Jesus taught that the kingdom of God would have a permeating influence in the world, like leaven does in bread (see Matthew 13:33). But He also warned about other “leavens” and said that we must be aware of their destructive influence:
Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”
Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
The above passages name a total of three leavens: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Herod. The term leaven refers to teachings, mindsets, and overall spiritual influence that creates a religious system other than the kingdom. Possibly more dangerous than false religion is the perversion of true.
I wrote a whole chapter about these three influences in Restoring the Ministry of Jesus. Here I will give a brief overview:
The Pharisees were a strict religious sect of the Jews in the time of Christ. Though they placed a high value on the Law, they totally missed the heart of God. They strove for correct doctrine, but denied the very Spirit of it. They were hypocritical and condescending.
This religious spirit lives on today and is influencing the church is many ways:
–Legalism: approaching God through our own good works instead of the sacrifice of Jesus.
–Ritualism: going through empty religious rituals without any heart.
–Traditionalism: placing a higher value on man-made traditions than on the commands of God.
Many believers and churches are influenced by this destructive system. It places heavy burdens on people and has little sense of the love of God. It is driven by guilt, shame, and fear instead of grace.
In our pursuit for sound doctrine and holiness–both good things–we must be careful not to fall prey to the leaven of the Pharisees.
The Sadducees were another prominent Jewish sect during the days of Jesus’ ministry. They did not adhere to the whole Old Testament as Scripture; only the first five books. The Bible also says this about the Sadducees: “For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both” (Acts 23:8).
The leaven of the Sadducees is a philosophical spirit that is driven by doubt and unbelief. It is manifesting in today’s church through a liberal theology that denies the authority of Scripture, questions the reality of hell, and disbelieves the supernatural realm.
There are whole denominations that have been eaten up by this influence. Much of what is called the “emergent church” would fall into this category as well.
It is one thing to ask hard questions and wrestle with doubts. But remember this: we are not the judge of Scripture, Scripture is the judge of us.
Herod was a king in the days of Jesus, and the Herodians were a political group that supported him. As I was seeking the Lord about the leaven of Herod, He highlighted this passage to me:
“So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.”
Pilate–also a political figure–caved into the pressure of the crowd. He knew that Jesus was innocent and not worthy to be condemned, but he handed him over anyway.
The leaven of Herod is a political spirit that causes compromise. It is manifesting in the church today in watered down preaching, “seeker sensitive” services, and other people-pleasing methods. It turns the church into a business, the congregation into customers, and pastors into CEOs. Under this influence, church leaders strive to build there own kingdom instead of God’s.
This leaven can be hard to discern because it is shifty, like a chameleon. We must be careful to stand against this influence. We cannot afford to cave into what is popular and “relevant” at the price of compromise. Success is not based on building an impressive looking church, but having lasting fruit for the kingdom of God.
All three of the above influences oppose the moving of the Holy Spirit and the advancement of the kingdom of God. Jesus said we must “beware of the leaven.” So let’s be on guard against these destructive influences in our lives and churches.