Mysteries of the Kingdom
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Parable of the Leaven
Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” (Matthew 13:33)
The parable of the leaven is the last of the four parables that Christ gave outside the house, down by the sea. This parable reveals the conclusion of matters surrounding events covered by the first three parables; and this conclusion is revealed prior to Christ going back inside the house, where He gave three additional parables (with all seven together revealing an entire sequence of events extending from the inception of the Church to the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom).
This parable contains the first mention of “leaven” in the New Testament, and Christ used the word in a symbolic sense, in an unexplained manner, knowing that it could be understood only one way. The Old Testament symbolism surrounding “leaven” and the flow of thought seen in the three parables preceding the first use of this word in the New Testament left no room for those hearing these parables to question how the word was to be understood.
Leaven was a foreign substance added to dough, causing the dough to rise. And the Old Testament, using leaven in a symbolic sense, always used the word only one way. The Old Testament always used the word to symbolize that which caused corruption and deterioration.
The Mosaic Law forbade the priests in Israel from using leaven in their rituals (Leviticus 2:11). In this respect, the absence of leaven (the absence of a foreign substance) pointed to purity, as seen in the first usage of this word in Scripture (Genesis 19:3).
Though the priests were forbidden from using leaven in their rituals, in two instances, instructions in the Mosaic economy stated that leaven was to be included in offerings (Leviticus 7:13; 23:17); and Amos, centuries later, mentioned an offering which was to include leaven as well (4:5).
But in all three of these instances where leaven was to be included, other offerings are also mentioned; and, in two of these instances, the other offerings are specifically stated to include blood sacrifices, to atone for man’s sins. And, in the one offering where blood is not specifically mentioned (Amos 4:5), blood could only be inferred from the other offerings where blood is mentioned (Leviticus 7:1-14; 23:5, 27 [cf. Exodus 12:1ff; Leviticus 16:1ff]; Amos 4:4).
In the light of both the context and corresponding Scripture elsewhere, leaven could only have been included in these offerings to show man’s sin. Leaven was included to show corruption within, as an offering without leaven was used to show purity within.
This can be illustrated by referring to God’s command surrounding the second of the festivals in Leviticus 23 — the festival of unleavened bread. Beginning with the day immediately following the death of the firstborn and the application of the blood (the first festival), the Israelites were commanded to refrain from eating anything containing leaven for “seven days,” for a complete period of time (Leviticus 23:5, 6).
This pointed to God’s truth surrounding the fact that those who had appropriated the blood were then to keep themselves pure for a complete period of time, for the entire duration of their lives that followed. This was true for the Israelites at the time these festivals were instituted, it was true for the Israelites down through the centuries, and it remains true for Christians today. It has been and it remains true for God’s people throughout all time (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
And within the continuing symbolism shown by these feast days, God instituted a day of atonement. This was the sixth of the seven festivals, and it had to do with shed blood to atone for man’s sins — the sins of those who had previously applied the blood of the paschal lambs (which was immediately followed by God’s command to not partake of that which contained leaven). The day of atonement had to do with a covering provided for failure — a failure to remain separated from sin — for those having previously applied the blood of the paschal lambs. This festival had to do with their failure to continuously keep themselves separated from that which is symbolized by leaven.
And exactly the same thing can be seen today through viewing the Christians’ present state in the world and Christ’s present high priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. Christians have applied the blood of the Paschal Lamb and have been commanded to keep themselves pure.
But Christians, possessing a body of death, as the Israelites in the past dispensation, experience failure; and, as in the camp of Israel, provision is made for failure. Christ is presently ministering in the heavenly sanctuary, on the basis of His own blood on the mercy seat; and His ministry in this respect is on behalf of Christians who sin, providing cleansing.
Cleansing though is not automatic. Rather, it is conditional. Cleansing is dependent on the Christian acknowledging his sins.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9; cf. Hebrews 4:13-16; 9:23ff; 10:19ff; 1 John 2:1, 2)
In the light of the way in which leaven is always used in the Old Testament, Christ could use the word in a symbolic sense — as He did in Matthew 13:33, and in Matthew 16:6, 11 — and His disciples would know exactly what was meant (Matthew 16:12). Or, also in this respect, Paul could use the word in this same symbolic sense in his epistles — as he did in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, and in Galatians 5:9 — and the recipients of these epistles would also know exactly what was meant.
