The Leaven of The Pharisees :: By Grant Phillips

In Mark 8:13-21, the Scripture tells us that Jesus got back into the boat and crossed over the Sea of Galilee toward Bethsaida. He then warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.

“Then He charged them, saying, ‘Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod [Antipas].” (Mark 8:15, insertion mine)

In Matthew 16:6, Jesus included the Sadducees.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.'”

Since Jesus had just fed roughly 16,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish, His disciples were thinking He was referring to their forgetting to bring only the one loaf. However, Jesus was speaking of spiritual matters, not physical matters.

“So He said to them, ‘How is it you do not understand?'” (Mark 8:21)

Apparently, His disciples were not unlike us today when our minds are set on physical concerns and not our spiritual well-being. Even though they had just seen Him feed around 16,000 people with a meager amount of food, and prior to that, they had seen Him feed around 20,000 people with five loaves and two fish, they totally missed the point.

Jesus was referring to the false teaching and hypocritical behavior of the Pharisees in addition to the immoral and corrupt conduct of the Herodian family. Since Herod was a Sadducee (or at least did not believe in an afterlife, etc., as the Sadducees), we can see that Jesus is referring to the corruption of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. (See also Matthew 16:6, 11 and 12.) In Matthew 23, Jesus also addresses the scribes of that day along with the Pharisees.

The Sadducees were mostly the elite class; priests and aristocrats. They controlled the Temple (Herod’s Temple) and the Sanhedrin. They only accepted the written law of the Torah. They did not believe in an afterlife, and their focus in life was the rituals associated with the Temple. They also were very receptive of Hellenism, the liberal influences of Greek philosophy. They were the liberal party of that day.

The Pharisees consisted more of the common people, such as business owners and tradesmen. They did believe in an afterlife but also believed in the Oral Law, consisting of literally hundreds if not thousands of opinionated laws composed of man’s interruption of the Holy Scriptures. They were the legalistic party of that day.

The Scribes were those who were lawyers and teachers of the Old Testament scriptures and were responsible for its preservation. They were the “professional” party of that day.

The Herodians were perverted, murderous, immoral, political, egocentric, non-believing thugs. They were the political power of that day with Rome’s backing.

So, what was Jesus referring to when He said to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod?” He was referring to the hypocrisy and false doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, which leads people to hell. I’m sure the scribes were included in that thought also.

The Sadducees of today are the liberal, false gospel crowd who strive to please the world with sermonettes that provide no expectation of anything after this life.

The Pharisees of today are the legalists with the false gospel of works for salvation. They think God grades on the curve and that they are right at the top.

The Herodians of today are the politically powerful who use the church to advance their own cause. Their decadence knows no bounds.

The Scribes of today are the educated know-it-alls who attempt to usurp the authority of God by questioning His divine Word.

Out of these four groups, the Bible does not reveal any Sadducees, Herodians or Scribes coming to Jesus and being saved by changing their mind (repenting) and putting their faith in Him.

On the other hand, the Bible does reveal Pharisees coming to Jesus and being saved. For example, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, as was the Apostle Paul. Remember, the Pharisees were basically of the common people of that day.

These same groups are easy to recognize in our day. Even today, most who put their faith in Jesus are from the common people. That, of course, isn’t to say that those from the other groups cannot be saved. That would be a ludicrous belief. ANYONE can come to Jesus and be saved if they will repent (change their mind) and follow Jesus by faith.

The point is, the Pharisees insisted upon abiding by the Law, even all their oral laws. However, Jesus says we must come to Him in faith. HE is the Savior, and He does the saving because of His grace when we put our trust in Him.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

There are many directions I could go in this article, but the one thing I want to emphasize is that works will never save anyone. Our works come AFTER we are saved (notice Ephesians 2:10 above), and those works are not to keep our salvation, but for our rewards. Please read John 10:29-30 and 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.

There are many churches in our area, and many of them teach that if one does not “toe the line” in certain areas, that person cannot be saved. Also, they must keep “toeing the line” to remain saved. This is Pharisaism, pure and simple.

Legalism is very unforgiving. Don’t think so? Go back to the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and see how “forgiving” the Pharisees were. The gospel of legalism is the antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Law itself is also very unforgiving, but the grace of God reaches out to all through Jesus Christ.

Do You Want to Get Right with God?

“For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law.

For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God” (Romans 10:3-5).

How To Get Right with God

“In fact, it says, ‘The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.’ And that message is the very message about faith that we preach:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.

As the Scriptures tell us, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.’ Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved'” (Romans 10:8-13).

We Fulfill the Law AFTER We Place Our Faith in Jesus Christ

“Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith.

So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.

Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law” (Romans 3:27-31).

The Law was given to:

  • Show us we are sinners and need to be saved
  • Show us we cannot keep the Law
  • Condemn us
  • Point us to Jesus
  • If we insist on our works over Jesus’ works, there is no recourse for us but the judgment of hell.

Fortunately, Jesus kept and fulfilled the Law for us. If we will come to Him by simple child-like faith, He will save us,

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

Grant Phillips


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