I can still remember my grandmother’s baking days. She made some awesome bread. It smelled so good when you walked on the porch and the closer you got the more inviting it became but, goodness gracious.... when you tasted it warm and buttery it was soooo good! The substance that made it rise and be airy was yeast, leaven. I have watched her make it from scratch. I have smelled the yeast in warm water just fermenting waiting to do its magic. When introduced to flour, water and other ingredients it took over. It permeated the entire batch of dough.
Jesus is warning that the doctrine of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians was just like my grandmother’s yeast. Except, instead of bringing goodness into the loaf it just would take over. Yeast, leaven is a metaphor that is used often in scripture. It is a metaphor that is used for sin and interestingly, the Jews were instructed to get rid of all leaven for the Passover meal. They could not even keep it in the house. It was a metaphor for sin and contamination.
Jesus went on to say that the leaven of the Pharisees was their teaching and, that it was hypocrisy. Mat 16:6-7 Jesus said to them, "Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (7) And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, "We brought no bread."....... Mat 16:12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In other words, Jesus said that the teaching/doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees was just like leaven. It would permeate and ruin the purity of the teaching that he had taught them. In Luke 12:1 Jesus called the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees hypocrisy and in Mark 8:15 he mentioned to beware of the leaven of Herod which was the leaven of the Herodians... that is, people who followed Herod.
Let me describe the historical context of each of these groups. The Pharisees were strict lawyers, self righteous and very judgmental. They believed in the imminent resurrection but they were very exclusive in their acceptance of people and extremely dogmatic about their beliefs and rigid with their understanding of God’s will.
The second group was equally religious and self righteous when it came to the Law of Moses but were far more liberal in the spiritual realm and, did not believe as much in the supernatural. They did not believe in an imminent resurrection. Likewise, they were not expecting the kingdom of God to be manifested in a supernatural way. They were the wealthy elite ruling class.
Finally, the third group was called the Herodians. They were followers of Herod who thought that co-operation with the government was the best way to aid the kingdom advancing. They wanted to see Herod in power and, believed that they could best advance the issues important to the Jews by supporting and, working with Herod and the Roman government.
I find it interesting that there are such close parallels to these groups within the church today. There are modern day Pharisees who are self righteous and exclusive. They are judgmental and claim to speak for God and exclude all who do not believe as they believe... do not interpret the scripture the way that they do.
Likewise, there are modern day Sadducees. They have removed much of the supernatural from Christianity. They self righteously tout the teachings of the sermon on the mount but, deny the power of the Holy Spirit and, the efficacy of the cross. They play down humanities need for redemption and the fact that Jesus put the world to rights for all by his death, burial and resurrection.
Also, we have the Herodians.... militia groups and saints that believe that we need to take over the government and rule by the Ten Commandments. They believe that the best way to change the world is to have government officials elected that have a biblical agenda.
Was it Solomon that said there is nothing new under the sun? In subsequent articles we will dig deeper into this topic.