Jesus references two difference aspects of the book of Jonah in his conversation with the teachers of religious law and Pharisees.
They demanded Jesus give them a miracle as a sign of His authority. Jesus responded that the only sign He was going to give them was the sign of the prophet Jonah. He said, Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:39-40).
Then he said:
41 “The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent.
Jesus is telling us the point of the book of Jonah that many people overlook. The book of Jonah is designed to challenge the believer to consider how much we actually love God and what he does, especially how He feels and acts towards the ones we have a difficult time loving (to put it mildly).
Jesus is telling us that Nineveh repented, but that the Pharisees would not. Nineveh, that horrible terrible no good place, is the model of repentance while the people who claimed to follow God and knew the Scriptures inside and out were standing on the outside. Jesus was pleading with them, telling them that if Nineveh could repent, so could they. If Nineveh could listen to Jonah, they could listen to Him. And yet they continued to have the heart of Jonah and refused.
The pharisees, just like Jonah, could not grasp, for many different reasons, that they were the ones in need of change. They looked down on everyone else. They saw themselves as better, more righteous, more right in their theology and practice. And yet, what Jesus is telling them, is that this could not be further from the truth.
So many Christians today are right where the Pharisees were. So many Christians today are right where Jonah was. God is wanting to get our attention to repent and turn to him, and we think it’s everyone else’s problem to deal with.
Christian, before we reach our city (Jonah 4:11) with the gospel, the gospel must first reach us.