Parables were used frequently by Yeshua during his ministry and many of these parables are recorded in the Gospels. Most have been taught that Yeshua spoke in parables to make the spiritual meaning of his sermons more understandable to the uneducated people who gathered to hear him preach, as this comment found in the 1984 edition of Nelson's New King James Version Bible shows:
Jesus' reputation as a great teacher spread far and wide. And no wonder. He taught in parables, simple stories, that made His lessons clear to all who were ready to learn. (p. 1870, "Jesus: Man for All Time")
However, this popular opinion is directly contradicted by the Messiah's own words regarding the purpose for his use of parables:
MARK 4:10 But when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parable. 11 And he said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that 'Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.'" (NKJV)
Matthew's account of Yeshua's statement to his disciples is a bit more extensive:
MATTHEW 13:10 And the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" 11 He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.'" (NKJV)
Clearly, the words of Yeshua himself show that he used parables to HIDE the truth from "those who were outside," the majority who were not supposed to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God at that time. The parables concealed these clandestine facts from the masses who were not then being called by God the Father (John 6:44, 65), while providing the truth figuratively to those God was calling.
Yeshua stated that his parables expressed great spiritual mysteries regarding the kingdom of God. Recognizing this fact, let's now focus on one of the briefest, and yet most important, of these parables. It is the parable of the yeast and the three measures of flour recorded in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew:
LUKE 13:20 And again he said, "To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." (NRSV)
MATTHEW 13:33 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." 34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: "I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world." (NRSV)
The woman here is a device used to present the two figurative elements of the parable: (1) the yeast/leaven, and (2) the three measures of flour. Yeshua helps by defining the meaning of one of these items for us:
(1) YEAST = KINGDOM OF GOD
(2) THREE MEASURES OF FLOUR = ???
Yeshua revealed that the yeast/leaven in this parable represented the kingdom of God. However, we are not told directly what the flour (shown to be in three measures) symbolizes. In his version, Matthew goes on to tell us that the parables Yeshua spoke to the people (including this one) revealed secret information that God had hidden from the very beginning of the world.
In literal terms, yeast starts small and works its way throughout a batch of flour, eventually leavening the whole lump (cf. I Cor. 5:6). If the yeast is the kingdom of God, then the flour must represent that which will ultimately be affected by this kingdom – all of MANKIND. In John Gill's commentary on this parable, he says:
The word "leaven" is every where else used in a bad sense; and either designs immorality, as malice and wickedness, or false doctrine, such as that of the Pharisees and Sadducees: but here it seems to be taken in a good sense, and the Gospel to be compared unto it; nor for its disagreeable qualities, but on account of its small quantity; it is a little leaven that leavens the whole lump, and may express, as the grain of mustard seed does, the small beginnings of the Gospel. . . ." (Matt. 13:33, Gill's Exposition on the Entire Bible)
The reason THREE measures of flour are specified in the parable is because the kingdom of God will progressively work its way through THREE groups of people during THREE consecutive ages to achieve God's goal of saving the world through Yeshua (John 12:47). At the end of His three-stage plan, all of humanity will be reconciled to YHVH through Yeshua His son, as Paul told the Corinthian church:
II CORINTHIANS 5:18 And it is all from God, who through the Messiah has reconciled us to Himself and has given us the work of that reconciliation, 19 which is that God in the Messiah was reconciling mankind to Himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (CJB)
God's three-stage plan of "reconciling mankind to Himself" is the essence of the parable of the yeast and three measures of flour. Additional understanding about the three groups symbolized by the three measures of flour can be gleaned from the three pilgrimage festivals YHVH commanded for Israel in the Torah:
DEUTERONOMY 16:16 "Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the 1Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the 2Feast of Weeks, and at the 3Feast of Tabernacles; and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. 17 Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you." (NKJV)
EXODUS 23:14 "Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: 15 You shall keep the 1Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); 16 and the 2Feast of Harvest, the first fruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the 3Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field. 17 Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD."(NKJV)
EXODUS 34:18 "The 1Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt. 19 All that open the womb are Mine, and every male firstborn among your livestock, whether ox or sheep. 20 But the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. And if you will not redeem him, then you shall break his neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. 21 Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. 22 And you shall observe the 2Feast of Weeks, of the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the 3Feast of Ingathering at the year's end. 23 Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel." (NKJV)
Each of these commanded festivals of YHVH occurred at a time of harvest in the Holy Land. Not coincidentally, God uses these harvest festivals to illustrate the WHO and WHEN of His plan. Each of the crops harvested at the time of these feasts represent the various groups of humanity God will save, and more importantly, when their salvation will transpire. This outline of Yah's plan shows how the kingdom of God will progressively increase until His plan is finally accomplished.
