1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” – Luke 12:1-12 ESV
It seems that the closer Jesus got to Jerusalem, the intensity of the exchanges between He and the Jewish religious leaders increased exponentially. The Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews, was headquartered in the capital city and they were particularly wary of this renegade Rabbi peddling His influence on their turf. And the religious leaders had reason to worry because Jesus was proving to be just as popular in Judea as He had been in Galilee. Luke reveals that wherever Jesus went, “the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other” (Luke 12:1 NLT).
And wherever the crowds gathered, the Pharisees and scribes tended to show up like carrion circling a corpse. They never let Jesus out of their sight and were constantly trying to trick Him into saying or doing something that they could use against Him.
…the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees became hostile and tried to provoke him with many questions. They wanted to trap him into saying something they could use against him. – Luke 11:53-54 NLT
But Jesus refused to shy away from the confrontation, choosing instead to warn His disciples about the true intentions of these well-respected religious leaders. To the average Jew, the Pharisees and Sadduccees were considered the spiritual upper class of society. They were wealthy, influential, and powerful. And they were also revered for their apparent religious superiority. But Jesus was not fooled by their outward displays of personal piety and fervent law-keeping. He knew their hearts and wanted His disciples to know the truth about these pseudo-spiritual elitists, which led Him to say, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 NLT).
This kind of talk must have shocked His disciples. Not only would they have viewed it as disrespectful, but they would have deemed it to be highly dangerous. It had already become clear to them that the Pharisees were not big fans of Jesus, so why would He poke the bear? What possible good could come from making such incendiary statements about such powerful individuals? But Jesus wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. He was preparing His followers for life in His absence. His earthly mission was quickly coming to a close and it would not be long before He had to leave the work of the ministry in the hands of His disciples. So, He wanted them to know the truth.
Jesus didn’t want His disciples to emulate the ways of men – even those who appeared to be the icons of religious virtue. According to Jesus, the Pharisees and their peers were nothing more than hypocrites. The Greek word He used to describe them is hypokrisis, which was commonly used to describe actors in a play. Jesus was exposing the Pharisees as nothing more than pretenders. Like thespians in a Greek drama, they wore masks to disguise their true identity and fool the audience into thinking they were someone else. It was all a cleverly orchestrated charade. But unlike actors in a play, the Pharisees had become self-deceived, believing that they were exactly who they portrayed themselves to be.
And Jesus wanted His disciples to know that this delusional mindset was contagious and dangerous. Like yeast that spreads through a batch of dough, the fake faith of the Pharisees had begun to permeate its way through the nation of Israel. The religion of the Jews had become all about outward displays of righteousness with very little emphasis on the true condition of the heart. And Jesus was fully aware that this mentality had already crept into the thinking of His disciples. They had a pharisaical outlook on life, measuring their spirituality by actions rather than attitude. But Jesus wanted them to know that behavior was always a byproduct of belief and not the other way around.
This led Him to state, “The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all” (Luke 12:2 NLT). Jesus is revealing that the true condition of the Pharisees’ hearts will soon be exposed. With His coming arrest, trial, and crucifixion, the disciples will get an up-close and personal glimpse into the dark recesses of these men’s hearts. Their true intentions will be put on display for all to see, and it will not be a pretty picture.
The sinister and secretive planning of the high priest and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin will become readily apparent. Their obsession to eliminate Jesus will finally come to fruition and all their carefully crafted questions and well-orchestrated encounters with Jesus will be exposed for what they were all along: Hypocritical lies motivated by hate and emanating from sin-darkened hearts.
What the disciples needed to know was that the day was coming when the roles would be reversed. They had been living in fear of the animosity of the religious leaders. They knew these men were powerful and could make or break the ministry of Jesus. But according to Jesus, the disciples would soon be declaring the good news of the kingdom of God from the housetops. Despite the threat of persecution, they would carry the message of the Gospel to “Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).
This led Jesus to encourage His disciples to live fearlessly and faithfully even in the present hour. They had no reason to fear the high priest or the rest of the Sanhedrin. Yes, these men were powerful, but they were nothing when compared with God Almighty.
“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.” – Luke 12:4-5 NLT
Jesus clearly acknowledges that the religious leaders had the power and authority to take a man’s life. He was well aware that they would play a major role in determining His own death. But He wanted the disciples to understand that God was sovereign. The influence of these men was purely physical and temporal. They could take a man’s life but had no power over his eternal life. They could kill but they couldn’t condemn. They could cast a man into the grave but had no authority to cast a man into hell. But God could. He was sovereign over all things, including a man’s death and the fate of his eternity.
The Pharisees could have cared less about Jesus and His disciples. They viewed them as little more than thorns in their side that needed to be removed and disposed of. But God placed a high value on Jesus’ followers. The Creator-God who cares for the insignificant sparrow cared for them. So much so, that He was aware of the number of hairs on each of their heads. The Pharisees didn’t know a single disciple’s name, but God knew everything about them, including their eternal state.
With that amazing reality in mind, Jesus encouraged His disciples to focus their attention on the mission at hand. They were not to be distracted or deterred by the threats of the Pharisees. Instead, they were to boldly proclaim the message of Jesus’ Messiahship to the ends of the earth.
“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.” – Luke 12: 8 NLT
Their faithfulness to follow through on their commission would reap significant rewards. And while the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin would threaten and oppose them, the disciples would one day hear the words of Jesus, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:23 NLT).
But the Pharisees faced a far different fate.
“But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” – Luke 12:9-10 NLT
They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. As a result, they would be denied access to God’s Kingdom. The very men who believed themselves to be at the pinnacle of the spiritual mountain would one day find themselves barred from God’s presence. These men would pay dearly for their refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and for attributing His Spirit-enabled power to Satan.
But Jesus encourages His disciples by telling them that the very same Spirit would indwell and empower them in the days to come.
“…the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.” – Luke 12:12 NLT
He didn’t sugarcoat the future. He clearly warned them that persecution and literal trials were going to be a part of their experience. But they would find themselves empowered by the Spirit of God. Despite the threats of the Pharisees, the disciples would boldly confess Jesus before men. No pretending. No pretext. No play-acting. These men would discover the truth behind the promise Jesus made to them just prior to His ascension into heaven.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.