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Know to Grow "in Christ" Publications
1601 Limpus Lane Forest Grove, Oregon 97116-1356
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
Presented here by the Bartimaeus Alliance of the Blind, Inc, under the provisions of the Chafee Amendment, 1996, and with the permission of the author.
Copyright © David K. Spurbeck, Sr.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 00-192100
Library of Congress classification
Subject: Priesthood, Universal BT767.5 S68 2000
Scanning editor's note: Print page numbers have been omitted from this edition as well as Hebrew and Greek fonts and visually orientated bulletin covers and diagrams.
This Book is Dedicated to the Memory of My Parents
Pastor Donald E. Spurbeck
and Doris M. Spurbeck
Servants of Jesus Christ
Who Counted Their Service of Greater Value
Than Anything on Earth
A Supreme Legacy
SECTION I The Structure Of The Priesthood Of The Believer
Chapter 1: What Is The Key Concept?
The Teaching of Scripture
The Matter of Religious Necessity
The Problem of Pastor-Dictator
The Implications for Congregational Church Government
Chapter 2: What is a Priest?
A Priest is a Priest
The Old Testament Concept of Priesthood
The New Testament Concept of Priesthood
The Requirements for a Priest
Chapter 3: Did Israel Become a Priesthood?
The Communication of the Promise
The Consequences of the Rebellion of Korah
Chapter 4: How Did Priesthoods Develop Historically?
The Aaronic Priesthood
Non-Levitical Involvement in Priestly Activities
Future Arrangements for a Priesthood
The Priesthood of the Grace Believer
Chapter 5: How Does a Person Become a Priest?
The Salvation of the Recipients of First Peter
The Sharing in the Spiritual House
Chapter 6: Am I Competent?
The Provision of Access to God
The Way of Access
The Direction of the Access
The Attitude of the Believer
The Proximity of the Access
The Approaches Because of Access
Chapter 7: Christ our Heavenly High Priest
The Requirements for Being a High Priest
Christ's Appointment to His Priesthood
Christ's Order for Priestly Service
The Uniqueness of Christ Compared to Aaron
Christ's Preparation for His High Priesthood
Christ's Qualifications to Be High Priest
Christ's Sacrifice as High Priest
Christ's Place for High Priestly Service
Christ's Present Work as a High Priest
Christ's Provisions in His Priesthood
Chapter 8: Priestly Potentials for the Grace Believer
What Does a Priest Do as a Priest?
Why Should a Grace Believer Function as a Priest?
SECTION II The Sacrifices Of The Believer-Priest
Chapter 1: What Is a Sacrifice?
Terms Describing Sacrifices and Offerings
Terms Describing the Giving of the Sacrifice
Chapter 2: The Old Testament Concept of Sacrifice
Sacrifices Before the Giving of the Law
The Sacrifices Under the Mosaic Law
The Sacrifices of the Grace Believer
Chapter 3: The Sacrifice of the Physical Body--Romans 12:1, 2
Paul's Exhortation to Believers
The Presentation of the Physical Body as a Sacrifice
The Characteristics of the Sacrifice
The Reasoning for Presenting the Sacrifice
The Conformity to the Legal Age
The Transformation by the Renewedness of the Mind
The Proving of the Will of God
Chapter 4: The Sacrifice of Praise--Hebrews 13:15
The Intercession of the Savior
The Identification of the Sacrifice BR> Chapter 5: The Sacrifice of Doing Good--Hebrews 13:16
The Character of the Sacrifice
The General Principles for the Believers Doing Good
The Dilemma in Doing Good
Doing Good in Response to Revelation
General Principles for Doing Good
Biblical Examples of Doing Good
Benefits of Doing Good
Chapter 6: The Sacrifice of Fellowship -- Hebrews 13:16
What Is Fellowship?
Why Have Fellowship?
Who Can Fellowship?
Where Can One Fellowship?
How Does One Have Fellowship?
Chapter 7: The Sacrifice of Giving - Philippians 4:18
An Analysis of the Old Testament Tithe
The Activity of the Sacrifice of Giving
The Attitude of the Believer-Priest
Chapter 8: The Sacrifice of Faith - Philippians 2:17
Directing Faith Toward God
Directing Faith for Other Believers
Directing Faith for Oneself
Directing Faith Toward the Word of God
General Principles for Directing Faith
Chapter 9: The Value of the Sacrifices
The Sacrifice is Acceptable to God
The Sacrifice Is Very Well Accepted
The Sacrifices Produce a Sweet Smelling Savor
The Sacrifices Are Logical Priestly Services
The Sacrifices Are Pleasing to God
SECTION III The Service Of The Believer-Priest
Service as a Priest
Service to God
Service as a Special Priestly Obligation
SECTION IV The Specialization Of The Believer-Priest
The Definition of Spiritual Gift
The Confusion Concerning Spiritual Gifts
The Provision of a Spiritual Gift
The Limitation to One Spiritual Gift
The Identification of the Gifts
The Utilization of the Gifts
The Specialization of the Believer-Priest
SECTION V The Sharing Of The Believer-Priest
Chapter 1: The Believer-Priest and His Bible
The Believer-Priest's Involvement with the Word of God
The Believer-Priest's Interpretation of the Word of God
The Believer- Priest's Identification with the Word of God
Chapter 2: The Believer-Priest and His God
Personal Approach to God
Personal Accountability to God
Proper Appreciation for God
Priestly Activity Toward God
Chapter 3: The Believer-Priest and His Communication
The Priestly Communication of Confession
The Priestly Communication of Intercession
The Priestly Communication of Supplication
The Priestly Communication of Praise
Chapter 4: The Believer-Priest and His Personal Life
The Believer-Priest and His Job
The Believer-Priest and His Family
The Believer-Priest and His Rest and Relaxation
Chapter 5: The Believer-Priest and the Church
The Orientation to the Equality of Believers in the Assembly
The Obligation of the Individual Believer in the Local Church
The Opportunity for the Use of the Spiritual Gift in the Church
The Operation of Congregational Government
Chapter 6: The Priesthood of the Believer and Its Implementation
Personal Involvement on an Individual Level
Practical Implementation on an Institutional Level
Potential Implications on a Personal Level
Appendix I - Will of God Chart
Appendix II - Spiritual Gifts Chart
Theological Definition Index
Spiritual Life Graphics (The graphics listed here have been omitted from this file.)
You in Christ and Christ in You / 14
In Christ I am / 30
No Bootstraps / 46
Each One Mature / 62
He Purchased It / 260
Fruit of the Spirit / 350
Faith Definition / 390
What It Means to be a Christian / 400
Spiritual Gift and Norm / 440
Which Spiritual Gift / 488
His Way to Maturity / 512
Christ in You / 526
'Tis ground lain fallow much too long,
The blade is set to plow the row
Its depth to make the plant grow strong
Truths delved that one must know to grow
The priesthood of the grace believer is one of the most important teachings in the New Testament for the Christian's life in his present tense salvation. Yet very few Christians have any knowledge of the subject. For this reason, I put the plow to the soil to provide the information needed. In a sense, I have produced a systematic theology of the priesthood of the believer. Few systematic theologies carry a doctrine through to its practical implementation. The last part of this book is designed to provide stimulus for the believers practice in key areas of life. It is my hope that these truths will become as precious to the reader as they are to me. A dilemma that always faces a writer is how much detail to present. In a way, I have cut the furrow with some depth yet it is simple enough for the thinking young person to grasp. May I suggest that the reader skip the more technical details if they are cumbersome and focus on grace revelation materials. This material is life transforming. Why? Because God the Spirit revealed it to us in the Word of God.
The priesthood of the grace believer is a subject that is taught in much of grace revelation. It is doctrine to be believed and practiced for all true Christians. Grace revelation is revelation for the Church beginning in John 13 and ending at Revelation 3. This is doctrine for faith and practice while the rest of Scripture is for the grace believers faith but not practice. It is uniquely a New Testament doctrine that is completely distinct from Old Testament doctrine. First of all, it is a biblical distinctive for Church saints. I suppose that my early introduction was to the subject as a Baptist distinctive. My father was a Baptist pastor and I am certain that the first time I heard about the subject was from him. More important is that it is what the Bible teaches for any true Christian.
I have not seen a real theology of the priesthood of the believer in print. Several books have been written on the subject but they are very limited in their scope and approach. I have three books on the subject in my library. Two of them trace the history of the teaching. The other is a brief survey of the subject from the Bible. For many years I have had an interest in the subject. I learned more about the subject in Baptist history classes in Bible College. I carried some of the concepts into Seminary anticipating further study on the subject. Courses in Baptist history and Baptist polity at San Francisco Baptist Theological Seminary were taught by J. Richard Muntz and were further stimuli for study and a great help. His lectures and notes gave me added direction. H. LaVern Schafer dealt with elements of the subject in classes in pneumatology and ecclesiology. I appreciate their teaching in those Seminary days. The first church I served as pastor was Bethel Baptist Church in El Sobrante, California and there I began to systematize this material. I am grateful to the saints who were there during those days of ministry for their input and reactions to some of this material. When I moved to Oregon to become a faculty member at Dispensational Theological Seminary, I further organized the priesthood material for our Evening School program and continue to teach the course. I am grateful to our God for permitting me to serve as a co-pastor with H. LaVern Schafer at Valley Baptist Church of Gaston, Oregon (meeting in Cherry Grove). God has used him in his ministry in my life in both the church and the Seminary. Each Seminary faculty member is a special encouragement. These men are H. LaVern Schafer, Dale R. Spurbeck and Orin I. Bidwell. I am grateful to be a fellow yokefellow with each of you.
When we systematize some biblical subjects, they cut across many areas of systematic theology. The priesthood of the grace believer is no exception. We are dealing with the work of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology). The priesthood of the grace believer is the result of the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit and is a part of the possessions provided by the baptism of the Spirit. The subject links directly to important elements of Christology especially in present tense salvation because of the priestly and high priestly ministries of Christ. The doctrine of God the Father is essential for understanding who accepts the sacrifices of the believer-priest and who receives and responds to priestly communication. Priestly service itself is service to God the Father. New Testament revelation concerning the spiritual life is essential because the believer-priest functions best as a Spirit-filled believer. While the believer is a priest in the "Church which is His Body," the Universal Church, its teaching affects every area of the operation of the local gathering of believers. When these and other areas of Bible-based theology are put together in relation to the priesthood of the grace believer, these truths provide a refreshing perspective of the whole of theology.
This book is not written to be read instead of the Bible as many Christian books are. I recognize my fallibility and frailty. While I may have some good ideas and suggestions, the only thing of true value is what God says in His Word. My spiritual gift is pastor-teacher and my only authority is in the Word of God. The minute I depart from God's Word, anything I say is of no more authority or value than what any other believer might say. Because of this, there are well over 2,500 references to passages of Scripture in these pages. In some ways this may be a detriment for some readers who do not have an appetite for God's Word yet will read "biblical-theological" materials. In fact, there are many little subject studies that of themselves may provide resources for teaching and preaching. May I suggest that the reader make notes of those studies he finds interesting and useful for such opportunities. Examples of this may be potential crowns, tithe versus the sacrifice of giving, spiritual gifts, enemies of the Christian, etc. Read these pages with your Bible in hand. Just the comparison of the translation with a version will be edifying and of value. The Spirit of God can use these truths to change your life.
Though I use the King James Version in the pulpit, my primary texts for study are the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts of the original languages. Throughout these pages the translations are mine. The few citations from the King James are noted. I prefer to use the academic A.V. [Authorized Version] abbreviation for the King James Version wherever I refer to that version. The reason I prefer my own translation is that I can emphasize important truths and grammatical concepts through translation (whether primary or secondary) without spending sentences or paragraphs correcting another translation. More than enough correcting is necessary in these pages. This does permit a more efficient use of space. There are more than 500 verses translated in the text.
For those unacquainted with the author, let me tell you a bit about my qualifications for translating the text. I have taught and preached from the biblical languages as a pastor and professor for 30 years. I have taught the Hebrew language at Dispensational Theological Seminary for 24 years as well as Greek related Bible analysis courses. I have devoted my life to learning the biblical languages so that I can have a foundation for a Bible-based theology. This work is an example of a Bible-based theology.
A note is in order concerning my translation. I have the habit of keeping my translation as close to literal as possible without creating too much confusion. As a result, it may seem to be stilted and rigid in some cases. I have attempted to keep it as readable as possible and yet retain the nuances of the original languages. Sometimes it is necessary to keep it "fat" for emphasis. An example of what I mean is the translation of "to him" of the original language as an English prepositional phrase rather than to translate it "his" (a possessive personal pronoun) that would make it much easier. This may be necessary to emphasize a definite article on the noun. Normally, there are linguistic reasons for some of the cumbersome translations.
Repetition is important to the learning process. This is especially true of important truths of God's Word. I have chosen to repeat some truths several times because of their importance. Naturally, some verses are repeated because they are essential to the subject. In several instances I have repeated the translation of verses. Some of these have slight differences in the translation to emphasize certain forms or word meanings. The changes are deliberate with the purpose of clarifying a specific point.
I have included Greek and Hebrew words early in the text with transliteration in parenthesis. These are in the more technical sections that are necessary for establishing groundwork for further study. Later in the text I have chosen simply to use transliterated forms in the less technical sections. This makes it easy to consult the text in the original but is less distracting. Throughout the text there are many definitions of the original language words. Some definitions are given in the way that I have chosen to translate the words.
I have chosen to use terms that emphasize distinctions. While I use the word Christian, I prefer to use "grace believer." "Christian" is an abused term in Christendom today. Many use it to refer to those who could never be Christians as Joseph, Moses, Isaiah, and Ezekiel etc. The only anointed ones in the Old Testament were kings and prophets. The true anointed one in the technical New Testament sense is one who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit as a result of the provisions of the cross work of Christ. A grace believer is one who is saved by God by grace through faith in the dispensation of grace (from Christ's cross work to His return in the air for the Church).
The material in this book is targeted at believers who have an appetite for God's Word and a desire to grow to Christian maturity. This can involve any believer that can read and think. Our young people who attend Evening School understand these truths. I have appreciated the enthusiastic reception of those who attend our Evening School classes of these important truths. Any thinking believer can understand these truths with the illumining work of the Spirit. This is not directed to a sixth grade level but to a college level. The contents are between that of a textbook and a Christian life book. I trust that God will use it for spiritual growth in either arena.
We live in a day when there is limited knowledge of the Old Testament. Some have learned the Old Testament stories in Sunday School. Others have had the Old Testament misapplied to their lives from many sources. They generally do not understand the significance of the Mosaic law and all of its regulations. The program established for Israel by Jehovah is complicated and confusing. As a result, it is neglected. Since I am a Hebrew professor, I spend a great deal of time in the Old Testament. I have made an effort to communicate Old Testament theology and regulations so that the reader can see the differences between living under the Mosaic Law and grace. The complexities of the Law literally taken demonstrate how much of a yoke of bondage it was. There is no question that under grace we have something far better.
Because of the Old Testament contrasts in these pages, let me suggest that if you as a reader find them unimportant, don't stop reading. Skip those sections and move on to the grace material. For example, there is a section under the sacrifices of the grace believer-priest on the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law. It is easy to get bogged down there because of the technicalities. Just go to the end of the section for the introduction to the sacrifices of the grace believer-priest. Then study the chapters on the grace sacrifices and savor the flavor of grace revelation. I would like to think that the Law material is unnecessary. But as I talk with believers, I know they need to know why they don't want to live under Law. The Law is cumbersome. Grace is free. When the believer learns how to live in his position in Christ, he will want nothing to do with the yoke of bondage that is the Mosaic Law.
In a way these pages are like pecan pie. Some will devour it voraciously because they like the richness and weight of the flavor. Others will find it to rich and pick out the nuts. Others will want to nibble here and there from time to time to savor the flavor.
Inserted between some chapters are graphics that I have put on our church bulletin covers. They are pertinent to the Christian life and to the contents of these pages. They are designed to teach key truths in Scripture to the grace believer. [Omitted from this file]
I am unashamedly dispensational. I firmly believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures in the original manuscripts. As a result, I believe that the Holy Spirit selected specific words from the human author's vocabulary to communicate revelation accurately and with divine precision. Because of this, I believe in a literal, grammatical, historical interpretation of Scripture. I believe that the recipients of the revelation are the owners of that revelation. If I meet the criterion for ownership, it is truth for my faith and practice. As a result, I believe that Scripture produces a theology of distinctives, divine distinctives. This produces a dispensational Bible-based theology in the traditional sense as that of the Apostle Paul, Cyrus I. Scofield and Lewis S. Chafer. I believe that was God's intention. I have no quarter with "ultradispensationalism" or "hyperdispensational ism" in any form. Their premises concerning the beginning of the Church destroy key concepts of the priesthood of the believer. This is especially true of their denial of the authority of the Petrine and Johannine epistles for the Church which is His Body. The progressive dispensationalists amaze me with their pseudo-intellectual acceptance of the premises of Reformed and Covenant theology and hermeneutics. Where they stand on the priesthood of the believer is subjective, a roll of the dice. Their attempts to integrate Old Testament theology with New Testament theology threaten to ruin the distinctive doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. Thank God that traditional dispensational ism is alive!
Our English language continues to change in its grammar and syntax. There is a popular forum that attempts to simplify. I am of the "which" generation. My word processor is of the "that" generation. Throughout these pages we have been at war. I gave in and went back and changed most of the "whichs" to "thats." Now that my radar is on for those and I have changed them, I see that my local newspaper, magazines, new books and such are still in the "which" generation. I am willing to change. I do not follow the politically correct perversion of the normal use of our language though. Throughout these pages I use the third masculine pronoun in a generic sense as has been true for centuries. "He" can apply to male or female. When I do use "she," it is for special emphasis. This is normal though there continues to be a campaign to change this element of English grammar.
Several other explanations are in order. I use terms that are theologically specific. When I use the term "spiritual," I use it in the New Testament sense of emanating things of the Holy Spirit (not the human spirit). A "grace believer' is distinguished from a law or kingdom believer as a believer who is baptized into the Body of Christ in the dispensation of grace (from the cross to the rapture). I believe that Paul is the human author of the book of Hebrews. So when I refer to the "author of Hebrews," I refer to the Apostle Paul.
Rather than to refer to the "direction" of the fruit of the Spirit, I have chosen to use the participle "directing" because I want to emphasize the action. There is a definite act of volition of a Spiritfilled believer to direct a specific part of the fruit of the Spirit. A believer learns to do this as a part of the maturation process.
"Church" may or may not be capitalized in the text. Where it is capitalized, it specifically refers to the Church Universal, the Body of Christ. I intentionally use a small "c" of Christendom in general as well as the local church.
I have dedicated these pages to the memory of my parents: Donald E. Spurbeck and Doris Kenyon Spurbeck. They both were alive when I was writing the first draft of this work. My father was a model pastor, role model, student of the Word, Bible teacher and servant of Jesus Christ. He was my spiritual father as well leading me to Christ in my childhood. He was my pastor. My mother was a godly woman and a wonderful example for life. She was the ideal pastors wife. Both were always encouraging. They were a team that served God in small churches. I thank God for their love and influence on my life and a multitude of other lives. They share with many of those in the presence of our Lord. Their parting has made the blessed hope much more blessed. Today? Perhaps!
I have many to thank for help with these pages. My wife Pat has really made this final product possible. She has kept me in focus. She has used her organizational skills to bring it to fruition. Her ability to get things done in spite of physical limitation has been amazing. Her insight keeps me out of trouble. I thank God for making us a team in His service. Few work together as well as we do. She is the love of my life and a true fellow servant of Jesus Christ. Thank you, my love! My brother Dale continues to be a special blessing. His moral support and suggestions are appreciated. What a blessing it is to serve Jesus Christ together in the Seminary. He has helped proofread a large part of this material.
Dennis Carter and his son John helped by scanning the original typed manuscript so that I could do all of the editing on the computer. I appreciate your help. It saved another major retype of the text. I also want to thank Kathy Christiansen and Jane Toney for helping with proofreading. What a team effort! All of these have offered sacrifices of doing good to our God in their help with these pages. To God is the glory!
I learned a long time ago that I am prone to making mistakes. Any errors in the text are my own and no one else's. I am thankful to our great God for His involvement in these pages. His Word works. I am grateful for so great salvation and the High Priest of the priesthood for all He has done and continues to do. What a joy it is to be "in Christ." For the work of the Divine Teacher I am thankful. Reading through these pages, I am well reminded of the illumination of the Spirit and his teaching of specific truths that were objective revelation and are now subjective revelation. I trust the ministry of the Godhead will use these pages to bring glory and honor to each Person. If you are a grace believer, God is with you!
Resting seated in the Beloved,
David K. Spurbeck Sr.
Me! A priest? Yes! Every Christian is a priest according to the teaching of the New Testament (1 Pe. 2:5, 9). If a person is a believer, he is a priest. "Priest" is a word that has many connotations in the minds of different individuals in the world today. Some envision a man clothed in regal vestments, the uniform of an officiating clergyman. Others perceive a man in a clerical collar, the uniform of traditional Christendom. Others simply consider any preacher or pastor to be a priest. When thinking of those individuals who act as priests outside Christendom in the rest of the world's system of religions, one is faced with external evidences of priesthood in the priest's appearance or activity. The saffron robes and shaved head of a Buddhist monk identify him as a man in religious service. His chants and meditation sessions are considered to be a part of his service to his religion as a monk. To many an external appearance is the only way in which to identify the priest. In the Christian Church, the uniform of the New Testament priest varies extensively. It may be the business suit of the Christian banker or the overalls of the believing farmer. It may be the attire of a saintly homemaker or the nursing scrubs of a Christian nurse. Any attire from swim trunks to formal evening wear can be the dress of the New Testament believer-priest. It is not his clothing or outward appearance that makes him a priest, it is his position and activity. If a person is a true Christian, he has the potential to be functioning as a priest in all the activities of his daily life since God counts him to be a believer-priest.
Each individual is a priest without regard for external appearances or offices. There are no specific educational requirements that prepare the person to enter priestly office. A degree in theology is not necessary. In fact, it is impossible to have enough education or a proper education by which to gain admission into the priesthood. Entry into the priesthood is not gained by any rite or ritual. No ordination examination or service is necessary for participating in priestly privileges. At the moment of salvation, the believer is placed in a unique priesthood by the Holy Spirit of God and is given every right and privilege of the priesthood of all grace believers. Priestly privilege is a provision from the grace of God -- unmerited and freely given. When the New Testament speaks of the priesthood of the believer, it knows no distinction in age, gender, social position or office. God the Father sees equality in the priesthood in which there is common service that is to be performed under and through Jesus Christ, the High Priest. Because it is practical for the life of the Christian, the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer can easily be communicated to every Christian whether he chooses to apply the teaching or not. Every Christian, at some time, has the desire to please God. God has made it possible for him to be pleasing to Him in priestly service. Ignorance of the privilege prevents the believer from certain areas of activity that are pleasing to God in the provisions of grace in the priesthood. The implications of the priesthood on every level of Christian living are multifaceted. The teaching is a part of the Word of God that is understandable and usable by believing children and the oldest believing adults. God designed the doctrine to communicate with the uneducated as well as the best educated believer. He provided the type of information that appears to be written to each individual believer at his place in life. There seems to be an exclusivity of revelation to the individual believer. As the believer comprehends the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, he appreciates its practical application to his own individual situation in life. As is true of many of the life teachings of the New Testament, when the believer studies the subject, he often provides his own illustrations for himself as he perceives the teaching as it relates to the peculiarities of his own Christian life. Because of this, the reader will practically write his own volume in his mind as he studies the doctrine from New Testament grace revelation. As he applies the truth learned, he has the privilege of making the revelation his own from Scripture.
It is time for a revival of the implementation of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer among Christians and their churches. There no longer needs to be reluctance for being a little different as long as it is a move toward closer conformity to the revelation of Scripture. Too few believers give an accurate reflection of the revelation in their personal lives before others and God. In every era of church history, there has been a need for true believers to be living as priests. Too often an era has needed an effective priesthood only to have a few believers, who are a very small minority, living in light of the grace revelation given to Christians. It has been the exception rather than the rule for groups of believers to be seen practicing as believer-priests together. Yes, there have been a few but very few. Christendom has stood against them. Carnality is the terminal disease preventing the practice of the priesthood of the believer. Apathy propagates the malignant disease. When the vitality of the New Testament is consistently practiced in a part of Christendom, the sin nature rises to nullify its life and attempts to afflict it with complacency. If the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer is strongly practiced, it is attacked from within and without. Men make an effort to make it a doctrine that is believed but not practiced effectively. It becomes acceptable to preach and to teach the doctrine, but the implementation of the doctrine in the life of the believer is not encouraged or explained. Individual Christians must not permit religious Christendom to nullify the clear teaching of Scripture in their practice. There is no reason for true believers to avoid practicing the doctrine in spite of its limited teaching by some pastors and teachers. It has never hurt a believer to do things in God's way. He enjoys the blessing of God in the practice of the doctrine. When accurate information is provided, the believer can assimilate it. He can take it to be a challenge and master the details to the point that he makes it his own in his knowledge and practice.
