Jonah and Atonement Theology

Ambrose Andreano

A great illustration for the bait and hook imagery within (ransom) atonement theology can be found within the story of Jonah: a man who is thrown overboard, swallowed by a sea giant, and regurgitated three days later. Christ—in the same way—descends into the belly of death but cannot be contained, and is thus vomited three days later. Truly the Lord said, “…no sign shall be given except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah 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.” (Matt. 12:39-40). And again He says, “Search the Scriptures…they are they which testify of me” (Jhn. 5:39). Jonah is in the Scriptures not merely to record a historical event, as if it were copied from a local newspaper, but to reveal to us something about the coming Christ.

Death was captivated by the flesh of God, and was enticed to devour it. This is because for the first time, God presented Himself in a form vulnerable to consumption. However, His invisible divinity—hidden within the flesh—cannot be swallowed. This image from Jonah—revealing the conquest of the uncontainable God—simultaneously depicts Christ as a victor, ransom, satisfaction and a substitute.

Christ’s sacrificial descent through the waters of baptism, and being subsequently swallowed up into the belly of hades, was for the sole purpose of setting us free. Because Christ caused Death to vomit, Death was defeated and our former chains fell to the ground. This makes Christ victorious. Since Christ willingly had Himself thrown overboard into the depths of the grave to set us free, this makes Christ our substitute and ransom: substitute because we could not free ourselves, and ransom because He is the terms, cause, and object of our freedom.  Christ’s work is also satisfaction, because Christ was swallowed up by death to not only satisfy the insatiably demanding appetite of Death to consume, but also to satisfy the insatiably demanding Love of God to sacrificially burn on a wooden alter made with human hands.

The devil should have saw this coming. Christ, like a brilliant strategist—who cannot but play with his inferior rival—intentionally left clues that could have helped the cause of His enemy, though knowing it would not. Christ vocalized His hint, essentially telling the devil to remember Jonah. When the storm came, Jonah had to be thrown overboard because he could not overpower the tempestuous violence of the providential storm. However, when such tumultuous waves approached the Lord’s boat, it was revealed that Christ had divine power to tame the wild elements. Christ revealed a glimmer of the divine nature; a man who is confined by no storm, for He is Himself the storm: laying waste to the principalities and powers of darkness (cf. Eph. 6:12). This is shown clearly in the case of the demoniac, having within him a whirlwind of demons. And in the chaos of soul, Christ calms the storm that we may once again be in our right minds (Mark 5:15). Indeed, the Lord shows Himself to be the strongest of storms when He said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Had the devil payed attention, He would have seen that death could not contain this conqueror without sheath, for He clearly has power over not merely His own life, but life itself. When rising from his bed, Jonah’s eyes quickly exchanged their slumber with fear, but when Christ awoke, one might have seen what looked to be the subtleties of a smirk—and it is the smirk of one knowing the outcome of a war before a battle is fought.

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