Jonah: A Strong Warning To God’s Church
The book of Jonah is the least understood of all the books in the Old Testament. Many modern critics label it as myth. That is a major reason why they don’t understand this book. Some religious scholars label the book of Jonah as history only. They forget that Jonah was a prophet and that his book is one of the minor prophets.
The men God inspired to canonize the Bible knew this book was primarily prophecy. That means it was written for a time beyond Jonah’s generation. All of the major and minor prophets have an end-time focus. This is because 90 percent of Bible prophecy is fulfilled in these latter days. The book of Jonah is for any age, but mainly for today as we shall see. It contains a strong warning for God’s Church.
God’s Word Came to Jonah
This book is about what happened to Jonah, first of all—and why. “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2). The wickedness of Nineveh was so great that it came up before God. Then God decided a warning message must be sent to this great city. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the most powerful empire of the world at that time. Assyria today is called Germany. (Write for our free publication Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.) Most historians think Nineveh was the largest city of that time. The historian Diodorus says it was the greatest city of antiquity. It was located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. Nineveh had 100-foot-high walls built around it, with 1,500 towers, 200 feet high.
Imagine if God asked one man to deliver Jonah’s message to the capital city of a great empire today. Obviously it would seem to be an overwhelming responsibility. But you would be far better off to deliver the message than to run from the job. That is what Jonah learned—the hard way!
The first verse says God’s word came to Jonah. In verse 2, God immediately commands, “Arise, go to Nineveh.”
Jonah was given a message that no other person on Earth understood! Any time this happens, a colossal responsibility comes with God’s word or revelation.
Such a miracle is very emotionally upsetting. It can be so frightening that we run away from God—the way Jonah did. If we respond positively, it will bring gigantic rewards into our lives today and in the world ahead. An expression like “the word of the Lord came unto Jonah” can seem insignificant when we read it. But when it happens to a person, it changes his whole life!
God’s word came to Herbert W. Armstrong and he delivered the message. He preached the gospel around the world (Matthew 24:14; Revelation 3:7-8). He was commanded to restore all things—and he did (Matthew 17:10-11).
God called many thousands of people to support Mr. Armstrong in that responsibility. They are also held accountable for delivering God’s message—even after Mr. Armstrong died!
The word of God also came to the Philadelphia Church of God (pcg). God’s people are commanded to deliver this warning message along with what has already been revealed to Herbert Armstrong.
Jonah ran from delivering God’s message (Jonah 1:3-17). He was swallowed by a large fish. Most of God’s people today, like Jonah, are running away from delivering His message and they are headed for a much greater catastrophe than Jonah ever experienced!
We can never escape our responsibility to deliver God’s message and still live—physically, spiritually or both! “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. … So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezekiel 3:17-19; 33:7-9). People who receive God’s message and won’t deliver it are called wicked. If we fail to deliver God’s message, we die physically because of this failure! And 50 percent of God’s people die forever for not repenting of this sin! That is how fearfully serious it is when God reveals His message to us.
Jonah concealed God’s precious message. He repented of doing so in the belly of a great fish—where God had cast him. “Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly” (Jonah 2:1). Today, half of God’s Laodicean Church will repent in the Great Tribulation. Only the loyal Philadelphians will be taken to a place of safety (Revelation 12:13-14). That is because we deliver the messages that were given to Mr. Armstrong and the Philadelphia Church of God.
The most cardinal sin we can commit is to fail to deliver the message God personally gave to us! It is a monumental sin that destroys us forever, unless we repent!
Jonah is a book about what happens to people who either deliver God’s message or fail to do so. It applies to all people who have had God’s truth revealed to them. And people have had more of God’s truth revealed to them in this end time than any time in man’s history! The Laodiceans are headed for their “whale” experience unless they repent quickly. They have all concealed the most important part of the truth God revealed to them—His government. They, like Jonah, must learn there is a prodigious penalty for running from the job God gave to them.
Assyria (Nineveh) is the only empire to ever repent after hearing God’s warning message. And Jonah is the only prophet to ever conceal God’s warning message. This is an unprecedented event.
Jonah had to repent in order to give Nineveh a chance to do the same. “Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly, And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me” (Jonah 2:1-3). Jonah prayed to his God. He was following the true God once again. Did he briefly turn to another god? He knew he committed a great sin.
However, Jonah only received a pittance of what God revealed to Mr. Armstrong and the pcg today. So if God was angry with Jonah, He must be wrathful with the Laodiceans today! Concealing so much of God’s truth is a mountainous crime. If we bury God’s message, He is going to bury us.
“Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple” (verse 4). Now Jonah turns “again toward thy holy temple.” He had turned away from God. Now he again got back to God and His truth. Jonah was looking to God’s holy temple—not just to a physical temple in Jerusalem. He was looking to the omnipotent God in heaven. There wasn’t any more self-deception.