The implications of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer are supremely practical. Today, Christians have a voracious appetite for the church to be providing practical teaching from the Word of God. This sounds commendable. What is practical and what is not practical is a very subjective thing. Every believer has his own idea of what is practical. It is not unlike the teenager who is convinced that his parents have no idea how life really is. To some believers, the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer is most practical. To those who are most vocal for things practical, it will be an impractical doctrine because it does not fit their personal criteria based on their own personal beliefs and feelings. True practicality is established because God calls the doctrine practical, not the human estimate. Too many Christians want "third door on the left" practicality rather than the general principles that the Holy Spirit makes practical in specific situations. God designed Scripture in such a way as to make Scripture applicable in specific situations. The way it relates to the situation is not dependent upon human reason. It is essential for Scripture to be taken literally, for the believer to accept its one interpretation and to accept its single application. If the reader meets the criteria to be a recipient of a portion of Scripture, that passage has the potential for being ultimately practical for him. The Holy Spirit clearly shows how the passage of Scripture relates to given circumstances for the believer's practice. If the believer is living in the realm of his sin nature, he no longer meets the criteria for revelation addressed to Spirit-filled believers. Only the admonitions for carnal believers are practical for the carnal believer. He lacks the ability to live truth given to spiritual believers; and hence, he does not consider that truth to be practical. A substantial proportion of those believers who say that biblical preaching is not practical are living in the sin nature. It is true that they are absolutely incapable of applying the truths to their lives because that truth is not addressed to them in their present condition in the first place. The priesthood of the believer is a doctrine that is not for carnal believers. It is truth addressed to spiritual believers. Carnal believers do not lose their priestly position when they are carnal, but lose any ability to function as priests in service that God will count to be priestly service. God's evaluation is the final authority concerning the acceptability of priestly service. Two believers can perform the same activity in service to God, but God will accept the service of one and reject the service of the other. A carnal man can collect the Sunday morning offering with another man who is spiritual and God will count the service of the spiritual man to be priestly service while the carnal man's service will not be counted as acceptable to God. Understanding priestly service, the spiritual man enjoys the practicality of the doctrine when he takes the offering, while the carnal man has his own personal motives that are satisfied to some degree when he performs the same task. The carnal man may have any number of motives. He may be seeking acceptability by the people. He may be striving to demonstrate his personal righteousness to God or man. He may do it because it needs to be done and he can do it. The spiritual believer does it because the Spirit of God has led him to perform the task knowing that he will bring glory to God through the performance of the task.
In a sense, the study of the priesthood of the believer is a study of the believer's Christian life. He is a priest every moment of his life whether he is functioning as a priest or not. It permeates his life in its every detail. Knowledge of the priesthood of the believer does not make a believer spiritual; but when he is spiritual, it provides a practical environment in which his spirituality can flourish. A believer's knowledge of the spiritual life will give him a basis for enhancing the practicality of his priestly possession. Saints, who know the teaching of the spiritual life for grace believers, will benefit best from the understanding of the priesthood of the believer. An unbeliever will not benefit from the teaching of the priesthood -- it is family truth for Christians.
The entry requirement for the priesthood is saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. When a person believes in Christ through the Gospel, he is placed in a "kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:6)." 1 Corinthians 15:2-4 clearly identifies the Gospel "by [lit. through] which you are saved." The Gospel or Good News is "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; and that He was seen...." When a person believes through the Gospel, he believes through the facts of the Gospel to a proper object -- Jesus Christ. He is saved by God by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8, 9). At the moment he receives the gift of faith to believe the Gospel to be saved, he is made a member of the priesthood of the believer by the personal work of the Holy Spirit. He is instantly inducted into the priesthood as a part of his salvation.
Someone has said that the New Testament church was a perfect democracy. Such a condition becomes more and more evident when one considers the historical development of church government in the New Testament church. A perfect equality was essential to practice Christianity in the formative years of the Church. In the absence of revelatory authority that was given to the persons who were gifted to deliver revelation from God, He only gave limited authority to any individual in the local church aside from that authority which was given to every believer. It is not until Acts six that any portion of the Church was given specific authority or official status in areas of the outworking of the program of the local church when the church chose and the apostles appointed deacons to function in the daily service for the widows in the church. Up to Acts six, the apostles were instrumental in providing authoritative instruction to the church for its democratic government. Their authority centered around the ability that their spiritual gift provided to deliver and implement revelation that had not previously been given to the Church. God had distinctly given the twelve men who were gifted as apostles to the Church with specific abilities by which He used them to provide a foundation for the Church. It is not until Acts 14:23 when elders were appointed by Paul and Barnabas that there is any mention of leadership in the local church other than deacon and apostle. How did the church function without some authorities to administer the business of the church? The church effectively functioned as a democracy which depended upon the apostles and prophets for revelatory advice. It is evident that there were failures in the democratic process as in the socialist experiment of Acts 4:32 where there had been no divine revelation given requiring such a practice. As the Church spread from Jerusalem, being driven across the Roman world by persecution, it was necessary for individual believers in a given community to rely upon one another in the meetings of the local church. Such practice was contradictory to every concept for the orderly operation of an organization in the world system. Leadership was always considered essential for the free and successful operation of any type of social entity. Even the Greeks saw the necessity for leadership in their development of representative government. Either a part or the whole of a constituency selected individuals to stand as representatives in matters of leadership. The Apostolic Church did not have elections to select local representatives but functioned as a democracy under the authority of the revelation from the apostles. The backbone of the democracy of the local church was the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. Even after the development of the offices of the New Testament church, bishop and deacon, the democratic process continued to function to its fullest. Initially, the offices were given to provide leadership in the spiritual and physical matters of the church. To make certain that the physical tasks of the church were accomplished for the church, the office of deacon was established not so much to lead the church, but to serve the church in its menial tasks. The office of bishop was established so that the pastor-teacher gift could function to its fullest extent for the spiritual building up of the church, serving the Lord in leading the church toward its spiritual goals. Every grace believer is a priest and has an equal role in the local assembly of believers. The church was organized to be a democracy comprised of believer priests who equally participate in its decisions, development, and duties.
As Church history progressed, the church developed more and more from a democratic hierarchy comprised of all believers into a totalitarian hierarchy of a selected few. The English word "hierarchy" is derived from the Greek, and literally means "temple chief or leader." In the early Church, the local church itself was a hierarchy with no subordinates. With the secularization of the Church, more and more believers became subordinates to a few who assumed authority. As a result, the teaching of the priesthood of the believer became a doctrine that was disregarded and even held in disrepute. Substantial New Testament revelation for grace believers presents the priesthood of the believer. As a result, when one ignores the doctrine, he ignores an important part of Scripture itself. In direct proportion to the church's desire to participate in revelation given for its practice is the interest in the priesthood of the believer. There is no reason for such an essential doctrine for Christian living to be placed in a position of secondary or of no importance. It is a glorious, practical doctrine. Only the human ego has placed restraints on its implementation in the church. When hierarchical positions of leadership are established, those who assume those positions are threatened when they know that alignment with Scripture will either eliminate those positions or severely limit the authority that they can exercise. Because of the egos of such men, they have made efforts to de-emphasize and repress the implementation of the doctrine in the lives of believers. Because the priesthood of the believer limits the authority of the few, it is to the advantage of the professional church leader to keep the people in ignorance in order to retain the authority of his position. Silence maintains ignorance. Ignorance prevents personal appropriation of the fullness of the provision of God.
Recently, there has been an increase of interest in the priesthood of the believer. It is time for a revival of the doctrine in the practice of the local church. Implementation of the doctrine does not need to be based upon pragmatic motivation -- of course it works in the local church. The implementation is necessary because it is biblical and one of the provisions of God in salvation for the grace believer. A substantial body of biblical revelation establishes the details of the doctrine for the believer's practice. More messages need to be preached and more lessons taught on the subject. The silence must cease and ignorance must be put to rest. Effective teaching will be the basis for the implementation in the lives of Christians. In order to provide a systematization of the doctrine, specific and careful study is necessary. For an accurate understanding, it is necessary to use the original languages and to provide a solid linguistic basis for the theological conclusions that result. The contents of this book are designed to provide enough detail to assure adequate information for the confident, personal practice of the doctrine in the lives of Christians.
What is a priest? In order to understand the doctrine, it is necessary to understand what a priesthood is and how a priest is to function. A careful analysis of biblical priesthoods is necessary. A study of Israel's relationship to priestly activity is important because Israel, though given opportunity, did not become a priesthood, but rather had the Levitical priesthood given to the nation. If a grace believer is a priest, what is the mechanism? Scripture clearly describes the divine method by which God makes a believer a priest who has the privilege of performing service well pleasing to God. Any study of the priesthood of the believer must stop to dwell on the magnitude of Jesus Christ, the Heavenly High Priest. If a believer is a priest, how does he relate to his Heavenly High Priest? What should he be doing as a priest? Scripture clearly delineates the priestly activities that are possible for a priest's participation. What motivation does God provide to encourage the believer to function as a priest? One must evaluate the right and wrong motives of believers in relation to priestly service. The answers to these questions will be given in the chapters of this book.
The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer can be developed by the following overview of the teaching of the New Testament.
* I. The Structure of the Priesthood of the Believer
* II. The Sacrifices of the Priesthood of the Believer
* III. The Service of the Priesthood of the Believer
* IV. The Specialization of the Believer-Priest
* V. The Sharing of the Believer-Priest as a Priest
These five areas provide the basic structure of this book and the doctrine. When the believer understands the basic concepts concerning what a priest is and what he does, he has a solid foundation on which to build. Because a believer is a priest, he offers sacrifices (1 Pe. 2:5). The New Testament mentions six sacrifices for the believer in the New Testament. Sacrifice is only a part of the believer's service as a priest. The New Testament uses specific words to describe the service of the grace believer-priest. Each believer-priest has a specialization at which he excels in his service to the Lord -- his spiritual gift. The implications of priestly service carry into every aspect of the believer's life as he shares with his God, other believers and the unbeliever. May the reader carefully evaluate the Word of God as it is used and confirm that the contents of this book accurately reflect the teaching of Scripture, and then with the illumination from the Spirit of God make this truth his own in his mind and practice.
In spite of the extensive revelation of the priesthood of the believer in the New Testament, there is a dearth of study material and teaching on the subject. Most church-going Christians consider involvement in such a priesthood as either inconceivable or inappropriate. Each Christian needs to be taught the position and privileges of the believer-priest. There is no need for ignorance of such an important biblical truth. A Christian's recognition of his role as a priest gives him an awareness of the ways he can bring glory to his God through priestly service. A substantial number of the practices that are normal in Christian living relate to priestly activities. When the Christian sees the whole spectrum of New Testament teaching on the priesthood of the believer, he can then enjoy his personal, active participation knowing that the activity is a part of his priestly sacrifice or service. With knowledge and understanding, it is then possible to ask God for the wisdom (Jas. 1:5) to apply what has been learned appropriately in given situations to the glory of God.
There are nearly as many priestly organizational structures as there are priesthoods in the Bible and in the religious world. Each has its own idiosyncrasies. In order to establish the characteristics and composition of the priesthood of the grace believer, it is necessary to examine not only the New Testament doctrine but also the Old Testament concepts of priesthood that provide a clear contrast to the New Testament. A person versed in the Old Testament should easily identify the similarities as well as the differences between the priesthoods of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament. Participation in the priesthood was expanded to include all grace believers rather than limited to a few who met the physical qualifications for functioning in the priestly office. A close analysis of the Aaronic priesthood will present some similarities but most noticeable will be the differences. One of the major distinctions is that the Body of Christ is a priesthood.
There is never any indication that the Church possesses a priesthood because Scripture sees it as a priesthood itself. If a person is in the Body of Christ, he is a priest. If he is not a priest, there is absolutely no way possible for him to be in the Body of Christ. The identical process that places the believer in Christ makes him a member of the priesthood. Because of this, a study of the structure of the priesthood will involve truth that is practical for every believer. When believers recognize that they are priests, it changes their whole perspective toward one another. An understanding of the structure and composition of the priesthood encourages the believer to recognize his individual responsibility before God. He no longer has a buffer between himself and God. His pastor ceases to be the hired professional who stands between the individual and his God. One will no longer permit the local church and its programs to intervene for the believer before God. Consistent and inconsistent believers no longer give the believer excuses for his personal behavior. In effect, he stands alone before God in Christ with no human being or institution intervening. Within the structure of the priesthood, each believer has responsibility for himself. He may attempt to ignore his responsibility or dispute its legitimacy. He may accept the privilege of responsibility and enjoy all the benefits of functioning as a priest. A thorough understanding of the priesthood will enhance the believer's Christian life. The doctrine will, in many cases, give the believer a great deal more freedom in the progression of his Christian life. It is possible that the doctrine will provide a channel for activities that the believer is doing by giving them a biblical structure in which they are accomplished. Often a believer is less pressured when he learns how God sees the activity especially when it is a priestly behavior.
In order to understand the structure of the priesthood of the believer, the simple how, who, what and when questions need to be asked. The chapters in this section will attempt to find the New Testament answers to these questions as they relate to the priesthood of the believer. How does the believer become a priest? How does he function as a priest? Who is permitted or considered to be a priest? What is the believer's relationship to God in his priestly service? What activities are normal for a priest? When does a believer become a priest? When can he practice his priesthood? Scripture provides a substantial body of doctrine establishing the answers to these questions.
What is the essential concept upon which the whole doctrine is built? Scripture establishes the foundational concept. The Church is a priesthood. It is a truth that establishes a basis for every conclusion concerning the priesthood of the believer. It carries the truth to each Christian and wrests authority from the few. Naturally, there are direct implications in the government of the local church. These need to be discussed because the practical implementation of the doctrine in the local church will often revolutionize its manner of operation.
What is a priest? A careful analysis of both the Old and New Testaments will determine what a priest is from the divine perspective. It is clear in Scripture what God counts to be a priestly activity. Another important area of discussion is Israel and its relationship to priesthoods. In Exodus 19:6, the possibility that Israel would be a kingdom comprised of priests is presented. Did Israel become a priesthood as a result of the promise of God? Do Christians fulfill the requirements to become recipients of the promises to Israel? Does 1 Peter 2:9 indicate a fulfillment in the Church? A careful study of the implications of Exodus is necessary in order to understand the priesthood of the grace believer. Another important area of study is the matter of the historical development of priesthoods in the Bible. When one traces priestly activities from the Patriarchs forward, he can see not only the development of the priesthood but also the uniqueness of each priesthood.
How does one become a priest? First Peter two establishes the exact mechanics in a believer's salvation by which he becomes a priest. Becoming a priest is only a part of God's provision for the believer in Christ. As a priest, the believer has access to God that never existed before his salvation. His access to God makes his priestly privileges practical.
How does the believer-priest work with his High Priest, Jesus Christ? Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is the grace believer's High Priest who is active in His priestly ministry. One of the important aspects of the Aaronic priesthood was the role of the high priest in the operation of the priesthood in the tabernacle or temple. The grace believer has access to the heavenly temple through his High Priest. Christ has a crucial relationship to the manner in which the Christian functions in his priestly service.
When does the grace believer function as a priest? In a sense, this is just as much a part of the substance of the priesthood as any other facet. If the believer understands that he is a full-time priest, he learns that he has the exclusive opportunity to excel in his spiritual priestly service. If he responds positively, he has clear potentials available for living his Christian life.
These chapters on the substance of the priesthood of the believer are designed to give a lucid, detailed picture of the priesthood of the believer. They include an analysis of each elemental detail that will contribute to the Christian's understanding of the doctrine. As the believer is reminded that he is a priest because of the grace of God, he can rejoice in the magnificent privilege of being a priest of the order of Melchisedec to the glory of God. Scripture is clear concerning the structure of the priesthood and its uniqueness above all other priesthoods.
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"The Church does not have a priesthood, it is a priesthood." This is the key concept that summarizes the whole doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. When the true believer understands this concept, his whole attitude should change concerning his personal relationship to God. As a member of the Body of Christ, he has every privilege that any other Christian has because he is a priest in a priesthood. Scripture never teaches that all the responsibility in the local church should fall on the shoulders of one man. Each individual believer has an obligation to be active in the local church because of his position in the Universal Church as a priest. The Church does not have a priesthood. Scripture teaches that every believer is a priest. There is no hierarchy in this priesthood. There are no higher priests between the believer and his Heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ. There is an absolute equality in the Body of Christ (Gal. 3:27, 28) with no person having a superior position over any other Christian. The one who holds the office of bishop is just as equal as every other believer. His is not in George Orwell's "more equal than other animals are equal" position. A minority has no authority over the majority.
God designed the Church so that each individual grace believer would focus his attention upon the Head of the Church who is also the High Priest for the Church. The horizontal perspective is based upon a perpendicular perspective. The Christian is literally to be so heavenly minded that he cannot help but be earthly good. When he sees things on earth from God's perspective, he will effectively accomplish God's will on earth by the Holy Spirit's direction. If his reflective thinking is directed to his condition in Christ and the things that he has in his position in Christ (Col. 3:1-4), he sees himself as God sees him seated in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). The perpendicular perspective involves a thought process. In Colossians 3:2 it says, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth [A.V.]." Many Christians think the verse ties to 1 John 2:15 and loving things above instead of loving the world system because of the A.V. translation "affection." A clearer, more literal translation is, "Set your reflective thinking on things above, not on things upon the earth ...." What is reflective thinking? It is clearly an activity of the mind. A large part of the New Testament doctrine of the Christian life involves mental activity. The confusion concerning the meaning of the verb phroneo is evident in the 29 New Testament passages where it is found in that the A.V. translates it 13 different ways. The verb carries the essential idea of intuitive thinking. It is that process by which thoughts are bounced around in the mind or permitted to gurgle through one's mental plumbing. One of the better descriptions of the word in English is the word "reflection" -- a reasoned reflection or frame of mind. Therefore, the believer is encouraged to focus his reflective thinking on things [neuter] above. A part of the reflective thinking of the believer involves his priesthood and Christ as his High Priest. Every Christian is just as accountable for his priestly attitudes and activities as any other believer. Human programs are poor substitutes for God's program for motivating Christians to be involved in His work. If a believer is a priest, he has no right to expect other Christians to be doing all the Lord's work. Because the Church is a priesthood, there is equal responsibility within the Church. If each Christian is thinking in these terms, the Lord's work would be very effective here on earth. Most Christians have the attitude that the pastor should be doing most of the Lord's work for the congregation. "Isn't that what we pay him for?" As a result, many churches have given pastors unbiblical authority and have practically disenfranchised believer-priests from practicing the privileges of the priesthood. Scripture is very clear in the matter. The Church is a priesthood of all grace believers.
One must never attempt to mold Scripture to fit doctrine or practice but rather mold doctrine and practice to fit Scripture. Ecclesiology [the doctrine of the church] is an area in which the greatest manipulation of Scripture takes place to fit doctrine and practice. Logically, the priesthood of the grace believer should dominate every facet of ecclesiology. A number of books have been written on the subject but many of them focus on how different theological systems interpret the subject so that the doctrine would best fit into their established ecclesiology. Scripture is clear when it teaches that the whole Church is a priesthood and does not possess a priesthood. Any who are in it are priests, each one being equal before God and having equal responsibilities and privileges.
There is no doubt that the Church is a priesthood in Scripture. "You [pl.] also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house into a holy priesthood ... (1 Pe. 2:5)." Every part of the spiritual house is a part of the priesthood. First Peter was not written to pastors but to elect sojourners (1 Pe. 1:1 Gk.) though some among them were in the office of bishop, gifted as pastor-teachers and having the maturity of elders (1 Pe. 5:1-4 Gk.). The Church is a spiritual house that directly involves a priesthood. "But you are an elect race, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, an uniquely possessed people ... (1 Pe. 2:9)." Believers are not only participants in a normal priesthood but it is a kingly priesthood. Christ has "made us a kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:6)." At the moment of salvation, the believer becomes a part of a kingdom that is completely comprised of priests. The song of the twenty-four elders indicates that they are a kingdom and priests (Rev. 5:10). There are no grace believers who are not in the priesthood. Every Christian is in the priesthood. "The Church does not have a priesthood, it is a priesthood."
Religion normally establishes priesthoods to provide leadership over adherents. From the very beginning of religious systems in the world system [cosmos], priests had an effective role in religious activity. They may have been seers who professed to comprehend the future and to effect changes in the future. They often functioned in prophetic office. In some cases they designed and performed religious ritual to appease the gods for protection and for the provision of benefits. When Satan organized religion in the world system, he did not organize a religious anarchy, but established leader-priests who maintained an orderly religious system. Without a priesthood, each religious system would have fragmented itself out of existence with as many segments as there were adherents. Priesthoods maintain order. Priesthoods protect the purity of doctrine. They control the ritual of the system. In most religions, the priests had great authority in both the religious community and the civil society. As a result of the priesthoods, the religious works of the flesh were channeled in an orderly fashion. Even primitive animism had a type of priesthood built around witch doctors and seers and their activities. Religions are absolutely reliant upon their priesthoods. Ancient religion was dependent upon priesthoods and gave priests positions of respect and authority in society.
Ancient Religion and Priesthood. Many of the ancient records that refer to religions are priesthood centered. This was because the priests kept the records and because their activities dominated society. Many ancient cultures were built around common religious systems. Social mores and religious mores were interdependent. In ancient Sumer, there was a priesthood. The same is true in the history of Egypt. The code of Hammarabi described a priesthood that had both male and female participants. The Epic of Gilgamish describes the giving of offerings to deities. Scripture itself describes several priesthoods of early pagan peoples.
The first reference to a pagan priest in Scripture is the reference to Joseph's father-in-law, Potiphorah, who was a priest of On, a city devoted to the worship of Ra, the sun god (Gen. 41:45, 50; 46:20). The polytheism of the Egyptians is evident in the names used. Potiphorah means "He whom Ra gave." Joseph's wife's name was Asenete meaning "One belonging to Nenth (a goddess of the Egyptians)." An organized priesthood existed in Egypt many centuries before Joseph's era as has been disclosed in the great Egyptian archaeological finds. The priests had special privileges in Egypt. They had a great influence and were landholders. During the famine in Joseph's era, the priests were the only Egyptians who retained possession of their lands while the rest of the population sold their lands to Pharaoh for food (Gen. 47:18-26). "Only the land of the priests he did not buy; for it was a statute for the priests from Pharaoh, and they ate their established portion which Pharaoh gave to them; therefore they did not sell their land (Gen. 47:22)." Pharaoh had given an allotment of food and provision for the priests who were a part of his administration. This allotment kept them alive so there was no necessity for the sale of their lands. The rest of the population gave 20% of their earnings to Pharaoh while the priests were not required to give anything since they were the only ones who possessed their own lands and were not share croppers as the rest of the population (Gen. 47:26).
Four hundred and thirty years later the Egyptian priesthood was even more developed. The ranks in the priesthood were more clearly defined by the abilities of individual priests and their resulting responsibilities. The events of the ten plagues against Egypt challenged the gods of Egypt by the miracles Jehovah performed for Israel at the hands of Moses and Aaron. "Then Pharaoh proceeded to call for the wise ones, and for the sorcers, then the magicians of Egypt, they also proceeded to do [or perform] them by their secret arts in this manner (Ex. 7:11)." These priests, who had special abilities, all were able to duplicate the miracles by demonic power. It may be that these priests held their position because they had demonstrated an ability to perform miracles by demonic powers and so were given special privileges. These men stood as the representatives of Egyptian deities in open confrontation with Jehovah, the God of Israel.
Pagan priests are not mentioned with any frequency in the early Old Testament. It is evident though that the priests were considered a valuable commodity in the land. It appears that pagan practices influenced Micah, the Ephriamite, to make a house of gods (Judg. 17:5) and to set apart one of his sons to be a priest until he hired a Levite to act as his own personal priest (Judg. 17:7, 8). The Danites ultimately took Micah's priest and gods to establish their own idolatrous worship, based on the possession of the priest (Judg. 18). This priesthood and idolatry persisted for a long period of time -- at least as long as the tabernacle remained in Shilo (Judg. 18:30, 31). With a priest, some of the Israelites were convinced that they had the right to serve whatever gods they desired. One must realize in this case that the priest did not lead them into idolatry. It was the availability of a priest that gave them the idea that they could have their own private religion. This was the era in the history of Israel when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judg. 17:6; 21:25)" violating the prohibition of such behavior in the Law of Moses (Deut. 12:8).
