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Transformation From the Inside Out

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 13:33–35, 44–52; Mark 4:33–34

To be Christ’s loyal subjects today is to be part of a steadily developing kingdom that will one day be manifested fully in the Lord’s visible, earthly, millennial reign. No earthly treasure is of greater value than being a citizen of His kingdom.


We have been studying Jesus’ busiest recorded day in Galilee. It is a turning point because it’s the same day Israel officially rejects their Messiah. From this day to the cross, parables are going to be the Lord’s primary means of communicating with Israel. Those who follow Jesus will seek His wisdom to understand the parables; those who reject Him will remain ignorant of their meaning.

Now here in Matthew 13:33 Jesus delivers another fascinating kingdom parable:

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Some Bible students note that leaven is frequently used in Scripture as a symbol for sin. But that is certainly not the meaning here. Jesus is using the permeating, expanding influence of leaven to describe the development of His kingdom. In other words, the kingdom of God might be silent and unseen, but it is working from the inside out; and one day it will affect everything.[1]

In Jesus’ day, bread was usually prepared by using a piece of dough with active yeast in it from a previous batch of dough.[2] And the woman in Jesus’ parable is making a lot of bread. We are told here she is working with three measures of flour. That is a bushel of flour. Let me put it this way: that’s 16, five-pound bags of flour. And by the time you add all the water—128 cups would be the standard recipe—you have over 100 pounds of dough on your hands.[3]

With just a little bit of sourdough—leavened from her last batch of dough—look at the influence and impact so quickly here. Something small and insignificant is at work on the inside.

Jesus is revealing that the kingdom of God is going to begin small but eventually permeate the entire world. And we have seen the growth, haven’t we? The gospel of Christ began with a handful of disciples and then the establishment of just one church in Jerusalem. And over the past 2,000 years, during this dispensation of the church age, what has happened? The number of kingdom citizens has grown exponentially.

The Lord today is reigning internally in the lives of His subjects, and there is coming a day when He will reign externally in His thousand-year kingdom on earth.

Listen beloved, when you receive by faith the Lord Jesus as your King, He begins working like leaven, gradually transforming your life from the inside out.[4] How are we who know the King influencing the world around us for Him?

Matthew stops recording the chronological flow of this very busy day in verse 34 to make an editorial comment. He writes here, “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.”

Then Matthew quotes Psalm 78:2 here in verse 35: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” Jesus is actually fulfilling prophecy here, revealing the plan of God through different aspects of Israel’s rebellious history that previously had been unknown.

This is also another way Matthew is saying to his Jewish audience, “Look! Here is your Messiah; Jesus is your King!”  

In verse 36, Matthew writes that Jesus then “left the crowds and went into the house.” This is where He explains the parable of the wheat and tares to His disciples. But it also indicates that the remaining parables will not be given to the crowd of unbelievers but to a smaller group—primarily His disciples. They are meant to prepare the disciples for life after the cross.

Jesus now delivers a parable to them in verse 44:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Jesus is presenting the idea that the kingdom is hidden and that it is discovered by someone who has a genuine interest in possessing the treasure of Christ.

Almost in the same breath Jesus delivers another parable in verse 45:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

In those days, pearls were the most sought-after form of wealth. Divers hunted for pearls in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. Some pearls could be worth the equivalent of millions of dollars today.[5]

This parable is very similar to that of the hidden treasure. But here, rather than someone stumbling upon a treasure in a field, the person is actively seeking after the treasure, “a pearl of great price.” This pearl represents the kingdom of heaven, and, again, it is a priceless treasure.

Well, how are the Lord’s disciples to apply these parables? How do they equip them for life and ministry after the cross?

The challenge Jesus is presenting to His disciples is to be mindful of those who are seeking the pearl of great price—the kingdom of God and its Messiah-King. Help them find it, but more than that, help them cherish it as the eternal treasure it is.

Beginning in verse 47 we have the parable of the net. Jesus says here:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of

every kind.”

That sounds a lot like the Great Commission in Matthew 28—making disciples of all the nations!

But Jesus adds more in verses 48-50:

“When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers

but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and

separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place

there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Beloved, we are not just fishing for fun. We are fishing with eternity in mind, for people’s eternal destiny hangs upon their reception or rejection of Christ.

The Jewish leaders were teaching that simply being a son or daughter of Abraham by blood was enough to get you into the kingdom. But Jesus sets that aside. Righteousness means to be right with God by faith in Christ. Being a member of Abraham’s family line is not good enough. You must belong to the family of God by faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

At this point Jesus asks His disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” (verse 51). They say to him, “Yes.” I think they are a little overconfident, but they certainly get an A+ for their willingness to follow the Lord, even as their nation rejects Him.

With that, Jesus gives them one more parable in verse 52:

“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure [storeroom] what is new and what is old.”

Jesus effectively gives His disciples the role of scribes. Scribes were the teachers among the Jewish people. So, the disciples are to become teachers to their people, and beyond.

Like a master of the house who wisely manages his storehouse of crops, the disciples are being trained to teach “what is new and what is old”—that is, the truths of both the New and Old Testaments.

Pastors and teachers and evangelists and missionaries and Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders are doing the same thing to this very day.

What our world needs today is not somebody’s opinion; it does not need a pep talk or some positive lecture on how to feel better. No, our world still needs the Word of God, which transforms their lives from the inside out. And do not forget, beloved, eternity is at stake in how they respond to the Word of God.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: Volume 2 (Crossway, 1998), 93.

[2] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Matthew,” in The Moody Bible Commentary, ed. Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham  (Moody Publishers, 2014), 1477.

[3] Dale Ralph Davis, Luke: The Year of the Lord’s Favor (Christian Focus, 2021), 242.

[4] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1 (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896), 594.

[5] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2d ed. (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 81.

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