LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES
Matt 16:5-7 And when His disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. (Also see Mark 8:13-21)
After condemning the Pharisee and Sadducee leaders for desiring another sign of the coming of the promised Messiah's kingdom, Jesus again boarded a ship and sailed from Magdala to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, probably landing near the city of Bethsaida as He journeyed toward Caesarea Philippi (See Mark 8:13,22). Both Matthew and Mark record this event and tell us that, upon making land, Jesus' disciples ...had forgotten to take bread, with Mark adding that there was no more than one loaf to be found in the ship. When this was fully known, Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
This statement by Jesus was not understood by His disciples. They had just been reminded that they had forgotten to take bread with them. Therefore they thought this warning by Jesus was because of their inattention to taking necessary provisions on their journey. This incident, during the ministry of Jesus on earth, teaches us a very important lesson. In order to hear, accept, believe, and obey the will of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, there must be a distinction made between the physical and spiritual aspects of life. To truly understand the religious doctrine established by Jesus we must never let physical provisions become more important than spiritual food available in the body of Christ. Although physical needs must never be lacking in order to properly sustain our bodies, we must never let them deter us from the study of, and obedience to, the will of God that nourishes the spiritual health and well-being of our souls.
In this lesson, properly distinguishing between the spiritual and physical meaning of "leaven," as used by Jesus, was completely lacking by His disciples. Jesus continues admonishing His disciples in verses 8-12 of Matthew's gospel. Here we find Jesus' disciples as they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. Realizing the error they made understanding the analogy He used on this occasion, Jesus said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? It was evident that the primary concern of His disciples was for food to sustain their physical lives. Therefore, Jesus questioned their faith in the miraculous powers He received from His Father in Heaven. These followers of Christ had just witnessed two occasions where He had miraculously fed multitudes of people with very little food. He recites the latest of these in verses 9-10, where He fed four thousand men, not counting women and children, with five loaves of bread and a few fishes, and had twelve baskets of remnants of food left over. The fact that Jesus accomplished this great feat in their presence, there should have been no doubt in their minds that He would do the same again, if there was a need to do so. This should have established enough faith in Christ Jesus that they should not have been so anxious about having sufficient physical provisions on this occasion.
Recognizing their lack of understanding Jesus asked His disciples why they did not discern the true meaning of His admonition to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Their faith in Jesus should have kept them from misunderstanding this teaching. Leaven is a product having very interesting characteristics. Like yeast, it is the active ingredient in bread-making, which causes dough to ferment, raise, and give "lightness" to baked bread. Without being visible to the eye, a small amount of leaven silently works its way through dough until its fermenting process has affected the entire batch. After the explanation of His statement, the disciples then understood that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees (Matt. 16:12). This parabolic comparison Jesus made of the doctrine of these Jewish sects to leaven is very significant. Their doctrines, often referred to as the tradition of the elders, were filled with much superstition that led to self-pride, envy, and spiritual hypocrisy. The "holier than thou" demeanor of these Jews caused their erroneous doctrines to be more acceptable to Jews that were less spiritually educated. In a word, their doctrines crept in silently, and unnoticed, they permeated the entire Jewish nation. Today, our age is filled with the doctrines of men that, unless recognized, will, like leaven, gradually creep in, pervade, and destroy the doctrine of Christ. Take heed and beware!