When the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant from Israel at Eben-ezer, they placed it in the house of Dagon (1 Sam. 5:1, 2), that was a primary Philistine deity having a fish-like form (Judg. 16:23). Dagon fell off its pedestal twice before the ark. The second time it fell, the head and hands were severed from the torso before the ark, being broken upon the threshold of the idol's temple. As a result, the priests of Dagon were very careful not to step on the threshold because of the sacrilege committed to Dagon by the presence of the ark (1 Sam. 5:5). The Philistines, at least, had a priesthood for their principal deity. It may have been necessary for these priests to perform priestly service for all the deities in the Philistine polytheistic system of religion. It is also possible that there were a few who acted as separate priests to other individual deities. After seven months of suffering death and emerods (1 Sam. 5:6-12), the Philistines called on their own priests and diviners for assistance. They asked advice of these idolatrous practitioners concerning where they should send the ark of Jehovah and how it should be sent (1 Sam. 6:1, 2). The priests suggested that the ark be sent back with a trespass offering of five golden emerods and five golden mice (1 Sam. 6:3-9). The Philistines willingly accepted the advice of the priests subjecting themselves to priestly authority. The priests were well acquainted with religious procedure and provided relief for the nation by applying their knowledge.
In First Kings 18, Elijah was involved with the prophets of Baal who were functioning in priestly activity for the Israelites. The 450 prophets of Baal were performing this service in 400 groves (18:19). The prophets of Baal followed a procedure that was designed to persuade their god to give them favor. They called on the character of Baal from morning to noon in a kind of priestly intercession that turned into an exaggerated form of supplication (18:26). They leaped up and down at their altar and asked Baal to bring down fire to burn their sacrifice (18:26). They mutilated themselves (18:28) but all their priestly activity was ineffective. As a result of Jehovah's victory, all the prophets of Baal were slain. Without priestly leadership, religion becomes ineffective. For a time, the pagan religion of Baal was limited in its influence because of the disposal of the prophets or priests. In Second Chronicles 23:17, the destruction of the house of Baal and the religious fixtures was accompanied by the slaying of the priest of Baal for the same reasons.
Every major nation in the ancient world had a system of religion built around a priesthood though the priesthood may have had a variety of distinct designations. From ancient Sumer to Greece and Rome, religion was organized around priestly activities. A select group of priests served the king and the people. Some priesthoods were simple while others were far more complex having various degrees of priests who had varying levels of authority. In some ancient societies, the priests had great authority while in other societies, they had only religious authority. Generally, religion was polytheistic, having a large number of deities who received the worship of the nation. Each nation possessed its own pantheon of gods. Even the Greeks in Athens managed to cover for any god they happened to miss in their compilation of deities by erecting a monumental altar to the unknown god in Paul's day (Ac. 17:22, 23). The great nations of Egypt, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome all had their own peculiar systems of religion with distinct priesthoods. Lesser nations also had religious systems that required priesthoods. It almost appears that when two people agreed that a deity existed, one of them became a priest to that new deity. In order for religion to be organized, a priesthood is necessary. The ancients saw the necessity and normally had some sort of religious leadership that stood for adherents before the gods. A small group of select individuals became priests while the majority of the population relied on the priests for various types of religious service to their particular deities.
Priests were a religious necessity for the practice of religion in the world system. Religion has always been a channel for the religious works of the flesh (idolatry, religious superstitious awe [sorcery/witchcraft] and heresy -- Gal. 5:20). It places a control on the flesh so that religious extremes are kept in check and held to a minimum. In many ancient societies, religion and government were united, giving the priests even greater power. The same has been true of some of the modern religions. In contemporary religion as well as ancient religion, the society has a priesthood of select individuals comprising a minority of the people who are adherents.
World Religions and Priesthood. World religions have priesthoods out of religious necessity. Even Judaism and Islam, which deny the existence of any priesthood in their systems, have adapted forms of a religious hierarchy that assumes responsibilities normally allotted to priests. The rabbinical system of Judaism has nearly developed into a priesthood of a sort in some segments of Judaism. The Reb of some Hasidic communities has special standing before God and provides blessing for the people as well as interpretations of Scripture for their practice. This is less true in other segments of Judaism where the rabbi is primarily a hired teacher of the tenets of Judaism, having the same relationship to God as the rest of the synagogue or temple. Islam has priests who generally are not paid through their priestly duties. There are groups within Islam that have a very well organized group of individuals whose responsibilities involve the teaching of the Koran and other Islamic traditions. Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism and Taoism all have their priests, monasteries and nunneries for training and practicing the tenets peculiar to each of their systems. Priests are involved in a wide variety of religious activities in each of these systems. In all major religious systems, there is a minority of devotees who perform tasks on behalf of the majority of the adherents. In some systems, each male serves as a priest for a short period of time in his life, only to return to normal life after his religious conscription is completed.
Christian Adaptations. Christianity is not free from minority priesthood practices. In these areas, the Church has a priesthood rather than being a priesthood. As a result, a wide variety of forms of hierarchy has been established in the history of Christianity. Since the apostles possessed specific kinds of authority in the spiritual gift of apostle, it was considered necessary to establish apostolic succession even though Scripture indicated that the spiritual gift of apostle would cease. Another requirement was the distinguishing between pastor, elder and bishop even though Scripture incorporates all three terms to describe a single individual in the Greek of Acts 20:17, 28 and 1 Peter 5:1, 2. A pastor was given more authority than Scripture permitted. With the amalgamation of church and state under Constantine the Great in 330 A.D. came a greater amalgamation, that of church and society. The world system has always demanded forms of religious ritual and tradition. Society, with its pagan practices, expected Christianity to satisfy its appetite for religion with religious rituals and practices. Already certain idolatrous practices had directly influenced Christianity because some practices had been incorporated from heathen religions to satisfy the religious requirements of greater numbers of people who had identified with Christianity by necessity. Religion had to have an authoritarian religious hierarchy. Ordination set apart the candidate to priestly service that he could not practice without ordination. As a result, ordination became a means of grace for it changed the status of the individual by elevating him to priestly status. The priest over the people concept is not uniquely a Roman concept for both the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches practice the same basic concept. The Church of England or Episcopalian Church has retained the practice from its Roman roots. Church history tells the story of the cyclical widening and narrowing of the chasm between the priests and the people.
Similar concepts have carried into the realms of Protestantism where there has been a traditional distinction between clergy and laity. Originally "clergy" was a term used in the Roman Church but was later adopted by the Protestant Church. There are two possibilities concerning the source of the term. Some believe it comes from the Greek kleros that means "heritage or inheritance." This makes little sense since the elder was to be over the kleros in First Peter 5:3. Generally, it is considered to have been derived from the word "clerk" literally meaning a "clerkship." It had the original idea of an order or office of clerks that is evident in English literature from the 1300s forward. In the Dark Ages, the priests were primarily the only ones who knew how to read and write, and so became identified by the "clergie" title as clerks over the people because of their superior education. The people were completely reliant on priests for the reception and transmission of all information. Later it came to refer to a body of men who were set apart by ordination for priestly, religious service to the Church. "Laity" comes from the Greek word laos meaning "people." When a distinction is made between clergy and laity, the relationship a believer shares in Christ is invalidated in actual practice. A large segment of Protestantism retains the clergy-laity distinction in some way in matters of church polity and government. Today Protestantism has practically rejected the biblical concept of the priesthood of the believer and has incorporated the program of the world system designed to channel the works of the flesh into areas of propriety.
Another adaptation of the clergy-laity concept is the practice of making the pastor or board of elders rulers over the local church. Such polity also places a group of men or an individual above the rest of the church. Some feel that individual Christians are not capable of making Spirit-led decisions for the church and so leaders or a leader must make the decisions for them. In order to justify such a position, it is necessary to play apostle by applying the principles that applied only to the apostles to the leadership of the contemporary church. Actually, the church has rulers or a board of rulers over lesser subjects. Such an arrangement appeals to human appetites for having authority over others and to their personal pride, for there is no biblical authority for such practice. It also tends to eradicate the importance of the priesthood of all believers.
If the Church has a priesthood, the pastor, who acts as a dictator, is assuming priestly priorities. He stands as a priest who dictates decisions for the whole congregation. It is necessary to discuss this area of church polity because many believers have been disenfranchised from priestly privilege and practice by pastors who insist that it is their right and responsibility to make all the decisions for the church. It is true that Scripture clearly distinguishes between the man who holds the office of bishop and the congregation. He has the responsibility for the spiritual leadership but not the physical leadership. He is simply one of the sheep God has permitted to be an undershepherd. He remains a sheep. He is a priest just like every other believer in the congregation. Those who are dictators are often the most vocal concerning their faith in the Word of God. Yet, in practice, they reject a major part of the revelation of Scripture. His "call" to preach is reinforced by his ordination making him the final authority for the local church. After all, if Christ is the Head of the Church Universal, then the pastor must be the head of the local church. When a man holds the office with this much authority, the church is no longer a priesthood but has a priesthood. Several consequential problems are the result of the pastor-dictator condition.
Demanded Subordination. Through his preaching and administration, the pastor-dictator expects subordination on the part of the church. Because he preaches something, he is confident that it is authoritative. As a believer-priest, every Christian has the responsibility to search the Scriptures and to see if what has been preached is true. The only authority the believer should have for believing anything is the authority that comes from God and His Word in spiritual matters. A pastor should never be threatened by truth. If he is inaccurate, he must be willing to admit his error and correct it. The only true authority the pastor has is in the presentation of the written Word of God. Any deviation from a Scriptural message is his own conclusion or conviction and cannot be authoritative. Believers should search the Scriptures to determine whether what has been said to them is presented in Scripture. Many pastor-dictators are confident that their education is so much better than that of the people in the church that no one should question their authority. In some churches, there are people who know their Bibles better than their pastors. As a result, the dictatorial pastors are threatened and attempt to remove the threat. Every Christian has the potential to learn the Bible by submitting to God's authority rather than that of man. A pastor is not to lord it over God's heritage but is to lead by example (1 Pe. 5:3).
Dictated Policy. The world system has invaded the Church with big ideas. The latest seminar or conference can bring radical changes in policy for the local church. Some men actually flaunt the constitution of the church, a legal document, for their own personal objectives. A pastor-dictator will establish a policy and the people will respond because of his authority rather than love for the Lord. It is sad to say that too many men are not equipped to evaluate their own ideas accurately and those of others from Scripture. From their perspective, Scripture just isn't practical enough to meet the needs of a modern world. Some believe that the archaic methods and provisions of Scripture are not sufficient for dealing with the new trends in a technological society.
Decision Making. Who makes the decision in the church -- the pastor or the people? Exactly what business comes before the church for action? Who decided to buy the furnace? Who decided to paint the auditorium daffodil yellow? Who changed the time of the evening service from 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.? The church has the responsibility for these kinds of decisions. If the pastor has made the decision, he has violated the authority that Scripture has given to the local church. Too many churches have poor reputations in the community because of ill-advised pastoral decisions that should have been handled by the church. The church does not decide what the man is to preach, because the Spirit of God must lead him in that matter and that is his sphere of authority as the holder of the office. The church determines its time and place for meeting (1 Cor. 11:17, 18), time and place for the Lord's table (1 Cor. 11:20, 25, 26), physical details in the ministry of the church, its officers, its messengers as representatives (1 Cor. 16:3, 4), its own missionaries (Ac. 13:1-3), and the discipline and exclusion of members (1 Cor. 5:4, 7). The pastor's areas of authority are to compliment and help the sphere of the church's authority. He is to guide it toward spiritual objectives he has set (Heb. 13:7), preach what he believes the Holy Spirit has led him to preach (2 Tim. 4:2), to have the oversight that Scripture is taught and the Gospel is preached (1 Pe. 5:1-4), to lead by example (1 Pe. 5:3; 1 Tim. 4:12) and to warn the church of spiritual danger. Scripture gives the pastor authority that comes with the office in specific spiritual areas, but he is not to usurp the authority given to the church.
Accountability. Every believer-priest is accountable directly to God and not to the pastor. A pastor-dictator forces the Christian to be accountable to the pastor, a man, before he is accountable to God. As each member does something in the church, the pastordictator ultimately determines whether the activity is acceptable to God or not. There is no room for compromise, for his will is considered to be God's will. He stands as a priest over the people. In most cases, the pastor is not accountable to anyone. He finds it easy to say he is accountable to God, yet his own concepts of the Christian life prevent him from knowing in actuality the will of God for his own personal life aside from knowing the will of God for anyone else.
Domination by a Man and His Gift. If the pastor dictates all the decisions of the church, he dominates every other believer in the church. The congregation is deprived of any role in the decisionmaking process. Young people in the church are convinced that one spiritual gift is far more important than other gifts. Sincere, young men train for the pastorate because they see the power their own pastor has, regardless of the spiritual gift they possess. All spiritual gifts are equally important and in practice a man who holds the office of bishop or overseer should be no more important than individual believers with other gifts. A believer's spiritual gift is his specialization as a believer-priest. Scripture is clear that the man who holds the office of bishop must possess the pastor-teacher gift (Ac. 20:28; 1 Pe. 5:1-3; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9). Abuse of the teaching of Scripture will only deprive the people of the potential for serving the Lord in the New Testament pattern.
Religious tradition dictates against congregational church government. Inherently, man has always wanted someone to do all the work and make all the decisions. A priesthood or clerical system was designed to provide men who were holier than the rest of the people. These would have a better potential for knowing God and communicating with God than the people. The sinner felt incapable of approaching God personally because his own sin prevented God from accepting him. Hence, it was necessary for a qualified individual to intervene on his behalf. An individual, who was saved out of the world religious systems, naturally accepted the need for a priest or clergyman over the people. One of the great anomalies of true Christianity is that the Church doesn't have a priesthood, but it is a priesthood. One of the first things a missionary should communicate to the new convert is his role as a believer-priest. Unless he was a priest in his old religious system, the uniqueness of his priestly role in Christ will be a special blessing to him. Every believer is a priest and has direct access to God.
God did not design the priesthood of the believer out of religious necessity. He was not influenced by the priestly systems of the world system or by the Levitical priesthood. He designed the Aaronic priesthood for similar purposes as those of the religions of the world system. It was designed to channel the sin nature of the Israelites into realms that were acceptable to God. He provided New Testament believers with a totally new type of priesthood in contrast to the Aaronic priesthood. The Church is a priesthood. Since every believer is a priest, he should have an equal, active role in the government of the church. Congregational church government is built upon the reality of the priesthood of all believers. When the involvement of every believer is prohibited, the church ceases to be a New Testament church and becomes a business run by a board or a corporate head. Congregational polity emphasizes the practical implications of the priesthood of the believer with each believer sharing responsibilities for the operation of the church.
One Man -- One Vote. In matters of church business, congregational government emphasizes one man - one vote. In this way, the government of the church should be a pure democracy. The pastor has the same voting power as any other member -- no more and no less. Decisions of the majority are the decisions of the church. The vote of a Ph.D. will be cast alongside that of a person of limited education with both votes carrying equal weight. Each person is to vote in the way that he as a believer-priest believes that God would have him vote. No one has veto power over the majority decision. Some have questioned the competency of particular believers in their vote, but the equality within the priesthood will permit all who are in good standing to cast the ballot. One must remember that the wealthy man should have no more influence than the most impoverished saint in the church business meeting. It is true that at times the congregational process is cumbersome, but the participation of all believers is essential for the church to carry on in the New Testament manner. Otherwise it ceases to be a New Testament church.
Active Involvement. Congregational government encourages the active involvement of all the members in the work of the church. If the business of the church is handled in an orderly fashion, each vote cast should openly identify the member with the decisions and work of the church. If the member votes for a visitation program, he has the responsibility to support the program either by active participation or by direct encouragement. If he votes for painting the church building, he should plan to dig out his painting equipment so he can participate. When the congregation makes the decisions for the church, there should be a greater participation by the members of the congregation. If someone else makes the decisions, saints are reluctant to participate in accomplishing the task. Congregational government should improve the individual participation of each believer-priest.
Mandatory Adjustment of the Roles. Since the Church is a priesthood, the local church should consistently purge its rolls of members who are no longer active in the meetings and support of the church. People who profess to be believer-priests should be active in their attendance and participation. Members, who are inactive, should be disenfranchised from the right to vote and then be removed from membership if they persist in avoiding the work of the church. As a result, the priesthood of the believer is most effective. The active members have the privilege of exercising priestly responsibilities in the vote. Some churches have neglected to maintain an active roll; and when consequential decisions are to be made, inactive members suddenly make an appearance and invalidate the will of the active members who are attempting to serve the Lord as believer-priests in the business of the local church. The local church has the right to regulate its own membership by purging the rolls so that the serious Christian can be assured that he can practice his priesthood in the local church without external interference.
The Church does not have a priesthood, it is a priesthood. This statement summarizes the whole New Testament teaching of the priesthood of the believer. Every individual in the Body of Christ is a priest. Every single grace believer is a believer-priest. When the believer understands his role as a believer-priest, he will have absolute confidence in his God in his activity and in his communication. There should be no reluctance to be involved in the service, sacrifices and specialization within the priesthood. In order to understand the significance of priestly activity, one must learn exactly what a priest is from a biblical perspective.
When the word "priest" is used, a wide assortment of concepts may cross the mind. In the Old Testament, the word "priest" has very clear meanings concerning practice. The New Testament word is based on the place of priestly activity rather than practice. It is easy to say "A priest is a priest," but what exactly is involved? The very idea of priesthood usually has the idea of representation. The priest was the representative of God to man and of man to God. He stood between God and man. In the religions of the world, men recognized that their acts of unrighteousness would have a direct influence upon their relationship to deity. As a result, they attempted to find men who were holier than they were to intervene on their behalf with their god or gods. The priests were trained to mediate for the people in all their religious obligations appeasing deity where appeasement was necessary and pleasing deity where pleasure was necessary. A priest normally was a person who had a greater degree of access to deity than the majority of the population. He simply performed religious functions from a position considered acceptable to his god or gods.
The English word "priest" evidently finds its origin in the Greek word presbuteros (elder) or the Latin presbyter. By 375 A.D., the presbyter had become a synonym for sacardos that was the general Latin term used for the Greek hiereus meaning "priest" or "temple worker." Because of the wide divergence of usage and meaning, "priest" has become a rather nebulous term. It came to have the idea of one who presided over religious services and activities, having mystical authority with God.
Scripture is not ambiguous in its words describing the priest and his activity in either the Old or New Testaments. The Old Testament Jews understood the special position of a priest.
"Priest" is an extremely important Old Testament word in that it occurs 750 times in the text. Every Israelite had a clear understanding of what a priest was by his duties in the tabernacle and temple. His duties were very much distinct from those of the rest of the Levites who also served in the religious activities of the temple. Levites, of any other family than Aaron's, did not have the privilege of offering sacrifices to Jehovah. "The Levites the priests" is a common description of Aaron's sons and their offspring. The priests were considered mediators in Levitical service.
The Derivation of "Priest." The derivation of the word translated "priest" in the Old Testament is highly in doubt. cohen has been given several concepts depending on the Hebrew root from which it is derived. Some scholars relate it to the root coon that has the idea of standing firmly before someone or something or being established before someone. If this is the true root, "priest" would designate one that stands before another in a mediatorial position. Others have accepted the same root and give it the idea of making ready, tying it to Isaiah 61:6. Other scholars relate the form to the root qahrav that describes a drawing near. In other words, the priest was the one who drew near to God. nahgash is employed of priestly types of activity in Exodus 19:22 and 30:20 by having drawn near to the divine presence, but it is highly unlikely that it relates directly to the cohen meaning. The three radicals in their arrangement are strong radicals within themselves and do not easily find their sources in other Hebrew words.
The Definition of "Priest." Every lexicon will define cohen as "priest." Such a definition is helpful for translation but is very limited for determining actual meaning. The Jewish Masoretes, who provided the vowel pointing of the Hebrew text, considered cohen to be a description of a persistent activity of the participants because they pointed the vowel form as a present active participle. The continuous action of their service is emphasized by the participle. The Levites were considered assistants for the priests in "all service of the tabernacle (Num. 18:4)." Without a priest, there was no mediatorial authority for access to deity. The priest was the one who actually used the tabernacle and temple implements in the performance of service to God. They were the workmen who did the actual work for themselves and the nation before Jehovah. Hence, a priest was a person who performed service for the nation before Jehovah designed to maintain an acceptable relationship between Jehovah, the individual and the nation. He was the one who was characterized by his active service to be a priest. In other words, he was a priest by what he was permitted to do and by his actual involvement with the task.
The Distinction Between Priests and Levites. All priests were Levites but not all Levites were priests. The whole tribe of Levi was given general responsibilities as a tribe without an inheritance. Evidently, the Levites assisted the high priest in communicating the Law and its proper application to the people of the nation. Aaron and his sons had been given the task as their duty (Lev. 10:10, 11). Levi, as a tribe, could provide judges and officers to judge the people with a righteous judgment along with the other tribes (Deut. 17:18; 31:9, 26). The Levites were the caretakers of the written Law (Deut. 31:9-13). Their specific service, in relationship to the tabernacle, was divided between the three sons of Levi: Kohath, Gershon and Merari while Aaron and his sons were involved as high priest and priests. Eleazar, the son of Aaron, was the general supervisor of all the Levites. "And the chief of the chiefs of the Levites was Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, the one who had oversight of the ones who were keeping the guard of the sanctuary (Num. 3:32)." The Levites were set apart as substitutes for the firstborn that were required by God as a result of the Passover (Num. 3:12; 8:16). They were given to Aaron and his sons. "Cause the tribe of Levi to come near and cause it to stand before Aaron the priest, and they will serve as temple servants unto him, and they will guard his charge and the charge of all the congregation before the tent of meeting, to serve the service of the tabernacle; and they will guard all the vessels of the tent of meeting and the charge of the sons of Israel, to serve the service of the tabernacle; and you will give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons; they are continually, absolutely given to him from the sons of Israel (Num. 3:6-9)." The Aaronic priests were in charge and the Levites were in temple servitude.
The duties of the Levites distinctly involved the care, service (ahvodah) and appropriate conscripted service (tsahvah) for the tabernacle or temple. The first term, ahvodah, describes the Levites as bondslaves in temple service. There was no way for them to change their status as servants in the work of Jehovah. In Numbers four, the word occurs 26 times describing Levitical activity, while the word tsahvah is found seven times in the chapter. The second term is employed to describe warfare and military service. It had the idea of absolute duty that was to be performed by virtue of one's position in life. It was most frequently used of military conscription by which the soldier had the responsibility to obey an officer to the death because he was a soldier. When the individual Levite was performing his duties for the tabernacle, he was under the orders of the priests. In the wilderness, they had responsibilities for the transportation and the protection of the tabernacle and its fixtures. They were responsible for all of the trivial but necessary details in addition to the major tasks for service to Jehovah by the priesthood. Korah's rebellion may have been a reaction to the menial duties given to him and his family as Levites by the sons of Aaron.
The Levites were to be a guard around the tabernacle to protect the sons of Israel from the anger of God. The charge is presented in Numbers one as a charge the Levites were to keep. "And the Levites will continue to encamp round about the tabernacle of the testimony, and there will not proceed to be anger upon the congregation of the sons of Israel and the Levites will guard [or keep] the charge of the tabernacle of the testimony (Num. 1:53)." They could only serve between the ages of 25 and 50. After age 50, a Levite was to continue to minister in the tent of meeting and to keep the charge; but he was no longer required to serve the service of the menial tasks required of the Levites (Num. 8:24-26).
Each of the three sons of Levi was assigned specific responsibilities for service in relation to the tabernacle (Num. 4). They were the transportation engineers, movers, assemblers, maintenance men and sanitation engineers for the tabernacle, while the priests performed the rituals. The Levites were support personnel and the priests were the stars.
Aaron had four sons; Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar (Ex. 6:23). He was a Kohathite. Nadab and Abihu died without offspring because they offered strange fire before Jehovah (Lev. 10:1-7). As a result, the priestly line was carried through Eleazar and Ithamar (Lev. 10:12).
The book of Leviticus was more the book of priestly service and legislation than instructions for Levitical activity. It was a manual telling Israel how to use the priesthood in order to please God and receive physical blessings in time. The Levites only had a subsidiary role in the required service. "Aaron and his sons" dominate the whole book as they offer the sacrifices for the people and officiate at the feasts of Jehovah. Every regulation collected in the book pivoted around priestly activity performed by Aaron and his sons. They were the interpreters of the Law and the implementers of it as Jehovah's primary persons for mediation.