Below is a graphic that shows the symbolic elements of the plan and how they relate chronologically:
We are going to look at each of these decreed observances in detail to confirm what they symbolize:
1Feast of Unleavened Bread
The first age of God's plan of salvation for mankind is the 6,000-year period which extends from creation to the return of Messiah Yeshua. This part of the plan is symbolized by the first measure of flour in Yeshua's parable and the first pilgrimage festival of YHVH's sacred year, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast was immediately preceded by the sacrifice of the Passover lambs, which were a type of the Lamb of God, Yeshua (John 1:29, 36; I Cor. 5:7; Rev. 5:12). So interconnected was the Passover sacrifice to this festival, it was sometimes referred to as the Feast of the Passover (Exo. 24:35; Luke 2:41; 22:1; John 6:4; 13:1).
Literally, on that first Passover the blood of the sacrificial lambs provided salvation for the firstborn of Israel, while the Egyptian firstborn not under the blood were killed (Exo. 12:12-13). This tenth plague, the death of the Egyptian firstborn, was what finally caused Pharaoh to free Israel from their bondage (Exo. 11:1; 12:29-32). The Israelites began their journey out of Egypt on the first day of this festival (Exo. 12:33-37; Num. 33:3) and completed their departure on the seventh day when they crossed the Red Sea (Exo. 14:15-31).
As the Exodus story clearly shows, Israel was able to leave Egypt only because of God's supernatural intervention on their behalf. Spiritually, this feast pictures putting sin (represented by yeast/leaven during these seven days) out of our lives after having been saved by the blood of the Lamb of God. The historic events underlying this feast show us that it is not our own strength that accomplishes victory over sin. It first takes acceptance of the sacrifice of Yeshua our Passover to provide forgiveness for sins. Then another miracle of God, produced by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, allows believers to overcome sin as they are molded into the divine image of Yeshua (I Cor. 15:49; II Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29).
A fact that is widely overlooked in the Passover story is the true function of the lambs' blood. While most believe that this blood saved all of Israel (and it did in a way), it specifically saved from death ONLY the firstborn. Those who were not firstborns were not in danger of dying that night. Symbolically, this shows that the INITIAL salvation provided by the Lamb of God during this first age of YHVH's plan (a 6,000-year period which proceeds from creation to the second coming of Messiah Yeshua) will apply only to the SPIRITUAL firstborn.
Notice God's focus on the physical firstborn in Exodus 34:19-20, which is found within one of the passages where the three pilgrimage festivals are commanded. Since YHVH had spared the firstborn in Egypt, He claimed them for Himself. For a short time after leaving Egypt, the firstborn served as priesthood for the tribes of Israel (Exo. 24:5). However, the sin of the golden calf (Exo. 32:6) disqualified them, and they were soon replaced by the Levites (Exo. 32:25-29).
The instruction regarding the firstborn might seem out of place in a casual reading of Exodus 34:18-23. However, its inclusion reveals the symbolic relevance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the "spiritual firstborn" (those called to Yeshua by Yah the Father during this age - John 6:44, 65). As the author of Hebrews revealed, those now being called into the body of Messiah are part of this assembly of spiritual firstborns:
HEBREWS 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, (NIV)
The apostle Peter disclosed that the spiritual firstborn who make up the body of Messiah will be the "kingdom of priests and the holy nation" (Exo. 19:6) that Israel was originally called to be:
I PETER 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. (NIV)
Those few who are chosen by God out of the many He will call during this age (Matt. 20:16; 22:14) will be His spiritual firstborn. When Yeshua comes to reward his servants at the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Rev. 11:15-18), the righteous dead will be raised as spirit beings and the living saints will be transformed from flesh to spirit:
I CORINTHIANS 15:50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (NRSV)
I THESSALONIANS 4:15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. (NRSV)
Once changed into the glorious image of the Messiah (Phi. 3:21; I John 3:2), the spiritual firstborn will serve as kings and priests over the nations in the coming age when King Yeshua rules the earth from Jerusalem:
REVELATION 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 and has made us kings and priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (NKJV)
REVELATION 2:26 "And he who overcomes, and keeps my works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – 27 'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels' – as I also have received from my Father;" (NKJV)
The Scriptures show that those who are called, chosen, and faithful during this first age of God's plan will be the spiritual firstborn. They will be the first "crop" that God reaps from humanity. It is no coincidence that the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was when barley, the first crop of the year, was harvested in the Holy Land.
