In the Biblical story of Jonah, he is swallowed by a big fish. This story seems fantastic and unbelievable, but actually the story has a meaning that is bigger than just a big fish.
God told Jonah to go preach to the wicked people of Ninevah, which was a non-Israelite city. This was unusual, because Jonah was an Israelite, and the Israelites as God’s chosen people were not allowed to be corrupted by outside influences.
Jonah balked at God’s command for this reason, and tried to run away to Tarshish. But while on a ship, Jonah ended up in the ocean and was swallowed by the big fish. The Greek word used actually means ‘sea creature’, which could be any big sea animal.
Jonah spent three days and three nights in the fish, and prayed to God for help. God commanded the fish to spit Jonah out on to dry land. Then Jonah went on to Ninevah to preach of God’s impending judgment. They repented, and God did not destroy the city.
This is important to Christians because Jesus pointed to Jonah as a sign of his own ministry. In Matthew 12: 38-41, Jesus compared Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish to his own death and resurrection, which happened three days after his death.
In the Old Testament, God’s salvation was meant only for the Israelites, but he commanded Jonah to preach to the non-Israelites, and Christians see this as a precursor to salvation being offered to the Gentiles (non-Jews/Israelites) through Jesus.
So Jesus regarded the story of Jonah highly enough that he used Jonah as an example. It might be hard to believe that a big fish swallowed Jonah, but actually the story has a deeper meaning.
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