The Old Testament concept of priesthood was that of a group of individuals who was acceptable and capable of approaching Jehovah for the individual or nation without being rejected by Jehovah. Mediation was necessary in the Old Testament priesthood. There was always some form of intervention for the individual whether it involved another person who was a priest or an animal that was sacrificed. Israel learned early that unqualified individuals died. A stranger [i.e. non-Levite] that came near was to be put to death (Num. 18:7). If a person came too close to the tabernacle, Jehovah could take the life Himself with fire. The priest had an elevated position in Israel because the priesthood was the only way for an Israelite to gain access to Jehovah. It would be a disaster for an offerer to bring a sacrifice and to have it refused by a priest who personally disliked the one who brought the offering. Inherently, the regulations for the sons of Aaron required an impartial participation in priestly service for the whole nation as long as the one using his service was qualified according to the regulations of the Law. The priests were responsible to make certain that civil authority implemented the penalties of the Law. Because of this, the priesthood had a great deal of civil authority as the various forms of government developed in Israel.
The New Testament simplifies the idea of priesthood giving it a different concept than that carried by the Aaronic priesthood. While it is true that the Septuagint employs the same root in the Greek to translate the Hebrew cohen, it portrays its own unique description of a priesthood. The term can involve the same individuals who perform the same service as the Old Testament priests, but only the context will specifically identify those of whom it is used. In the New Testament and the Greek, the word directly describes temple service that was performed by divinely appointed individuals who were given access to God.
Its Derivation. All of the terms used of priestly service or activity of priests are derived from hieron that is the general word for temple. It is the Greek term that describes the temple and all its grounds. In referring to Herod's temple in Jerusalem, it describes the temple building with all its courts, storage areas, quarters and implements. The word naos is the Greek term used to describe the focal point of the temple, the holy of holies. This was the area to which only the high priest had access. Old Testament priests for the nation Israel were described as those who were involved in their relationship to the physical structure of the temple and to peculiar services in the temple. The Greek term was used of all kinds of priesthoods outside of the New Testament and several in the New Testament.
There are twelve terms that relate to priestly activity in the New Testament, all of which share the same root. These include persons who function in priestly roles, the priesthood as a whole, and specific elements of activity related to priestly service both positive and negative. The word hiereus "priest" is found 32 times in the New Testament. It is used of the priests who served in the Herodian temple under Law in Christ's day (15 times plus a textual problem in Lu. 20:1). The priest of Jupiter or Zeus is described by the term in Acts 14:13. Hebrews describes the Aaronic priesthood with it (7:21, 23; 9:6, 10:11) as well as the Melchisdecian (7:1, 3) or Christ's priesthood (7:11, 15, 17, 21; 8:4; 10:21). In Revelation 1:6 and 5:10, it refers to grace believer-priests, while Revelation 20:6 describes a group of tribulation saints who will be priests in the future and reign with Christ a thousand years. Hierateuma describes the priesthood of the grace believer in 1 Peter 2:5, 9 and never describes the Aaronic priesthood in the New Testament. It has a -ma suffix that describes the result of an action. Because of the work of Christ, the Father brought the priesthood into existence as a part of the believer's being in Christ. Hierateia describes the priestly office serving in the Herodian temple (Lu. 1:9) and the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:5). The -ia ending has the idea of quality and so describes the priestly quality of the position being translated "priest's office" in the A.V. Hierosune is a name describing the quality of priesthood (Heb. 7:11, 12) and Christ's priesthood (Heb. 7:14, 24). Hieros is a neuter noun that is found twice in the text of the New Testament. It describes things that pertain to temple or priestly service. It is used with reference to the Aaronic priests (1 Cor. 9:13) and the Old Testament things written [i.e. Scriptures] that Timothy had learned (2 Tim. 3:15). Hieroprepes is a compound noun that is translated "becometh holiness" in the A.V. In Titus 2:3, the older women are encouraged to have a behavior that is proper and fitting for temple service. The word "temple" is combined with a verb that means "to be fit, proper or becoming."
Two verbs are found built upon the temple root. Hierateuo describes the activity of a priest in the Herodian temple in its single occurrence (Lu. 1:8). Hierourgeo is translated "minister" in its single occurrence by the A.V. (Rom. 15:16). It is a compound word that literally means "to be working in temple-like activities." Some translate the term "sacrifice," but sacrifice is only a part of the significance of the term.
There are two negative terms found in Scripture that involve the word "temple." They are a noun and a verb that both compound "temple" with sulao that means "to rob or strip." The noun hierosulos is translated "robbers of churches" in Acts 19:37. In Romans 2:22, the verb is translated "commit sacrilege" in the A. V. referring to the believer's involvement with idolatry.
The most common word that relates to priestly service in the New Testament is the word archiereus, "high priest" [singular] or "chief priests" [plural]. The word "priest" is combined with arche that means "chief, first or primary." It is found 123 times in the New Testament predominantly in the Gospels and Acts of individuals involved in the service of the temple in Jerusalem. In Hebrews, it refers to the Aaronic high priest (5:1; 7:27, 28, 8:3; 9:7; 25; 13:11 and Christ's high priesthood (2:17; 3:1; 4:14, 15; 5:1, 5; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1, 3; 9:11). A neuter noun of the same combination is found in Ac. 4:6 where it refers to the relatives of the Herodian high priest, Annas. A large portion of the material referring to the priesthood in the New Testament refers to the Aaronic priesthood in its functions from Aaron into the apostolic era until the destruction of the Herodian temple in 70 A.D. It is absolutely essential for one to observe the context to determine which priesthood is involved in order to discover what the author is discussing. With a focus upon a temple-like service or activity, the New Testament word has a wide diversity of uses.
Definition. A believer who examines most lexicons and dictionaries will come to the conclusion that a priest is a priest. At least, one discovers that a priest is an individual who does things that priests do such as offer sacrifices. If a priest is a priest who acts like a priest, there is no definition given as to what a priest really is. The New Testament term simply refers to a person who is clearly identified with a temple and its services. In a general New Testament sense, a priest is a person who has been chosen by God to approach God with sacrifices and services that, when offered by a qualified individual, bring pleasure to God. This definition can apply to any priesthood that would be described by the Greek term. It is impossible to be more specific because Scripture itself is not specific in its use of the terms.
Terms that perpetually are incorporated in general definitions are mediator, representative, atonement and intercessor. It is true that under Law the priesthood was directly involved in all of these activities but that was not necessarily true of every priesthood. There is no indication that any of these terms described Melchisedec and his priesthood in the Old Testament. Without question, "intercessor" is only used of the priesthood of grace believers. Christ's work as the Heavenly High Priest took care of the other three concepts for the grace believer. Christ alone is the mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ stands as the representative of the believer. His sacrifice and His present intercession, that keeps the believer saved, are activities of the believer's Representative. Christ's cross work brought perfect, permanent satisfaction to God the Father concerning the sins of mankind as well as all other forms of unrighteousness. One must make a distinction between the basic concept of priesthood and the better concepts of priesthood in Christ.
The Distinctiveness of the Definition. The common idea in all priesthoods is the right to approach deity. That was the key factor that distinguished the priest from the normal individual. He was in a position where approach to deity was considered possible. Certainly there were times when the priest was in no condition to approach even though he was actively functioning as a priest. Because he had the right to approach, it was assumed that he had access. How close he could approach made little difference. What was important was that he believed that he had the ability to approach deity. He may have considered the deity to be a great distance away or very near. As religion developed, the priesthood became more effective with the construction of temples designed to house gods or their representations. Approach and access were much more easily understood by the hoi poloi when a house of the deity was present. As priestly activity was more thoroughly developed, approach involved extensive ritual performed by priests. The idea of access was clearly presented in the Mosaic Law and Aaronic priesthood. The tabernacle or temple was the residence of the glory of Jehovah Himself. A visible manifestation of Jehovah's glory had accompanied Israel through the wilderness until they reached Canaan. Procedures for access were clearly established within the Law.
Mediation, representation, atonement and intercession all were involved in the priest's access in the Old Testament. He mediated for the offerer. He stood between the individual and his God. The high priest acted as the representative for his own family and the whole nation. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) he was the only representative of the nation before Jehovah in that one event for the whole year. Under Law, the priest was necessary for there to be an atonement or covering. There was no covering for unrighteousness if the priest did not make an offering for the individual. Only the priest could communicate with God as the intercessor for the other Israelites. Hence, the Levitical priests were involved in a mediatorial ministry by which the people were drawn near to God.
Priesthood under Law always involved mediation. Because of this, the Old Testament definition of priesthood is distinct from the New Testament concept in the matter of specific ministries performed by the priests. When a nation or a people have a priesthood, it is always mediatorial with the priestly minority standing for the majority. The priests have the right of approach while the rest of the people are unqualified to approach deity. Law provided Israel with a priesthood that mediated for the nation. Under Law, the priests were those who possessed limited access to Jehovah through whom and through whose ministry the people were drawn near to God as a result of their sacrificing and service. The high priest represented both priest and people, having a nearer access to God than did the rest of the priests. The priesthood of the grace believer is a priesthood that has the right of approach or access. The priesthood is not involved in mediatorial activity nor is it acting as a representative or involved in covering any sins. Christ, the High Priest, has once and for all dealt with these areas as a result of His cross work. All mediation is accomplished. The Christian's High Priest is ascended as representative and has taken His blood and sprinkled it on the heavenly altar. The New Testament definition of believer-priest is much more simple. The believer-priest is one who has direct access to God and who has the privilege of service and sacrifice that can be acceptable to God in Christ.
The distinctiveness of the priesthoods is extremely important. Any confusion between the Aaronic priesthood of the Mosaic Law and the priesthood of the grace believer will only lead to confusion in practice. The following chart clearly gives the basic distinctions between the two priesthoods. This overview will provide a pivot point for the development of material in the following chapters. The chart shows the obvious differences between the two priesthoods from the perspective of the individual priest in each priesthood. The contrasts emphasize the great privilege the grace believer has being in the priesthood of the believer. One must be impressed with the contrast that is obvious between physical service and spiritual service. Because the grace believer has direct access to the third heaven, his priestly privilege is much more important to him. There should be no reluctance to take an active part in the priesthood. The believer is a part of the priesthood by the grace of God and is sustained in the priesthood by this same grace. A message that will be repeated frequently is that only a spiritual grace believer can actually participate in the blessings of priestly service to God.
Another factor that is evident is the fact that the Aaronic priesthood wholly dealt with matters on a physical plane while the grace believer-priest is involved with spiritual matters. The focus of Aaronic service was on accomplishing what was necessary for physical blessing for Israel here on earth. The grace believer-priest is seated and has his politics in the heavenlies. He does not have spatial limitations as did the Aaronic priest. There was only so much room on the brazen altar for physical sacrifices. Because the Christian offers spiritual sacrifices in heaven, multiple sacrifices can be offered without need for space at a specific location at an appointed time. When one compares the two priesthoods, contrasts are far more important than any similarities.
Old Testament Priesthood New Testament Priesthood Under the Mosaic Law Of Grace Believers 1. By Physical Birth 1. By Spirit Baptism -- one Tribe (Levi) -- One Body (of Christ) -- one Family (Aaron) -- One Possession 2. Limited Service 2. Unlimited Service 3. Limited Location 3. Unlimited Places (Tabernacle or temple) (Anywhere/heavenly) 4. Sanctification Required 4. Sanctification Required -- Positional (Priesthood) -- Position (Body of Christ) -- Continual Activity -- Progressive 5. Physical Sacrifices 5. Spiritual Sacrifices 6. Earthly High Priest (Mortal) 6. Heavenly High Priest (Immortal) 7. Intercessors and Mediators 7. Intercessors but not Mediators 8. Position for Physical Lifetime 8. Position for Time in Body of Christ 9. Males Exclusively 9. Males and Females Equally 10. Multiple Sacrifices for 10. One Sacrifice for All Unrighteousness Unrighteousness 11. No Potential for Spiritual 11. Potential for Spiritual Maturity Maturity 12. National Service 12. Individual Service 13. Included Believers and 13. Includes only Believers Unbelievers 14. Earthly Service 14. Counted as Heavenly Service 15. Physical Imperfection 15. Spiritual Carnality Prevents Service Prevents Acceptable Service 16. Purification Required to Serve 16. Purification Required to Serve -- Permanent -- Positional -- Partial -- Practical
It is important to see the basic requirements for entering into the Aaronic priesthood and for functioning in Old Testament priestly activity. Some priests did not qualify for service but were still given the priestly stipend (Lev. 21:17-23). In Exodus, the details were given for the construction of the tabernacle (Ex. 25-27) before the establishing of the priesthood (Ex. 28-29). Exodus 28:1, 4, and 29:1 simply says that Aaron and his sons were to be acting as priests with no indication of their duties or requirements for service. In the rebellion of Korah, there is a very clear description of the responsibilities expected for a son of Aaron to be a priest. In Numbers 16:5 there were three requirements for legitimate priests: they were to belong to Jehovah, be holy and have access. Man did not establish these criteria for priestly service. God gave them and soon verified them. They belonged to him as a personal possession ["his" A.V.]. They belonged to Jehovah by His sovereign choice. The priesthood was to be a priesthood of divinely chosen ones (cf. Ex. 29:7). The same is true of the believer-priest. God chose him to be a priest as a part of his salvation. God's choice is strictly based in His desirous and determinative wills. Every priest belongs to God in the biblical sense. Israel was a chosen nation (Deut. 4:37; 7:6, 7; 14:2). Israel was a chosen people who were to offer sacrifices in a chosen place (Deut. 12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26; 16:16) by a chosen priesthood (Num. 16:5, 7). The Church is also a chosen priesthood (1 Cor. 1:27, 28; Eph. 1:4; Jas. 2:5) and meets the first requirement. In relationship to the priesthood of grace believers, Christ has been chosen as a living stone that is the chief corner stone and very valuable (1 Pe. 2:4, 6). The Church is a chosen race that is a kingly priesthood (1 Pe. 2:9). God chooses the ones He desires to be in His priesthood. Men may contrive various priesthoods, but they are of no value because God does not count their activities as being acceptable priestly activities of true priests. Without divine recognition, any priesthood organized toward God is an exercise in futility. God sovereignly established the priesthood and sovereignly selects those who will be priests in the priesthood making it possible for the services and sacrifices of the priesthood to be acceptable to Him, if presented by priests conforming to Divine conditions.
The second criterion for a priesthood was that the priesthood be a holy priesthood (Num. 16:5, 7). A priesthood was a group of men set apart to God for His Service. A great deal could be said about the holiness expected of the Aaronic priesthood. Even before Aaron and his sons were set apart as priests, there was some form of priesthood. At Sinai, those who were acting as priests were to make themselves holy for Jehovah so that He would not burst forth on them (Ex. 19:22 Heb.). Not even the priests who had sanctified themselves were to touch the mountain for fear of prospective death (Ex. 19:24). Special garments were unique, setting apart the high priest (Ex. 28:2-5). In Exodus 29, there is a detailed ceremony given for the consecration or setting apart of the Aaronic priesthood. "And this is the thing [or word] that you will proceed to do to them to set them apart, to be acting as priests for me ... (Ex. 29:1)." Every part of the sanctifying process involved the priests or their place of service. They were set apart as were their clothes, the tabernacle and the altar. Leviticus eight gives additional details of the consecration of the priests. The priests were not to pervert the divine standards for holiness. When Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered strange fire before Jehovah (Lev. 10:1 cf. Ex. 30:9), it was an open affront to Jehovah. As a result, Jehovah sent out fire that devoured them so they died before Jehovah. "Then Moses proceeded to say unto Aaron: That is what Jehovah spoke saying; By the ones coming near to me, I will proceed to be sanctified [or set apart], and before all the people I will proceed to be glorified; then Aaron came to be silent (Lev. 10:3)." Priestly holiness involved ceremonial holiness as well as the holiness of the priestly position. "For I am Jehovah your God; and you will sanctify yourselves and you will be holy ones; for I am holy; and you will not make your souls unclean by any creeping thing that is moving upon the earth (Lev. 11:44)." The Levites were to be set apart as well because of the events of the Passover. "For each firstborn one is for me among the sons of Israel, among man and beast [sing.] in the day that I caused all the firstborn in the land of Egypt to be smitten, I have caused them to be sanctified for me. And I will proceed to take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel (Num. 8:17, 18 cf. Ex. 13:2; Num. 3:13)." Those who worked about the temple and tabernacle were sanctified as well as the priests.
Because the grace believer is in the Body of Christ, he is a saint (Phil. 1:1) and possesses positional sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). The grace believer is to be practicing sanctification in his daily life (1 Pe. 1:15, 16). The believer is a part of a holy priesthood (1 Pe. 2:5) and a holy nation (1 Pe. 2:9). Both priesthoods have varying degrees of holiness.
The third criterion mentioned in Numbers 16:5 is that the priest was one who would be caused to come near to God. At Sinai, those who were acting as priests were the ones who came near (nahgash) to God (Ex. 19:22). Jehovah was the one who brought the Aaronic priests near [note the use of the waw consecutive in Num. 16:5]. No one but Aaron's seed could come near without being put to death (Num. 3:10). The bringing of an offering was considered to be a coming near, qahrav (Lev. 1:2, 3, 10; 2:1, 4, 11, 12, 13, etc.). Aaron and his sons had access that was not available to any other Israelite.
The grace believer has direct access that is much closer than that of the Aaronic priesthood. When the grace believer comes near to God, he is effectively using his position in Christ. He can be no nearer to God the Father than he is in Christ (Eph. 2:13). He is seen as seated at God the Fathers own right hand (Eph. 2:6) so that his priestly service and sacrifices are accepted by God the Father as though they were given by Christ Himself. The believer is positionally seated in the holy of holies while Aaron could not even see the holy of holies in the tabernacle under Law because of the required cloud of heavy smoke.
Any priest of God in the Bible was expected to meet the three criteria. They were chosen by God, set apart to God and were allowed to come near to God. This was true from the very beginning of priestly activity directed to God. If God did not choose to accept the sacrifices of an individual, it was absolutely worthless. If God considered a person unqualified, anything he attempted to do to please God was wasted activity. A person could try as hard as he could but would never have access to God. When someone has a priesthood, by necessity it is mediatorial, even though the priesthood itself may have access to God. When someone is a priest, he has the right of direct access. What is a priesthood? It is a select group of individuals set apart to God for the purpose of coming near to God with sacrifices and service. The development of the Aaronic priesthood resulted from Israel's lack of faith. Israel, as a nation, was offered the opportunity to become a priesthood but rejected the offer. As a result, they were given a priesthood.
Did Israel become a Priesthood? To some it seems to be a ridiculous question. Everyone knows that the sons of Aaron were the priests for Israel. Unfortunately, such a statement is an oversimplification because God clearly, legitimately offered Israel the opportunity to become a priesthood. Their response was that they would be willing to be a priesthood if they could do something to earn it. What God had offered freely, by grace, was something that the whole nation wanted to purchase by their own works.
"You saw what I did to the Egyptians, and I proceeded to lift you upon eagles' wings, and I proceeded to bring you unto me, and now if you should really hearken [i.e. listen and respond] to [lit. in] my voice, and you will guard [or keep] my covenant, then you will be for me a personal possession from all the peoples, for all the earth belongs to me. And you will proceed to be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy [or set apart] nation ... (Ex. 19:4-6a)." Israel had arrived at Sinai and had encamped there after their escape and journey from Egypt. Moses had returned to the mountain of God, Horeb or Sinai (cf. Ex. 3:1) where he had spoken with the Angel of Jehovah in the events of his burning bush experience. Moses went up into the mountain and there Jehovah gave him the message to be delivered to the sons of Israel. It was a simple and forthright message -- God had manifested His power to Israel and if they would listen to what He had to say and guard or keep His covenant, they would have the potential for being a priesthood.
The Chronicles of the Exodus. God made it clear to Israel that their arrival at Sinai was not the result of chance. There should have been no need for Jehovah to remind Israel of His power, for they had been eyewitnesses to the open exhibition of His power. He gave Moses a three-phase review of the events of the Exodus that Moses, in turn, was to share with Israel. The first thing Jehovah did in His communication with the nation was to review immediate history.
The Eyewitnesses to the Power of God. God reminded Israel that they were the eyewitnesses to His power. Using an emphatic personal pronoun, Jehovah strongly affirmed that they had seen with their own eyes what He had done to the Egyptians. They had not only been eyewitnesses to the ten plagues but also had seen the devastation of Pharaoh's army at the Red Sea. They had observed the superiority of Jehovah over all the deities of Egypt. Israel had lived in Egypt 400 years and was well acquainted with the ancient, sophisticated pantheon of Egyptian gods. They had seen Jehovah confront each of the major deities and soundly defeat each one. The primary reason for the ten plagues was to reaffirm Jehovah's superiority over every other deity rather than just to deliver Israel from Egypt. Israel had been without any direct influence from Jehovah for the whole 400 years. They needed to be taught that Jehovah, the God of their fathers, was the one, true God. Had not Jehovah hardened Pharaoh's heart, the Israelites would have left Egypt with only minimal, if any, resistance from Pharaoh. Jehovah of Israel was the all-powerful God. What had Israel seen? A survey of the plagues will demonstrate the open manifestation of Divine power over the gods of Egypt. The first plague openly confronted the River Nile as well as other water sources in Egypt by turning the water to blood (Ex. 7:14-15). The Nile itself had been worshipped as well as its fish and crocodiles. Hadi was the god of the Nile who often took on the form of a crocodile. "Egypt is the Nile." The importance of the Nile to Egypt has continued to be central throughout history. Jehovah turned all of the water of the Nile to blood. He exhibited His superiority over all the deities involved with the Nile. The second plague was the plague of frogs (Ex. 8:1-15). Frogs appeared everywhere. The Egyptian goddess Hekt was represented as having the head of a frog. The frog was one of the sacred animals of Egypt that could not be killed in the land of Egypt. Hekt was the wife of the god Khnum and was the goddess of fertility and resurrection. The third plague was the plague of the lice or gnats (Ex. 8:16-19). When Aaron smote the dust of Egypt, it all turned into these biting, stinging little insects. These insects had a very painful sting. The Egyptians considered these insects to be polluters. If anyone was stung or bitten by one, he was unclean and his prayers would not be heard. The fourth plague involved great swarms of flies or beetles (Ex. 8:20-32). Generally, the flies are identified with the disease carrying dog fly. This fly was directly related to the Egyptian god Uatchit. The fifth plague was the plague of murrain (Ex. 9:1-7) that was a disease affecting all types of livestock. Many bulls were revered as deities in Egypt. The sacred bull, Apis, was found in many of the temples and given honorable burial in a sarcophagus. A cow represented the goddess of love and beauty, Hathor. In addition to these two, many other Egyptian deities were identified with species of livestock.
The sixth plague was the plague of boils (Ex. 9:8-12) that broke out all over the bodies of human beings. Egyptian deities involved in medicine or healing, including Serapis and Imhotep, were put to the test. The seventh plague involved hail and fire (Ex. 9:13-35). The hail was accompanied with thunder and lightning, and may have been accompanied with tornado-like winds. Men and beasts were killed as well as trees and crops. Jehovah had gained a victory over the deities that controlled the weather. The eighth plague was the plague of locusts (Ex. 10:1-20). The locusts destroyed all the vegetation that remained after the destruction by the hail and fire. The power of Jehovah was manifested in the size of the great swarm, because it covered the whole land of Egypt without reprieve, destroying all that was left. The ninth plague was the plague of darkness (Ex. 10:21-29) in which the land of Egypt was covered with a very thick darkness except for the land of Goshen where Israel lived. Jehovah gained a very clear victory over the sun god Re or Ra, who was one of the most important of the Egyptian deities. The darkness was also a confrontation with the moon and star deities of the Egyptians. The tenth plague was the death of the firstborn (Ex. 11:1-12:30). All the gods that preserved and maintained life were openly confronted and defeated. Human and animal firstborn were slain. In many cases, the land of Goshen was the only part of the whole nation that was spared from the plagues. Undoubtedly, the Israelites could see the power of Jehovah manifested as they left Goshen to work or to purchase goods. The power of the gods of Egypt was evident in the fact that the Egyptians magicians, who served the gods, could perform miraculous feats similar to those accomplished by Jehovah (plagues #1 -- Ex. 7:11, 17; #2 -- Ex. 8:7 and #3 -- Ex. 8:18), but they did not have the ability to rescind their miracles. Jehovah could not only bring a plague, but He could also terminate the plague. Israel should have known that Jehovah had sufficient power to care for them as they anticipated the journey and entry into Canaan.