Here is what The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says about barley:
Barley bread was the common food of the poor. . . . The grain was fed to horses, asses, and cattle. . . . Barley is sown in the autumn following the "early rains" and ripens about a month earlier than wheat. In Palestine the harvest takes place in March or April, depending on the location. (p. 431, vol. 1, "Barley")
Barley was considered the least of the grains in biblical times. This grain is symbolic of the "poor" people who will be harvested into the kingdom of God during the first age of YHVH's plan. Paul describes this initial group that will be saved in his first letter to the Corinthians:
I CORINTHIANS 1:26 Just look at yourselves, brothers – look at those whom God has called! Not many of you are wise by the world's standards, not many wield power or boast noble birth. 27 But God chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise; God chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the strong; 28 and God chose what the world looks down on as common or regards as nothing in order to bring to nothing what the world considers important; 29 so that no one should boast before God. (CJB)
God commanded Israel to offer an 'omer (a measurement equal to about 2.2 quarts) of the first fruit of the barley harvest on "the day after the Sabbath" during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:10-15). The Jewish sages generally understood the time of this offering to be the day after the annual Sabbath which begins the feast (i.e., the 2nd day of the feast).
At the time of Yeshua's ministry, this barley offering was harvested just after sunset at the beginning of 16 Nisan. Delegates from the Sanhedrin cut down 10 'omers of barley that had been identified as ready and bundled before the beginning of the feast. These barley sheaves were brought into the Court of the Temple and thrashed to remove the heads that night. The barley was dried over a fire on a pan with numerous holes, and then subjected to the wind. The parched grain was finally ground to fine flour in a barley mill. Although 10 'omers of barley were initially cut down, only one 'omer of flour (mixed with oil and a handful of frankincense) was waved before YHVH by the priests in the Temple the next morning. The remainder of the barley flour was not reckoned as holy and could be redeemed and used for any purpose.
This barley offering (often referred to as the "wave sheaf") represented the saints who are part of the "church of the firstborn." Just as the barley was prepared by fire, the saints are shaped into the image of Messiah by the "fiery trials" they suffer (I Pet. 4:12). Just as the barley was ground into flour by a mill, the saints are ground into powder by the "chief cornerstone," Yeshua (Matt. 21:42-44). Just as only a small part of all the barley flour prepared was offered to God, only a few from the many called by God will be chosen (Matt. 20:16; 22:14) to serve in Messiah's Millennial government.
The following list shows the scriptural symbolism regarding those who will be saved during the first age of God's plan of salvation for mankind:
First Measure of Flour /
Feast of Unleavened Bread /
'Omer Offering of Barley =
In summary: The SPIRITUAL FIRSTBORN will be those few chosen during this age out of the many God will call. They will be changed from flesh to spirit at the "first resurrection," which represents the culmination of the yeast's work in this first measure of flour. This congregation of the firstborn will be priests and kings, ruling with Messiah in his Millennial kingdom. They are not chosen at this time simply to obtain their own salvation, but rather so they can help Yeshua successfully carry out the plan of YHVH.
2Feast of Weeks, also known as Feast of Harvest
The second age of God's plan for the salvation of mankind is the 1,000-year period during which Yeshua the Messiah will reign over all the earth from his throne in Jerusalem. This part of Gods' plan is symbolized by the second measure of flour in Yeshua's parable and the second pilgrimage festival of YHVH's sacred year, the Feast of Weeks (later called Pentecost).
Although celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost was considered to be the conclusion of the Feast of Passover by the Jewish sages. It was called the Feast of Weeks because of the seven-week interval, which was counted from the day after the first annual Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and ended on the 50th day, Pentecost (Lev. 23:9-21).
In the Exodus saga, this festival was the day upon which Israel received the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai and entered into the First (popularly known as the "Old") Covenant with YHVH. Consequently, the nation of Israel and its personal relationship with YHVH is directly tied to the Feast of Weeks. Fifteen centuries later, in 30 CE, it was also on this very feast day that God sent the Holy Spirit upon the 120 disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 2) and inaugurated the "New" Covenant.
There is a very serious misunderstanding of the New Covenant by most Christians. The author of Hebrews, quoting from the original prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34), tells us specifically WHO the New Covenant is being made with and WHAT conditions will be like when the New Covenant is fully realized:
HEBREW 8:7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (NIV)
Because of erroneous doctrine taught over the past two millennia, many Christians believe that the "Gentile" church has replaced Israel. They suppose that since a majority of Jews have rejected Yeshua as the Messiah, God made the New Covenant with the "Gentile" church, NOT the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jer. 31:31).
