Parable of the Yeast

yeast 2

Q. In Lk 13:20-21, why is the kingdom of heaven like yeast? Why is Jesus so cryptic?

A. The word “yeast” appears 10 times in the NT:

Mt 13:33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
• Mt 16:6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
• Mt 16:11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
• Mt 16:12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
• Mk 8:15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
• Lk 12:1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
• Lk 13:21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
• 1 Co 5:6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?
• 1 Co 5:7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are.
• Ga 5:9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”

Observation
• Literally just a little yeast is enough to work through the whole dough.
• Figuratively yeast is used to represent the teachings of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod.
• Yeast also represents boasting, being puffed up.
• As new unleavened dough, we are to get rid of the old yeast.

Interpretation
Some commentators see the parable of the yeast as teaching the same thing as the parable of the mustard seed – the growth of the kingdom of heaven, that a small thing can permeate everything. That is true. However, as you can see in the observation, yeast is consistently used in a negative sense in the NT, and I do not see Mt 13 and Lk 13 as exceptions.

Yeast is a fungi, and works by fermentation. It does not work when it’s dry and cold, and is destroyed by heat. It works best when it is moist and lukewarm, when the yeast breaks down the sugar in the flour and gives off alcohol and carbon dioxide, which causes the dough to rise. Since it works under putrid conditions and feeds on its host, it is used as a symbol of corruption and evil. I see this basic meaning in the parable.

The mustard seed and the yeast are twin parables teaching opposite aspects of the kingdom of heaven. The former is primarily positive but contains negative elements, the latter is primarily negative but has positive aspects. The kingdom of heaven or God is not the same as the Church. The former is the realm of the rule of God, and contains both the people of God and those who do not belong to Him, but taking shelter under it. The Church consists of the redeemed only.

Because of the mix of God’s elect and non-elect within the kingdom, birds can rest on the mustard branches, while yeast can infiltrate and try to corrupt God’s people. Just as one pin can burst a balloon, so a little yeast can affect the entire dough. Our Lord specifically named 3 types of yeast:
• Pharisees – hypocrisy (Lk 12:1);
• Sadducees – unbelief (Acts 23:8 The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits.)
• Herod – power (he beheaded John the baptizer), or cunning (Jesus called him a fox Lk 13:32).
Christians are tempted to be hypocritical, pretending to be who they are not to appear good, to disbelieve through lack of faith, and to ingratiate themselves with political power, doing the expedient rather than what’s right. The Lord warned us against all that, which Paul enjoined.

Application
Again you have to work out your own application, specific to your circumstances. Growth is good, but cultivate it within God’s means.

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