Another thing that Jehovah did to the Egyptians was to destroy the army of Pharaoh at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:23-31). Jehovah's power was not only manifested in opening the waters of the sea but also in closing the waters and destroying the Egyptian army. The whole of Pharaoh's army was destroyed while Israel stood on the banks and witnessed the power of God in action. "Then Jehovah proceeded to cause Israel to be saved in that day from the hand of the Egyptians, then Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the shore [lit. lip] of the sea. Then Israel proceeded to see the great hand [or power] that Jehovah had worked [or done] against the Egyptians; then the people proceeded to fear Jehovah, then they believed in Jehovah and in Moses His servant (Ex. 14:30, 31)." It is clear that Israel was an eyewitness to the manifestation of Divine power both in the plagues and in the drowning of the Egyptian army. At the Red Sea, they believed Jehovah because of the manifestation of power. At Sinai, they had opportunity to believe God; but rather than exercise faith, they were determined to do something to gain what He had already promised.
The Ease of Departure. The second review for Israel was the manner of their departure. In spite of all of Israel's complaining, Jehovah had made their departure easy. Truly, He had borne them on eagles' wings (Ex. 19:4) and had given them the opportunity to fly on their own by faith in the realm of the land promises to Abraham. When Israel left Egypt, they possessed a substantial portion of the individual wealth of Egypt (Ex. 11:2; 12:35, 36; 3:22). "They emptied out [or spoiled] the Egyptians (Ex. 12:36b)." God had provided the pillar of cloud and fire to guide the Israelites (Ex. 13:21, 22). The bones of Joseph, that they carded, were a testimony to the fact that he believed that Israel would receive the land promised to father Abraham more than 600 years earlier. God had opened the waters of the Red Sea miraculously giving them easy passage (Ex. 14:21, 22). He destroyed their Egyptian pursuers. In spite of their murmuring, He had provided food and water for more than three million people in the desert. In spite of their lack of faith in Jehovah, He had supplied all their needs. They were given a freedom to contemplate the promises made to Abraham and to believe God in His provision through the promises.
The Encampment at Sinai. God had caused Israel to come to Himself (Ex. 19:4) at Sinai. Moses had previously met the Angel of Jehovah there and He had sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt. Moses, undoubtedly, had expected to lead the nation directly to the land covenanted for Israel because of Jehovah's purpose expressed at the burning bush (Ex. 3:8). Instead, Jehovah led the people back to Sinai where He would either reaffirm the covenants made with Abraham or make a new covenant with Israel as a nation. He brought them to Sinai to prepare them for the possession of the Promised Land. There He made Israel an offer that they could refuse, and they refused to accept it.
The Conditions of the Offer. There were two conditions given to Israel in order for them to become a priesthood as a nation. By faith, they were expected to listen and respond to Jehovah's voice and keep His covenant.
The Response to Jehovah. Obedience to Jehovah was the essential response expected of Israel. Using the verb shahma, the text emphasizes the need for Israel to really listen and to act upon exactly what they heard. The strength of the verb is intensified by its repetition with an infinitive absolute making it much more emphatic. God did not expect one act of obedience but expected continued obedience on the part of the nation [as is evident in the qal imperfect verb]. Israel was responsible to hear and respond in obedience.
The Response of Jehovah. Israel's history was built around covenants made with key people for the nation. A stipulation for Israel's becoming a priesthood was keeping or guarding a covenant. They were not only to acknowledge the existence of the covenant but were also to keep it by faith. It was a covenant that was not to be perverted or countermanded by the nation. The verb shahmar has the idea of guarding something, while permitting nothing to be added to or subtracted from it, while endeavoring to make certain that its influences upon one's life were consistently carried out. Because of the form of the verb [qal perfect], there is an indication that the keeping is to be a perpetual, completed action. It was not to be kept at the convenience of the people, but because God had commanded that it be kept. A closer analysis of the covenant involved in this passage of Scripture will follow.
The Consequences of Obedience. Obedience brought the possibility that three things would happen to Israel as a nation. They would be a people of God's possession, a kingdom of priests and an holy nation. Without obedience and the guarding of the covenant, these three things could not come to pass.
A Personal Possession. "You will be a peculiar treasure unto me above [lit. from] all the peoples (Ex. 19:5b A.V.)." The word translated "peculiar treasure" has a diversity of meanings. Essentially, it means "property, peculiarity, peculiar treasure." The term is used again in Deuteronomy 7:6 of Israel and the covenant promises that relate to the entry into the land. "For you are a holy people to Jehovah your God, Jehovah your God has chosen you to be for Him for a people of His possession from all the peoples which are upon the face of the earth." In spite of the nation's act of presumption, God still promised a limited potential under Law to be a uniquely possessed people. The idea is that Israel was uniquely God's own people. God graciously permitted this to occur for Israel to a very limited degree even though they did not meet the faith criteria (Deut. 14:2; 26:18; Psa. 135:4). Jehovah expected Israel to be closely identified with Jehovah so that other nations could see that the nation belonged to Jehovah. This will begin to be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom and carry into the eternal state. "And they will be mine [lit. for me], says Jehovah of hosts, in that day, when I am making my own treasure; and I will spare them [lit. upon them], as a man proceeds to spare his own son [lit. upon his own son] that is serving him (Mal. 3:17)."
A Kingdom of Priests. "And you shall be for me a kingdom of priests ... (Ex. 19:6a)." How could Israel be a kingdom of priests when they were given the Aaronic priesthood soon after their presumption at Sinai? Of the three possibilities offered, God did not graciously make Israel a kingdom of priests because they did not meet the necessary criteria. Nowhere in the Old Testament is there any indication that Israel was a kingdom of priests. Just because Israel brought sacrifices to the Aaronic priests did not make them priests. Scripture does not imply that God ever saw Israel as a priesthood. A theocratic government did not make Israel a priesthood; though in a sense, it was a kingdom. Some argue that the need for ceremonial cleansing was a proof that Israel was a priesthood. Both believing and unbelieving Israelites were considered ceremonially unclean and could not have access to the tabernacle or temple until the period of purification was completed. As a result of the cleansing, they had access to priestly service in the matter of sacrifice. Israel did not become a kingdom of priests in Exodus 19. Their priesthood, as a nation, will not be accomplished until the promises of the Abrahamic covenant concerning the land are fulfilled in the future.
A Holy Nation. "And you shall be for me ... a holy nation (Ex. 19:6b)." Israel had the potential to be an holy nation by God's grace. As a result of their presumption in Exodus 19:8, "All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do," God gave them the opportunity to prove that they could do anything God required them to do. By keeping the Mosaic Law, they were to prove that they were an holy nation. "... You will proceed to be holy ones; for I, Jehovah your God, am holy (Lev. 19:2)." Holiness was a personal responsibility that produced a national reputation. As a result of the collective holiness of the sons of Israel, Jehovah expected the uniqueness of the nation's holiness to be seen. Once again in Leviticus 20:26, Moses used the plural "holy ones" to indicate individual responsibility in the holiness for the corporate whole. "And you will be holy ones to me, for I, Jehovah, am holy; and I have begun to divide you from the peoples, with the purpose that you will be mine [lit. for me] (cf. vs. 7)." In Deuteronomy, God speaks of the future collective whole as being uniquely set apart. "For you are a holy people to Jehovah your God ... (7:6)." The absolute fulfillment of this will be accomplished when Israel enters the kingdom fulfilling the land promises to Abraham completely. Then they will be called "the holy people (Isa. 62:12)." Deuteronomy combines the idea of a unique possession and holiness together with no mention of any priesthood. "For you are an holy people to Jehovah your God, and Jehovah has chosen [lit. in] you for the purpose of being for Him a people that is uniquely His possession from [or above] all the peoples that are upon the face of the earth (14:2)." Jehovah expected the holiness and uniqueness of Israel to be evident in the keeping of the regulations and enforcement of the punishments of the Law (Deut. 13, 14). The three results are based on Israel's involvement with the land promises made to Abraham. The following chart clearly illustrates the future implications of the results if Israel had accepted God's offer and yielded to the conditions of obeying and keeping the covenant.
Israel To Be Promised For Israel Land Promises of Genesis 15 Abrahamic Covenant Context Personal Deut. 7:6 Deut. 7:1, 8 Possession Deut. 26:18 Deut. 26:15 Psa. 135:4 Psa. 135:12 Mal. 3:17 Mal. 3:12 Holy Lev. 18:2 Lev. 18:28, 29 Nation Lev. 20:26 Lev. 20:24 Deut. 7:6 Deut. 7:1, 8
Chart reformatted below:
Israel To Be:
Personal Possession: Promised for Israel Deut. 7:6, 26:18, Psa. 135:4, Mal. 3:17
Land Promises of Genesis 15 Abrahamic Covenant in Context: Deut. 7:1, 8 Deut. 26:15 Psa. 135:12 Mal. 3:12
Holy Nation: Promised for Israel Lev. 19:2, Lev. 20:26, Deut. 7:6
Land Promises of Genesis 15 Abrahamic Covenant in Context: Lev. 18:28, 29 Lev. 20:24 Deut. 7:1, 8
It is important to identify the covenant in order to understand the implications of Exodus 19:5, 6. The identity of the covenant is the center of controversy among commentators. As the above chart notes, in most of the contexts, there is a direct connection with the land promises given to Abraham. In Genesis 15, God promised Abraham the land from the River of Egypt [the Nile] to the Euphrates River. In Genesis 17, God promised Abraham the land of Canaan with no definition of specific boundaries.
A careful analysis of the context clearly indicates that this is not the Law that God gave to Israel that has been identified as the Mosaic Covenant. The Law was not given until after Israel responded in Exodus 19:8. When Jehovah commissioned Moses at the burning bush, He tied the commission directly to the promises He made to Abraham in Genesis 15:18-21. "Then Jehovah proceeded to say, I have absolutely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and I have heard their cry before their [lit. his] drivers [or taskmasters], for I know their [lit. his] sorrows. Then I will proceed to come down to cause to deliver them from the hand of Egypt and to cause them [lit. him] to go up out of that land into a good and spacious land, unto a land that is flowing with milk and honey, unto the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite and the Jebusite (Ex. 3:7, 8 cf. 13:5)." The covenant that had been made with Abraham more than 600 years previously was still in effect. God had carried Israel out of Egypt renewing the land promises of the covenant. He lifted them up as an eagle would lift up a young eagle and push it out of the nest encouraging it to learn to fly. If Israel failed to fly, He would catch them and carry them back to the nest. God was attempting to encourage the nation to fly by accepting the promises of the covenants. He encouraged them to be living by the covenants made with Abraham by faith. In the events of the Exodus, Israel produced a series of acts of disobedience: before the Egyptian army (Ex. 14:10-12), at the bitter waters of Marah (15:23-24), in the wilderness of Sin (16:2, 3) and for water at Rephidim (17:2). There are no clear acts of obedience indicated in the Exodus. The only real act of obedience was toward a man and not God. Centuries before, Joseph had demanded that when the sons of Israel returned to Canaan, they were to take his bones with them (Gen. 50:25). Moses took Joseph's bones with him (Ex. 13:19) until ultimately they were buried after arrival in the land more than 40 years after their departure from Egypt (Josh. 24:32). Why did Joseph want his bones to be buried in the Promised Land? He did because he believed the promises made to Abraham and anticipated resurrection in the land promised to Abraham's seed. Israel carried his coffin as a textbook to the promises of God and the necessity of faith in His promises. Joseph absolutely believed the land promises. In the same way, Israel was expected to believe the land promises. In the Exodus, God intended to take the Israelites into the land that He had promised Abraham and to give it to them as the fulfillment of an unconditional covenant. That unconditional covenant was to be guarded by faith and in that way "kept." It was to be guarded as a precious thing by the whole nation.
As has already been seen, the covenant was the land covenant with Abraham. In Genesis 15:18-21, Jehovah cut a covenant with Abraham and his seed giving them the land from the River of Egypt to the River Euphrates soon after Abraham had delivered Lot from the five kings. In Genesis 17:8, He promised Abraham all the land of Canaan as a part of an unconditional covenant made with Abram 24 years after he departed from Haran. There is a great deal of controversy concerning the Abrahamic covenant. Some believers are convinced that Abraham was given one covenant that was reaffirmed on at least two occasions to Abraham. There is no indication in the language of Scripture that this is true. It makes a good deal more sense to see four distinct covenants with Abraham rather than one that had substantial additions on totally different occasions for several reasons. The promises of the covenants were different. The characteristics of the covenants were both conditional and unconditional. There is a wide divergence in time for the giving of the covenants with distinct signs and fulfillment. Each one is called a covenant in Scripture. They presented different central promises concerning land, seed, circumcision and a unique seed.
Israel never received all the land promised in the first covenant of Genesis 15:1-21. Jehovah reminded Israel of its potential for receiving the land by faith on a number of occasions in the Old Testament. The covenant was a one-sided covenant made by Jehovah with Israel with no conditions of any sort. It assumed that Abraham's seed would be a stranger in the land, a slave, suffer 400 years of affliction, and that Abraham would die and then be resurrected to share the benefits of the covenant. The covenant was made after Abraham rescued Lot and his household. The slaying and dividing of animals and then having both parties of the covenant pass between the parts formally ratified it. It is called a covenant in Genesis 15:18 and will be fulfilled in the Millennial kingdom for Abraham's physical seed.
Twenty-four years after Abram left Haran, God made another covenant with Abraham promising him a multiple seed making him the father of nations with Jehovah as his God (Gen. 17:1-8). Abraham was 99 years old at the time. The covenant was unconditional for time (17:3-6) and eternity (17:7-8). At this time, Abram's name was changed to Abraham as a sign of the covenant. Romans 4:13, 14 indicates that this covenant will be fulfilled with Abraham and his seed in the eternal state. It is called a covenant in Genesis 17:2, 4, 7.
The conditional covenant of circumcision was given to Abraham at the same time (Gen. 17:9-22). Circumcision was required for blessing upon entry into the land. The uncircumcised person was to be cut off from the rest of the people. Acts 7:8 calls circumcision a covenant and anticipates the prospect of Israel's reception of the land. The sign of the covenant was the physical circumcision of Abraham and the males of his household. It is important to realize that the Israelites recognized that this was essential for inheriting the land with blessing when they prepared to enter the land under Joshua (Josh. 5). The third covenant with Abraham was a sign of the first covenant made with Abraham.
In Genesis 22:1-19, another unconditional covenant was made with Abraham and with a plural seed seen as a single seed (cf. Hebrew text). This covenant was made after the birth and maturation of Isaac. Abraham would have a multiple seed that was also singular by which all nations would be blessed and Abraham would have victory over his enemies. It was conditional only in the sense that it was based on Abraham's faith and obedience (22:18). Abraham was to obey God and show his faith in the sacrifice of Isaac. Jehovah swore by Himself as a sign of the covenant (22:16). The single seed is Christ as Head of the Body that is comprised of a plurality (Gal. 3:15-18). Its complete fulfillment will be in the Millennial Kingdom where nations will be blessed by the Church, the Bride of Christ. This is clearly called a covenant in Luke 1:72-74 and Acts 3:25.
The Genesis 15 covenant is clearly the covenant that was to be guarded shamar by Israel in Exodus 19:5. It is important for one to give an objective consideration of the possibility that there were really four covenants made with Abraham in his lifetime with each having a different basic concept. Careful exegesis is necessary and presents a harmonious picture of God's program for the seeds of Abraham. Hence, the first Abrahamic covenant was to be guarded by Israel by faith remembering that the multiplied seed in the second covenant would have a homeland.
Rather than accepting the promises by faith, Israel was determined to perform whatever task God provided in order to purchase the benefits already promised them unconditionally. Their response to the offer completely changed Israel's history. Moses delivered the message from Jehovah renewing the unconditional covenant and Israel responded, "All that Jehovah has spoken, we will do (Ex. 19:8)." These five Hebrew words are the major turning point in Israel's history. They were not words of faith but of presumption. They were made from a self-confidence that assumed an inherent ability to please God by works rather than to believe God's promises revealed in the covenants. Immediately, there was a separation of the nation from God. Moses could ascend Mount Sinai, but the rest of the nation and their beasts were not permitted to touch the mountain without being put to death (Ex. 19:12, 13 cf. Heb. 12:20, 21). Legalism has always separated God from His people because man attempts to prove his personal righteousness to God by it. Rather than guarding the promise of the land in the first Abrahamic covenant, Israel became imprisoned and guarded by the Mosaic Law (Gal. 3:23 Gk.) that prevented their maturing (Heb. 7:19).
The rebellion of Korah is an excellent proof that the promises of Exodus 19:5, 6 were not fulfilled at that time. Israel did not become a uniquely possessed people, a kingdom of priests or a holy nation. Korah chose to interpret the promise and covenant at Sinai to be the Law and his erroneous interpretation cost him his life. Korah was a Levite who was joined by Dathan and Abiram, Reubenites, supported by 250 of the men of the sons of Israel to challenge the authority of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:1-3). Korah assumed that the nation was a holy nation from the initial events at Sinai in Exodus 19. Korah and his allies assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron and said, "Too much is taken for you; for the whole congregation are, all of them, holy ones, and in their midst is Jehovah; and wherefore are you proceeding to lift yourselves up above the assembly of Jehovah (Num. 16:3)." The question of holiness was to be put to the test. Was the nation a holy nation or not? "Then he [Moses) proceeded to speak to Korah and unto all his congregation saying, In the morning, then Jehovah will proceed to make known who belongs to Him and who is the holy one, and He will cause to come near unto Himself, and the one whom He has chosen with Him, He will cause to come near unto Him (Num. 16:5)." Even though the Reubenites were involved in the initial confrontation, Moses could easily see that it was a problem with the Levites identifying them as "the sons of Levi" (16:7, 8, 10). The Levites had problems with the priesthood. "Hear now, sons of Levi, Is it too little [a small thing] for you that the God of Israel has caused you to be separated from the congregation of Israel to cause you to come near unto Himself, to serve the service of the tabernacle [or tent] of Jehovah, and to stand before the congregation, to perform religious service for them. Then He caused you to come near and all your brothers, the sons of Levi, with you and you seek also the priesthood (16:8-10)." It is interesting that the Levites considered the nation to be an holy nation but were attempting to keep the priesthood for their single tribe by taking it from the sons of Aaron and making it tribe-wide. If Korah really considered the nation to be a kingdom of priests, he would have sought the priesthood for the whole nation, essentially destroying an elitist priesthood. Evidently, he felt that the kingdom of priests in Exodus 19:6 was a kingdom of Levites, who would rule over the nation rather than have a whole nation of priests. After all, Moses and Aaron were both from the tribe of Levi.
The Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, questioned Moses' authority to be the civil ruler of the people (Num. 16:12-15). The whole congregation of Israel sided with the rebels as they gathered at the tabernacle the next morning. The glory of Jehovah appeared to the whole congregation (16:19). Jehovah was prepared to destroy the whole nation (16:21) but accepted the intercession of Moses (16:22). Jehovah had commanded the congregation to separate from Korah, Dathan and Abiram, their families and possessions (16:24-27). As a result of the test, Moses would prove that he was not ruling Israel because of his own designs and intentions (16:28). Jehovah had arranged it. If the rebels had died a normal death, their contention would have been vindicated; but if God performed a supernatural act, Moses was vindicated. "But if Jehovah proceeds to create a new creation, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, and all that belongs to them; and they go down alive into Sheol, then you will know that these men have despised Jehovah (16:30)." The earth swallowed up the three men, their families and possessions (16:31-35), and fire came down from Jehovah and devoured the 250 men who were cohorts in the rebellion (16:36). These men were identified as sinners (16:38). The plates on the brazen altar were to be a testimony to Israel that the sons of Aaron were the priests and not the Levites or the whole nation. The plates were a memorial to the fact that at Sinai, Israel did not become a nation or kingdom of priests. Every time an offering was made, the offerer was reminded that the nation was not an holy nation, nor was it a kingdom of priests. Korah, Dathan and Abiram interpreted the covenant to be the Mosaic covenant and it cost them their earthly lives. Some contemporary Bible teachers do the same thing without such a threat by making the covenant of Exodus 19:5 to be the Mosaic covenant.
In the review of the Law before the death of Moses and the entry into Canaan, the potential for Israel's being an holy nation was reiterated. It is clear that Israel was incapable of doing this by their own efforts. God, Himself, could bring such a result. God was the sole authority. Deuteronomy 28 gives a listing of the blessings and curses that were given for Israel when she was in the land under Law. Jehovah was the only Benefactor for blessing. "Jehovah will proceed to cause you to stand for Himself for an holy people, like that which He has sworn for Himself to you; if you will proceed to keep the commandments of Jehovah your God, and you will walk in His ways, and all the peoples of the earth will see that the name of Jehovah is called upon you; and they will be afraid of you (Deut. 28:9, 10)." More than 40 years after the Law was given, Israel still was not an holy nation and was still being offered the potential, though this time, it was by a law that was impossible for the nation to keep. The Law had taken the place of dominance over the land promises made to Abraham.
Exodus 19:6 was not fulfilled in the lives of Israel through the Law. God counted Israel to be His peculiar treasure as one would count a diamond in the rough to be a treasure but He never counted them to be an holy nation. They refused to believe God's land promises made to Abraham and were incapable of corporately keeping the commandments of the Law and so could not be considered holy. In the future, Israel will actually be seen as a uniquely possessed people and a holy nation. 1 Peter 2:5, 9 and Revelation 1:6 very clearly identify the Church as a kingdom of priests. The only possible time Israel could become a kingdom of priests is in the eternal state. In the Millennial kingdom, Israel will continue to have a priesthood and will not be a priesthood. All the implications of Exodus 19:6 for Israel are future. They were promised as future in the Pentateuch and continue to be future today. Israel refused to believe the promises and did not become a priesthood. Korah, Dathan and Abiram verify the fact that it had not happened by their direct trip to Sheol as divine punishment for attempting to enlarge the priesthood.
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It is helpful to understand how God has arranged priestly relationships throughout history that were acceptable to Him. When the fall of Adam deprived mankind of immediate access to God, there was a need for some means of access to God. The only method of access was solely available through Divine initiative. Human initiative of itself always established unacceptable attempts at gaining access to God. For many centuries God only accepted a few priesthoods for access while disregarding a vast majority. How many opportunities were given to men for access is uncertain, but the Old Testament record has great gaps between times of access. The great catalog of acts of faith in Hebrews 11 is filled with gaps in time. All access to God was founded on faith in His offers to grant a measure of access in a given situation. Often access was established by the presence of a huiophany [a visible manifestation of God the Son]. Access was not normally gained by sacrifice, but sacrifice was usually the response to some manifestation of the Divine Presence. This is evident in the activity of the patriarchal priests. They responded to the Presence of Jehovah and they functioned as priests.
Generally, priests in the patriarchal period were heads of families. The father of a family acted as a priest for the whole family. Their priestly activity was manifested in their offering sacrifices for the whole family. If there was a need on the part of a member of the household, the father or grandfather would represent the person before God as the household priest. Such a practice began very early and continued into the Davidic era. If a member of a family or the whole family desired to express their appreciation or desires to Jehovah, it was done through the head of the household. He offered sacrifices for the rest of the family. In some limited cases, they communed with the Angel of Jehovah -- Jehovah -- God the Son directly on behalf of the family exchanging necessary information that was transmitted to the household by the head of the household. When members of the family or the family itself had needs, the head of household would intercede for the family seeking Divine assistance for the family. Only the head of a patriarchal family acted as priest for the family. No other family member acted as priest until the head of the family died and the priestly office was vacated. In the ancient Orient, the family structure was a patriarchal structure. The father of the household had the final word over every living generation under him. The oldest son frequently was groomed to take leadership as it was normally passed from oldest son to oldest son from generation to generation. If God chose a family to be a recipient of His blessing, He normally accepted the priestly activity of the head of the family. This same tradition carried up to the time of the Exodus as is evident in the slaying of the Paschal lamb at Passover by the father for his household because there was no established priesthood for Israel at that time (cf. Ex. 12:3). The observation of Passover was passed on from father to his sons perpetually (Ex. 12:24). There are only a limited number of examples of fathers who acted as priests for their families. Key Old Testament figures were directly involved in the priestly activity of building altars. Offering sacrifices, purifying and consecrating themselves and their families was an essential part of their limited priestly activity.