The New Covenant prophecy (cited in both Old and New Testaments) clearly states that God made the First Covenant with the 12 tribes of Israel at Mount Sinai after He had brought them out of Egypt. Likewise, the prophecy proclaims that He will make the New Covenant with the same Israelites whose forefathers broke the First Covenant.
When the New Covenant is fully in effect, this prophecy tells us that it will no longer be necessary for Israelites to teach their neighbors and their kinsmen who YHVH is. At that time, every Israelite (from the least to the greatest) will know YHVH, because Messiah Yeshua will make Him known as he rules over them from Jerusalem for 1,000 years.
The New Covenant was originally introduced at Pentecost 30 CE through those spiritual firstborn of Israel when they received the Holy Spirit. However, the fullness of the New Covenant will only come into existence after the return of Yeshua from heaven. The Messiah will save Israelites from all over the world and bring them home to the Holy Land, where they will be given a new heart and filled with God's Spirit:
EZEKIEL 36:22 Therefore say to the House of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O House of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I display My holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you, and make you follow My statutes and be careful to observe My ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be My people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleannesses, and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field abundant, so that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you shall remember your evil ways, and your dealings that were not good; and you shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and dismayed for your ways, O House of Israel. (NRSV)
Compare Ezekiel 36:26-27 with Jeremiah 31:33 (quoted in Hebrews 8:10). In both prophecies, we see that YHVH will change the hearts of His people Israel through His Holy Spirit, which will give them the ability to obey His laws. As the author of Hebrews implies, the real problem with the First Covenant was not the Law itself, but the capability of the Israelites to successfully keep it (Heb. 8:7-8).
Ezekiel again speaks of God's Spirit being poured out on Israel after He saves them at the beginning of the Millennium from the nations where they had been scattered:
EZEKIEL 39:21 "I will display My glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the judgment I have executed and the hand I have laid on them. 22 From that day forward the House of Israel will know that I am the LORD their God. 23 And the nations will know that the House of Israel went into exile on account of their iniquity, because they dealt unfaithfully with Me. Therefore, I hid My face from them and handed them over to their enemies, so that they all fell by the sword. 24 I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and transgressions, and I hid My face from them. 25 So this is what the Lord God says: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have compassion on the whole House of Israel, and I will be jealous for My holy name. 26 They will feel remorse for their disgrace and all the unfaithfulness they committed against Me, when they live securely in their land with no one to frighten them. 27 When I bring them back from the peoples and gather them from the countries of their enemies, I will demonstrate My holiness through them in the sight of many nations. 28 They will know that I am the LORD their God when I regather them to their own land after having exiled them among the nations. I will leave none of them behind. 29 I will no longer hide My face from them, for I will pour out My Spirit on the House of Israel." This is the declaration of the Lord God. (CSB)
Access to the Holy Spirit will be the key to Israel's spiritual turnaround during the Millennium. Paul explicitly states that mankind can only obey God when they have the Holy Spirit:
ROMANS 8:5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's Law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you. (NIV)
Those without God's Spirit are led by their sinful human nature and CANNOT obey His Law. Yet because YHVH will put His Spirit within all Israelites during the Millennium, what could not be accomplished by Israel under the First ("Old") Covenant (i.e., obedience) WILL be possible under the New Covenant.
Spiritually, the Feast of Weeks pictures Yah's salvation of ALL Israel, which will take place during the Millennium. The historic events underlying this feast show us that God has made a commitment to the physical offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Although they rarely lived up to their part of the First Covenant (and suffered punishment because of it), YHVH is faithful. He will ultimately deliver and bless the descendants of Abraham, as the apostle Paul revealed:
ROMANS 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; 27 "and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins." (ESV)
For additional information on WHO the "fullness of the Gentiles" is and WHY their being brought in will lead to the salvation of all Israel, please refer to my article "The Two Houses of Israel".
Pentecost was also known as the Feast of Harvest because it was the time of the wheat harvest in Israel. Just as wheat was the second "crop" reaped in the Holy Land, His chosen people Israel will be the second portion that YHVH reaps from humanity. On Pentecost, God commanded Israel to offer two loaves of bread made from the firstfruit of the wheat harvest:
LEVITICUS 23:16 You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. 17 Bring two loaves of bread from your settlements as a presentation offering, each of them made from four quarts of fine flour, baked with yeast, as firstfruits to the LORD. (CSB)
What do these two loaves of leavened bread made from the first fruits of the wheat harvest represent? Many modern commentators teach that since leaven represents sin in the Bible, these two loaves must represent sinful mankind in some way. Yet why would YHVH command bread that represents sin to be presented in the Temple as an offering on Pentecost?
