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Jonah in Luke’s Gospel

We recently had Luke 8:22-56 preached at Christ Church Hemel, and it struck me that Luke alludes (quite strongly) to Jonah in the first section (Luke 8:22-25).

Just consider the similarities:

  • Jesus, like Jonah, falls asleep on the boat. (Luke 8:23, Jonah 1:5)
  • Shortly after a storm rises, threatening to sink the boat. (Luke 8:23, Jonah 1:4)
  • The disciples cry the same thing as the captain (Luke 8:24, Jonah 1:8)
  • The response of the disciples and sailors is fear. (Luke 8:25, Jonah 1:16)

There is a striking difference though. Jesus actually went and offered salvation to the Gentiles, whilst Jonah did not want to. And if Jonah was meant to be a picture of Israel, this is yet another example of Jesus being the true Israel – a theme that continues from this point in Luke…

The parallels continue into the next section of Luke – Luke 8:26-39.

Legion on meeting Jesus specifically asks him to ‘not to banish them to the abyss.’ Abyss (ἄβυσσον) is only used once in Luke’s gospel. Where else does it occur? A number of places in the OT, but once again Jonah (2:6).

So the question is… if we are meant to be thinking Jonah at this point, who is going to be thrown into the sea? We get the start of an answer in Luke 8:33. But that scenario reminds us of an earlier situation in Luke – back in Luke 4:29. Another person is taken to the edge of a cliff and almost thrown in.

Our conclusions seem to be confirmed by Luke when we get to Luke 9:7-8:

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 

English Standard Version

The people who had heard about what Jesus had been doing were perplexed by him. And some of them even thought that ‘one of the prophets of old had risen’. Why would they think that? Because Jesus’ actions remind us of Jonah (and others – but you can spot them)!

It is good to spot allusions like this, but what difference does this actually make?

In a section of Luke’s gospel, where Luke is focussed on salvation coming through the Saviour’s words it wouldn’t be out of place to use the story of the prophet who exclaimed: “Salvation comes from the Lord”. (Jonah 2:9)

And in a book that is aiming to give certainty to Theophilus – a man who’s name is a little to Greek to be Jewish. Hearing that Jesus has come for outsiders, unlike Jonah, would be a great encouragement to him. And hearing that Jesus does things in a highly Biblical way, just adds to that certainty.

To be continued…

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