The leaven of hypocrisy
Jul 31, 2014
The hostility against Jesus in the latter part of Luke 11 naturally leads us into Jesus’ topic in Luke 12, wherein He assures us that all that is hidden will be revealed in the end. This includes the hidden motives of the heart as well as the criminal activity of the nation’s leaders.
Jesus would soon begin His final journey to Jerusalem (Luke 13:22), where He was to be killed. And so Luke records Jesus’ teachings that show the underlying conflict over the Dominion Mandate. Jesus was the true King of Judah and in a broader sense was also the King of Israel, King of the World, and Heir of all things. But the religious leaders in Jerusalem opposed His claim and thus plotted to usurp His throne for themselves.
When we understand where Luke is taking us in his narrative, we can then understand why he recorded these specific teachings of Jesus in Luke 12 and on. The teachings also apply to us today, for we are engaged in a similar conflict over the Birthright of Joseph. This time the conflict is over the Birthright name, Israel, and who truly has the right to claim that name.
Leaven is Hypocrisy
Luke 12:1 begins this way:
1 Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
This establishes—by deed and by word—the roots of the problem. Jesus speaks of leaven, which is “corruption” in the bread, hidden from view, but which can be observed by its action on the bread. The result of such hypocrisy is that people “were stepping on each other.” The wording was meant to be both literal and figurative. When men’s motives are hypocritical, often without their realization, they step on each other.
The Greek word zume (or zyme, as in “enzyme”) focuses on the fact that it is alive and can grow and spread. The thought is that it has the ability to infect others. Hence, we read the proverb in 1 Corinthians 5:6, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?”
The Hebrew word for leaven is seor, which literally means “fermentation, corruption.” Its root word sha’ar means “to be left over, left behind, remainder, retain, remnant.” It pictures something distinct and extra that goes beyond the loaf of bread. In the negative sense, this pictures corruption—specifically “hypocrisy,” as Jesus says.
There is also a positive side to the word sha’ar, for it also pictures the Remnant—that is, the overcomers who go beyond the main body of believers. This is seen in the prophecy of Isaiah’s son, who was to be called She’ar Jashub (Isaiah 7:3), which means “a remnant will return” (Isaiah 10:21). This was the prophet’s sign that the remnant would “return” to God, or that they were “left behind” in the sense that they were not cut off from the promises of God, though they were part of Israel’s captivity.
The main prophecy about this remnant is found in Isaiah 10:20-23,
20 Now it will come about in that day that the remnant [sha’ar] of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. 21 A remnant [sha’ar] will return, the remnant [sha’ar] of Jacob, to the mighty God. 22 For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant [sha’ar] within them will return; a destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness.
This is Paul’s “remnant of grace” (Romans 11:5), which had obtained the promises of God, while “the rest were blinded” (Romans 11:7).
In this sense, the remnant is like leaven in that they are mixed with the main body of people (as leaven in the dough), and yet they are extra and distinct. Likewise, to “return” is to repent, and this attitude is contrasted to the leaven of the Pharisees, who refused to repent and to “return” to God and submit to His will.
Hidden Things Uncovered
In that context, Jesus continues in Luke 12:2, 3, saying,
2 “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 3 Accordingly, what you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”
In other words, that the leavened actions of the Pharisees will be exposed for all to see. This specifically references the fact that “the scribes and Pharisees began to be very hostile” against Him (Luke 11:53). Their hostility manifested their refusal to accept Jesus as the King. Instead, they became angry and refused to repent, and this meant that their captivity under Rome would continue.
Leviticus 26:40-42 gives us the path to end captivity:
40 If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me— 41 I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember My covenant with Jacob ….
This hostility against Jesus was the visible action of the “leaven of the Pharisees” and the result of their hypocrisy. They claimed to be in strict obedience to God, but their rejection of Jesus exposed their rebellion against God. They did not realize that Jesus was the God of their fathers who had taken human form through a virgin birth. Exodus 15:2 says,
2 Yahweh is my strength and song, and He has become my Yeshua; this is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will extol Him.
In rejecting Jesus, the Pharisees rejected the Father also, for we read in 1 John 2:23,
23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
This is based on Jesus’ statement in John 8:19,
19 And so they were saying to Him, “Where is Your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither Me, nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.”