In Scripture, almost everything has a positive as well as a negative connotation. Yeast/leaven is the same. In the negative, it represents the puffing up effects of sin during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (I Cor. 5:6-8), as well as the hypocritical doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16:6-12; Luke 12:1).
Yet in the parable of the yeast and the three measures of flour, we are clearly told that yeast represents the kingdom of God/heaven (Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:20-21). Unless one wants to make the case that the kingdom of God is somehow negative, it is clear that yeast (and its product, leavened bread) can also be viewed in a positive light.
Although the actual text (Exo. 25:30) does not state this, traditionally the Jews believe that 12 loaves of showbread displayed inside the Tabernacle (and later, the Temples) were unleavened. This assumption is due to a command given in Leviticus 2:4-5, 11 which requires grain offerings that are to be burnt on the altar to be unleavened:
LEVITICUS 2:4 "When you present a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be of choice flour: unleavened [matzot] cakes mixed with oil, or unleavened [matzot] wafers spread with oil. 5 If your offering is grain prepared on a griddle, it shall be of choice flour mixed with oil, unleavened [matzot];. . . . 11 No grain offering that you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to the LORD. 12 You may bring them to the LORD as an offering of choice products, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing odor." (NRSV)
Based on this command, the Jewish sages concluded that the showbread was also unleavened:
Though not explicitly stated to be so, these cakes were most probably unleavened. It is true they were not offered upon the altar, from which leaven was scrupulously excluded (Lev. ii. 11); but, as most holy, they were carried into and exposed in the inner sanctuary, and therefore the supposition that the use of leaven in them was prohibited carries a high degree of probability. ("Showbread," Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 edition)
However, Scripture nowhere states that the showbread was to be unleavened. As admitted in the article above from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, the showbread was not offered on the altar. Therefore, these loaves were not subject to the prohibition against leavened bread found in Leviticus 2. It is probable that these loaves were originally leavened bread, since unleavened bread represents "affliction" (Deu. 16:3).
The specific language used in the Bible strongly indicates that the showbread was made with yeast. The 12 showbread loaves were called lechem hapanim (literally, " the bread of faces") in Hebrew. Lechem is the common root word for LEAVENED bread in Hebrew (the NT uses the Greek word artos for leavened bread). When UNLEAVENED bread is intended in the Tanakh, the Hebrew root word matzah is used (the NT uses the Greek word azumos for unleavened bread).
The showbread represented the 12 tribes of Israel. Just as these 12 loaves were divided into two stacks on the golden table, the 12 tribes of Israel were later split into two houses or groups (I Kings 12:21). The two leavened loaves made from the first fruit of the wheat harvest and offered on Pentecost represented these two houses.
Scripture confirms that the New Covenant will be made with (1) the House of Israel, and (2) the House of Judah (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:8). Since Pentecost was the time when Israel's covenant relationship with YHVH began, it makes perfect sense that He would command two leavened loaves representing the two houses descended from Jacob to be offered to Him on this feast day. The presence of yeast/leaven within the loaves represented the future fulfillment of the New Covenant, when God would infuse His Spirit into Israel and change them, just as yeast works its way through dough and transforms it into the most desirable type of bread.
Although cast aside during the first age due to their unbelief, God clearly states immediately after the New Covenant prophecy that He will never discard Israel for good:
JEREMIAH 31:35 This is what the LORD says, He who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the LORD Almighty is His name: 36 "Only if these decrees vanish from My sight," declares the LORD, "will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before Me." 37 This is what the LORD says: "Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done," declares the LORD. (NIV)
The following list shows the scriptural symbolism regarding those who will be saved during the second age of God's plan, the Millennium:
Second Measure of Flour /
Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) /
Two Wheat Loaves Offering =
In summary: ISRAEL will be the focus of God's salvation during the age commonly called the Millennium. The vast majority of prophecy in the Bible refers to this age. The 12 tribes will once again live as mortals in the Holy Land during the 1,000-year reign of King Yeshua. The regathered nation of Israel will be given the Holy Spirit during the Messianic kingdom. Because of God's Spirit, they will be able to keep His Law. The rest of the nations, which generally will not have access to the Holy Spirit, will rebel after the 1,000 years, when Satan is freed to once again deceive them (Rev. 20:7-8). The destruction of the present heaven and earth by fire to quell the final rebellion of Satan (Rev. 20:9-10; II Pet. 3:7-13) will culminate the leaven's work in this second measure of flour.