Noah. At the end of the flood, Noah built an altar and acted as a priest for his family as the head of the family. Noah had a reputation for being righteous and offered sacrifices to Jehovah as a believer. "These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous [or just] man, he was perfect [or complete] in all his generations; Noah walked for himself with God (Gen. 6:9)." Noah was qualified to act as a priest. Because God delivered Noah and his three sons and all their wives from the flood, he had adequate reason to perform priestly service before Jehovah. As a result, Jehovah promised to retain normal cycles of life including the changing of seasons, temperatures and day and night. He made a commitment not to curse the ground again even though man had demonstrated a propensity toward evil. Not only did Jehovah bless Noah but also his sons, encouraging them to multiply (9:1), assuring them of dominion over beasts (9:2), changing their diet from a vegetarian diet (9:3), prohibiting the eating of blood (9:4) and establishing capital punishment for the killing of a man (9:5, 6). As a further affirmation of Noah's priestly service, Jehovah cut a covenant-with Noah and his seed that guaranteed that God would not judge man again with a universal flood giving the rainbow as a sign of the covenant (Gen. 9:8-17). Noah personally acted as a priest when he built an altar and offered burnt offerings that were acceptable to Jehovah at the end of the flood. Evidently, his sons did not participate directly in either activity since the emphasis is on a single person doing priestly service (Gen. 8:20). It is clear that Noah was already a believer before he constructed the ark (cf. Gen. 6:9; 1 Pe. 3:20; 2 Pe. 2:5).
Abraham. At age 75, Abram left Haran to enter the land of Canaan. When Abram arrived at Shechem, Jehovah appeared to him and promised the land to Abraham's seed (Gen. 12:7). As a result, Abram built an altar there, though there is no record of Abram's offering any sacrifice upon it (Gen. 12:7). He also built another altar at Bethel (Gen. 12:8). After he had gone to Egypt and caused trouble with Pharaoh, he returned to Canaan rich. He returned to the altar and acted as a priest calling on the name of Jehovah (Gen. 13:4). Evidently, this priestly service was rendered because of God's promise that Abram's seed would inherit the land though at this point he had no offspring. He returned to a place where he knew Jehovah had been and acted in a priestly role seeking access to Jehovah. When he located in Hebron by the oaks of Mamre, he again constructed an altar to Jehovah (Gen. 13:18). He was clearly the head of his household and acted as a priest for himself and his family. Abraham's priestly activity was limited to a few occasions and was directly related to visible, physical manifestations of Jehovah to Him. A central part of his priestly activity toward Jehovah was building altars and calling on the name of Jehovah (Gen. 12:8). Such a calling was limited because Abram only did this at great intervals of time. His call was an appeal to Jehovah to manifest His character on behalf of Abram and his family. Most of Abram's altar building was done before he became a believer in Genesis 15:4-6 (cf. Rom. 4:1-3). As a result of his act of faith concerning prodgeny, Jehovah counted his faith as righteousness. How much of the priestly role was involved in making the covenants between Jehovah and Abraham and his seed is unclear except that Jehovah counted Abraham to be acceptable and gave him temporary access. In that case, Abraham had access for a family that had not yet been born. God spoke directly to him as the father of a race of people. Abraham acted as a mediator not only for his own family but also for the city of Sodom (Gen. 18) because of his access to Jehovah. In Genesis 22, when Abraham was tested by being told to sacrifice Isaac, Jehovah counted the offering of Isaac to be an act of obedience rather than a priestly act. After Jehovah had provided the ram, it was clearly counted as priestly activity springing from Abraham's faith with a direct influence on his entire household.
Job. Job obviously acted as a priest as head of his family. Because of his concern for his children, he acted as a mediator for them (Job 1:5). This was a part of his righteous behavior (Job 1:8). Job was consistent in that he was involved in the priestly activity of sacrifice "all the days" (Job 1:5 Heb. -- "continually" A.V). Evidently, Job had some idea of what was proper priestly activity. In his speech in Job 12, he mentioned "priests" though the A.V. translates cohenim "princes" in verse 19. Job also acted as an intercessor and sacrificer for his friends after Jehovah had vindicated him as being a righteous man (Job 42:8-10). Jehovah accepted Job as one performing priestly activity. Job had access to Jehovah for himself, his family and his friends as a priest.
Isaac. Isaac acted as a priest by building an altar after the personal appearance of Jehovah (Gen. 26:24, 25). He called on the name of Jehovah as his father had as representative of the household because Jehovah had not only promised to bless Isaac but also his seed. He is clearly seen as acting as the head of his own family in priestly activity.
Jacob. Jacob followed his grandfather's example and acted as a priest building altars. He built an altar in Shechem and called it "God, the God of Israel -- El-elohe-Yisrael -- Gen. 33:20)." He built an altar on land that he planned to inhabit with his family expecting access with Jehovah. In Genesis 35, Jehovah commanded Jacob to go to Bethel and build an altar there (35:1). Jacob's immediate response was to make his whole household purify themselves and put away their strange gods (35:2). The motivation was not only the divine command but also the reminder that Jehovah had previously met with Jacob at that specific location in Genesis 28. He built an altar and called the place El-Bethel -- [God of the house of God]. He lived at that location for a period of time. He built an altar in a place where he was certain that he would have access for himself and his family because he had previously had access there. There is no record of his offering any sacrifices on the altar. Jacob had also set up a pillar at Bethel soon after his return to Canaan from Padan-Aram and had poured out drink offerings and oil upon it as a part of his priestly appreciation to Jehovah for his safe departure from Laban's household and for safe entry into the land especially in his meeting with Esau his brother.
Each of the patriarchs was acting as a priest on his own behalf or for family or friends. Their priestly service was limited in time and extent. Job seems to have been the most consistent while Abraham was the best-known family-priest. In most cases there was an altar constructed at a place where there had been a visible, physical manifestation of Jehovah. The father-priest appealed to the character of Jehovah based on the access that the father had previously had for himself and for his family. In the instances mentioned in the Old Testament, there is a limited record of the offering of sacrifices [Abraham and Job] on the altars that they constructed. In each account, the father-priest evidently had access to Jehovah. Whether any others performed the same activities toward Jehovah is not recorded in Scripture though secular records indicate that similar activities were done by idolaters to gain access to pagan deities.
Though Melchisedec was a patriarchal priest, there is no indication that he only acted as a priest for his family, but he exercised priestly authority beyond the bounds of the family. He is identified as the King of Salem [or Peace] (Gen. 14:18) and the priest of the Most High God. Hence, he was both a king and a priest. He was a priest of Jehovah. His background was not given but it is evident that he was a Gentile. As a priest, he blessed Abram (Gen. 14:19, 20) and received tithes of the spoil of battle from Abraham. He was superior to Abraham having a priesthood greater than the family priesthood in which Abram was involved. He had a unique and superior priesthood (Heb. 7). More will be said about Melchisedec in the chapter on the high priestly ministry of Christ.
Jethro was a spiritual and civil leader of Midian (Ex. 2:16; 3:1). He was a non-Israelite priest who offered sacrifices to Jehovah for his son-in-law and the nation (Ex. 18:12). There is an indication that the sacrifice offered at Sinai by Jethro was accepted by God. Hence, God was dealing with a few other people at that time other than Israel. Jethro was a prophet and a priest who not only acted for his daughters family but for a foreign nation. Israel was gathered at the place of previous access where Jehovah had met with Moses. Jethro knew about the burning bush and revelation of God there on Sinai since Moses was tending Jethro's flocks there at the time and had come to him for permission to leave his shepherding duties and go to Egypt to lead Israel out of the land. Jethro acted as a priest in the place where Jehovah had manifested Himself.
Throughout the Pentateuch, one discovers the details of the requirements for the Aaronic priesthood. A survey of the priesthood revelation will provide an idea of the practice and procedures required for the priesthood to meet God's standards for priestly activity effectively. With the presumption of Exodus 19:8, the freedom of the head of family priests was seriously restricted. There were individuals who performed priestly activities, but they were never again considered to be priests. God openly dictated rigid physical and ceremonial requirements for the priesthood. In some cases, the violation of the requirements would bring death to the individual and remove blessing from the nation. When Jehovah gave the nation a priesthood, it gladly accepted it because it had someone else who would be responsible for religious activities. In their presumption, they sent Moses before Jehovah to be their representative rather than to stand before Jehovah as a nation who believed the promises that Jehovah had made to Abraham. As a result, Jehovah gave a rigid set of regulations for the nation and for the priesthood. The regulations were inflexible and full of details. The results were simple in that obedience brought blessing in time while disobedience brought severe difficulties and penalties. A failure on the part of the priesthood could bring disaster on the whole nation. There was no electoral process for priests by which the general public could select the persons who they felt would best represent them before Jehovah. Jehovah sovereignly selected the priesthood with no possibility for any changes. The priesthood became a hereditary priesthood in which no other Israelite could participate in any way.
The Restrictions for Admission into the Priesthood. The hereditary priesthood was established early in the giving of the Law. "And you, cause your brother Aaron to come near unto me, and his sons with him, from the midst of the sons of Israel with the purpose of his being a priest to me, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar the sons of Aaron. And you will make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty, and you will proceed to speak unto all the wise ones of heart, whom I have filled with a Spirit of wisdom, and they will make Aaron's garments to sanctify him with the purpose that he will serve as a priest to me (Ex. 28:1-3)." In Exodus 28, Jehovah isolates a family from one tribe of the nation for priestly service. In order to be a priest, a person needed to be born into the proper tribe [Levi] and the proper family of the tribe [Aaron's family]. Physical birth was the only means of admission into the Aaronic priesthood. "And you will give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons; they are ones being given wholly to him from the sons of Israel. And you will proceed to appoint Aaron and his sons and they will guard their priesthood and the stranger that comes near of himself will ultimately be put to death (Num. 3:9, 10)." If a person was not born in Aaron's family, he could not be a priest.
The priesthood was further limited by gender. Only males could be priests. The Law did not permit women to function as priestesses though there is evidence that some did perform housekeeping duties for the priests. Only males, who were the sons of Aaron, could perform priestly duties and have any form of access to Jehovah.
If an offspring of the family of Aaron was born with a physical defect, he could not serve as a priest even though he was a male of the right family. He could expect to receive priestly support but could not function in the priestly office. Levitical law gave no room for question as to what defects prevented any of the seed of Aaron from participating in priestly service. "Speak unto Aaron saying: A man that is from your seed among their generations in whom comes to be a blemish, he will not begin to come near to offer the bread of his God. For any man that has in him a blemish will not begin to come near: a blind man, or a lame one, or a disfigured [lit. slit] one, or one being lengthened [i.e. too long of limbs], or a man in whom is a broken foot or a broken hand, or humpbacked, or a dwarf, or having a spot [or blemish] in his eye, or scab, or scurvy, or broken testicles. Any man who has in him blemish from the seed of Aaron, the priest, will not begin to approach to offer fire-offerings to Jehovah; a blemish is in him; he will not begin to come near to offer the bread of his God (Lev. 21:17-21)." Whether a person was born with a defect or had the defect come in his lifetime, he was not permitted to act as a priest even though he had met the hereditary requirements of the Law.
If one of Aaron's sons met all of the qualifications, he was purified both for the permanent, formal cleansing of the priesthood as a whole in its initial consecration and for individual purification for times of service. "And Aaron and his sons you will cause to come near unto the door of the tent of meeting and you will wash them in the waters (Ex. 29:4)." This was actually accomplished by Moses in Leviticus 8:6. This was a once-for-all cleansing of the priesthood before Jehovah indicating that the family of Aaron was considered clean by God and thus capable of serving as priests.
When the priests actually entered the tabernacle or temple, it was necessary for them to be cleansed at the brazen laver before they could begin their service. "And you [sing. - Moses] will make a laver of brass and its base of brass for washing, and you will put it between the tent of meeting and between the altar, and you will put water [pl.] there, and Aaron and his sons will wash their hands and their feet from it. When they go into the tent of meeting,... they will proceed to wash with water (pl.) and they will not proceed to die; and it will be for them a perpetual [or age long] statute, to him, and to his seed for their generations (Ex. 30:18-21)." One might say to the priest going to the tabernacle to serve, "Wash your hands and feet, it will save your life!" This cleansing made it possible for the priest to have a measure of access. Without proper preparation, he was considered a stranger [in this case non-Aaronic] and thus subject to death.
The Requirements for Assuming the Priesthood. Arrangements for priestly service in the land were made long before Israel actually entered the land. Priests needed adequate support because they did not have time or land to earn their support in any other way. While the other twelve tribes received land allotments, the Levites only received cities that were scattered throughout the land. Neither Shiloh nor Jerusalem was a priestly city. They performed their service in a strange city.
The Levites and the priests were supported by public taxation that was clearly mandated in the Law. The tax was a ten-percent type of tax [i.e. tithe] that was absolutely required from the whole nation (Lev. 23:10; Deut. 14:22). The priests themselves received additional support from firstfruits and the priestly portion of the offerings (Num. 18). "Then Jehovah proceeded to say unto Aaron: In their land you will not begin to receive an inheritance, and a portion will not begin to be for you among them, I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel, and to the sons of Israel, behold, I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance in exchange for their service that they are serving even the service of the tent of meeting (Num. 18:20, 21)." As Israel departed from the requirements of the Law, the priests and Levites suffered great poverty because they were totally reliant on the consistent tithe. Without a doubt, when the prophets proclaimed judgment upon the nation for the abuse of the poor, the priests and Levites were included among the poor of the land.
The physical quarters of the priests and Levites were confined to cities, rather than sharing in arable agricultural lands. In an agrarian society, this meant that they were poor and without a source of personal income; hence, they were reliant on the tax system of tithing. "At that time Jehovah caused the tribe of Levi to be separated to carry [lit. lift up] the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, to stand before Jehovah to minister to Him, and to bless His name unto this day. Therefore there is not a portion or inheritance for Levi with his brothers; Jehovah, He is his inheritance, as Jehovah your God has spoken to him (Deut. 10:8, 9)." When Israel entered Canaan under Joshua and possessed it, Levi was allocated 48 cities (Josh. 21) with the priests, the sons of Aaron, receiving thirteen cities (Josh. 21:13-19). The Levitical cities were scattered among all the inheritance of the tribes and included the six cities of refuge. One must remember that Israel had twelve sons, but in the land there were twelve tribes that received the land because Joseph received a double portion of the land giving Ephraim and Manasseh separate portions. As a result, there were actually thirteen tribes receiving allotments in Canaan.
During the Exodus and wilderness wanderings, the priests and Levites camped in close proximity to the place of their service. They were to serve wherever Jehovah chose for His name to dwell. Evidently, the priests and Levites remained near the location of the tabernacle in Shiloh until the Levitical cities were given to the sons of Levi. Then they departed from Shiloh to their own cities leaving a contingency of Levites to care for the tabernacle and of priests to perform priestly service. With the completion of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, the center of worship was relocated. Jerusalem was not a Levitical city. Several of the Levitical cities allotted to the sons of Aaron were in the land occupied by Judah (cf. Josh. 21:13-16). This gave part of the priests easier access to the temple. Even so, they were strangers in the place of their service.
The Requirements for Administering the Priesthood. The actual activity of the priesthood is clearly defined in the Law. The priest's duties included a large number of obligations that were performed for themselves and the people. In order to effectively minister, the priest was to wear the proper garments and to be ceremonially clean. It was absolutely necessary that each priest meet the criteria for service and carefully follows the procedures established by the Law. Numbers 18:7 gives an overview of their duties, "And you and your sons with you will proceed to guard your priesthood for every thing of the altar and for the house of covering [or veil] as a service of the gift I proceed to give your priesthood, and the stranger that comes near for himself will be put to death." The basic obligation of the priests was to come near to Jehovah either by physical presence or by the presentation of sacrifices to Jehovah.
The priests acted as intercessors for the nation. It is obvious in the sacrificial procedure that they offered the offerer's sacrifice, interceding for him with Jehovah. The intercession of priests extended into the matter of communication with God. When an Israelite desired to communicate with Jehovah, he would ask the priest to intercede for him. This was a very normal part of the service of the priest. The priests were involved in numerous minor duties in addition to their major duties. The major duties consumed most of their time filling it with a significant portion of their total activities. A primary obligation for the priesthood was to provide a buffer between Israel and Jehovah. They were responsible for preventing intrusion into the tabernacle or temple of pseudo-priestly activity (cf. Num. 16:39, 40). Even kings were generally prohibited from acting as priests, though David was closely involved with Jehovah when the Ark of the Covenant arrived in Jerusalem. Because Saul offered a sacrifice at Gilgal, he lost his kingdom for his seed (1 Sam. 13:8-14). He frequently violated proper procedure. Saul's excuse for offering burnt and peace offerings was, "Now the Philistines will proceed to come down unto me to Gilgal, and I have not entreated the face of Jehovah, then I forced myself, then I offered up the burnt offering (1 Sam. 13:12)." The result of Saul's violation of the Law was clear. "Then Samuel proceeded to say unto Saul, You have acted for yourself foolishly, you have not kept the commandment of Jehovah your God that he commanded you, for now Jehovah would have established your kingdom forever, and now your kingdom will not begin to stand. Jehovah is seeking for Himself a man according to His heart, then Jehovah will proceed to command him for a prince over His people because you have not kept what Jehovah commanded you (1 Sam. 13:13, 14)." Jehovah reacted to Saul because he not only violated the priestly sphere of authority but also other commandments as well. "I have repented that I caused Saul to reign for a king, because he has turned from following [lit. after] me and he has not caused my words to stand ... (1 Sam. 15:11)."
Uzziah was a righteous and powerful king who ruled Israel 52 years. "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up until it caused corrupt activity, then he proceeded to act treacherously against Jehovah his God, then he proceeded to go into the temple of Jehovah with the purpose of offering incense upon the altar of incense (2 Chron. 26:16)." There were 81 priests who openly confronted him with his violation of the Law and opposed him. As a result, he became angry; and while he was standing before them with a censor in his hand, leprosy appeared on his forehead and he remained a leper and an outcast from the people and the temple for the rest of his life (2 Chron. 26:17-21).
When David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he offered sacrifices to Jehovah (2 Sam. 6:13, 17). David led the nation in some unique activity before Jehovah. He led them in music (2 Sam. 6:5). Evidently, his sacrifices were offered by priests but clearly attributed to David. David danced before Jehovah which was not a kingly or priestly activity (2 Sam. 6:14, 16). He pronounced blessing upon the nation (6:18) and his own household (6:20) that was the prerogative of the priests and rulers. David feared Jehovah because of the death of Uzzah who had reached out to steady the ark on the cart when it was being transported to Jerusalem (6:6-9). He personally communicated with Jehovah (cf. 5:19, 23). It is evident that David acted in the realm of propriety that had been established by Jehovah for him.
A list of the duties of the Aaronic priesthood required by Law includes the following. Some duties were spectacular public activities while others were a common drudgery.
a. The priests were to offer sacrifices which involved slaying some of the animals, flaying, sprinkling blood, burning appropriate parts and eating the priestly portion (Lev. 1:5-17). b. Priests were to prepare the showbread and put it on the table of showbread every Sabbath (Lev. 24:5-8). c. Priests were to burn incense in the holy place every morning and evening (Ex. 30:7, 8). d. Priests were to clean and trim the lamps and light them every evening in the holy place (Ex. 27:20, 21; 30:8). e. The priests were to offer perpetual morning and evening sacrifices (Ex. 29:38-44). f. The priests were to keep the fire burning in the brazen altar (Lev. 6:9, 13). g. The priests were to remove the ashes from the altar (Lev. 6:10, 11). h. The priests were to bless the people after the daily sacrifices (Lev. 9:22; Num. 6:23-27). I. The priests were to inspect unclean persons declaring those who were unclean to be unclean and those who had been unclean that were newly clean as clean (Lev. 13-15). j. The priests officiated in the rites of purification of women after childbirth (Lev. 12). k. The priests administered the oath of purgation to women accused of adultery by their husbands (Num. 5:11-31). L. The priests were to estimate the value of things dedicated to the sanctuary (Lev. 27:1-33). m. The priests were to blow the silver trumpets and the jubilee trumpet for feasts and at times of national emergency (Num. 10:10; Lev. 25:9; 23:24). n. The priests were to instruct the people in the Law of Moses with the Levites. o. The priests were to act as the Supreme Court in difficult cases (Deut. 17:8-13, 19:17).
There were other details required of the priests but these give the best general idea of the requirements for the sons of Aaron under the Law. When the priests were confident that the nation was living in light of the Law, one of the most positive aspects of their ministry was the pronouncing of blessing on the people. The priestly blessing must be understood as the Israelites who received it understood it. It was a pronouncement of Jehovah's physical protection and blessing that would make Israel happy in time. "Speak unto Aaron and his sons saying: Thus you will proceed to bless the sons of Israel; say unto them; May Jehovah bless you and guard you. May Jehovah cause His face to shine unto you and may He be gracious unto you. May Jehovah lift up His face unto you, and give peace to you. And they will place my name upon the sons of Israel; and I will bless them (Num. 6:23-27)." While the priests pronounced the blessing on the people, Jehovah was the One who actually did the blessing on the condition that His character [or name] was manifested within Israel.
The Dependence Upon the High Priest. The high priest was a representative for the whole nation before Jehovah (Heb. 9:7). He was responsible to God for the people. On the Day of Atonement, he entered the Holy of Holies twice -- once for himself and his family and then for the whole nation. Every year Jehovah expected the whole nation to anticipate the acceptability of the high priest and his offerings. Had he not been accepted, the nation could only expect its national life to be a major catastrophe at least for the coming year or longer. The high priest was the administrator and organizer of the priestly service of the tabernacle or temple. He wore special garments and required special cleansing in order to serve in his office.
In a number of instances in the Old Testament under Law, there were non-Levites identified with the tabernacle or who performed activity that was normally performed by priests. It is important to recognize that even though a man brought an animal for sacrifice, the priest actually did the sacrificing and God counted it as the sacrifice of the one who brought the offering.
The Passover Lamb. in the events leading to the Exodus, the head of the household slew the lamb of the Passover and applied the blood. The animal was to be roasted and completely eaten (Ex. 12). Because the head of the household had applied the blood, many consider his action a priestly action and an exception to the priestly rules. Israel was obeying explicit divine instructions for the preservation of the lives of their firstborn. The head of household evidently only performed this activity in the original event. After the establishing of the priesthood and legal regulations for keeping the Passover, the priests slew the Passover lamb and offered it for sacrifice (Deut. 16:1-8; Lev. 23:4-8).
Joshua. Moses continued to represent Israel before Jehovah after the events of Mount Sinai. When the tent of meeting was completed, Moses met with Jehovah in the tent that was a temporary structure used until the actual tabernacle was completed. It was there Jehovah talked with Moses (Ex. 33:9-11). Joshua was not a Levite but of the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13:8). "And Jehovah spoke unto Moses face [pl.] unto face [pl.] as a man proceeds to speak unto his friend; and he returned into the camp, but his attendant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not proceed to move from the midst of the tent (Ex. 33:11)." There is no indication what Joshua was doing while he was in the tent of meeting unless Jehovah was speaking with him as well. It may have been included in the narrative by Moses to demonstrate that Jehovah had accepted Joshua early as a leader and, hence, to reinforce Joshua's succession to Moses' position of leadership.
Gideon. Gideon was a member of the tribe of Manasseh (Judg. 6:15). Gideon had a face-to-face encounter with the Angel of Jehovah (Judg. 6:11-27). Jehovah directly instructed Gideon to bring a present or a meal offering to Him (6:18). The offering was placed on a rock and Jehovah burned the offering (6:21). As a result, Gideon built an altar to Jehovah and named the place Jehovah Shalom [Jehovah is Peace] (6:24). Then Jehovah returned and ordered Gideon to throw down his father's altar to Baal in the grove, to construct an altar to Jehovah and to offer a specific animal as a sacrifice upon it to Jehovah (6:26). He did as he was told (6:28). The people of the land reacted not because he had performed priestly duties but because he had destroyed the altar to Baal. Gideon acted as a priest by direct instruction from Jehovah. The sacrifice was one of several methods Jehovah used to draft Gideon into service as a judge.
Manoah. Samson's father, Manoah, was a Danite (Judg. 13:2). He participated in two areas of priestly activity: prayer and sacrifice. Jehovah had manifested Himself as the Angel of Jehovah to Manoah's wife promising her that she would conceive and bear a son who was to be a Nazarite. Ultimately, Manoah offered a burnt offering to Jehovah because of Jehovah's instructions (13:16, 19). A fire went up from the altar and Jehovah ascended in the fire to heaven (13:20). Manoah and his wife knew the potential for death to one who saw God, but recognized that God had received their offering (13:22, 23) instead of taking their lives. Once again a non-Levite offered a sacrifice because Jehovah had instructed him to do so.