God’s own Laodicean people have made the same mistake Jonah did. God has prophesied that He will make them return to the Philadelphia standard (Revelation 3:9). Repentance is their only option.
“The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God” (Jonah 2:5-6). Let’s focus on the expression, “the earth with her bars was about me for ever.” It means Jonah was entering into the land of the dead. But in his case, it was going to be forever! He was about to lose his eternal life, unless he repented!
That is what so many of God’s Laodiceans don’t understand today. “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). The word perish should read “are perishing.” They received God’s truth, but they do not love it. They are turning away from God’s message. Only repentance can save them from eternal death!
When God’s word—His revelation—comes to us, it is very dangerous knowledge. When this happens, our eternal lives are at stake now. Do we dare be casual about our calling?
The Laodiceans are so “religious”—and so deceived. Jonah apparently was thinking in a similar fashion. He got back to “his God,” the “holy temple”—not just a temple.
When God reveals His message to us, we automatically become messengers. We must deliver God’s message. How serious is it if we fail to do the job? We shall die forever! And that means we must deliver precisely the message God reveals to us.
Jonah’s big tragedy was when he repented—he almost waited too late. “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple” (Jonah 2:7). Jonah remembered God when his soul fainted. He was just about to die physically and spiritually when he repented. That is what it took to bring him back to reality.
So often we fail to see just how evil we are. “What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house” (1 Kings 8:38). Do we understand the plague of our own heart? Do we see how evil our human nature is?
Our marriages and families often have to reach the disaster stage before we act. Frequently we fail to deal with our problems until it is too late. Fifty percent of the Laodiceans refuse to repent until they are in the Great Tribulation. Fifty percent choose to die eternally, rather than repent!
We must ask God to reveal our own evil heart and then change. This is our only hope. God is sick of phony repentance and phony religion. We MUST remove any obstacle to our delivering God’s urgent message! This is how we put God first in our lives.
Our own rebellion turns us away from the only source of mercy. “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy” (Jonah 2:8). God is discussing people who have received a special calling from Him, similar to Jonah’s calling. Otherwise, they could not forsake God. This is a mind-shattering tragedy! It is the greatest spiritual disaster we could experience.
We are called and we live in God’s mercy. Yet God’s people often forsake this wonderful mercy. That was the sin of Jonah. And that is the sin of God’s Laodicean Church today. We can see why the book of Jonah, like other prophetic books, has an end-time focus. There may be more people forsaking God today than at any time in the history of God’s Church. It is easy to prove—but only to a childlike, deeply converted Christian.
“But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord” (verse 9). Only God’s Church is being offered salvation today. And more people are probably being called today than at any other time. This is another reason this message is primarily aimed at God’s people today. Only those people whom God called vowed to deliver His message at baptism (Luke 14:26‑27). We covenanted that only death would stop us from doing God’s Work.
Have we forgotten that vow? Have we forgotten that our salvation is at stake? Either we deliver God’s message or we die for all eternity!
Satan is always trying to pull us away from what we vowed to God. Jonah remembered his vow—his solemn agreement with God—and because he remembered, God saved his life.
Most of God’s people today have not remembered their vow. Only a small remnant is prophesied to remember. “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” (Malachi 3:16). The book of Malachi is about the majority of God’s own people forgetting His truth in this end time. (Write for a free copy of Malachi’s Message for more information.)
The pcg is not a new church. We are just doing what we vowed. The Laodiceans are not.
The Second Time
Jonah was given another chance to deliver God’s message. “And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey” (Jonah 3:1-3). Notice God’s first words to Jonah after he repented: “Arise, go unto Nineveh.” God’s Work is our top priority—now and always! God and His Work must be where your heart is (Ezekiel 40:4). The first and most important of the Ten Commandments is broken if we fail. Mr. Armstrong always said that those members who grow spiritually are the ones whose hearts are in God’s Work. So God’s Work always comes first in our lives or we commit the cardinal sin of having another god before the true God.
At first glance, the message might not seem very important to us. But remember, God’s thoughts are far above ours. The message was to “Nineveh, that great city.” The Hebrew reads: “a city great to God.” Why was Nineveh so great to God? God must have believed that Nineveh and the Assyrian empire would repent. And they did.
Whether the world realizes it or not, Nineveh is the great hope to the nations of this world. This is how God would generally respond to any repentant nation. Look at the suffering this world could have avoided by repenting throughout the ages. And consider, the worst time of suffering ever is coming upon this Earth (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21-22). All of the physical tribulation can be avoided if the nations of Israel repent! The Day of the Lord can be prevented if the Gentiles heed our message. The example of Nineveh is their only hope today! That is why it was “a city great to God.” It was a shining example of what can happen to evil nations. It should be a great encouragement to the nations today! And it will be an example for nations in the World Tomorrow to see what could have been!
