What was Jesus doing when he compared the Kingdom of God to yeast?

On my pray-as-you-go podcast today (http://ax.itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=129950199) the reading was two sayings of Jesus about the Kingdom of God. The first was the mustard seed, the second the yeast in the bread.

It reminded me of a sermon that I heard a while ago about how shocking it would have been to the Jewish audience when Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as a non-kosher pearl.

This brings me to the yeast/leaven example. In most of scripture yeast is a symbol of sin. It’s what you have to rid your house of at Passover. St Paul uses the example in some of his epistles. Even Jesus says ‘beware of the yeast of the Pharisees’. So why does he describe the Kingdom of God as a bit of yeast that works its was through the whole batch of dough? Was he being deliberately provocative, almost saying ‘the Kingdom of God is not what you think’?

Are there any Bible scholars out there that can help me with this? Please respond in the comments below. This has really intrigued me!


  1. Not using yeast at Passover is a symbol of the haste in which they had to pack and leave at the start of the Exodus. No time to let the bread rise. Yeast isn’t a symbol of sin. It is just something that spreads through the whole batch of dough and affects it all. Pharisaical yeast is bad. Kingdom yeast is good.At least that’s how I look at it. Does it make any sense?!


  2. Thanks Steve. I think at the actual passover it was because of haste that no yeast was used but then later it did become a symbol of sin from a religious tradition point of view – hence the careful removal of yeast from one’s house at Passover. It’s mentioned a lot in Leviticus, one example is:"Every grain offering you bring to the LORD must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey in an offering made to the LORD by fire." Lev 2:11Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 5:7:"Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast???as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed."I was just thinking that the original audience of Jesus’ parable would have been familiar with the idea of yeast representing something bad – from their religious tradition – and so maybe Jesus was being provocative.When He describes the Kingdom of God as a treasure in a field, this is an old biblical image of God’s people – and the audience would have thought, ‘he’s talking about us, about God’s people’ and then He goes on to describe the Kingdom of God being like a pearl of great price. Only gentiles bought and wore pearls as they’re not kosher.I guess the mustard seed parable does something similar, as in Matthew’s gospel it says: ‘it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches’ (Matt 13:32).So there seems to be a theme of the Kingdom of God being for ALL, not just God’s chosen people, Israel. I think Jesus is saying, ‘I’m not quite the messiah you think I am, and the Kingdom of God (reign of God in the world) doesn’t work quite in the way that you thought it would’.Thanks for helping me to think this through more!


  3. 🙂 It's what Jesus had people doing all the time. I think the disciples spent most of their time going 'eh?'!??


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