Matthew 16:1-12 Part 3

As God reveals Himself and all that He has done, in His Word, the whole of it implies that we should know Him and, therein, know ourselves in relation to Him.  And, in addition to the implication of the whole, there are explicit exhortations and commands for us to know Him and think His thought after Him.  As the apostle Paul said, we are to have the “mind” of Christ.

Since we are “in Him” we are to participate in His wisdom and see with His eyes and evaluate with His reason; our perspective on all that there is, ought, more and more, to be His perspective.  He is the One Who had claimed us for His Father and bought us and cleansed us and become one with us; and He has clothed us with His Own righteousness!  He has taken our sin upon Himself and paid the consequences for it – and given us His Own flesh so that we are now a humanity that is acceptable to God.  So now, since we are new creations in Him, we are to see with His eyes and think with His mind and reason with His wisdom!

That’s what Van Til called epistemological self-consciousness.  We truly know because we have the mind of Christ.  His is the original.  And it is perfect and holy and righteous.  And to have the mind of Christ is to be identified as true humanity in the image of God.

All of this came out last Lord’s Day as we considered our Lord’s comments to His apostles – and the apostles’ understanding and reaction to what He said.  They had no earthly idea what Jesus meant when He said:  “observe and beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  They were fully concerned with the fact that they had forgotten to take bread with them when they crossed back over to the east side of the sea.  And they were worried because there was no place to buy any!  That’s all they had on their mind!

And when Jesus said, “observe and beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees,” they thought that, somehow, the “leaven” was connected to their absent-mindedness concerning the bread!  It wasn’t until Jesus chastened them, calling them “little faiths”, that they realized that He was recalling the recent encounter with the delegation from Jerusalem, and that He was speaking of their “teaching”; their philosophy; their perverse, ungodly effect on whatever they touched.

Now, let me remind you once again that this Sanhedrin delegation was a coalition of religion and government in opposition to Jesus.  The Pharisees, and their Scribal doctors of law, represented religion in Israel.  They were pseudoshepherds whose development of man-made law left the Jewish people without any idea of the perfections and holiness of God!  And they were without anticipation of the coming Christ of God!  Their self-exonerating legal manipulations ripped and tore at the very fabric of what was supposed to be a society obedient to the Words of God.  And they left the people blind, diseased and destitute and imprisoned in darkness.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, were an opposing party!  There was always great enmity between them and the Pharisees.  They were the aristocrats, a highly religious group which descended from Zadok – a son of Eleazar, a son of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi!  But their religion was the state of Israel and its law!  To them, the individual had no spiritual attributes, since there is no spiritual realm to reality; no angels, no spirits, no demons, no life after death!  Only Jewish nationalism!

But the Sadducees are the prime example of national leaders committing fornication with pagan cultures!  Their ideas concerning the state came from the influence of Hellenism, which is another word for Greek culture.  After world conquest by Alexander the Great, Hellenism became the overwhelming force in international culture and society.  And the Sadducee, or Zadokite, party was instrumental in moving Israel toward Hellenistic culture!

And the same thing happened after 63 BC when Rome conquered the world and became the leading cultural, as well as military, power for all the nations of the earth.  The Sadducees, for the purpose of Israel’s eternal existence, transferred their loyalty to Rome and its local government!  And for that most practical purpose, primarily they ingratiated themselves, at the highest levels of Jewish society, to the kings and governors which Rome established.  And they became the representatives of Rome to the Jewish people.  They truly became leaders of an evil and adulterous generation, committing national adultery with a totally pagan culture, and leaving the people of Israel completely unprotected against heathen ideas and practices!

But nevertheless, with all the great enmity between the two parties, they coalesced against the perceived threat of Jesus and His followers!  And that coalition of antagonism continued into the New Testament Church.  Rome eventually took the position that there was a familial relationship between Judaism and Christianity – one of the primary factors which led to the persecution of Jews and Christians alike, and which then led to the obliteration of Israel as a state in 70 AD.

Now.  Knowing that leaven is that which permeates the whole lump, I want to take that simple background information, look closely at what Jesus has said here concerning the leaven of these Pharisees and Sadducees, and take you on a quick journey through the New Testament!  With a very stern warning, Jesus is preparing His apostles for a very fierce battle for the Kingdom.  And that battle against the leaven of Judaism is reflected in the inspired pages of the New Testament books.

For example, the very first inspired letter written was Paul’s letter to the Churches of Galatia.  And it indicates the intense spiritual warfare going on in the Churches between the Gospel of Christ and the leaven of Judaism!  Paul opens the letter by saying this:  “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel!”  And Paul calls that “other gospel” the Jews’ religion!  Representatives from the Sanhedrin were actually in the Churches contending for the Kingdom!  And Paul calls these men “those of the circumcision”.  The whole letter is a defense of the faith against Judaism!

