Some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”
He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.
“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. (Matthew 12:38-43)
Does God give us signs? The desire of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law to see a sign from Jesus seems odd in the context. Jesus and his disciples have healed the sick, raised the dead, and driven out demons on a regular basis. How could the Pharisees ask for more?
The phrase “wicked and adulterous generation” that Jesus used in his response reiterated the condemnation of the Old Testament prophets, who told Israel that she was like a wife who was unfaithful to her husband. The Israelites had abandoned God for idols. Like ancient Israel, the Pharisees had turned from God. They were rejecting Jesus, and so they were acting unfaithfully with the God they claimed to love. Jesus told them that there was but one sign left for them: his death, burial and resurrection. The pagan people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba had repented in the face of Jonah and Solomon. But the religious establishment, confronted by Jesus who was God himself, couldn’t be convinced.
Jesus knew that there was nothing more that could be done for the religious establishment. He knew that another miracle wouldn’t change them. Miracles do not convert unbelievers into believers. Instead, unbelievers needed to repent, just as Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba had. Like the Pharisees, we don’t really need signs. We’ve already gotten plenty of them.