Leaven of the Pharisees and Proper Fear (Luke 12:1-12)

Submitted by admin on Sat, 2008-06-07 19:56.

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At a time when a crowd of thousands thronged around him to such an extent that they were stepping on one another, Jesus cautioned his disciples to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees. He then identified this leaven as hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1)

The Greek word for “hypocrite” (hypokrités) came to be the designation for an actor. In ancient Greek theater, the actors wore large masks by means of which they could also amplify their voices. Therefore, in a negative sense, the term hypokrités came to be applied to persons who played a part, dissembled, or represented themselves outwardly in a manner that concealed their real selves.

Hypocrisy is like leaven, for it will spread in an environment where group acceptance or recognition takes on undue importance or where fear prevails. An ever-increasing number of people will resort to pretense and conceal their real feelings and motives. In the case of the Pharisees, what they represented themselves as being and the esteem in which others came to hold them differed markedly from their real identity.

It appears that Jesus’ next words about things becoming known are linked to hypocrisy. For a time, individuals may be able to conceal their true selves, but exposure does come eventually. (Luke 12:2) According to Matthew 10:26, Jesus expressed the same thought at the time he sent out the twelve apostles. They were not to give in to fear but courageously proclaim the glad tidings about Christ. What they had learned from Jesus when he taught them privately, they would declare publicly. In this way, what had been covered would be uncovered. If the disciples failed to make known the truth to those who deserved to hear it, they would be concealing their identity as Christ’s disciples and thus prove themselves to be hypocrites.

Jesus made the disciples aware of the fact that what they shared with others privately would become known. The teaching may have been conveyed in the dark as if hidden from others under the cover of darkness, but it would become known in the light publicly (as in broad daylight). Though whispered behind closed doors and out of the hearing of others, the message would come to be proclaimed publicly like announcements made from roofs so that all could hear. (Luke 12:3) This would develop because those who heard privately would not keep it to themselves but would talk about it to others, and eventually the word would spread.

Referring to his disciples as “friends,” Jesus implied that they would be exposed to serious danger because of their testimony about him. He did so when admonishing them not to fear those who can merely kill the body but can do nothing more. (Luke 12:4)

God is the one whom the disciples were to fear or for whom they were to have the highest reverential regard. After rendering the body lifeless, he can assign it to Gehenna. (Luke 12:5) For one to be tossed into Gehenna would signify experiencing the dreadful judgment of complete loss of any relationship with the Most High and all the blessings associated therewith. This judgment is final, with no possibility of any change, and is comparable to being thrown into a garbage dump where fires burn continually and maggots consume whatever the flames do not reach. (Compare Isaiah 66:24.)

Jesus next called attention to the certainty of his Father’s remembrance of his disciples, which remembrance assured them of an eternal relationship with him. Five sparrows, which birds people with limited means would eat, could be obtained for two assarii (the equivalent of what a common laborer would have earned after working for one and a half hours). Two sparrows cost one assarion, indicating that the fifth one was free. (Matthew 10:29) Even though these small birds had little commercial value, Jesus added that not one of them is “forgotten before God.” This assured the disciples that his Father would not forget them, for the hairs of their heads were all numbered. To the Most High, everything about them was precious. Making an application, Jesus continued, “Fear not. You are more valuable than many sparrows.” As persons the Almighty highly valued, the disciples had no reason to fear what they might yet have to face from hateful unbelievers. Their eternal future would prove to be secure. (Luke 12:6, 7)

All who confessed being at one with him, acknowledging belonging to him even when faced with grave danger, Jesus (the “Son of Man”) would acknowledge as being united to him as his disciples and friends before the angels of God. This acknowledgment before his Father’s angels would also constitute an acknowledgment before his Father whom these angels serve. (Luke 12:8) If, however, the individual disowned him before men, claiming to have no relationship with him, Jesus would likewise identify that one before God’s angels as not belonging to him. He would completely disown the person. (Luke 12:9)

Whereas the possibility exists of being forgiven for speaking against the Son of Man, blasphemy against the holy spirit is unforgivable. (Luke 12:10) This blasphemy includes denouncing the good that is accomplished through the operation of the holy spirit as originating from an evil source, which is what certain Pharisees did when maintaining that Jesus did powerful works as an agent of Satan. One who blasphemes the holy spirit deliberately and defiantly chooses to pursue a course in opposition to God’s will.

Jesus admonished the disciples to remain fearless, as fear could lead them to be disloyal to him. If taken to synagogues, rulers, or other authorities for questioning, the disciples were not to worry about how they would make their defense. Jesus assured them that the holy spirit would in that “very hour” or at that time teach them what they would need to say. (Luke 12:11, 12) The spirit’s teaching would be in the form of recalling thoughts that would be appropriate for the occasion and expressing them in a manner that would honor the Son of God. The account in the book of Acts reveals that, with God’s spirit operating upon them, the disciples testified about Jesus, recalling and making proper application of passages from the Scriptures. (Acts 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 7:2-56)


Jesus did repeat teaching that he had provided on other occasions. The setting, however, may point to a different aspect for a particular principle to which he referred. This appears to be the case about uncovering what had previously been concealed. (Matthew 10:26; Luke 12:2)

Often Jesus repeated the same thoughts, and the wording of the narratives may be similar. The words of Luke 12:3-9 regarding fearlessness in confessing Christ parallel those of Matthew 10:27-33. Matthew 12:31, 32 and Mark 3:28-30 are more detailed about blaspheming the spirit than is Luke 12:10, but the sense is the same. Comments about the aid the holy spirit would provide are found in Matthew 10:19, 20; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11, 12; 21:14, 15, and John 14:26.