But an added feature about the way leaven is used in Matthew 13:33 is seen in the context leading into the use of this word. The context of the passage itself reveals how this word is to be understood, which is the same way leaven is used and understood elsewhere in the New Testament. Every place leaven appears in the New Testament, the context always clearly shows the word being used only one way — showing corruption and deterioration — in complete keeping with its Old Testament usage.
In Matthew 13:33, the context leading into the use of leaven has to do with fruit-bearing and with the method Satan uses to stop Christians from bearing fruit. The preceding two parables reveal Satan introducing false doctrine, with a progressive corruption and deterioration following. And the parable of the leaven simply reveals the conclusion of the matter.
According to the parable of the leaven, the message surrounding the proffered kingdom during the present dispensation would, near the end of the dispensation, become completely leavened. Corruption introduced at the beginning of the dispensation would progressively permeate the whole of Christendom until that which has to do with the proffered kingdom would be completely corrupted. This is how, according to this parable, the dispensation would end.
Three Measures of Meal
“Three” is the number of divine perfection. This number shows divine perfection within that which is in view. Three measures of meal — three measures of ground grain, used to make bread — are in view. The reference is to the Word of God (Matthew 4:4; cf. Isaiah 55:1, 2), though not the Word in a general sense. Rather, the reference, contextually, is to the Word in a specific sense, a specific part of the Word, a specific teaching in the Word.
The subject at hand has to do with the Word of the Kingdom. It has to do with how the message surrounding the coming kingdom of Christ would begin to be proclaimed in Christendom and how this message would progressively change because of something (a foreign substance) that is placed within the message (vv. 19-24, 31, 33).
The reference to leaven placed in the three measures of meal, as previously shown, is simply a reference to that which is introduced in the preceding two parables. It is a reference to taking that which is false and placing it within that which is divinely perfect. It is a reference to a corrupting agent being placed within the divinely perfect God-breathed Word.
And, again, it is that part of this divinely perfect revelation having to do with the Word of the Kingdom that is in view. Satan simply began placing those proclaiming a false message about the kingdom among those bearing fruit for the kingdom. The false message took root and began to spread, resulting in corruption and deterioration.
Then, continuing the explanation in the third parable, because of this false doctrine, a completely unnatural spiritual growth in Christendom followed. The mustard seed in this parable is seen germinating, growing normally for a time, then experiencing abnormal growth and becoming a tree — something that it wasn’t supposed to become at all.
And not only did it grow after this fashion, but the end result of this growth was so unnatural that those responsible were able to find a home within that which they, through corruption, had wrought.
And that, contextually is what continues in view — the only thing that can continue in view — by Christ using the symbolism of a woman taking leaven and hiding it in three measures of meal. In keeping with the definition of a parable, Christ simply provided additional truth placed alongside of previous truth to help explain the previous truth. This parable provides additional truth placed alongside the preceding two parables to help explain these parables.
Understanding the parable of the leaven is that simple. This parable has to do with the progressive, continuing deterioration seen in the preceding parable, the parable of the mustard seed; and this preceding parable, in turn, has to do with how Satan went about stopping fruit-bearing in the parable that preceded it, the parable of the wheat and tares. It has to do with a corrupting agent placed within that part of God’s divinely perfect revelation referred to as the “word of the kingdom.” And it has to do with this corrupting agent working “till it was all [the message surrounding the coming kingdom of Christ]” corrupted.
Till It Was All . . . .
The reason for the state in which Christendom presently finds itself is shown by the first four parables in Matthew chapter thirteen, with the fourth parable, the parable of the leaven, depicting the end of the matter. This parable shows a progressive deterioration until the point of total corruption has been reached.
Near the end of the dispensation, when the Word of the Kingdom has been completely corrupted, that which Jesus foretold in this parable would be fulfilled. In those days, at that time, the true message surrounding the coming kingdom of Christ will not be — it cannot be — heard throughout the churches of the land.
The move in Christendom from conditions depicted by the church in Ephesus to conditions depicted by the church in Laodicea, seen in Revelation chapters two and three, will then be complete. The Church will not only have left its “first love” (Revelation 2:4), but the Church will ultimately be brought into a state described as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17b).
And one need only look around today to see this exact state of affairs existing in Christendom — in fundamental and liberal circles alike. In relation to the Word of the Kingdom, one segment is just as leavened as the other. In relation to the Word of the Kingdom, exactly the same conditions exist in both. Neither proclaims this message, and neither will have anything to do with it.
This is the one thing that both the fundamentalists and the liberals (as they are known and referred to) have in common today. Neither will proclaim or have anything to do with the central message that Christians are to hear.
