41“The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. Mt 12:41
Do you know what it means when it says they ‘repented at the preaching of Jonah’? What it does not mean is they repented because of the preaching. The preaching was essential to the people coming to repentance, but ‘repenting at the preaching of Jonah’ means something slightly different.
To understand the point being made it is necessary to know what Jonah preached. Jonah preached a message of judgment, that in 40 days Nineveh would be destroyed. However, we know from Jonah that hope was also preached since repentance was part of the messaage. At the preaching of Jonah, the people repented and the king repented, and God relented to not destroy Nineveh, and Jonah protested to God, saying, “Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” Jonah 4:2.
Therefore, the people repented with a view to the judgment, hope and promise of God. The people repented with a view to God’s blessing. This is much like Acts 2:38 that says, ‘repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.’ The message is to repent and be baptized so that you can be saved. Jonah didn’t like it, but he was preaching repentance so that the people be saved and not destroyed.
The purpose of preaching the Word of God is to prick hearts and minds so that people change. These people repent in response to the message. But they repent so that they can receive God’s forgiveness.