Sermon session

Leaven Lookout

Session #108 Leaven Lookout

Scripture Matthew 16:5-12

Summary In Matthew 16:5-12, Jesus gives His disciples another leaven lesson. Jesus’ warning to look out for erroneous teachings and negative influences are critically applicable for believers today. Our faith must be one that matures, understands and discerns kingdom paradigms and perspectives.


Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?

Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew 16:5–12 (Cf Mark 8:14-21)

The passage is about leaven. More specifically, a warning to look out for leaven.

What is Leaven or Yeast?

Yeast from gist (old English) is to boil, to froth. Leaven from levare (Latin) is to raise, to lift In  Greek: zume #2219 from zeo #2204 – to heat, to seethe, to bubble, from which we get zest or zeal, to be fervent or zealous. In New Testament use, we find them in Acts 18:25 and Romans 12:11.

A fermenting agent is any substance that produces fermentation when added to the dough.

Dough already infected by leaven, which was put into the flour so that the leaven could pass through the entire mass before baking. Dough that had risen through the influence of the leaven.

Early Hebrews depended on a piece of leavened dough for transmission of the leaven. The lees of wine (dead yeast cells, leftover from the fermentation process) came much later.

Leaven in the Bible and Its Significance

Bread is a staple that is needed for sustenance. Commonly the dough is baked with leaven and it requires time for leaven to work through the dough.

In Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, for the sake of speed and readiness, unleavened bread was prepared (Exodus 12:14-15). During Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, unleavened dough for journeys was used for convenience as they had to travel (Exodus 12:34).

Leaven then came to symbolize sin and evil, having a bad influence.

Fermentation implies disintegration and corruption and is also applied to sin and evil, having a  negative impact and influence.

In the Old Testament, leaven was excluded from all offerings placed on the altar to be sacrificed to God (Exodus 23:18; 34:25) and not permitted in meal offerings (Leviticus 2:11; 6:17).

In the New Testament, leaven implies sexual immorality in the Church as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. In the teachings of Judaizers on circumcision, in Galatians 5:9, “ A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”

Not limited to Israel or biblical understanding, Plutarch, a 1st-century Greek philosopher says that “Now leaven is itself the offspring of corruption and corrupts the mass of dough with which it has been mixed.”

Leaven can also mean wrong or inaccurate teachings like that of the Pharisees in Luke 12:1, Pharisees and Sadducees Matthew 16:12; and Pharisees and Herod in Mark 8:15.

However, leaven is not always bad; and can be acceptable and good. Leaven could be used in offerings that were to be eaten by priests or others. Leavened bread could accompany peace offerings (Leviticus 7:13), and it was sacrificed at the feast of weeks during Pentecost because it represented the ordinary daily food that God provided for His people (Leviticus 23:17).

Scripture does not tell us whether or not the showbread was unleavened, but the historian Josephus states that it was leavened (Antiquities of the Jews 3.6.6; 10). Thus, leaven in the Holy Place is acceptable.

Jesus used leaven to describe the impact and influence of the kingdom of God in Matthew 13:33 as well.

What leaven (or wrong influence) was Jesus referring to when He used the word? Hypocrisy is seen in Luke 12:1-3. The Pharisees had the right teaching but wrong living. It can also mean any other bad influence or attitude as seen in 1 Corinthians 15:33, wrong teaching leads to wrong living.

Generally, when doctrine or teachings are not accurate, are they considered wrong or false? In Aramaic, ‘yeast’ and ‘teaching’ sound very similar.

The Pharisees received the Law and Oral Tradition of the Elder. They were protective of Jewish Identity with strict adherence and ‘fencing’ to prevent breaking the law. They became legalistic and ritualistic.

The Sadducees only had the Law and were more accommodating. They believed that there is no resurrection of the dead, thus no afterlife. They were also more practical and pragmatic, having a political alignment.

In the commentaries, they are labelled as hyper-conservatism vs hyper-liberalism by Craig Bloomberg (The New American Commentary); and self-righteousness vs self-Indulgence by David Platt in teaching Matthew.

Not everything they taught was wrong. But when taken to extremes (hyper), it becomes potentially heretical and dangerous. A little leaven can permeate and affect the entire walk.A little leaven permeates, affects and infects entire communities or churches. Small misalignments can lead to major deviations.