When Christ was on earth the first time, there were two main religious parties in Israel — the Pharisees and the sadducees (the fundamentalists and the liberals of that day). These two religious parties were worlds apart in their theology, but they were one in their attitude toward the message surrounding the proffered kingdom. Neither would have anything to do with it.
And exactly the same situation exists in Christendom today, immediately preceding Christ’s return. There are two main divisions among Christians — the fundamentalists and the liberals. These two religious groups are worlds apart in their theology, but they are one in their attitude toward the proffered kingdom. Neither will have anything to do with it.
1) From Ephesus . . .
Revelation chapters two and three record seven short epistles to seven churches in Asia. These epistles were given in a certain order, beginning with the church in Ephesus and ending with the church in Laodicea. And a longer epistle to one of the seven exists elsewhere in the New Testament — to the first church mentioned, the church in Ephesus.
Reference is made in Colossians 4:16 to an epistle in connection with the church in Laodicea. But this is not stated to be an epistle written to that Church (though if it were, it would have to be viewed as a non-canonical epistle that was not preserved and passed down). Rather, it is simply an unidentified epistle (possibly one that Paul had written from this location); and this epistle, in possession of the Christians in Laodicea, was to be obtained by the Christians in Colossae from those in Laodicea.
Paul had spent three years ministering to the Christians in Ephesus (Acts 20:31). When he came to Ephesus the first time, he was accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla (whom, it is apparent, he had instructed in the faith). He remained in Ephesus an unrevealed period of time, reasoning with the Jews in the synagogue. Then he left Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus in order to return to Jerusalem (Acts 18:18-21).
It was during Paul’s second visit to Ephesus that he spent most of the three-year period that he mentions in Acts 20:31 (cf. Acts 19:10ff). On this second visit, Paul found disciples who were not familiar with the fact that God had called an entirely new entity — the one new man “in Christ” — into existence. These disciples knew only “the baptism of John,” something that they had apparently learned from Apollos before he received further instruction in the matter from Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 19:1-7; cf. Acts 18:24-26).
And Paul began his ministry in Ephesus at this time by providing further instruction for these individuals, as Aquila and Priscilla had provided for Apollos. Then Paul continued his ministry in Ephesus by going “from house to house,” teaching the people, keeping nothing back that was not profitable for them (Acts 20:20). In this respect, Paul’s ministry in Ephesus would seemingly form a pattern concerning the manner in which his entire ministry in the Gentile world was to be conducted.
Paul had earlier been converted and subsequently taken aside (apparently to a desert area in Arabia) where the Lord appeared to him and personally revealed to him what is called in Scripture, “the mystery” (Galatians 1:11, 12, 16, 17; Ephesians 3:1-11). The “mystery” had to do with the new entity, the new creation “in Christ,” the Church; it had to do with both Jews and Gentiles being joint-heirs together, in one body; and it had to do with those comprising this new entity being the recipients of the kingdom that Israel had rejected — the kingdom of the heavens (cf. Matthew 21:33-43; 1 Peter 2:9, 10).
This is the message that Paul had been taught by the Lord, and this is the message that he was to carry throughout the Gentile world. This though was a message for Christians, not a message for the unsaved; and there were very few Christians in the Gentile world when Paul went out with this message. Thus, Paul, in the process of carrying out his ministry, had to proclaim a dual message.
Paul, among the unsaved, had to proclaim the good news surrounding the grace of God. Then, once individuals had been saved, Paul could proclaim the good news surrounding the coming glory of Christ. And the latter, rather than the former, is that which is seen in Scripture forming the heart of Paul’s ministry.
This is why Scripture presents Paul’s ministry — outlined in the latter half of the book of Acts, and in his epistles — as dealing far more extensively with things surrounding “the mystery” than with things surrounding the simple gospel of the grace of God.
It is plain from Paul’s last meeting with the elders in the church in Ephesus that “in every city” that he entered (which included Ephesus) he proclaimed “the gospel of the grace of God”; but it is also clear that Paul, in these same cities, then went on to proclaim “the kingdom of God” to those who had been saved under the simple preaching of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24, 25).
And the three years Paul spent in Ephesus are specifically said to be time that he spent instructing Christians in the faith and warning them about false teachers who would arise in their midst (Acts 20:28-32).
Note the preceding sequence in Paul’s ministry, seen in these verses in Acts 20:24-32:
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God..
And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God..