The Men of Beth Shemesh. When the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant to Israel, the cows ["kine" -- A.V.] took it directly to Beth Shemesh and stopped in the field of Joshua the Beth Shemeshite (1 Sam. 6:12-14). The men of Beth Shemesh offered a burnt offering to Jehovah using the wood of the wagon, and then they offered other burnt offerings and sacrifices to Jehovah (1 Sam. 6:14, 15). Were the Beth Shemeshites in violation of the Law? No! The right people made sacrifices in the right place. The nursing cows [milch kine - A.V.] took the ark to the place of Jehovah's choice. The men of Beth Shemesh were sons of Aaron [i.e. priests], since Beth Shemesh was one of the thirteen cities allotted to the sons of Aaron in the division of the land (Josh. 21:16).
Samuel. Samuel was the son of Elkanah the Levite (1 Chron. 6:16, 26-28, 33 cf. 1 Sam. 1:1). He was not of the lineage of Aaron but of Gershom (1 Chron. 6:20, 26). Samuel was a judge and prophet. As the leader of the nation and a prophet, he offered a whole burnt offering to Jehovah at Mizpah while the ark of the covenant remained at Kirjath-jearim (1 Sam. 7:1, 2, 9, 10). This resulted in Jehovah's blessing Israel with a victory over the Philistines. It is clear that this was unusual because Jehovah responded to Samuel's appeal, "... Then Samuel proceeded to cry unto Jehovah on behalf of Israel, then Jehovah proceeded to answer him, then it came to be that Samuel was offering the burnt offering and the Philistines drew near for the battle against Israel; then Jehovah thundered with a great noise [lit. voice] in that day upon the Philistines, then they were troubled, then they were beaten before Israel (1 Sam. 7:9, 10)." It is possible that the sons of Aaron acted on Samuel's behalf, but the fact that Jehovah answered him seems to indicate that Jehovah overruled the regulations for priestly service that He had given for Israel.
Saul. Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Sam. 9:1, 2) and held the office of king but ruined his succession by usurping the priest's authority. In 1 Samuel 14:33-35 Saul acted in a righteous way. He had received a report that the people were violating the Law in that they were killing animals and eating them with their blood. Saul exercised his authority and demanded that they follow the prescribed procedure of the Law. After the people brought animals before the king and had slain them properly and had eaten, Saul built an altar to Jehovah. "Then Saul proceeded to build an altar to Jehovah; he began to build it an altar to Jehovah (11 Sam. 14:35)." There is no indication that Saul offered any sacrifice. A priest was present to act as the sacrificer and as a mediator with God (1 Sam. 14:3, 18, 19, 36).
David. 2 Samuel 6:12-18 has already been discussed. David, as king, was involved with acceptable sacrifices to Jehovah. Without a doubt, priests accompanied the ark to Jerusalem and were available to assist David, who was of the tribe of Judah, with his offering of sacrifice.
Elijah. It is highly probable that Elijah was of the tribe of Gad because he was identified as a Tishbite of the inhabitants of Gilead (1 Ki. 17:1). That was a part of the land allotted to Gad. As a prophet, in his confrontation with the prophets of Baal, he repaired the altar of Jehovah (1 Ki. 18:30-32). He had the altar and the bullock drenched with water three times. He had "done all these things at your [singular -- Jehovah's] word (1 Ki. 18:36)." Fire fell from heaven and from Jehovah and devoured the animal, altar and everything that was involved in the sacrifice proving that Jehovah had again granted a non-priest permission to offer sacrifice (1 Ki. 18:38, 39). The sacrifice made by Elijah was accepted by Jehovah.
If one takes Scripture literally, he will accept the fact that there will be priestly activity in the future in the Millennial Kingdom. In Ezekiel 40:39-42, facilities are described for slaying animals for sacrifices. Provisions are made for slaying burnt, sin and trespass offerings. One of the primary reactions to a literal temple in the future is that provisions are made for sacrifices. After all, isn't the sacrifice of Christ an absolute replacement for the sacrificial system? Those who hold this position also deny that the sacrifices of the grace believer are to be taken literally as legitimate sacrifices identifying both as figures of speech. Why should there be sacrifices in the future? The sacrifices were to be given for those who wandered astray [erred] and those who were ignorant or untaught (Ezek. 45:20 cf. Zech. 8:22, 23). They will be used as a warning or a deterrent, as well as a means of reconciling the temple of God. In the Kingdom, there will be no sinners or persons who do lawlessness. "The Son of man will send forth His angels and they will collect all the things that scandalize (cf. Matt. 5) and the ones who are doing lawlessness (cf. 1 Jn. 3:4 Gk.), and will throw them into the furnace of fire, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:41, 42)." Those who sin in the Kingdom are collected by angels and thrown directly into the Lake of Fire so there will be no living sinners on the face of the earth during the Kingdom. When Christ establishes the Kingdom, all individuals entering it will be believers, but their offspring can either become believers or remain unbelievers. It is from the unbelieving offspring that the sinners will come to be thrown into the Lake of Fire. One must remember the significance of each type of sacrifice in order to comprehend the reasons for sacrifice in the Millennium.
There will definitely be a priesthood. The priests will be Levites of the family of Aaron and Zadok (Ezek. 43:19) who are to approach God and to minister to Jehovah in the matter of sacrifices (43:18). The Levites will have a separate service (Ezek. 44:10-14) while the priests have their own peculiar service (Ezek. 44:15-31). There will be a special allotment of land for the priests (Ezek. 45:4) and for the Levites (Ezek. 45:5). There will be specific ordinances for priests and people for religious activity and feasts (Ezek. 46). The sacrificial system will be established with a consistent keeping of the Sabbath (Isa. 56:7; 66:20-23; Jer. 33:18; Zech. 14:16-21). The priests will serve only those people who live on the earth during that era, including resurrected patriarchal and Old Testament saints, resurrected and living tribulational believers and all the offspring born in the Kingdom. Much more could be developed from the voluminous material in Scripture describing the organization for worshipping Jehovah in the future Kingdom.
God, by His grace, has provided a unique priesthood for grace believers (1 Pe. 2:5, 9). It is a spiritual priesthood that performs spiritual priestly activities for God. It is a priesthood that has direct access to God in the third heaven. The believer-priest has unlimited opportunity to function as a priest because he is not limited by time or place for his priestly service. Every believer has the potential to act as a priest without any limitation as long as he is a spiritual believer. Every other priesthood has been limited by time and place. A head of household might have offered one or two sacrifices in his long lifetime, while the grace believer can offer many sacrifices every day. A believing Israelite of the tribe of Simeon was required to go to a son of Aaron in order to have access to God. The grace believer has free, direct access. Gender, race or social status has nothing to do with a Christian's acting as a priest to God. A spiritual believer is functioning as a member of a full-time priesthood filled with privileges. The priesthood of the grace believer is absolutely unique compared to every other priesthood. God counts the activity of the Christian to be acceptable activity. By grace, the believer is a priest and by grace, he serves God as a priest.
The history of the development of the priesthoods in Scripture provides a background for the uniqueness of the priesthood in which the grace believer participates. While the Aaronic priesthood met the needs of the nation, its rigidity severely limited any potential for an individual to be close to God. Legalism had separated man from God. When the patriarchs had access to Jehovah, it was a closer access than that available through the Law. A great gap existed between God and man that was only bridged once a year on the Day of Atonement by a high priest who, when he entered the presence of Jehovah, could not see the propitiatory [i.e. "mercy seat"] upon which he sprinkled the blood. One can only imagine the difficulties encountered. The high priest entered a room filled with heavy smoke so that it would be difficult for him to focus his burning eyes on the wings of the cherubim to know where to sprinkle the blood. He would have trouble breathing because of the necessary inhalation of smoke. His access to Jehovah was no privilege. It was a difficult necessity. He not only put his own life on the line but also suffered the discomfort of being in the smoke-filled holy of holies. Every grace believer should be filled with appreciation for the ease with which he has access to God as a spiritual believer. History makes its own contrasts for present things provided in the priesthood of the grace believer. One must know how to become a priest in order to understand the benefits that accrue to him as a believer-priest. Which part of a believer's salvation makes him a priest?
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When does a Christian become a priest? How does an individual become a member of the priesthood? These two questions are easily answered from Scripture. The Christian is placed into the priesthood the instant he is saved by a direct work of the Spirit of God.
When an individual directs God-given faith toward Christ through the Gospel, he instantly becomes a believer-priest with all of the privileges of the priesthood. By believing that Christ died for his sins according to the scriptures, was buried and rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3, 4), the individual is saved. The gospel of Jesus Christ is clearly defined and gives the information through which a person believes in Jesus Christ. An immediate benefit of Christ's work is the Christian's priestly position. Many other benefits accrue to the Christian at the moment of salvation for his benefit and the glory of God, but one of the least understood by Christians is the priesthood of the believer.
The work of the Holy Spirit that places the believer into the priesthood is the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit. At the instant of saving faith, the Spirit of God sovereignly places the individual into the Body of Christ, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body ... (1 Cor. 12:13 A.V.)." The Holy Spirit is the instrument that accomplishes the believer's baptism into one body. As the Spirit of God, He is the "one Spirit" that has the ability to do the baptizing and is the Person of the Godhead who actually accomplishes the baptism. All grace believers are immersed into one Body. No unbeliever is a part of the Body nor is any believer omitted from the baptism of the Holy Spirit. "We all" are participants in the baptizing work of the Spirit. The spiritual condition of the Christian cannot change this participation. Paul describes the church in Corinth as a carnal church with a few spiritual believers in it, yet he includes both the carnal and the spiritual with himself in the "we."
At the instant of salvation, a point in time, the believer is placed in the Body of Christ. The verb "baptized" or "immersed" is punctiliar in the Greek and indicates a once-and-for-all, point action by which the individual is placed in Christ. No merit or action of the believer is involved in his being baptized into the Body. He is passive and not active in his immersion into the Body of Christ. Paul carefully uses the passive voice in the verb to emphasize the authority of God in the placement of the believer into Christ. The result of the baptism of the Spirit is that the individual becomes a part of the Body of Christ that is identified as "the Christ" (Gk.) in 1 Corinthians 12:12. God the Father sees the believer as one who is "in Christ" as a result. An understanding of "in Christ" truth will make the grace believer effective in his Christian life. The following outline demonstrates the relationship of 1 Corinthians 12:12, 13 to the believer.
1. The Contents of the Body: Many Members = One Body -- vs. 12 One Body = The Christ 2. The Instrument of Baptism: "By One Spirit" -- vs. 13 3. The Persons Who Are Baptized: "we all" = Christians 4. The Position from Baptism of Spirit: "One Body" 5. The Initiative for Baptism of Spirit: God [note passive verb] 6. The Time of Baptism of Spirit: At Instant of Salvation [aorist verb]
One of the results of being in Christ is being involved in the priesthood of the believer. In the Old Testament, a person entered the Aaronic priesthood by physical birth into the right family. In the New Testament, a person enters the priesthood of the grace believer by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament saint who was not of the tribe of Levi could never participate in priestly privileges for there was no way in which he could change his genealogical origins. In the New Testament, a true believer automatically becomes a priest with full franchise. The Spirit of God simply places him in Christ and he has every privilege of priesthood. Every Christian is a priest whether he knows it or not. An understanding of the implications of functioning as a priest will fill the life of the saint with multiple blessings. Ignorance of the priesthood simply deprives the Christian of the enjoyment of one of God's gracious provisions for him.
First Peter gives adequate information to demonstrate that the believer becomes a priest as a result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Peter's first letter was clearly written to Christians. The contents of the letter are built upon the first chapter that demonstrates the fact that the recipients are involved in the provisions of the work of Christ on the cross. Having appropriated the benefits of the cross work, God expected the believers to respond with a manner of life worthy of so great salvation. Peter assumes that his readers would understand major terms relating to their salvation and the application of the benefits of the work of Christ in their lives. Hence, he uses the great salvation terms of election, regeneration and redemption. The readers' personal involvement with these provisions of Christ demonstrates their salvation in the first chapter.
Elect Strangers -- 1:1. Peter addresses his letter to the "elect strangers [or sojourners] of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (cf. Gk.)." The unfortunate inclusion of the word "elect" in verse two in the Authorized Version creates major theological confusion. God's election is erroneously made reliant upon His foreknowledge. This is contradictory to Scripture as well as the grammar of the Greek text. "Elect" is an adjective that modifies the word "stranger" or "sojourner" in the Greek text. The word "foreknowledge" modifies "dispersion" or "scattering" so that God knew beforehand that these elect ones would be scattered or dispersed. When Peter uses the word "elect," he assumes that those who had been dispersed in the locations mentioned were strangers who were believers in that they were "elect" or "chosen" ones by God to salvation, God's sovereign selection of these assured their eternal salvation. Election is not based on foreknowledge.
God's choosing is the basis for His provision of salvation. "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained [or appointed] you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain ... (Jn. 15:16)." Some misconstrue this to mean that one is chosen to service rather than to salvation making the fruit to be the works done by the individual believer. A careful study of the context of John 15 determines the fruit to be the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23) that would soon be available in the life of Christians after Christ's cross work was accomplished and the Church formed. Without a union with the Vine, Christ, there is no possibility that the fruit of the Spirit can be produced in the life of a human being. Salvation is essential for the Spirit of God to produce His fruit in the life of the Christian. God chooses. Every propensity of fallen man rejects His offer of salvation.
God chose believers before the foundation of the world. "Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ; according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Eph. 1:3, 4)." He chose the believer in Him [Christ]. Christians are in Christ because they were chosen to be in Christ. They should be living lives that match up with their position in Christ ["holy") and not with a blemish that would reflect upon Christ who is the Head of His Body, the Church. Interestingly enough, in Christ, a believer is a saint, a holy one (Phil. 1:1). He has been chosen to be holy (Eph. 1:4). He is in a holy priesthood (1 Pe. 2:5). He is a participant in a chosen [elect] generation [better "race"].
Peter writes to chosen sojourners, saved sojourners, because of God's sovereign choice. All of the chosen ones are participants in the priesthood of the believer. None of the unchosen can or will be in the priesthood.
Obedient and Blood Sprinkled -- 1:2. Peter sees the dispersion of the elect sojourners as a sovereign work of God. "To the elect sojourners of the dispersion ... according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by sanctification of the Spirit, because of obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ...." "Because of obedience" is a phrase that indicates that these people were saved. Paul describes belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ as obeying the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8; Rom. 10:16). The sojourners believed that Christ died for their sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (1 Cor. 15:3, 4) -- the facts of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a result, they were saved and God sees them as not only believing the gospel of Christ, but also as obeying the gospel of Christ.
"Because of ... the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" demonstrates the application of the blood of Christ on their behalf on the heavenly altar (Heb. 9:11-28; 12:24). The sojourners had personally appropriated the application of Christ's blood at the moment of faith unto salvation.
They Are Regenerated -- 1:3, 23. The sojourners had been "born again" or regenerated. Their regeneration gave them a new hope through the resurrection of Christ concerning an inheritance that all of their pre-salvation dreams could never have conceived. Peter assumes the fact that they had been "born from above" [lit.]. Their birth had occurred when they believed (1:3) and they rest assured that their birth is a permanent state (1:23). Spiritual conception was accomplished by the uniting of the sperm [the seed] of the Word of God to the human spirit resulting in a spiritual birth (cf. Jn. 3:5). The Word of God is constituted as a seed that will not decay or rot as other seeds might. When it is joined to the human spirit, nothing can bring about its decay and destroy its effectiveness. The weakest element in human, physical conception is the sperm or seed. Conception is often uncertain because of the corruptibility [propensity to decay] of the sperm cell. A multitude of factors can prevent conception either by destroying the sperm or by rendering it incapable of joining with the ovum. The spiritual seed, that is the Word of God, is never destroyed or rendered ineffective because God establishes and protects the environment that will result in spiritual birth. Spiritual birth or regeneration takes place in the realm of the human spirit. The sojourners were the children of God by their spiritual birth.
They Possess an Inheritance -- 1:4. Peter includes himself as one who has benefited from regeneration and so not only has a hope, but also possesses an inheritance. "Into an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and unfading, standing as kept in the heavens for you (2 Pe. 1:4)." Oh what an inheritance! It is incorruptible, not subject to spoilage or decay. It is undefiled, not polluted with anything that would mar its appearance. It is unfading, not disappearing or gradually going away. It is not an earthly inheritance for it stands as guarded and kept in heaven. The elect strangers are clearly seen as heirs to this inheritance that is being kept "for [lit. with reference to) you." The down payment, that guarantees the future possession of the inheritance by the Christian, is the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13, 14). Those who are called to salvation receive the promise of the inheritance (Heb. 9:15). This also indicates the salvation of the recipients of Peters letter.
They Are Guarded by the Power of God -- 1:5. "The ones who are being guarded by the inherent power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last time." The elect strangers are ones who are kept in order to preserve them for their future tense salvation from the moment of faith in the gospel of Christ and onward. Each had appropriated the salvation in his human spirit as a result of Christ's cross work. Evidently, they were enjoying a measure of the benefits of present tense salvation as they appropriated the work of Christ in gaining victory over their spiritual enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The salvation, that will be revealed at the last time, is the salvation of their physical bodies (cf. Rom. 8:23), of their souls (1 Pe. 1:2-9) and of their spirits (1 Cor. 5:5) [to the full extent]. Such salvation was provided by the work of Christ and is guarded for believers until it is received at the rapture of the Church.
They Believe in Christ -- 1:7-9. "In order that the test of your faith, which is much more precious than gold that is perishing, yet being tested through fire, may be found to the praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; whom having not seen you are loving, in whom yet not seeing but believing you exult for yourselves with joy unspeakable, and having been glorified while obtaining the end of faith, even the salvation of your souls." Faith in the work of Christ is evident because their faith in Christ was thoroughly put to the test. Their faith is much more precious than gold. Interestingly enough, "the test" is a metallurgical term. It was a test to determine if there was any impurity in a metal. The object of the test was to provide data for the removal of the impurities and to make certain that the material was 100% pure. Even though the faith of the elect strangers was put to the test, it will be found to be of such a character as to bring praise and glory and honor at the appearing [or revelation] of Jesus Christ. When put to the test, God found the faith pure and it will be accepted at the coming of Christ.
The elect sojourners had not seen Christ, yet they directed their agape love toward Him (1:8). The fact that they have agape love is another proof of their salvation since only spiritual believers are able to possess such a kind of love [since Christ redefined the term in John 21]. It is a part of the fruit of the Spirit that can only be produced in the life of a believer by a direct work of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
Even though these Christians had not seen Christ physically, they saw Him through the eyes of faith (cf. Heb. 11:1 for definition). They rejoice as a result of their faith having a joy unspeakable and standing glorified.
Peter assures his readers that they will obtain the end of their faith that will be the salvation of their souls. A proof of God-given, Spirit-produced faith is the ultimate future salvation of the soul. Peter has complete confidence that believers who read his letter have salvation, and hence, a hope for the culmination of Christ's work in their receiving their future tense salvation at Christ's coming in the air -- the rapture.
They Have Special Salvation -- 1:9, 10. The salvation of the human soul is not actualized immediately at the moment of faith to salvation. It is a future event anticipated by the true Christian. Christ made provision for salvation, but Peter sees the application of the work of Christ as a future event to be anticipated by believers. At the moment of salvation, God saves the person in the realm of his human spirit (John 3:5, 6)
Though Peter may seem to contradict some 20th century "soul winners" who are striving to win souls today, it is clear that Scripture teaches that the saving of the soul is a future event for all believers that will occur at the appearing of Jesus Christ [read the context]. Thank God, He is the one who saves men.
Experience simply illustrates that our souls are not yet saved. The soul, the seat of emotion and volition, continues to create problems for the Christian after he is saved. Hurt feelings, emotional reactions and unwise decisions are common in every Christian's life. If the soul was saved now in actuality, the believer would not have the problems he has with his emotions and acts of will.
The content of the grace believer's salvation is distinct from that of the Old Testament prophets' salvation. Peter says that they sought out and searched out such a salvation, but could only witness the manifestation of God's grace. The earthbound, physical salvation of the Old Testament stands in extreme contrast to the heavenly citizenship of the New Testament grace believer. The prophets prophesied concerning the suffering and glory of Christ (1:11), but the revelation they gave did not apply to them but rather to the saints in the future Church.
They Were Evangelized -- 1:12. When the elect strangers were saved, they heard the gospel of Jesus Christ: Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). Because of this, Peter says that they were evangelized by the ones who preached the gospel ["have preached the gospel" A.V.] by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven. The involvement of the Holy Spirit guarantees the resulting salvation. He not only gave them faith (Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 1:29; 1 Cor. 3:5) to believe, but also placed them in Christ and placed them in the family of God by birth [regeneration].
They Are Called to Salvation -- 1:15. "But according to the Holy One having called you, you yourselves be holy in your manner of life." A careful study of the word "call," kaleo, in all of its forms in the New Testament exhibits the fact that it is only used of the call by God of the individual to salvation when used in a technical, theological context. God is "the one having called you" and He has an attribute with which the believer is to identify, His holiness. Because a holy God calls the person to salvation, his manner of life is to be holy. The recipients of Peter's letter had the potential in their salvation to display a kind of holiness that would please God. Verse 17 concludes that the believer should be scared to death that he might displease God during his time on this earth.
They Are Redeemed -- 1:18. "Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver or gold from your useless manner of life delivered from the fathers." The elect sojourners had an intuitive knowledge of the fact that they were redeemed. Their redemption was not with silver or gold that would ultimately decay, but with the precious blood of Christ (1:19). They were redeemed from the uselessness ["vain" A.V.] of their manner of life that had been promulgated by their fathers. The Mosaic Law held them in bondage to a useless behavior that could not please God or give them salvation. God saved all by grace through faith at all times in the history of mankind. Keeping the Mosaic Law was not necessarily an exhibition of faith. It could have been just as easily an exhibition of the human propensity to work to please God without faith. Because of their redemption, God expected Peters readers to respond by obeying the truth. Christ's perfect provision in His cross work of redemption encourages the Christian to focus his faith and hope in God (1:21).
They Believe in God -- 1:21. A belief in God the Father is a natural element in grace salvation. Because the Father was directly involved in resurrecting Christ and giving Him glory, the new Christian will also have faith in the Father. The Holy Spirit and Christ, Himself, also had roles in accomplishing the resurrection of Christ. Peter uses a form that indicates that the believer's faith is in the Godhead and not just the Father. All three persons are the logical objects of the Christian's faith.
Why is there so much discussion about the elect sojourners? It would seem obvious that if Peter were writing a letter with such important contents, he would not have sent it to unbelievers. True, but there is more to the issue than the fact that they were saved. Peter did not refer to a key element in salvation in chapter one that he picks up in chapter two. He seems to deliberately neglect the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit. He writes chapter one listing various elements of the elect sojourners salvation thinking in logical steps in light of the material that he planned to develop in the next section [chapter]. In chapter two, he discusses the results of the baptism of the Holy Spirit without making a direct reference to the baptizing work itself. He evidently assumes that his readers are familiar with the subject, so he uses a veiled reference to that work and through that reference establishes that the priesthood of the believer is a direct result of that work of the Holy Spirit.
"You also as living stones are built up a spiritual house into an holy priesthood (1 Pe. 2:5a)." Any careful consideration of the spiritual house draws attention to Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone, and grace believers as living stones. Understanding the whole concept of the building of God is essential for establishing how the believer becomes a priest. The importance of understanding the spiritual house is evident in that the Greek text includes an eis, [into], preposition before "holy priesthood." When a believer becomes a living stone in the building of God, he is immediately a priest. The living stones are priests and the priests are living stones. Hence, the method of admission is identical for both the spiritual house and the holy priesthood.
Christ as a Living Stone -- 1 Peter 2:4. "Since you tasted for yourselves that the Lord is kind. To whom approaching for oneself, a living stone, on the one hand having been rejected by men, on the other hand chosen by God, precious (2:3, 4)." Peter affirms the salvation of his readers when he uses the Greek first class condition in verse three assuming it to be fulfilled as a fact. It is best translated "since" instead of "if." Since it is a fact that all the readers have tasted [at the time of their salvation] that the Lord is good [or palatable or fit for use], God expected them to be growing in the realm of their present tense salvation. Peters use of "Lord" indicates that at least a few of the elect strangers had submitted themselves to the Lordship of Christ in their lives though some had not (cf. 3:15 Gk.). Living in a slave operated Roman society, some of the readers had found that the Lordship of Christ was far more palatable than that of many slaveholders who were their human masters. Though these believers were bond slaves to Christ, they had discovered the glorious freedom available in Christ.
They approached or came to the Lord (2:3) Who has the character and quality of being a living stone. The readers had come for themselves and for their own personal benefit anticipating the perfect provision of the Lord. A taste at the moment of salvation gives an insatiable appetite for more of the same. The text teaches that they tasted at a point in time in the past but are continually approaching as a result of the initial tasting.
