By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr
The Parable of the Leaven reads: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Mt 13:33).
Here Christ symbolizes the kingdom’s intensive progress in the world. Leaven is a penetrative agent that diffuses itself throughout its host from within (cf. Lk 17:20–21). Thus, here the leaven will thoroughly penetrate the whole three pecks of meal (surely “the world,” as in Mt 13:38).
As Trench explains: “Nor can we consider these words, ‘till the whole is leavened,’ as less than a prophecy of a final complete triumph of the Gospel — that it will diffuse itself through all nations, and purify and ennoble all life.”1 The kingdom of heaven will have “a dram-atic effect on human society.”2 B. B. Warfield notes of these parables that they “announce the complete conquest of the world by His Kingdom.”3
The leaven parable, then, parallels the kingdom’s glory in the other parables. The kingdom will penetrate all (Mt 13:33). It will produce up to a hundred-fold return in its converts (Mt 13:8). It will grow to great stature (Mt 13:31–32). It will dominate the field/world (having sown the wheat seed in the world, that world to which Christ returns will be a wheat field, not a tare field, Mt 13:30).
Both the mustard seed and leaven parables picture the kingdom’s growth. Clearly Christ is proclaiming in these kingdom parables the nature of the kingdom, which he is establishing and promoting during his ministry. His ministry opens by proclaiming “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17; cp. 3:2; 10:7). He immediately sets out preaching that kingdom (4:23) as a present reality (5:3, 10, 19; 6:33; 9:35; 12:28), which begins in earnest in the days of John the Baptist (11:11–12). It does not come catastrophically as a full-blown kingdom, but slowly grows to dominance. This gradualism contradicts the premillennial view.
Notes1. R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables, 88.
2. R. T. France, Matthew, 528.
3. B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, 339.