What does Matthew 13:33 mean?
ESV: He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
NIV: He told them still another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.'
NASB: He spoke another parable to them: 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three sata of flour until it was all leavened.'
CSB: He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and mixed into fifty pounds of flour until all of it was leavened."
NLT: Jesus also used this illustration: 'The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.'
KJV: Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
Verse Commentary:
This parable is not so much a story as a snapshot of an ordinary event from everyday life. Most people would have seen a woman making bread. That process included adding leaven, usually yeast, to flour. Leaven is a fermenting agent that causes dough to rise over time. Jesus' point with this parable is closely related to the previous parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32). Something seemingly tiny and obscure spreads, and grows, until it is something relatively enormous.

In this metaphor, a small amount of leaven is mixed into or "hidden" inside three measures of flour. This would have been about 50 pounds, or 23 kilograms. This would create enough bread to feed about 100 people. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to the leaven, the agent that causes the flour to grow into abundant bread.

Again, Jesus' description of the kingdom of heaven as a small thing that grows over time would not have fit the expectations most Israelites' held for the promised kingdom. Jesus is showing that the kingdom will begin in the hearts of His followers and only eventually grow to become the glorious kingdom the people were hoping for.

Alternatively, some read this parable differently, understanding the leaven or yeast to represent evil. Leaven is often used in that way in stories or analogies throughout the Old and New Testaments, though not always. If that was Jesus' intent, then the leaven in this parable would be like the weeds in the parable about the wheat. The leaven would represent the existence of evil alongside those who would come to trust in Jesus as King and Savior. Those evil ones, however, are doomed to be eradicated by Jesus at the judgment before He establishes His political kingdom on earth (Matthew 24:41–43). Preventing this interpretation, however, is the fact that Christ does not refer to leaven infiltrating the kingdom. Rather, in this parable, leaven is the kingdom.
Verse Context:
Matthew 13:31–35 contains two short, closely-related parables about the kingdom of heaven. One refers to a tiny mustard seed which soon outgrows all the garden plants; it becomes like a tree. The other parable describes the leaven a woman puts in flour to make it grow. Both parables show that the kingdom of heaven will be tiny, at first—with just the disciples. Quickly, though, it will grow into something surprisingly large. Matthew quickly reminds his readers that Jesus taught only in parables at this time, fulfilling yet another prophecy.
Chapter Summary:
Matthew 13 focuses mainly on a series of parables. Jesus first describes these to a large crowd along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Later, in a house, He explains to the disciples the meanings of the parables of the sower, the weeds, and the fish caught in the net. Jesus then travels to Nazareth, teaches in the synagogue, and is rejected by the people of His original hometown.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 13 follows Jesus from the overcrowded house at the end of the previous chapter to a crowded beach on the Sea of Galilee. He teaches a large crowd in a series of parables, which He doesn't fully explain. However, He reveals their meaning to His disciples inside a nearby house. Jesus pictures the kingdom of heaven as a sower, a sabotaged field of wheat, a mustard seed, and a pearl dealer, among other things. He then travels to His original hometown of Nazareth where He is rejected by the people He grew up with. This leads Matthew back to depictions of Jesus' miracles, after sadly recording John the Baptist's death.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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