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A Little Leaven

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    A Warning About Leaven

  2. devotional

    The Kingdom of God

  3. blog-post

    What Is the Kingdom of God?

A Warning About Leaven

At this point in His life, Christ begins to encounter greater and greater opposition from the religious leaders in Jerusalem. The Pharisees and Sadducees who ask Him for a sign in Matthew 16:1–4 are likely a delegation from Jerusalem sent to spy on Jesus. These two groups are usually at odds, but they can easily set aside their theological differences when they meet a common foe, just as they earlier did with John the Baptist (3:7).

Matthew 15:39 locates Jesus’ meeting with these religious leaders in Magadan, west of the Sea of Galilee. The conversation with His disciples in 16:5–12 occurs on the eastern shore, or “other side” of the water. His clash with the Jerusalem officials and feeding of the four thousand (15:32–16:4) sets the stage for His warning: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (16:6). The disciples are perplexed, thinking that Jesus has told them not to eat bread made by these authorities. His remark makes no sense to them as they have no bread with them and do not know how they will find food to eat (v. 7).

Our Savior rebukes His followers for lacking understanding and faith. After all, how could they not trust Him to feed them after seeing Him feed thousands with meager supplies (vv. 8–10)? Even so, Christ’s warning is not about food; He is speaking of the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees (vv. 11–12).

Jesus does use leaven as a metaphor for the growth of God’s kingdom (13:33), but in Matthew 16 He adapts Scripture’s more common negative use of leaven (Ex. 13:3; 1 Cor. 5:6–8). He is warning His followers not to embrace the Pharisees and Sadducees’ view that the Messiah must live up to their false expectations and do miracles on demand. Otherwise, like leaven, this error will penetrate their souls and turn them against the Christ. We do well to heed the words of the church father Jerome: “Leaven has this power, that, if mixed with flour, that which seemed small would grow into something larger and draw to its own essence the whole loaf. So too with heretical doctrine, if it tosses even a tiny spark into your heart, in a short time a huge flame grows beneath and draws to itself a person’s entire substance” (Commentary on Matthew 2.16.6).

The Kingdom of God

Jacob’s blessings in Genesis 49 are future oriented and give readers an opportunity to think on things yet to come. Eschatology is the theological term for the doctrine of the last things, including the “last things” that Jesus started during His ministry on earth. It will therefore be beneficial for us to look more closely at these things by studying volume eight of Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Foundations.

Heaven and hell are both important aspects of Christian eschatology, but we will not be looking at these subjects in detail because we covered them a few months ago. Instead, we will begin with that which underlies all things past, present, and future — the kingdom of God. The story of Scripture is the story of God’s kingdom.

Of course, the Bible everywhere assumes that our Father is sovereign over the universe (Pss. 47:8; 93:1; Rev. 19:6), but this is not the concept the “kingdom of God” has in mind. More precisely, the kingdom of God refers to the visible, universal submission to His reign. As is well known, Adam’s sin plunged mankind into rebellion against its Creator (Gen. 3). Yet the Lord’s prophets predicted a day when all creation would again recognize Yahweh’s authority and bow the knee to the appointed king (Dan. 7:13–14; Micah 4:1–7). Some will fall before Him willingly, others will be forced to do so; on that day, all people will acknowledge God’s reign (Ps. 2; Phil. 2:9–11).

The Lord’s chosen king is the Messiah, Jesus. Unfortunately, many Christians incorrectly believe that His kingdom has nothing to do with the present, something that comes only at “the end of time” with great natural disasters. While Jesus’ return may indeed involve these phenomena, His second coming is the consummation of His present reign, for He actually inaugurated the kingdom of God during His first advent (Mark 1:14–15). As today’s passage teaches, it starts out small and is growing to be present in all things (Luke 13:18–21).

We Christians are the heralds of this kingdom (Acts 1:6–11). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we bear witness to our King, and through our obedience the Father will call people to worship Him (Matt. 28:18–20). Thus, His kingdom increases in its visibility. 

What Is the Kingdom of God?

Ben Dunson

For anyone who has been a Christian for even a small amount of the time the question "What is the kingdom of God?" may seem strange. Christians talk about the kingdom all the time: we engage in "kingdom activities" and "kingdom building;" we try to focus our lives on the kingdom and pray that God's kingdom would come; in short, "kingdom" is probably one of the most commonly used words in the vocabulary of believers.

But if you were asked to define what the kingdom of God is, could you do it? In one sentence could you tell a co-worker or neighbor what Christians mean when they talk about "the kingdom"?

Despite how much we talk about the kingdom, perhaps actually defining it is a bit harder than we initially think. In a short series of posts we are going to exam the biblical teaching on the kingdom of God to see what it is and what our place is in it.

The exact phrase "kingdom of God" itself does not show up in the Old Testament, although we will see that the Old Testament is extremely important in helping us understand what the kingdom is. We first encounter this phrase in the preaching of John the Baptist. In Matthew 3:1-3 we read this:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'"

John's preaching consisted primarily in two things: calling people to repent of their sins, and in announcing that the kingdom of God was "at hand."

When Jesus begins His own ministry in Galilee, He too begins by preaching about the kingdom of God. The first record we have of His preaching consists of a single sentence: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 4:17b).

If we want to know what the kingdom of God is, we can find no better place to begin our inquiry than in Jesus' own preaching. When we read what Jesus says in Matt 4:17, however, we are immediately confronted with a challenge: Jesus (just like John before Him) does not define the kingdom of God for us. Why not? The answer is obvious: His audience already knew what He meant. Jesus defining the kingdom for them would be like a preacher in America today spending 20 minutes in a sermon telling his audience what America is. There would be virtually no one hearing the sermon who would need that kind of information.

It is the same with John and Jesus. They simply announce that the kingdom of God is "at hand" because they know that their audience knows what they are talking about. We will see in future posts that those to whom John and Jesus preached also had some very serious misunderstandings about the nature of the kingdom of God, but they did at least know that there was such a thing, and that it was a very important biblical idea.

Prior to encountering Jesus' preaching, where would His audience have learned about the kingdom of God? We must remember that Jesus is preaching to Israelites. The answer, then, must be that they had a basic idea of the kingdom of God from the Old Testament. I mentioned earlier that the Old Testament does not use the actual phrase "kingdom of God." Nonetheless, the fact that God is king is very important throughout the Old Testament. For this reason, Old Testament teaching on this theme is absolutely vital for making sense of what John and Jesus mean when they announce that "the kingdom of God is at hand." We will therefore examine Old Testament teaching on God as king in the next post.

See also:

Dr. Ben C. Dunson is professor of New Testament at Reformation Bible College.

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