their perception of Jonah was one of personal sacrifice, then Matthew was wise to record it for all his (Jewish) readers.

How remarkable that a group of gentiles—the Ninevites—could be such a phenomenal tool in the hands of God. These gentiles, who knew nothing of the temple, nothing of holy sacrifice, nothing of the sanctity of Yahweh (Jehovah), nothing of a messianic hope, nothing of the Torah of God, and had not grown up in the religious environment or covenants made to Israel, came to know the forgiveness and grace of the Almighty.

Nineveh became an everlasting example. What was accomplished in one nation through the Jewish prophet Jonah, the sign of the Jewish Messiah would be even greater. And how great it was—it has reached every continent of the earth! What one Jewish man, Jonah, did in Ninevah, 12 Jewish men would do for the continent, and eventually, the globe.

And to make Yeshua’s “sign” even more poignant, the Nenevites found redemption not through strict, ritual observance of the Torah—as many Pharisees and all Sadducees practiced—but through repentance. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the people considered then and now as those most concerned with holiness, ritual purity, and Torah observance, were missing “the sign of Jonah.” Unless they too came to embrace repentance, they would face “condemnation,” at the hands of faithful Gentiles. What irony!

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2003, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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