Summary: These verses in Matthew and Mark are some of Jesus’ teaching concerning false doctrine. He compared false doctrine to yeast. It appears small and insignificant, but it grows secretly and soon saturates everything.

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(45) Disciple’s Lack of Understanding Rebuked: Blind Man Healed

(Jerimiah 5:21) Matthew 16:5-12, Mark 8:14-26

These verses in Matthew and Mark are some of Jesus’ teaching concerning false doctrine. He compared false doctrine to yeast. It appears small and insignificant, but it grows secretly and soon saturates everything.


Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. (Matthew 12:5)

The disciples had gone aboard a ship and then discovered that they had forgotten to bring any food. Usually, they carried bread along with them, because they were sometimes in desert places, and even when they were not, the bread came in handy.

Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” (Matthew 12:6)

Jesus cautioned His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” He had been speaking with them and found them to be men whom His disciples should avoid. The disciples were in more danger from these men than from those who were openly hostile to them. They were on guard against those who challenged them. But the Pharisees pretended to be devout and pious, and the Sadducees pretended to be free and impartial and searching for the truth. Both groups were hypocrites, but the disciples were usually unwary in their attitude toward them, so Jesus issued this caution to “take heed and beware.”

The corrupt practices and principles of the Pharisees and Sadducees are compared to leaven; they were bad-tempered, and puffed-up, and spreading, like leaven; and they brought turmoil wherever they went.

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” (Matthew 12:7)

It is evident from what they thought He meant that they didn’t understand Him. They thought that Jesus was scolding them, because they were forgetful.

But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? (Matthew 12:8-10)

He scolds them for having doubts about His ability and willingness to supply them on this occasion. He calls them “men of little faith.” Notice, that He doesn’t reprimand them for their forgetfulness, but for their lack of faith.

He wants them to depend on Him for all they need, and not to worry about it. This is a lesson for you and me. We should not worry when we come against difficult situations, for that is an evidence of the weakness of our faith. Jesus told us what to do with those difficulties. He said we should ease the burden, by casting all our cares on Him, who careth for us.

It may have been aggravating that they didn’t remember the recent experiences which they had which showed Christ’s power and goodness, in providing bread for them. Therefore, He asked them, “Do you not yet understand, or remember.” The prophet Jeremiah said this about Israel’s lack of understanding, “Hear this now, O foolish people, Without understanding, Who have eyes and see not, And who have ears and hear not.” (Jeremiah 5:21) Christ’s disciples were often blamed for their lack of understanding and their poor memories. He reminded them of the four thousand that were fed at one time and the five thousand on another occasion and that both times there remaind a great deal of bread left over. He wants them to know that he can do it again and even more, if necessary. He is reminding them that the bread that He provided for their bodies was intended to be food for their faith. Listen to this: when we are bewildered by trouble and doubt, it is probably because we have forgotten the previous experiences of His divine power and goodness.

How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:11-12)

He scolds them here for misunderstanding the caution that He gave them. He said, “How is it you do not understand?” When He said this His disciples were probably ashamed of their failure to understand divine things, especially when they have enjoyed His teaching and company for so long. They should have been well aware that He often spoke in parables, so they could not take what He said literally in all situations.

The disciples were able to rectify their mistake, because we read, “Then they understood.” He did not directly tell them what He meant, but He repeated what He said, so that they would think about the leaven and by comparing this to other things He had said, they arrived at the meaning and could understand it. Although Christ didn’t tell them in simple words, they are now aware that by the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees that He meant their doctrine. He declared that their doctrine was not only corrupt and vicious, but that it was likely to invade the minds of men and saturate it like leaven. The apostle Paul used the illustration of leaven in Galatians 5:9, where he wrote, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Then he said the only remedy is to remove it. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” These religious rulers were powerful and held in high regard by the people, so the danger of infection by their ideas was great. Today, we think of atheism and religion as the leaven of the Sadducees and popery to be the leaven of the Pharisees; and Christians must stand guard against both.

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