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Then, the epistle that he later wrote to those in Ephesus, shows the depth to which he had previously instructed the Christians in that city. This epistle begins (apart from foundational teachings, and really, apart from any introductory teachings) with a discussion of the things that would be realized “in the dispensation of the fulness of the times” — adoption, redemption, and an inheritance (Ephesians 1:3-14). Thus, this epistle begins and continues with the assumption that the Christians in Ephesus were well-grounded in the faith.
Paul could begin and continue this way because of the apparent spiritual maturity of these Christians, resulting from his previous lengthy ministry in their midst. And Paul’s unceasing prayer for these Christians at the time he wrote this epistle was that God would give them wisdom and full knowledge (Greek: epignosis) concerning the things he was writing about (things that he had previously taught them), referred to as “the hope of His calling,” and “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:16-18).
Then Paul continues in chapter two of Ephesians, showing the reason for their salvation, the reason these Christians in Ephesus had passed “from death to life” (vv. 1-10). And the thought of saved Jews and Gentiles, seen together in one body in this chapter (vv. 15, 16), merges into a discussion of “the mystery” in chapter three (vv. 1-11).
And Paul, calling attention to “the mystery,” continues with the thought of an inheritance set before Christians, for a future inheritance is what the mystery has to do with. It has to do with Gentiles being “fellow heirs” with Jews, “of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). And Paul refers to the whole of the message surrounding the mystery as “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and “the manifold wisdom of God” (vv. 8, 10) — something that the writer of Hebrews presented as is realized in that which he called “so great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3), or which Peter referred to as “the greatest of precious promises,” connected with Christ’s “greatest regal magnificence [literal translation]” (2 Peter 1:4, 16).
In the first part of chapter four of Ephesians, Paul dealt with the reason for gifted leaders and teachers in the church. Simply stated, God had placed gifted leaders and teachers in the church in Ephesus, and elsewhere, to guide Christians as they moved from immaturity to maturity; and this was with a view to the future adoption, redemption, and inheritance awaiting Christians (cf. Ephesians 4:11-14, 30).
Then the Christians’ walk comes into view as individuals move from immaturity to maturity. And this takes up the remainder of the epistle, with a warning at the end to clothe oneself with “the whole armour of God” because of the ongoing spiritual warfare against Satan and his angels (6:10ff).
The church in Ephesus was filled with Christians who were well-versed in the Word of the Kingdom. And well they should have been, for Paul had spent a great deal of time with them, going ”from house to house,” teaching them — something that had allowed him to be able to later write a letter to these Christians and simply begin discussing “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10), completely apart from introductory, foundational teachings.
And it was this church that the Lord chose to use in His revelation to John in order to show the state of Christendom at the beginning of the dispensation. This was a time when the true message surrounding the coming kingdom of Christ was proclaimed throughout Christendom, when this message was received and understood by Christians throughout the churches (Colossians 1:5, 6, 23).
During these early years, this was the message of the hour when Christians met. This was the central message proclaimed by Paul and other ministers of that day, this was the central message of all the letters (epistles) written to the different churches and individuals during that time. And Christians during these days gathered to talk about the things having to do with the coming kingdom of Christ, encouraging and exhorting one another relative to the hope set before them (Hebrews 10:23-25).
But something happened! A foreign substance was placed in the three measures of meal. And it wasn’t long before things began to go awry, even in the church in Ephesus.
Note that which Scripture states in this respect, as recorded in Revelation 2:2-4:
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;
and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.
Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
The corruption that Satan introduced began and continued to cause deterioration in Christendom. It began in the manner depicted in the first of the seven churches in Revelation 2, 3, the church in Ephesus; and it would continue until it had brought about conditions in Christendom as depicted in the last of the seven churches in these two chapter in the book of Revelation, the church in Laodicea.
2) To Laodicea
From a biblical standpoint, one thing about Christendom is s s s certain! And this one thing cannot be denied!
Christendom, near the end of the dispensation, is going to appear in the world in a completely leavened state. This is something that Christ revealed to His disciples before the Church was ever brought into existence, and this is something that He revealed again to John at a time after the Church had been brought into existence.
The record of Church history was given before the dispensation began, and the record of Church history was given once again during the early years of the dispensation. And man today — living during the closing years of the dispensation, viewing both the history and current state of Christendom — can know exactly why the whole of Christendom exists in its present condition.
According to the clear teaching of the Word of God, relative to any proclamation of the Word of the Kingdom near the end of the dispensation, all Christendom will have become completely saturated with leaven, with that which is false. Relative to any proclamation of this message near the end of the dispensation, all Christendom will have become completely corrupted.