In the two letters to the Church at Corinth Paul rails against the “parties”, or divisions, within the Church.  And the letters indicate that those divisions, at least in part, were caused by those “of the Jews’ religion.”

The Judaizers were also in Ephesus.  Paul writes a stern warning to those Churches concerning the children of disobedience who lie in wait to deceive the congregations with cunning and crafty words.

In the letter to the Churches of Philippi, Paul spends a major section of that letter in combating the influence of Pharisees and Sadducees – calling them dogs, evil workers, the party of the circumcision – who require of Christians an adherence to Jewish ceremonies and teach the Church that there is no resurrection of the dead!  Paul calls them enemies of the cross of Christ whose end is destruction.

Paul’s striving with the Church at Colossae was concerning those who, with false humility and a puffed up mind, require the Church to practice the Pharisaical traditions and the old ceremonies associated with the commandments and doctrines of men!

Apparently the Churches of Thessalonica had been saturated with deceivers, denying any resurrection of the dead, refuting the coming of the Lord in destruction of Israel and Jerusalem, and teaching of another Messiah to be seated in the seat of David!  Both letters are a defense against these pseudo-apostles and teachers!

Then Paul writes two letters to the pastor of an Ephesian Church – Timothy – who was simply besieged with Judaizers who had disdain for Timothy, and who required strict compliance with Pharisaical tradition in order to be Christian!

Paul also writes to Titus, whom he had left in Crete to set things in order there, and the main problem in Crete is expressed by Paul in the first few verses of the letter:  “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision….”  “Rebuke them sharply… not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men, who turn from the truth!”

Turning from Paul’s thirteen letters, we have the letter to the Hebrews (whoever wrote it) which is, as a whole, a defense of Christianity against Judaism! 

And the two letters of Peter to the refugee-remnant of the house of Israel in dispersion among the nations.  And his letters are concerning the Gospel of Christ in defense against the old Pharisaical Judaism!  He calls them “dogs who return to their own vomit – who have turned from the Commandments delivered unto them….”

Sometime before 70 AD the physician Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.  And in that book, over and over again, one occurrence after another, we see the apostle’s confrontation with the Jews in coalition with the Roman government!  At every occasion there was an attempt to stop the progress of the Church by beatings and murders and false teachers and imprisonments and by every other means possible – Rome and Israel standing against Christ and His Kingdom!  As Peter quotes from Psalm two, “The nations were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ!”

And then, finally, we have the Book of the Revelation of St. John the apostle which, as a whole, is a final condemnation of Israel – the covenant-breaker.  And John is commanded to write down the letters to the seven Churches (I might add here that Paul also wrote to seven Churches).  And the content of those seven letters of John’s Revelation are very revealing as to the source of the problems in the Churches!

The Churches are sharply warned against the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, the doctrine of Balaam and that of Jezebel.  And the connection between these three is that they all attempted to destroy the people of God by getting inside and enticing the people to idolatry and fornication!  If the people could, somehow, be deceived to the extent that they involved themselves in some kind of idolatry, or if they were convinced that the Law of God allowed practices of fornication, then the Churches would be destroyed from the inside!  John writes that these are Jews of the synagogue of Satan who would persecute the Church and attempt to destroy it internally because it wouldn’t align itself with the pagan state-worshippers or the apostate Jews!  But the Church is the true Israel.  Apostate Israel is about to suffer the tribulation in the Day of The Lord!  True Jews all hold to the Faith in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ... the One anticipated in the entire Old Testament Scripture!

Now. Having gone through the apostolic letters to the Churches of the New Testament, it becomes very easy to understand what Jesus has said to His apostles here in our text, “Observe and beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”  The apostles did not yet perceive with the mind of Christ what was happening around them; and they wouldn’t understand it all until later!

The establishment of the eternal Kingdom of Christ was taking place, and the forces were being aligned for the battle.  And that battle would be joined in every Church and in every family which belonged to Christ.  Apostate Judaism and the pagan nations of the world would join forces to snatch the Kingdom away by persecution from the outside and subversion from the inside!  Family members and Church members and elders and pastors would suffer persecuting indignities; and they would be assailed by smooth-talking false prophets to participate in idolatrous worship and involve themselves in the freedom of fornication!  Either of which would weaken and destroy the New Kingdom.

The “leaven” of the Pharisees and Sadducees is clearly evident in every written Word of the New Testament as the apostles engaged the battle with the Sword of the Spirit.  And Christ here warns them about what is to take place.

Now.  As we finish commenting on these twelve verses, there is one last thing that we have to understand as we learn to think and reason with the mind of Christ.  Jesus makes a connection between the leaven of the Judaizers and the feeding of the remnant of Israel – from which there were pieces left over!