3Feast of Tabernacles, also known as Feast of Ingathering
The third and final age of God's plan of salvation for mankind is the indeterminate period called the "new heavens and the new earth" (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; II Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). This part of Gods' plan is symbolized by the third measure of flour in Yeshua's parable and the third pilgrimage festival at the end of YHVH's sacred year, the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Jewish sages have long understood that the Feast of Tabernacles represents God's plan for the nations. In Numbers 29:12-34, the bulls sacrificed during the Feast of Tabernacles (also known as Sukkot in Hebrew or Succos in Ashkenazic Hebrew or Yiddish) were specifically for all the "Gentile" nations:
To protect the gentile nations from affliction, a total of seventy bulls were offered during the seven days of Succos, corresponding to the number of primary nations enumerated in Genesis Chapter 10 (Rashi; Succah 55b). The Midrash declares that if the nations had realized how much they benefited from these offerings, they would have sent legions to surround Jerusalem and guard it from attack.
The number of bulls is thirteen on the first day and decreases by one a day. This symbolizes that the power of those who oppose God's teachings will grow progressively weaker over the long sweep of time, until all nations accept His dominion, and the spiritual leadership of Israel. ( pp. 200-201, vol. 4, "Bamidbar / Numbers," The Schottenstein Edition Interlinear Chumash)
In preparation for their salvation in the coming age of the new heavens and the new earth, the nations of the world will only be required to attend ONE annual festival in Jerusalem during the Millennium:
ZECHARIAH 14:16 And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. 17 And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain. 18 If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the LORD strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. 19 This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. (NKJV)
The reason that the nations will be compelled to observe the Feast of Tabernacles is because this festival figuratively represents the era of their ultimate salvation in God's plan. Although that redemption will occur AFTER the Millennium, God will use this feast to symbolically show the nations for 1,000 years that He also has a purpose for them.
This festival was also called the Feast of Ingathering. It took place when the grain had been fully reaped and stored, and the fruit from the trees and vines had been harvested. By its very nature, this festival represented the completion of the Holy Land agricultural cycle and the resulting blessings provided by YHVH through a bountiful harvest.
This aspect of the Feast of Ingathering can be seen in the specific commands given to Israel regarding the observance of this festival:
LEVITICUS 23:39 "On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. 40 And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. (ESV)
The Feast of Tabernacles was the most joyous of the three commanded pilgrimage festivals. The decree to display the fruit and tree branches on the first day of the feast (Lev. 23:40) was intended to remind the people of God's blessings of an abundant harvest. There is an interesting allusion to this command found in Revelation 22 which we will examine shortly.
This third age of God's plan will be the time after the "great white throne judgment" (Rev. 20:11-15) when the former things have been destroyed and a new heavens and new earth created. This age will be different from the two which preceded it; a transition from the physical to the spiritual realm will occur.
We are told that God the Father will make His first direct appearance to mankind at the beginning of this third age. John describes this scene in chapter 21 of the prophetic book of Revelation:
REVELATION 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be My son." (NIV)
To comprehend the change that must occur for YHVH the Father to dwell among mankind, we must first understand why He has not directly dealt with humanity in the past. Paul reveals a very important fact about God at the end of his first letter to Timothy:
I TIMOTHY 6:13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in His own time – God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honor and might forever. Amen. (NIV)
In our mortal form, men CANNOT see YHVH the Father. He dwells in light so bright that it would instantly incinerate any human being that came close. So for Him to be able to dwell with mankind, either YHVH has to change (Mal. 3:6) or WE have to change. A close examination of the Scriptures shows that God will change mankind in order to complete His plan of salvation.
Paul gives us a brief outline of God's plan in chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians, which is generally referred to as the "resurrection" chapter:
I CORINTHIANS 15:23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (NIV)
In verse 23, Paul first refers to the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah, the "firstfruit" of God's plan to elevate humans from flesh to spirit. Next in verse 24, he states that those who are Messiah's will be raised and changed to spirit when he comes from heaven (I Cor. 15:50-53; I The. 4:15-17) to begin his Millennial reign. In the chronological sequence of resurrections to spirit, Paul states that the end of the 1,000-year kingdom of Yeshua will come before anyone else is raised and changed from flesh to spirit. For additional details about the resurrections that will occur in the Millennium, please refer to my article "The Millennial Resurrections."