Do we really believe with our whole heart that if the nations of this world would heed our message, God would save them physically? He certainly would!
The expression “preach unto it the preaching” is better translated “cry the cry that I bid you” (Clarke’s Commentary). God wanted Jonah to cry aloud—not whisper His message. We must speak God’s message with urgency and boldness!
“And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). The first time Jonah was only told to preach against Nineveh. The second time, he only gave them 40 days to repent or be overthrown. It appears that God Himself was going to destroy them. Here is what Lange’s Commentary says of the word overthrown: “The word employed to denote the destruction is the old prophetical technical term … evertere (Isaiah 1:7; 13:19), which everywhere points back to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (original passage, Genesis 19:25)” (emphasis mine).
This is an important fact, probably indicating God was going to destroy Nineveh with fire from heaven as He did Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24).
God has promised to overthrow most end-time Israelite nations as He did Sodom and Gomorrah (Amos 4:1, 11). That probably means not just “fire from heaven”—but nuclear destruction as we know it today!
God’s command to Jonah to “Arise, go to Nineveh” is similar to our commission to warn the Laodiceans.
“And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein” (Revelation 11:1). We were commanded to rise and measure God’s temple and the altar (ministry)—to deliver God’s message to the Laodiceans. The word of God came to Mr. Armstrong and the Philadelphia Church of God as it did to Jonah. Now God’s Philadelphians must collectively support this message—or receive a fate worse than Jonah’s!
“So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). The people of Nineveh believed God—not Jonah. They knew this message came from God—just as the Philadelphians know that God gave His prophetic secret to the pcg.
Here is an amazing truth. Carnal-minded people who didn’t even believe in the true God knew this message came from God! The people of Nineveh proved that everybody throughout the ages should heed God’s warning messages. Our “scholarly” leaders may reason around God’s warning message, but that is just a rebellious refusal to believe God. Any person can prove when a message is from God! If they don’t believe God, it is still a witness against them (Matthew 24:14). So much tragedy could be avoided if people would believe God. If they don’t, then their own weak faith is the problem. The whole world would be in the pcg if they believed God! Because that is where God’s only message and work is!
“For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands” (Jonah 3:6-8). The king and the nobles took the lead in repentance. And that is what the kings and presidents of this world should do today! Are they too proud to fast, wrap themselves in sackcloth and sit in ashes? Are they ashamed of God and His message? Must they experience nuclear disaster before they repent?!
“Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” (verse 9). True repentance moves God deeply. Who knows when God may change His prophecies against an evil nation? Who knows if God will save an empire or nations? Our message could save the whole world from destruction
We want to make certain we don’t write the nations off and fail to deliver God’s message! Who knows what our loving God may do. “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (verse 10). Notice God did not focus on their fasting and sackcloth. He saw their works! They made real changes and God responded by saving their empire.
One of my Ambassador College professors, Dr. Herman Hoeh, said that Germany even thought of proclaiming a national repentance before the world, after World War ii. But then they decided against it because there was no precedent. They thought no nation had ever done such a thing. They didn’t even know the Bible history of their own nation! How sad.
How the Laodiceans Repent
As with Jonah, God’s message is going to come to the Laodiceans a second time—in the Great Tribulation. “In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished” (Ezekiel 6:6). Whole cities will be laid waste. This never happened to ancient Israel. Only nuclear bombs could inflict such destruction!
Nuclear power is being spread around the world. Even terrorists have access to these deadly weapons. How can we not believe God’s prophecies? “And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall loathe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations” (verse 9). God is first of all addressing the Laodiceans who have departed from Him. This could not apply to worldly religions. They have never known God and therefore could not depart from Him! (For more information, write for our free booklet Ezekiel—the End-Time Prophet.)
God said, “I am broken with their whorish heart.” The word broken means “broken-hearted.” The Laodiceans act like their Husband is a statue with no real love for His Bride. Their betrayal has left Him broken-hearted. Any husband who loves his wife should be able to understand that emotion.
What are the Laodiceans and other captives going to do? They are going to “remember” God. You can’t remember God if you never knew Him! God is specifically addressing His Laodicean Church. The repentant Laodiceans are going to remember what they were taught by Mr. Armstrong and how they were warned by the Philadelphians. And so will carnal Israel to a lesser degree. They too will have been warned.
But what specifically must the Laodiceans understand? “And they shall know that I am the Lord, and that I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them” (verse 10). God is saying in the strongest words that you don’t really know Him if you don’t believe His message! The Laodiceans have rejected God’s message and therefore don’t truly know Him. What a scathing condemnation.
