Jesus and the Pharisees: from Matthew 16:5-12

This is our tenth study on this topic. Please click HERE for an intro to this study. Today we will focus on the false teaching of the Pharisees.

Matthew 16:5-12

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.


First of all, we have to understand what Jesus meant by the term yeast (or leaven). In the material sense it is a substance added to dough to cause it to rise. If leaven bread dough is left too long before baking, it will ferment or sour. In Hebrew culture (in Mosaic Law) it was strictly forbade to use leaven in baking because it signified impurity, corruption or evil.

In this text when Jesus said, “Be on your guard against the yeast (or leaven) of the Pharisees, He was saying, be on your guard against corrupt and false teaching  (which mainly was that they were too concerned with the external and not enough with matters of the heart). However, Jesus’ disciples completely misunderstood Him. They thought He was talking about bread—not having enough bread.


The clear application here is that we ought to be on our guard against any false teachers; they are everywhere. And there are many who are just like the Pharisees, who appear to be so righteous and knowledgeable, but they leave out the deep spiritual matters of the heart—things that are vital to our relationship with God.