Twelve and Seven?
Mark 8:13

Greg Elmquist

Mark 8:13 And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?

In reading this passage recently I found myself in the boat with the disciples experiencing their bewilderment. What did the Lord mean when He used the number of baskets left over from the miraculous feedings to explain the warning about leaven? When He said, "How is it you do not understand?" I was forced to confess my own dullness and brought to ask Him for discernment.

In both the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand Jesus gave His disciples an opportunity to feed the people before He performed the miracle of multiplication. He obviously wanted them to see their own inability and conclude that He alone is the Bread of Life. But, now they did not even bring enough bread for themselves. They concluded that the Lord's warning about leaven was a veiled rebuke for their lack of preparation. No, the one loaf they had with them in the boat was quite sufficient. Any more would have been too much. The Master Teacher was showing them, and us, a truth about salvation that must not be missed.

First, let us remember that once a little leaven is put into the bread it eventually leavens the whole loaf. No amount of leaven is acceptable. Our Lord said the leaven of the Pharisees is illustrated by the twelve full baskets left over after the feeding of the five thousand. Twelve is a number used often in the Scriptures to illustrate complete perfection. Most of the references to the number twelve in the Old Testament are to the twelve sons or tribes of Israel. Most of the references in the New Testament are to the twelve apostles. We see in Revelation that God's elect gathered in glory are pictured in multiples of twelve times twelve thousand. Also, the heavenly Jerusalem, the place of the Lamb's unmitigated glory, has walls built on twelve foundations, each measuring twelve furlongs, separated by twelve single pearled gates, and guarded by twelve angels. So, what is the correlation between the twelve baskets of leftovers and the leaven of the Pharisees? God gave His perfect law to the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve apostles preached Christ, the only law keeper, whose substitutionary atonement provides for His people eternal salvation in the City of God. The Pharisees were guilty of self-righteousness. In their blind hypocrisy they recommended themselves to God as having completed the perfect demands of the law through their own religious zeal. Jesus is telling us that when we have done all we can do to keep the law there are still twelve full baskets left over that no man can consume. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us..." (Titus 3:5). The One Loaf in the boat is all we need.

What about the number seven and the leaven of Herod? Herod is the epitome of licentiousness. His attempt to find satisfaction and ultimately life in the indulgence of fleshly pleasures ends in a horrible picture of judgment and death. Seven is the number for creation. All that God made in the material universe was accomplished in seven days. "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and looses his own soul..." The leaven of Herod is any attempt to find our life in the temporal things of this world. The flesh refuses to be gratified. When it has done all it can do to satisfy its hunger there will always be seven full baskets left over. Enjoy what God gives you, use it for His glory, but find all you need in the One Loaf. He is our all in all!

Greg Elmquist is pastor of
Grace Gospel Church
Longwood, FL