The Laodiceans must grasp that God has “not said in vain that [He] would do this evil unto them.” First, God is going to punish the Laodiceans as He warned them in Ezekiel 3 and 33. They departed from God and fail to remember that they were commissioned to warn Israel (and to a lesser extent, the Gentiles).
God has “not said in vain” that He would punish them. How did God say this to the Laodiceans? This is being done mainly through the PCG’s warning message. The Philadelphians speak for God and are telling the Laodiceans of the evil that will come upon them. This is what the Laodiceans are going to remember in the Tribulation.
The Laodiceans are not delivering God’s warning message of the evil to come upon this world and now must pay with their own blood. Before they die, they must repent and deliver God’s warning message to their captors! Like Jonah, they still must deliver God’s warning message—this time mainly to the Gentiles.
Israel is going to “eat unclean things in Assyria” (see Hosea 9:1-3). This includes God’s own Laodicean Church. Then God says they “shall remember me.” They failed to deliver God’s warning message before the Tribulation. Now they, like Jonah, must deliver God’s message to Assyria (Nineveh) and other Gentile nations—under far more difficult circumstances. With their limited capabilities, they must tell their evil captors what is to befall them in the Day of the Lord. They must repent of not delivering God’s message by delivering it when they are in slavery!
Why the Sign of Jonah?
Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites as we are to the world today (Matthew 12:40; Luke 11:30). Christ discussed Jonah the prophet when He was on this Earth. He obviously knew that this event was not a fantasy. He even referred to Jonah as a type of Himself. Yet many religious people look upon the book of Jonah as myth. These same people talk about Christ repeatedly—but they don’t believe Him! They don’t believe His message! That means they don’t know God!
Jesus Christ gave the Jews only one sign—the sign of the Prophet Jonah. Why? “Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 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. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here” (Matthew 12:38-41). Christ gave them this sign because they were such an evil generation. But what did Jonah have to teach a wicked people? The most important lesson they could receive.
The Jews could observe and prove that Christ was in the grave three days and three nights. By this sign, they could prove that Jesus Christ truly was the Son of the living God—their very Creator, who is far greater than the Prophet Jonah.
Then if they understood and believed this sign, they could learn a vital lesson. The people of Nineveh repented when Jonah warned them. Jesus Christ Himself warned the Jews. They refused to repent and ultimately killed Christ. If they had understood the sign, they could have prevented this lasting stigma! They are going to be somewhat condemned in the future. God is going to resurrect them in the flesh on the Last Great Day. They will be there with the people of Nineveh, who repented when Jonah warned them. The whole world will compare the Jews who killed Christ to the people of Nineveh who repented, by the letter of God’s law. Very condemning indeed. However, spiritually, we are all guilty of killing Christ.
“The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (verse 42). The queen of the south traveled many hundreds of miles to hear the wisdom of Solomon. The Jews refused to hear Christ who was in their midst.
Here is the point: How eagerly do we want to hear God’s word? Would we travel hundreds or thousands of miles to hear it? Or do we, like the Jews in Christ’s time, persecute those who bring God’s message?
How many people in this world are going to be condemned by the people of Nineveh? Right now it appears that most of the world is going to be condemned, including many of God’s own people!
The sign of Jonah is a great warning to this whole world! All people are going to be held accountable for what they did in this world—and especially for how they responded to God’s message. If they reject it, it is going to be a witness against them. We all need to carefully examine ourselves in this area. To whom much is given, much is asked.
Jonah was a sign to Nineveh and the world. Christ was a sign to the Jews and the world. Mr. Armstrong’s work was a sign to the whole world (Matthew 24:14). The work of the Philadelphia Church of God is a sign to the Laodiceans and the world. Christ is giving this world many signs. If we fail to read and understand the signs, we get lost spiritually and suffer enormously for our negligence!
Only evil people seek after a physical sign. If Christ lives in us, our whole life is filled with spiritual and physical miracles. But even for an evil generation, God still gives them a sign—which condemns them.
A “greater than Jonah” and a “greater than Solomon” gave this sign to the Jews—and to the evil world. Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—gave that warning to us. Woe to those who fail to heed the sign of the Prophet Jonah.
The fourth chapter of Jonah presents another problem. Jonah was very angry that God saved Nineveh. Once we run away from God’s Work, I believe it often has lasting damage. Jonah still seemed to have an attitude problem. The Laodiceans lose a large portion of their reward because of their running from God today.
The book of Jonah ends abruptly with a question. We don’t know what happened to Jonah. God wants us to learn the most important lesson of that book. And that is the great urgency of delivering His message.
If God will warn a great city before He destroys it, He will certainly warn great empires. He is doing just that in this end time. That grave responsibility has fallen upon God’s Philadelphia Church. God wants us to see how terribly important His message is. We must be deeply sobered and moved when “the word of the Lord came unto” the Church of God!