It was God’s will that through Israel he would reveal himself savingly to the rest of the nations, to us. In this sense Israel was to be “as a light to the nations” (Is. 49:6). In Jonah’s commission to Nineveh, we see Israel’s task, to be a light to the Gentiles. Jonah is as Israel.
Jonah’s resistance and rebellion against God well pictures Israel’s own resistance and rebellion against God’s will for them. Israel is Jonah, the unwilling messenger to the nations.
The typological significance of the ministry of Jonah helps us appreciate why Jesus, the light to the nations, consistently makes parallels between his ministry and Jonah’s ministry:
Jesus preached repentance in light of the eminent end of the kingdom of this world. Jonah called for repentance on the same grounds (3:4). He too slept in a storm, the calming of which evoked fear and faith. He was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth as in the belly of the great fish (Mt.12:38).
The God who sent Jonah, who calmed the storm, has himself taken Jonah’s and Israel’s mission to the Gentiles (and, ironically, to Israel as well; showing that Mosaic Israel has become part of those who need the gospel.)
Jesus is Jonah and Jesus is Israel, the light to the nations (Jn. 8:12, Acts 26:23) that Jonah exemplified. Yet he is “something greater than Jonah”. He ensures the repentance of the Gentiles, and he does this by his own body–the church. As the disciples go out into the world to make disciples of all nations, it is the new, obedient Israel becoming a light to the Gentiles “that God’s salvation may reach the ends of the earth” (Is. 49:6, Acts 13:47). And, it is a willing Jonah.
Evangelism is an amazing calling, in light of all this.