What the Bible says about
Leaven of the Pharisees
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Jesus warns us in Luke 12:1 about leaven: "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." Throughout Matthew 23, Jesus lists a multitude of Pharisaical sins that could be grouped as legalistic externalism.
In Matthew 16:6, Jesus warns of the leaven of the Sadducees. The Sadducees' sins are not listed, but elsewhere we find they at least denied the supernatural and the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:8). Jesus also warns of the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15). Herod was involved in a great deal of lying in his political wheeling and dealing, abusing the power of his office, adultery, and general all-around worldliness.
Paul commands in I Corinthians 5:7-8:
Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Thus, in the New Testament leaven signifies wickedness and malice in contrast to sincerity and truth.
All of our offerings to God are mixed with some measure of sin. Has He made allowance for this in His instructions for the offerings? Yes.
No grain offering which you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the LORD made by fire. As for the offering of the firstfruits, you shall offer them to the LORD, but they shall not be burned on the altar for a sweet aroma. (Leviticus 2:11-12)
Leviticus 23:17, 20 clarifies this:
You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD. . . . The priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.
This Pentecost offering is a meal offering. The loaves represent Christians accepted before God because of Jesus Christ. However, because the loaves contained leaven, symbolizing the reality of sin in our lives, they are waved before God and accepted but not burned on the altar, recognizing the presence of that sin.
Romans 7:14-20 makes a powerful statement on this:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
No matter how much oil—the Holy Spirit—is poured out on us, it cannot completely counteract the corrupting effect of the leaven. We can control the flesh sufficiently so sin does not rule us, but sin is ever with us, and as long as we have human nature, that cannot be changed.
The only solution is that we must be changed—totally—and that is in our future, according to I Corinthians 15:50-52:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Three): The Meal Offering
Notice that his scathing attack is against both the Pharisees and Sadducees: The Pharisees had public power because they tended to be successful people in private life. In spite of this, they also had the admiration of the people. The Sadducees were largely from the priesthood and thus controlled the Temple. Consequently, they pretty much controlled the religious life of the people. Yet, because they also tended to be wealthy but haughty in disposition, the feelings of the people were prejudiced against them.
John courageously confronts the establishment's leadership. His was an unpopular message of judgment aimed directly at the powerful, and they did not take kindly to what he said. "And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him" (Luke 7:29-30).
Matthew 21:32 confirms John's rejection when Jesus speaks to the chief priests and elders at the Temple: "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him." The powerful knew John was speaking about them, so in disdainful anger, they rejected him, while the publicans and harlots accepted his teaching.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Elijah and John the Baptist
Most of the time, commentators interpret this parable just as they interpret the Parable of the Mustard Seed—that the Kingdom would grow big and eventually encompass the whole earth, and everything would be great. Hallelujah! But is this correct?
When the Jews heard this parable, they must have been astounded. If Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God was like leaven in bread, what would we think? It does not sound very good to us—nor did it sound right to the Jews—because we know what leaven represents in Scripture: the corruption of sin. How can the Kingdom be likened to leaven? It is almost unthinkable that the Kingdom of God would be full of leaven throughout. Is the Kingdom evil? Is it full of sin? This does not square with what we learn in the Old Testament. The Kingdom is supposed to be glorious and pure, and Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom is full of leaven. How can this be?
And we are right! Everywhere else in the Bible where the word "leaven" or "unleavened" appears, "leaven" carries with it a negative implication. Yet, according to the commentators, this one case is the exception! In 87 out of 88 times, it means something bad, but here in Matthew 13, leaven is positive. Why? It does not make sense for a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Leaven must still be negative here.
The commentators are uncomfortable with the idea that the Kingdom of God in its present form can have leaven in it, that it could be full of sin. But we need to remember that Jesus was seeing what would happen between the time He died and the time He returned. He saw that the people would be full of leaven, and they would always be, until they were changed to spirit.
That is the beauty of grace—that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and we can then come under His blood and be cleaned. This does not mean we are clean forever—we still sin after we are cleaned. So we have to go back before the throne of grace and plead for mercy and forgiveness again and again and again—even up until the time that we die or we are changed. We sin because we are full of leaven, and we spend our whole lives getting rid of it.
Every year, we keep the Days of Unleavened Bread to depict just this process and to be thankful that we have this sacrifice—Christ our Passover—who saves us and forgives us. In the Levitical sacrifices, no leaven could be in any of the offerings that were made (Leviticus 2:11), because they typified the sinless Christ. The two wave loaves that were offered on the day of Pentecost (Leviticus 23) were made with leaven, because they represent us, the Old Testament and the New Testament, or the Old Covenant and the New Covenant—the churches of those times that were full of leaven, that is, sinful people. But God accepts them because the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7). He knows our frame and gives us grace (Psalm 103:14).
In I Corinthians 5:6, Paul writes, "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" This sounds like the Parable of the Leaven. The leaven went throughout the Corinthian church. In verse 7, Paul says, in essence, "You are supposed to be pure. Get that sin out, so you can repent." In verse 8, Paul defines leaven as "malice and wickedness." In other words, it is sin.
In Galatians 5:7-9, Paul calls leaven a "persuasion [that] does not come from Him who calls you," one that hinders us from obeying the truth. Putting these three verses together, this is how he defines leaven, as "a persuasion that does not come from God." In Luke 12:1, Jesus says that the leaven of the Pharisees is hypocrisy—hypocrisy in religion. In Mark 8:15, He speaks of "the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." Herod had leaven, too, and his was basically secularism or the use of religion for political purposes. Then, in Matthew 16:5-6, 11, Jesus clearly says that the leaven He spoke about was the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
So, then, what is leaven? In its most basic sense, it is a symbol of corruption, which has a tendency to multiply and spread like yeast. A little bit of yeast in the dough will make the whole thing rise because the yeast ferments and spreads throughout the entire lump of dough, making it all rise. In this parable leaven symbolizes sin that corrupts and spreads.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 2): Leaven
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