Next, Paul gives us information about the end of Messiah Yeshua's reign, when he turns over the kingdom to his God and Father, YHVH:
I CORINTHIANS 15:25 For he [Yeshua] must reign until He [God the Father] has put all His enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For He "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God Himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When He has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to Him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (NIV)
The circumstances surrounding this "change in leadership" from Messiah to the Father are very important to understanding the third age of God's plan. We are told that the featured event of the change in control is the destruction of death (v. 26). However, what exactly is Paul speaking about?
The Bible shows that there are two kinds of DEATH: (1) physical death, and (2) spiritual death (lit., separation from God by sin). Which type of death is being referred to here by Paul? Although we are not told directly, it is possible to deduce the correct answer.
We are explicitly told that God is going to dwell in the New Jerusalem with mankind (Rev. 21:2-3). Mortal man cannot come into the presence of YHVH the Father and live (Gen. 32:30; Jdg. 13:32; I Tim. 6:16). God Himself says that there will be no more death (Rev. 21:5). Yet immediately after Yah's encouragement to those who seek to become His children (Rev. 21:6-7), we see this puzzling statement:
REVELATION 21:8 "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (NKJV)
God the Father states that there will be no more death, and yet He also states that unrepentant sinners will be in the lake of fire, which is the second death. Since the second death is directly tied to sin here, it's obvious that the type of death which ends with Yeshua handing the kingdom over to the Father is PHYSICAL death.
The logical conclusion to be drawn from the information revealed in Revelation 21-22 is that during the third age of the new heavens and the new earth, all of humanity will be transformed from flesh to spirit. This conclusion is supported by a statement made in a description of the wall of New Jerusalem:
REVELATION 21:17 Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. (NKJV)
This cryptic statement shows that in the new heavens and the new earth, men and angels will be equal (cf. Luke 20:35-36). This equality will occur because mankind will be elevated to the same type of existence that angels have enjoyed since the beginning of creation: life as spirit beings.
What we see depicted in Revelation 21 is much different than most have been taught. We see that Yah the Father will descend to dwell among mankind from the New Jerusalem, which figuratively represents the saved nation of Israel, as the scriptural description of this holy city suggests (Rev. 21:10-23).
What is the relationship between saved Israel and the rest of the nations during this age? John describes it for us:
REVELATION 21:24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. (NKJV)
The nations who are saved during this age will walk in the light provided by the New Jerusalem, representative of the glorified Israel. The kings of those saved of the nations will honor and exalt the holy city personally and nationally. But John concludes with another intriguing statement: nothing unclean or unholy will be allowed inside the holy city. This is a direct reference back to Revelation 21:8, which speaks of those unrepentant sinners consigned to the lake of fire.
John continues with a description of his vision of the New Jerusalem in chapter 22 of Revelation:
REVELATION 22:1 And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. 4 They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 There shall be no night there: they need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. (NKJV)
The "pure water of the river of life" is symbolic of the pouring out of God's Holy Spirit upon all mankind during the third age:
JOHN 7:37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." 39 But this he spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (NKJV)
Yeshua made this symbolic statement on the seventh and last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, just after the water pouring ceremony had been conducted at the Temple. Alfred Edersheim describes this ceremony in his book The Temple: Its Ministry and Services:
We can now in some measure realise the event recorded in John 7:37. The festivities of the Week of Tabernacles were drawing to a close. 'It was the last day, that great day of the feast.' It obtained this name, although it was not one of 'holy convocation,' partly because it closed the feast, and partly from the circumstances which procured it in Rabbinical writings the designations of 'Day of the Great Hosannah,' on account of the sevenfold circuit of the altar with 'Hosannah'; and 'Day of Willows,' and 'Day of Beating the Branches,' because all the leaves were shaken off the willow boughs, and the palm branches beaten in pieces by the side of the altar. It was on that day, after the priest had returned from Siloam with his golden pitcher, and for the last time poured its contents to the base of the altar; after the 'Hallel' had been sung to the sound of the flute, the people responding and worshipping as the priests three times drew the threefold blasts from their silver trumpets — when the interest of the people had been raised to its highest pitch, that, from amidst the mass of worshippers, who were waving towards the altar quite a forest of leafy branches as the last words of Psalm 118 were chanted — voice was raised which resounded through the temple, startled the multitude, and carried fear and hatred to the hearts of their leaders. It was Jesus, who 'stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.' Then by faith in him should each one truly become like the Pool of Siloam, and from his inmost being 'rivers of living waters flow' (John 7:38). 'This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.' Thus the significance of the rite, in which they had just taken part, was not only fully explained, but the mode of its fulfillment pointed out. (pp. 222-223, ch. 14, "The Feast of Tabernacles")
As Edersheim notes, the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles came to be called Hoshana Rabbah. "Hoshana" was a Hebrew cry for salvation, but it was also a declaration of praise to the One being petitioned to save; "Rabbah" means "great" in Hebrew. Therefore, the Jewish sages understood that this day symbolized the final "great salvation" which would cause all mankind to praise the name of YHVH. It was commemorated with a symbolic water pouring ceremony that pictured the pouring out of God's Holy Spirit upon all the nations during the very age represented by this feast.