One more time, here’s what He says, verse eight:


“Why were you deliberating in yourselves, little faiths, that you have no bread?  Do you not yet understand, neither remember the five breads of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up?  Nor the seven breads of the four thousand and how many baskets you took up?  How do you not understand that it was not about breads that I said to you, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees’?”


It’s not all that difficult that Jesus has fed the lost sheep of the house of Israel with His body, and that there is a union to take place between Him and His Father’s elect people.  And it’s not difficult to see that the pagan, Syro-Phoenician woman was begging for the pieces left over after the children are fed.  Or that the pieces left over from the feeding of the crowds are indicative of that which is left over for the Gentile nations.

But what we have to struggle with for a bit is that relationship of the pieces to the leaven of the Judaizers!  There’s a connection here in the perception of Jesus, and we have to see it with His eyes!

In the text there is an emphasis on the numbers of full baskets that were left over from the feeding of the crowds.  There were twelve baskets of pieces taken up and then seven baskets taken up.  And the full weight of the text falls on the bread, and not the fishes.  So we’re talking about the numbers of baskets full of the Bread of Life for the nations of the world!  Jesus asked His apostles, “Do you not remember how many baskets were taken up?”  So He was asking them to recall exactly, in numbers, the quantity of bread that was left over!

So that causes us to go immediately to the numbers in order to see what significance they have in God’s mind as He reveals His purpose in His Son.  And the number are twelve and seven.  Twelve full baskets of pieces left over, and seven full baskets of pieces left over.

Now, as we make a survey of the Biblical usage of the number twelve, we find that twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel; the apostles were known as the “circle of Twelve”, and their commission was to find the lost Sheep of the twelve tribes of Israel; even the New Testament Church is addressed, in James chapter one, as the twelve tribes in dispersion; there are twelve foundation stones in the new temple of God in Christ; and there are twelve stars in the crown of the daughter of Zion – the Church!  There are many more uses, but these are some of the more definitive ones.

But as you can see, twelve is the number used to indicate quantitative totality! – the number of that which is the whole thing!  It is the number which describes “all of it.”  So twelve is the whole Church, which is founded on the entire apostolic appointment of Christ, whose job it was, in the beginning, to find all of the lost sheep from all of the tribes of Israel!  And then, by commission from the Risen Lord, to preach the Gospel to all the nations of the earth – all of which will bow the knee to the King!

The number “seven”, unlike twelve, is used to indicate qualitative totality.  In the number seven there is perfect completion and fullness, as in the seven-day pattern of creation!  Completion!

Remember I said that Paul wrote inspired letters to seven Churches; and he considered them all in unity in the body of Christ – complete and perfect.

As the vision of St. John began, he looked and saw One like unto the Son of Man; and He had in His hand seven stars.  And with Him were seven golden candlesticks signifying the seven Churches.  And there were seven seals, seven trumpets and seven chalices.  There were also a total of seven visions in John’s revelation, with seven items in each vision – all corresponding, to some degree, with the seven days of creation!  The last vision being that of the New Heavens and the New Earth, which closely corresponds with the seventh day rest in Genesis chapter two!

So the One without Whom nothing was made that was made, is the One Who has created the heavens and the earth, and the New Heavens and the New Earth – both of which are full and complete in their perfections.  All indicated in sevens!

So, taking these two significant numbers back to our text, we see that Jesus is asking His apostles to consider the numbers of the baskets of pieces left over, which are twelve and seven.  And since the pieces represent the Bread of Life to the nations of the world, there will be quantitative and qualitative perfection of the Church in the body of Christ.  There is completeness – wholeness – and perfection there because the Church is in union with Him!

And the gathering of all the nations, and the coalition between Pharisees and Sadducees, here indicated by the leaven, will go against the Church in union with the Risen Lord.

And although there is persecution, and deception, and false teachers, and tempters, and Judaizers and rival governments – the Church is protected as His very Own Body.  For we are baptized into His death, His burial, His resurrection, and His ascension to the Right Hand of God the Father.  And we feed on His Body and are clothed upon with the robes of perfection in that Body.  And of the increase of His government there will be no end.  “Thy Kingdom come, O Lord, on earth as it is in Heaven.” – in wholeness and perfection.

Let us perceive these things with the mind of Christ.

And as we contemplate these things (coming to the Table this morning) it is with joy and wonder that we have the pieces left over from feeding of the elect remnant – the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  The pieces are enough for the whole Church in the nations.  And they are sufficient for the perfection of that whole… because it is His BODY that Jesus was illustrating!  It is the wholeness and perfection of His Body!

So turn away from all idolatry and fornication, for that is the leaven of the Judaizers, and rejoice and be glad.