The same can be said of certain teachings today. Teachings of hyper-works (self-righteousness), hyper-faith, hyper-grace (liberalism); and hyper-positivism (fake-ism).

Jesus is the Centre. Our tendency to be unbalanced and swing to extremes because of our preference for certain positions. There is a need for healthy tensions, having a full counsel of God.

What Exactly is the Leaven (wrong teaching) in the Context of Matthew 16:5-12?

Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” Matthew 16:6-7

In the preceding passage (Matthew 16:1-4), it provides the context. Although they have differences, their similarities united them. Both ganged up against Jesus. Both did not believe and tested (peirazo) Jesus. Both asked for signs before believing.

Sign-based faith is the teaching that signs are needed before one believes. The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to see signs (1 Corinthians 1:22). For those who only seek signs, the sign will be a stumbling block to them, resulting in an influence of unbelief.

Mark’s account lends support to the leaven of Pharisees and Herod (Mark 8:15). Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, Herod wanted to see the signs too. In Matthew 14:1-2, Herod heard about Jesus’ mighty works (signs) and thought that He was John the Baptist who had been resurrected (cf Luke 23:8).

Jesus cautions us to beware of such teaching of sign-based faith. Do not chase after signs for the sake of signs. We need to know what the signs are for, and what they point to. We have to be careful for in the last days, there will be power, signs and lying wonders according to the working of Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:9).

Leaven is very small and virtually invisible when mixed in the dough. Teachings may sound right and harmless. Hard to notice the error until it is too late. Jesus warns the disciples to look out for such leaven. Lock it down! Get it out!

What was Jesus’ Main Point in this Passage: Faith? Understanding!

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” Matthew 16:5-7

Jesus is telling us not to buy bread (teachings) from the Pharisees or Sadducees. Jesus can make bread from nothing.

Jesus responded to the disciples, “O you of little faith” Matthew 16:8. Was it about faith? In part but it is not about just believing. In Matthew 16:9-11, Jesus reminded them of the feeding of the four thousand for His main point is understanding.

Jesus asked this often – do you understand? (Matthew 16:9,16:11 and Mark 8:17-18).

Understanding the kingdom requires the right hearts, eyes and ears (Matthew 13:14–15).

Faith and understanding go hand in hand. Start with believing, followed by understanding. Faith must lead to understanding as ours is not blind faith but faith that understands. with a little faith, there will be little understanding. Maturity is needed for a greater understanding of the kingdom. Thus Jesus used the multiplication miracle to call them to remember,  believe and understand.

What was the sign for? There were twelve large baskets in Mark 8:19 and seven large baskets mentioned in Mark 8:20. The miracle was not done to meet only the physical need but a sign that the Messianic Banquet is for both Jew and Gentile. Believe in Jesus as the Messiah, not to ask for second helpings.

Pharisees and Sadducees (and Herod) have sign-based faith. They saw the signs and could not discern the signs of the times.

Jesus requires us to have a faith-based understanding. Faith must lead to understanding and spiritual discernment.

“Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.” St Augustine of Hippo

Beware of teaching that focuses on wrong things, that misses the King and His kingdom. One can see the physical bread but miss the spiritual bread that Jesus is giving. One can have natural knowledge with no spiritual insight. We can be engaged in churchy talk but not having a kingdom living.

You can have so much information but not understanding what you need to do is like an addiction to conspiracy theories.

Leaven Lookout! Beware and be careful of the leaven. Notice it and nip it in the bud. Small misalignments lead to major deviations. Realign when you need to.

At the end of the passage, Matthew 18:12, the disciples understood what Jesus was teaching them.


Look out for leaven in your own life and in the church.

Leaven in this passage is negative and dangerous bringing about pervasive influence and widespread effect. Take heed and lock it down before it spreads and influences.

We need kingdom leaven (teaching). Jesus as our Passover had no leaven: no sin, evil or corruption. Jesus as the showbread has leaven, good kingdom leaven. Lookout for kingdom leaven that has the right kingdom teaching and doctrine. Let it permeate you and bring kingdom influence. Hang out with people with kingdom influence, and be the one with good kingdom influence.

We need Faith-based Understanding, not Sign-based Faith. Signs are not wrong but there is no need to chase signs. Let the signs follow you. Grow in faith, grow in understanding and spiritual discernment as it is a sign of kingdom maturity.

Do you understand?