It is not a pretty picture. Corruption never is. This though is what the unchangeable Word of God has to say about the final state of Christendom during Man’s Day.
And, for those believing what the Word of God has to say on the subject, this has to be the end of the matter. This is not something open to discussion or debate. This is a settled matter, clearly revealed by Christ at two different places in Scripture where a history of Christendom is given. And this revealed history of Christendom is recorded these two times, in two different ways, for all to see.
In the second of these two times — in Revelation chapters two and three — the Lord revealed this final state of Christendom by referring to conditions in the church in Laodicean, a church that had become completely corrupted even before the end of the first century. And, if one desires to study about the Church of today (whether fundamental or liberal), he need only turn to Revelation 3:14-21. This is a description given by Christ Himself; and this description, in complete keeping with that which is seen in the parable of the leaven in Matthew 13:33, vividly depicts the true nature of the Church at the end of the dispensation — “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17b).
But, again, bear one thing in mind. This does not picture Christendom at the end of the dispensation in a general sense. Rather, something specific is in view. This presents Christendom at the end of the dispensation in relation to an outlook on a particular facet of biblical doctrine — the attitude of Christians throughout the churches toward that which very few of them seem to know anything whatsoever about, the Word of the Kingdom, that upon which the leaven is seen to have centered its attack.
And this whole overall thought of the leaven centering its attack at this point is something easily seen throughout the seven epistles to the seven churches in Revelation 2, 3. Note that each epistle is structured exactly the same. Each centers around works, with a view to overcoming. The statement to each church is twofold in each epistle:
1) “I know your works . . . .” (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15).
2) “To him who overcomes . . . .” (2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21).
These are the two inseparable and interrelated things around which the Word of the Kingdom centers — works, with a view to overcoming. And all of the overcomer’s promises project matters out into the Messianic Era.
And when the Lord called attention to the Laodicean church as being “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked,” He was presenting a picture of the Church at the end of the dispensation in relation to that which was in view — works, with a view to overcoming. And the counsel that the Lord gave the Church in this condition was quite clear:
I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:18)
Thus, the Church near the end of the dispensation, in relation to teachings surrounding the Word of the Kingdom, will be in the condition depicted by the Laodicean church. It will be completely corrupted. And all one needs to do to see the truth of the matter is go into practically any church throughout the country today — fundamental or liberal, it makes no difference — and listen for any reference to teachings surrounding the Word of the Kingdom.
One will listen in vain, for the message is simply not being taught. The leaven has done its damaging work too well.
So, what is the Christian who understands the Word of the Kingdom to do in surroundings of this nature today? He finds himself in the midst of Christians who know little to nothing about the subject; he finds himself in the midst of Christians who reject, or make light of the Word of the Kingdom. And he can’t really leave and go elsewhere, for the leaven, working for almost two millennia, has brought the whole of Christendom into this same state.
The answer concerning that which he is to do is given at the end of the short epistle to the church in Laodicea. The Lord knew exactly how conditions would exist at the end of the leavening process. And, with this in view, those in the Laodicean church were exhorted to follow a particular course of action within this Church.
Note Christ’s closing words to these Christians:
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
To him who overcomes . . . .” (Revelation 3:19-21a).
In relation to the central message that Christians are to hear throughout the dispensation, Christ, at the end of the dispensation, is pictured outside the Church, knocking, seeking admission to those inside. And the invitation that Christ extends at this time is to individual Christians rather than to the church as a whole, for the church will have been permeated through and through with a leavening substance that can only continue its deteriorating work.
The invitation, seen in this passage, extends to any individual in the Church: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door . . . .” The person is not told to leave the Church, for, again, there is no place for him to go; the whole will have been leavened. Rather, the person is to remain where he is and heed the Lord’s message. Then, the Lord will come inside the church, to that individual, with fellowship in the Word following.
There will be fellowship between Christ and that individual (“. . . and dine with him”), and there will be fellowship between that individual and Christ (“. . . and he with me” [v. 20b; cf. 1 John 1:3).
But for the other Christians in the church, Christ will remain outside the door, though the invitation will remain open.
And that is the way it is in Christendom as the Church nears the end of the dispensation, near the end of the 2,000 years that God has allotted for the Spirit to procure a bride for His Son (Genesis 24). The Church finds itself in a completely leavened state, with Christ outside the door, exhorting individual Christians to heed the truth of that which Satan has fought so hard to destroy.