Earlier I mentioned the commandment regarding the display of the fruit and tree branches during the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:40). In the passage above from Revelation 22, it certainly appears that the fruit and branches commanded to be displayed by the Israelites on the first day of the feast were symbolic of the fruit and leaves from the tree of life described here.
We are plainly told that the leaves of the trees growing on the banks of the river flowing with the water of life are for the healing of the nations. What type of healing would the nations require at this time? We are not specifically told, but the ensuing text does give us a huge clue:
REVELATION 22:14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. 15 But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. (NKJV)
Taken at face value, we see from this passage that outside the New Jerusalem are unrepentant sinners of various types. Yet the clear statement made here is that these sinners CAN enter into the New Jerusalem and eat from the tree of life if they repent and obey God. Only those who are sick are in need of healing. The leaves of trees of life are there to heal those who repent and accept Yeshua as their Lord from the disconnecting effect of sin.
When this happens, Paul's prophecy to the Philippians regarding the end result of God's plan will finally be fulfilled:
PHILIPPIANS 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)
Ultimately, in the third age of the new heavens and the new earth, all of God's creation will acknowledge the focal point of His plan, Yeshua, as their Lord. This will bring the ultimate glory to YHVH the Father, as it will bring about the end result of God's three-stage plan for mankind as described by Paul in his first letter to Timothy:
I TIMOTHY 2:4 [God] who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (DRA)
The following list shows the scriptural symbolism regarding those who will be saved during the third age of God's plan, the new heavens and the new earth:
Third Measure of Flour /
Feast of Tabernacles /
Completion of Harvest =
In summary: THE NATIONS will be the focus of God's salvation during the third and final age of His plan, the time of the new heavens and the new earth. Only a small amount of biblical prophecy refers to this age. Physical existence (and physical death) will end when the Messiah hands over the kingdom to God the Father (I Cor. 15:24-27). After the Father's judgment of all humanity at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15), the "new heavens and the new earth" will come into existence. YHVH the Father will come down out of heaven to dwell with mankind (Rev. 21:3). Along with Yeshua the Messiah, God will live among the saved of Israel in the New Jerusalem. In this new reality, everyone will exist as spirit beings on the new earth in one of three groups: (1) the saved of Israel in the New Jerusalem, (2) the saved of the nations, and (3) the unrepentant in the figurative lake of fire, which is the second death. The lake of fire/second death represents the spiritual separation between unrepentant sinners and God. When this age is complete, the plan of God will be finished. The completion of the leaven's work in this third measure of flour will see all mankind saved and brought to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4).
God provided symbolic information regarding His kingdom and His plan for us in the Bible. These mysteries were taught in the early 1st-century CE church, but were soon lost as apostasy claimed all but the few chosen to remain faithful down through the ages. We are now at the end of this current age, and YHVH is once again bringing these things to light for us.
Based on symbolism, we know that the first age (represented by the Feast of Unleavened Bread) is about 6,000 years long. During this age, those relatively few spiritual firstborn who will serve as priests and kings under the Messiah Yeshua are being called and saved. The second age, represented by the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), will be 1,000 years long. During this age called "the Millennium," Yah will pour His Spirit out on Israel, thereby bringing salvation to them. The length of the third age, represented by the Feast of Tabernacles, is not clearly disclosed. However, we know that God will pour out His Spirit upon all of humanity then. At the end of this stage of God's plan, all of mankind will recognize Yeshua and accept him as their Lord, bringing everlasting glory to YHVH the Father.
As great tribulation descends upon this world here at the end of this age, let us always remember that God's plan of salvation for mankind WILL ultimately succeed. Hoshana! May Messiah Yeshua come back soon!
Bryan T. Huie
December 14, 2012