The Illustration of the Leaven
9, 10. (a) What point did Jesus emphasize in the illustration of the leaven? (b) In the Bible, what does leaven often represent, and what question about Jesus’ reference to leaven will we consider?
9 Growth is not always visible to human eyes. In his next illustration, Jesus emphasizes this point. He says: “The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three large measures of flour, until the whole mass was fermented.” (Matt. 13:33) What does this leaven represent, and how does it relate to the growth of the Kingdom?
10 In the Bible, leaven is often used to represent sin. The apostle Paul referred to leaven in this way when speaking of the corrupting influence of a sinner in the congregation in ancient Corinth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8) Was Jesus now using leaven to represent the growth of something negative?
11. How was leaven used in Israel of old?
11 Before answering that question, we need to take note of three basic facts. First, although Jehovah did not allow leaven during the time of the Passover festival, at other times he did accept sacrifices that contained leaven. Leaven was used in connection with thanksgiving communion offerings, in which the offerer voluntarily made his presentation in a spirit of thankfulness for Jehovah’s many blessings. This meal was one of cheerfulness.—Lev. 7:11-15.
12. What can we learn from the way the Bible uses word pictures?
12 Second, although an element may on one occasion have a negative connotation in the Scriptures, on another occasion the same element may be used to represent something positive. For example, at 1 Peter 5:8, Satan is likened to a lion, picturing his dangerous, vicious nature. But at Revelation 5:5, Jesus is likened to a lion—“the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah.” In the latter case, the lion is used as a symbol of courageous justice.
13. What does Jesus’ illustration of the leaven show about spiritual growth?
13 Third, in Jesus’ illustration, he did not say that the leaven corrupted the whole mass of flour, making it unusable. He simply referred to the normal process of making bread. The housewife deliberately added the leaven, and the results were positive. The leaven was hidden in the mass of flour. Thus, the leavening process was hidden from the view of the housewife. This reminds us of the man who sows seed and sleeps at night. Jesus said that “the seed sprouts and grows tall, just how [the man] does not know.” (Mark 4:27) What a simple way to illustrate the unseen progression of spiritual growth! We may not see the growth initially, but eventually its results become manifest.
14. What aspect of the preaching work is illustrated by the fact that the leaven ferments the whole mass?
14 Not only is this growth unseen to human eyes but it is also pervasive. This is another aspect emphasized in the illustration of the leaven. The leaven ferments the whole mass, all “three large measures of flour.” (Luke 13:21) Like leaven, the Kingdom-preaching work that has prompted this spiritual growth has expanded to the point that the Kingdom is now being preached “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8; Matt. 24:14) What a wonderful privilege it is to be part of this amazing expansion of the Kingdom work!
Just as the hidden leaven spread through the whole mass, this growth has not always been readily discernible or understood, but spread it does!