The Lord warns us that we need to beware of hypocrisy. What we are within will be made manifest to others. It is impossible for any of us to hide our true character forever. Eventually, God will bring all things hidden out into the open. The heart of the hypocrite is open to the Lord, and believers are no different. Our hearts, for good or for bad, are open to him as well. The implication Luke 12:1-12 is that the inner realm is much stronger than that of the outer. We cannot hide who we are. In Matthew 10:27, it is the Jesus who spoke in darkness, and what he said had to be proclaimed in the light. In Luke 12:3, it is we who speak in the darkness, and God, for honor or dishonor, will bring that to light as well. What the Lord whispers in our ears will be made public, and what we whisper in the ear of others cannot be hid. It must be made public. There is a power at work here that we are unable to see, but we are able to witness its effect.
Jesus told his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1)! Earlier in his ministry he told them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:6), but then Jesus was referring to their doctrines (Matthew 16:12). Leaven (G2219) is a fermenting agent that causes bread dough to rise. It was actually a lump of dough saved from a previous baking that began to decompose, and by saving a lump from each day of baking, and allowing it to begin to rot, one could use it to cause the next batch of dough to rise, and it would bake into the soft and fluffy type of bread, similar to what we eat today.
One could readily recognize how leaven became a symbol for sin in the Scriptures. Just as a small amount of leaven would permeate the whole batch of dough, until the whole was leavened, so sin, though small and perhaps done in secret, would so permeate one’s life, that the sin could no longer be truthfully denied. The process or affect it had upon one’s life exposed its existence.
The word hypocrisy (G5272) is a noun that points to deceit in one’s character. It is used in the Septuagint in the Apocrypha at 2Maccabees 5:25; 6:21, 24 and 4Maccabees 6:15, 17. There it has to do with acting out a part like an actor in a play. In other words, the part one plays has nothing to do with his real attitudes or what lies within his own heart.
During times of persecution, hypocrisy could rear its head to hurt the Church in one of two ways. First of all, the enemies of the Church could plant spies within the body of believers, whereby they would appear as real believers but in actuality be serving the enemies of Christ (cf. Acts 5:1-10, 13; Galatians 2:4). Secondly, hypocrisy could affect the message of the Gospel, if sin within the body of believers was left unchecked, not confessed and repented of or challenged and exorcised (cf. 1Corinthians 5:6-8). Why should the world consider the message of Christ, if the world seems to behave more ethically than the people in the Church (1Corinthians 5:1-2)? Simply put, the Gospel cannot be served by people who pass themselves off as believers when they are not, or if believers themselves don’t behave in private as they do in public.
If Jesus words at Luke 12:2-3 are meant as a threat, they were a threat to those men and women who would seek to control the Church for their own benefit or the benefit of a foreign authority they served. Jesus’ words were not meant as a threat to believers. However, they are a warning to every believer that such activities would be used against them. Nevertheless, God would eventually reveal the intents of the hearts and extent of the works of evil men who worked secretly against the Church. So, such a warning is also an encouragement that the power of God would be used to benefit the Church, as she gives herself over to preaching the Gospel of Christ to the world.