In other words, those who discerned that Jesus was the Messiah and the rightful Heir to the throne of David were those who truly knew the Father. Those showing hostility to Jesus were those who did not know the Father. And yet such hostile men claimed to know God, and therein lay the leaven of hypocrisy.
Likewise, this leaven in the Pharisees was soon to spread to others as well, for in the end most of the people were swayed by their leaders into rejecting Jesus. Thus, Jesus told them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, knowing that unless they could separate themselves from the religious system, they would soon be infected by its hypocrisy.
Only those who could separate themselves from its influence could be part of the “remnant” and avoid the blindness found in the rest of the body.
The hypocrisy, however, has not been exposed universally unto this day. Only the remnant sees it. In the past century even Christians have succumbed to the blindness of Judaism by rejecting the message in the Book of Hebrews. In accepting the idea that the Age to come would be ruled from the old Jerusalem, having a physical temple, animal sacrifices on its altar performed by Levitical priests, they have allied themselves with the blind, and the leaven has spread into the Church.
But the day is soon coming, I believe, that the hidden leaven will be exposed for all to see clearly. In my view this will happen when God destroys Jerusalem as He vowed to do in Jeremiah 19:11.
That passage really begins in Jeremiah 18:1-10, where the prophet was instructed to go to the potter’s house for revelation. He saw wet clay being marred in the hand of the potter, but saw the potter also rebuild it into another vessel. This was a prophecy of how God would restore “the House of Israel,” that is, the northern kingdom that included the tribes of Joseph.
Then beginning in verse 11, the prophet turns his attention to Judah and Jerusalem, indicting them on many counts throughout the rest of the chapter. Jeremiah 18:23 concludes without the hope of restoration, as was seen with Israel.
23 Yet Thou, O Lord, knowest all their deadly designs against me; do not forgive their iniquity or blot out their sin from Thy sight, but may they be overthrown before Thee; deal with them in the time of Thine anger!
Then God likened that nation and that city to another vessel of the potter. Jeremiah 19:1,
1 Thus says the Lord, “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests. 2 Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate; and proclaim there the words that I shall tell you.”
This jar was not like the previous jar that had represented the House of Israel. This jar, representing the House of Judah and Jerusalem was a jar that was already hardened. If it should be broken, it could not be repaired, but was taken out of Jerusalem through the potsherd gate and cast into the city dump in the valley of Ben-hinnom. The word of prophecy which Jeremiah was instructed to deliver to that city contained no word of comfort or hope for the city. At the end of the prophetic decree, God instructed Jeremiah to illustrate the fate of the city in Jeremiah 19:10-12,
10 Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you 11 and say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Just so shall I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. 12 This is how I shall treat this place and its inhabitants,’ declares the Lord, ‘so as to make this city like Topheth’.”
Topheth literally means “spittle,” from the root word tuwf, “to spit.”
The word topheth is used in Job 17:6, “and I am one at whom men spit.” The meaning often given is “a place of fire.” The idea of spitting conveys the idea of contempt and also of divine judgment (Deuteronomy 25:9).
As we read through the prophecy to the end, we find no hope for Jerusalem. The jar is not remade into another vessel, as we see with the wet clay representing the House of Israel. The reason most people are blind to the significance of this prophecy is because they see no difference between Israel and Judah. The prophets, however, never confused the two nations, for they were not blind.
Today, however, most Christians have been fooled into thinking that the Jews are Israel and that the Israeli state is the Israel of Scripture. The truth is that the Israelites were taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and they never returned to the old land. The Judahites (“Jews”) were taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and they did return after seventy years.
Hence, the good prophecies given to Israel by the prophets are not applicable to the Israeli state today. Instead, the prophecy in Jeremiah 18:11 to 19:15 apply to the Israeli state today. His prophecies were partially fulfilled in the past when Jerusalem was destroyed many times. However, each time the city was rebuilt and is still standing to this day. The day will come, however, when Jeremiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled in a final way, wherein the city will not be repaired or rebuilt (Jeremiah 19:11).
That will be the day when the city is figuratively cast as a jar into the valley of Ben-hinnom, known in the New Testament by the Greek name gehenna.
All of this is important to know when we read the next words of Jesus in Luke 12:4, 5. We will continue this next time.
This is the sixty-second part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.