Jesus Christ is a living stone. He is the Glorified Resurrected One who is alive today and seated at the right hand of God the Father. As an eyewitness to Christ's ascension, Peter had no doubt concerning the deity of Christ and His exalted position in the Godhead. Resurrection glory confirmed the reality of the spiritual life that inheres in Jesus Christ. That life is confirmed in His resurrection and continued in His ascension life forevermore. The spiritual house of verse five is living in that all of its components are alive with spiritual life by the power of the Godhead.
Christ as a Stone Rejected. The rejection of Christ comes to Peter's mind as he reflects on Christ, the Living Stone. Men rejected him. Who are the men who rejected Him? Who are the agents of the rejection? When was the rejection? Historians have prejudicially charged select groups for the rejection of Christ. The Jews, the Romans and the Gentiles have each been separately blamed for the rejection seen in the crucifixion of Christ. God's verdict is that all are guilty of the rejection -- everyone who has the character or quality of being human was a party to the initial rejection in some way. Peter uses a Greek form that indicates that all of humanity is in a state of being individuals who reject Christ.
In verse seven, Peter again refers to the rejection of Christ, but he is far more specific in his use of the participle. He casts blame upon the builders who rejected Christ, the Stone. Tradition held that the sound of tools working the stone for the Solomonic temple was not permitted to be heard on the temple site. Such a prohibition made it necessary for the stonemasons to carve individual stones at the quarries outside of Jerusalem. Each stone was carved to prescribed specifications so that it would perfectly fit in its place in the temple structure. The stones were transported to the temple site and ultimately placed in their designated positions. A certain stone was frequently sent by the stonemasons to the builders, but it was inevitably too large, too small, or the wrong shape so the workmen continued to send it back. As the building progressed, the builders inevitably found the stray stone in the wrong place interfering with the building progress. They tripped over it and were forced to move it over and over again. Finally, in disgust and frustration, the stone was taken to the edge of the temple mound and pushed over the side as a stone-carver's error. They considered it to be worthless debris. When the temple structure was nearly finished, the builders could not find the cornerstone -- the most important stone in the structure. Finally, someone remembered the stone dumped over the hill and the rejected stone was retrieved and placed in its designated place as the cornerstone. Whether the story is true or not, it does provide an excellent illustration of the response of the builders -- the Jewish leaders living under the Mosaic Law. Instead of looking at their rejection as a state of being (1 Pe. 2:4) as he did of humanity as a whole, Peter focuses upon the once-and-for-all rejection by the Jewish religious leaders who were attempting to build their own temple of Judaism. Christ replaced the physical temple with a spiritual temple comprised of living stones with Christ, Himself, as the Cornerstone.
Christ as the Chief Cornerstone. The Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 28:16 proclaimed the exaltation of Christ as the Head of the corner, "Therefore thus says Adonai Jehovah, Behold, I finally lay for a foundation in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a foundation that is being founded; the one who is believing will not begin to make haste." Peter's quotation of the Isaiah passage in 1 Peter 2:6 clearly gives it a Messianic interpretation. Christ also quotes the Isaiah passage identifying the builders as Jewish leaders in Matthew 21:42, 44; Mark 12:10 and Luke 20:17, 18. As a result of Christ's parable concerning the perverse, rebellious husbandmen and the Isaiah quotation, the chief priests and scribes sought to lay hands on Him because they experientially knew that He was speaking of them in the parable (Matt. 21:45, 46; Mark 12:12; Lu. 20:19). Clearly, Christ was speaking of the fact that the husbandman [Jewish leaders] had abused the Master's [God the Father's] vineyard [Israel] and ultimately took the life of his son [Christ]. The result is that the vineyard [Israel] will be turned over to other husbandmen who will tend it and produce fruit. In Matthew 21:43, Christ tells them that the kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to a nation that will bring forth its fruit. The Stone will be a source of destruction to those who fall on it or on whom it falls (Matt. 21:44).
Peter was certain that Christ was the Cornerstone from the very beginning of the Church on the day of Pentecost. When Peter healed the infirm man ["impotent" A.V.] in Acts 4:9, Peter tells of the time when Christ, the rejected Stone, was elevated to be the Head of the Corner. His proclamation concerning the power of the healing was: "Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand before you whole (4:10)." Verse 11 is a quotation of the Isaiah 28 prophecy. Christ was placed as the Head of the corner when God raised Him from among the dead ones. Resurrection day was the day that Christ assumed His proper position as Head of the Corner.
David anticipated the coming of the day in the Messianic portion of Psalm 118. With the recovery of the rejected Stone, Christ is made the Head of the Corner. The Psalmist literally says, "This is from Jehovah; it is a wonder in our eyes (118:23)." Since Peter has identified the day as the day of Christ's resurrection, it is evident that the proper response to the first day of the week by the grace believer should conform to the anticipated response prophesied by David. "This is the day that Jehovah has made; let us rejoice and let us be glad in it (118:24)." Every Sunday service should be a time of rejoicing because of Christ's resurrection and His being placed as Head of the Corner.
The believer's freedom from the bondage of the Sabbath regulations of the Mosaic Law should fill the hearts of Christians with appreciation for the work of Christ on the cross and for the confirmation of the effectiveness of His work and His deity through His resurrection. When the believer's mind is focused on the accomplishments and provisions of Christ, there is no longer need for lifeless ritualism and the guilt created by the demands of the Law. He is risen! Christian hope has a foundation and with it an inherent optimism.
Christ became the "Head of the Corner (1 Pe. 2:7)." He is not merely a stone at the corner that ties the walls together, but rather He is the Head of the Corner -- the stone that ties and holds the whole structure together. The idea of "head" is very similar to its Hebrew idea of "chief," making it most important. Several perspectives present themselves when the "Head of the Corner" metaphor is used. Some conceive Christ as the keystone that was essential in the Greek and Roman arches. Others conceive Christ as a stone tying together the wall at the top of the structure. Scripture very pointedly describes Christ as having a relationship to the foundation (Eph. 2:20). After Peter's confession, Christ predicted that He would be the Rock, petra, on which the Church would be built (Matt. 16:18 cf. 1 Cor. 10:4). The Stone ties the whole building together and is Christ. The weight of the structure rests on Him. The cohesion of the building finds its security in Christ. He guarantees its permanence. He keeps the stones of the structure together as a unity. He supports and sustains the structure. The building cannot be removed, ruined or destroyed without an open confrontation with Jesus Christ. Only He can modify the structure in any way.
Peter and Paul both describe Christ as the "Chief Corner Stone" (1 Pe. 2:6; Eph. 2:20). Peter's quotation from Isaiah 28:16 follows the Septuagint translation of "precious corner" in the Hebrew text. The word akrogoniaios translated "Chief Corner Stone" has the idea of a corner foundation stone that is the focal point of the whole structure. Christ is the most important part of the foundation upon which the Church is built. When Paul uses the same word in Ephesians 2:20, he is emphatically drawing attention to the fact that Christ exists ["being" A.V.] as a chief corner stone. The apostles and prophets were the foundation directly tied together by Christ.
Christ as a Stone of Stumbling. To the believer, Christ is the most important object of honor and worship -- He is worthy of all of the Christian's thanksgiving and praise. To the unbeliever, He is an object of derision even though He now occupies the position of prominence. He is a stone of stumbling and a great rock of scandal to the unbeliever every time he hears the Word of God (1 Pe. 2:8). "And a stone of stumbling and a rock of scandal; to the ones who are stumbling at the word, being disobedient ones; into which also they were appointed." He is disobedient in that he does not hear and obey the gospel of Christ. When he hears a word about Christ's work, he is either stumbled or scandalized by Christ's free, gracious provision since it stands in contrast to the unbeliever's personal works of human righteousness that are repulsive to God.
Paul describes the problem Israel had with Jesus Christ that made Him their national stumbling stone in Romans 9:31-33, "But Israel, that pursued a law of righteousness did not attain unto a law of righteousness. Why? Because their pursuit was not out of faith but was out of works; they stumbled at the stone of stumbling, as it stands written: Behold I place in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of scandal, and the one believing in Him will not be ashamed." The Gentiles did not pursue righteousness but many of the Gentiles apprehended righteousness even the righteousness that springs out of faith (9:30). Israel, on the other hand, diligently pursued a law of righteousness but did not arrive at or accomplish the righteousness of the Law (9:31). Why didn't they attain righteousness? Scripture's answer to that question is that it was because Israel did what they did from their own individual works rather than from faith (9:32). Israel stumbled first, and then as the Gentiles heard the gospel of Christ, they also joined the Stumblers Society having gained admission by their confidence in their own works. Peter was confident that all members would ultimately pay their dues (1 Pe. 2:8). Human confidence in human ability to please God has always separated man from God. In the Law, works were required as God accepted the presumptive challenge of Israel given to God when they said, "All that the Jehovah has spoken, we will do (Ex. 19:8)." Some have stumbled over Christ in that they see faith as a work. That which they call faith is simply presumption springing from the human spirit. Faith is not a work! "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted [or reckoned to be so) for righteousness (Rom. 4:5 A.V.)." Faith is not a work; it is the gift of God in salvation (1 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8, 9) and as an attitude of the spiritual believer (Gal. 5:22). Self-righteous human beings will always stumble over Christ and His gracious work. They are scandalized that anyone would consider their personal righteousness as unacceptable to God. Christ stumbled the leaders of Israel and their people. He stumbles all unbelievers who trip and fall on their faces only to pick themselves up and continue on in their own righteousness only to stumble again.
How does all this relate to the priesthood of the believer? The Church is the building constructed upon the foundation tied together by Christ, the Cornerstone. Peter says that the building is for the purpose of being a holy priesthood (1 Pe. 2:5). Christ holds the priesthood together as the Head of the Corner. Hence, if one is a part of the building, he is a priest.
The Church as a House. The Church is a spiritual house (1 Pe. 2:5). It is real though not physical. It exists in the mind of God as a perfect, completed reality. Each one who believes the gospel of Christ from the time of Christ's cross work until Christ's return for His Church at the rapture is a part of the House. "Household" in Hebrews reflects the relationships in the structure, "the House," in the translation of the same word. Moses was faithful in his entire household, but Christ as son over His own household is worthy of more glory (Heb. 3:1-6). The household is built up by someone. In other words, it is prepared or put in readiness by someone. The writer of Hebrews says, "We are a household [of him]." Moses was a servant in his house while Christ is a son who is fully mature with authority over His own house. Christ stands in all His heavenly authority over His house as the Son, and supporting His house as the Chief Cornerstone. Whether the house is a building [i.e. the structure] or the participants [i.e. the saints] does not change the intent of the passage. The house or household of Christ is superior to the house or household of Moses.
Hebrews 3:1 presents Christ as High Priest over His house. The grace believer has a new and living way that Christ has consecrated [or set apart] for him by His personal work (Heb. 10:20). Christ is a high priest over the house belonging to God (Heb. 10:21). The author of Hebrews also directly relates the house to the priesthood and its High Priest. The Church as a Building. The local church is not a building. It is the people who have organized to meet together that comprise the local church. When Scripture looks at the Church that is the Body of Christ, it uses the metaphor of a building. When one thinks of a house, he thinks of a building. The Church is identified as a building in 1 Corinthians 3:9 and Ephesians 2:21. When Paul said that "we are laborers together with God (1 Cor. 3:9)," he recognized the unity required for a proper labor to be pleasing to God. God does not expect the Christian to work for Him but expects him always to be a co-laborer with God. Paul goes on to use a mixed metaphor when he says, "You are God's farmland -- God's building (1 Cor. 3:9)." The Corinthian believers were a part of the building. Paul was the instrument God used for bringing the Corinthians into the building. Paul is a wise master builder because he was the one who laid the foundation. As an apostle, Paul was a direct participant in the foundation as well as the steward of the dispensation of the grace of God (Eph. 3:2; Col. 1:25). Because of his stewardship, he could say that he had laid the foundation that was Christ Jesus and He could expect everyone building upon the foundation to pay strict attention to the way they build.
The book of Ephesians uses three metaphors to describe Christ and His Church -- Body, Building and Bride.
| | Church Metaphor | Christ's Role | | Ephesians 1: | Body | Head | | Ephesians 2: | Building | Cornerstone | | Ephesians 5: | Bride | Bridegroom |
In Ephesians two, the new position of the Ephesian believers is the focus of attention. Paul's epistle has reviewed their former condition and position. Paul gives their "in Christ" relationship a place of prominence in the book. He assumes that the Ephesians know what it means to be "in Christ" and how one is placed in Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12, 13). With such recognition, they could easily understand the significance of all Paul's references to being "in Christ." Ephesians two refers to being "in Christ" nine times. The prepositional phrases "in Christ Jesus" (2:6, 7, 10, 13), "in himself' (2:15), "in one body" (2:16), "in whom" (2:21, 22) and "in the Lord" (2:21) assume that the readers would relate the truth to the results of the baptism of the Spirit at salvation.
Formerly, the Ephesians had been foreigners and strangers, but now they have become together-citizens [fellow citizens) of the saints and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19). As individuals, at the moment of their faith, their whole relationship to God changed. They had become part of the household -- not second-rate members but members with full status. They had come to share equal rights and equal privileges as a part of the building. They are parts of a building that is assembled in the mind of God. Though centuries have passed, the Ephesians are just as much a part of the Building as they were the day they read the Ephesian letter in the church at Ephesus. Even so, the twentieth century believer is also a part of the same Building. Every Church believer over the centuries has his own place in the Building.
The Building's structure began upon "the foundation from [better translation] the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Cornerstone," and will continue until Christ returns for His Church. With the revelatory gifts of apostle and prophet giving revelation, the early church was built upon oral revelation confirmed by the temporary spiritual gifts that were given to protect the early, infant Church from error. With the completion of the New Testament canon (1 Cor. 13:10), the foundation had been laid. It was no longer necessary for the formative foundational gifts to continue to exist. Other stones were to be built upon that foundation.
Ephesians 2:19-22 explains that the believer who is in Christ is in the Building. Peter tells believers that they are "built up a spiritual house into an holy priesthood." The believer enters the Building by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and therefore must be a priest by the same means. It is the baptism of the Spirit that places one in Christ. Being a priest is but one of eleven possessions that accrue to the Christian in Christ. Also there are eleven positions that are counted to be the believer's at salvation when he is placed in Christ.
God planned for the Building to be a temple. The interlocking of the individual parts of the Building ultimately is to grow into a temple of God. In essence, the priesthood itself is a temple in a unique way.
The Church as a Temple. Actually, there are three types of temples of God in existence today. Just because a building bears the name "temple" does not make it a legitimate temple. The biblical concept of temple was that it was a place of God's residency and presence. The New Testament clearly identifies the temples that exist today. Two are spiritual while the third is physical. One is the temple that is the priesthood -- the Church that is Christ's Body (cf. 2 Cor. 6:16). The second spiritual temple is the heavenly temple where Christ placed His blood and where He appears in the presence of the Father for true Christians (cf. Heb. 9:11, 23, 24). The third is the physical body of the grace believer that is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). In the New Testament, there are two Greek words used that are translated "temple." As has already been mentioned, one is a general term that referred to the whole temple site with all its courts, quarters, storage barns, supply buildings as well as the temple structure itself. The other, naos is far more specific referring to the very place of God's residency among men -- the holy of holies. It is this second term that is used of all three of the contemporary temples. The personal presence of the members of the Godhead is evident in each of the temples.
There is no physical building today in which God is resident. Though some local congregations have used "temple" in their name, the building that has this sign by its door is not a true temple. "The Lord is in His holy temple" may be sung by the choir with reference to the building in which the church meets, but Scripture no longer sees a physical building as the temple of God. A local church is not a temple of God even though its members' bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit if they are true believers and even though each member is a part of the Building that is the temple of God. "In whom all the building being fitted together grows into a holy of holies in the Lord (Eph. 2:21)." As members are added to the Church, that is His Body, the Building grows into a place where the presence of God is manifested. Each Christian has his spiritual gift (1 Pe. 4:10) and his specific priestly duty and is thereby fitted together in the divinely selected position in the Temple. The unity and the orderliness of the Building should manifest great glory to God in the exhibition of His perfections. In Christ, the Church "is built together into [or for] a dwelling place of God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:22)."
Because the Building is a temple, Paul reminded the Corinthians that defilement [or pollution] of the Temple would bring Divine judgment. Paul refers to the Temple that is the Building when he says, "Don't you [plural] know that you [plural] are a holy of holies [singular] of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you [plural] (1 Cor. 3:16)." Individuals in the Corinthian church were polluting the Building so Paul warns them that God would pollute them (1 Cor. 3:17 Gk. cf. 11:30).
Evidently, the Corinthians continued to have temple polluters because Paul again calls for them to purify themselves and to avoid such pollution. After an interval of time in the Second Epistle, he asks them, "What union does the holy of holies of God have with idols? (2 Cor. 6:16)." He reminds them of their role in the Temple when he says, "For you [plural] are a holy of holies of the living God." Applying Leviticus 26:12 to the Temple, he directs their attention to the fact that the Building/Temple will have the consistent activity of the Godhead in it resulting in a close identification with God ["I will be their God"] and a new relationship to God ("and they shall be my people"] (2 Cor. 6:16).
When the grace believer was saved, he was placed in the Body of Christ that is identified in Scripture as the Building of God. He was placed in Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. 1 Peter 2:5 clearly indicates that believers are living stones that are being built a spiritual house into a holy priesthood. Because of this, each believer is a part of a spiritual house that is a holy priesthood. He is in a priesthood and therefore a priest. As a priest he is qualified to have direct access to God.
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Is the normal Christian competent to do business with God? Is he capable of making decisions concerning his relationship to God and His Word? Does he have the competency to determine his religious affiliation and doctrinal position? Is there really such a thing as soul liberty? The immediate reaction of some individuals is that some Christians are and some are not. It is interesting how the ones who make religious judgment consider themselves competent to relate to God while they deny others the possibility. The implications of soul liberty or soul competency have widespread influences. It was the religious question of soul liberty that was one of the essential motivations for the European settlement of the American continent and the American Revolution. The question of equal rights and privileges carried beyond the Church into civil government absolutely influencing the form of government. If God counts an individual believer to be competent to approach Him, it becomes possible for people to realize that they could exercise a similar competency in secular government. The implications of soul competency carry into many areas of Christian life.
At the very root of soul competency is direct access to God. Without access to God, all the soul competency in the world would be of little value. God accepts the believer in Christ and counts his activity in Christ to be competent activity for the believer. Much of what is written about soul competency or theological individualism is filled with safeguards so that abuse will not result in anarchism. The New Testament safeguard is one's access to God. Because of his access to God, the individual believer is responsible to God alone for decisions he makes and relationships he establishes. God is the final, absolute critic of the competency of the individual believer. Because the Christian is considered competent, he has the right to espouse a doctrinal position but his soul liberty does not authenticate the position. In other words, just because a Christian believes something to be true does not make it true. In some areas of doctrine, there are as many positions as there are denominations. Does soul competency validate all of these doctrinal positions? Some positions are absolutely contradictory to one another and all are held by true believers. God did not design revelation to provide a divergence of doctrine, interpretation or application. Unless God explicitly gives permission to give one passage of Scripture more than one interpretation or application that He sees as valid, it is invalid and unacceptable to Him. Because the believer is seen directly before God, he should be filled with reluctance to accept man's word concerning a doctrine and objectively evaluate the doctrine as a competent spiritual individual to ascertain whether or not it is God's interpretation and application. The control over potential abuses of soul liberty is one's recognition and utilization of his direct access to God. The Christian's access is based on the baptism of the Holy Spirit by which he became a priest. Scripture is clear that the believer's access has been provided in Christ.
There are two aspects of access that are evident in Scripture: it is free and it is direct. Access on the part of the believer assumes acceptance on the part of God. For the spiritual believer, there is free access immediately available. There are no conditions that interfere with his approach to God as long as he is spiritual. The believer stands before God in Christ being seen by God the Father as one possessing the merit that is Christ's merit. No steps need to be taken nor human mediation needed to purchase the freedom of access. It is not legislated or mandated but is simply imputed to the spiritual believer. Even the carnal believer has a measure of access in that he can confess his sin for divine forgiveness at any time. He has direct access with no person or process in between. God the Father counts the believer to be in Christ at His own right hand. The result is access for one who is in a position of privilege with ready access to the Fathers ear and heart. The believer's access to God the Father is much greater than the access of a human child to a parent. Access with God does not have its basis in one's spiritual birth but in Spirit baptism. Christians may approach God as born ones coming to their Heavenly Father, but their being born again [lit. from above] is not the basis for the Father's acceptance of the believer. Because so many Christians think in terms of the father-child relationship, they attempt to reach as children from earth into the third heaven to receive a favorable response from the Father. They are attempting to relate to a Father who is far away [i.e. distant]. The other option is to bring the Father's residency to earth through His omnipresence [that is a part of His essential immensity]. As a result, these believers feel they can speak with God right here on earth. God's arrangements for access are clearly taught in Scripture. God has taken the believer to heaven in Christ so that the believer's access to God is in heaven from heaven. When the Christian feels at ease in his position in Christ as a Spirit filled believer, God the Father counts him to be serving as a priest at His own right hand. When the believer offers sacrifices, the Father sees them as coming from Christ. When the believer communicates with God, the Father hears and responds considering the communication to be coming from the Second Person. Directing His attention toward the Son, the Father relates to the individual grace believer in Christ. By Christ's work, access has been made available to the believer.
One of the purposes for Christ's death was to provide access for the believer. Peter incorporates a purpose clause to emphasize this. "Because Christ also died once concerning sins, a righteous one as a substitute for unrighteous ones, in order that He might give you access to God, on the one hand being put to death in flesh, but on the other hand being quickened in spirit (1 Pe. 3:18)." The verb prosago literally describes leading someone toward another person and so it is translated "bring" (Lu. 9:41; Acts 16:20; 1 Pe. 3:18) and "draw near" (Acts 27:27) in the Authorized Version. It means "to open a way of access" making it possible for one to be accepted and to receive the attention of another person. This term is essential for understanding the concept of access. In classical Greek, the term described the bringing of a person into the presence of another individual introducing the one to the other. Acceptance or rejection determines whether the term has negative or positive connotations. A number of scholars have linked the concept to the activity of the Oriental court in which a potentate appointed an officer who would vouch for an individual who sought audience with the ruler. Access involves more than the presence of an individual. If a person was permitted to enter the presence of a king and prohibited from speaking with him, there would be no true access. Christ has provided real access with the Father. Christ Himself is the instrument by which the access is provided and in Him there is access. Audience is always granted to the Father for the spiritual believer in Christ.
"Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace toward God through the agency of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we stand as having the access by faith into this grace in which we are in the state of standing, and we are boasting for ourselves upon a hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:1, 2)." The grace believer is in the state of actually possessing access through Jesus Christ and His work. Because the believer has been declared or counted righteous, he has peace toward God. Without peace, there is no true access. Christ has done more than introduce the believer to the Father. He has given the Father a favorable opinion of the character of the believer because of His cross work and its application. Christ obtained peace for the believer -- peace with God confirming the reality of positive access.
Christ not only made peace for the grace believer but "He is our peace (Eph. 2:14)." The believer is brought near to God by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13). Christ took individuals from the Jews and the Gentiles and put them into the Body of Christ making them one new man [Christ and His Body] making peace (Eph. 2:15) reconciling both of them to God in one Body by His cross work (Eph. 2:16). "Because through Him we both are continually having access by one Spirit toward the Father (Eph. 2:18)." The access available for the believer is only functional when he is spiritual. The work of Christ has made access available for every believer but it is only effective for the spiritual believer because the Holy Spirit is the One who actually makes the access effective for the believer. Real access is only available through the activity of all three Members of the Trinity. God the Son has perfectly made the way clear for access by dealing with every possible element that would impede access. God the Holy Spirit is the Person immediately applying the work of Christ for the spiritual believer assuring approach and access. God the Father accepts the believer giving him the privilege of admittance and speech. As a result, the believer has the freedom not only to serve the Lord in His Presence but also to communicate with Him.
The mechanics of access are evident in Ephesians 3:12. The believer's being in Christ is the basis for access. Since in Christ the believer is a priest and near to God, he can have boldness and access with confidence. "In whom we are having boldness and access by confidence through faith in Him." Boldness and access share the common idea of approach. The believer can have freedom of speech in the presence of God as well as a ready access. Confidence must have its roots in faith that is centered in the facts that surround all that the Christian has in Christ. Without knowledge that in Christ he is highly favored (Eph. 1:6) and considered complete (Col. 2:9, 10), he can only have limited confidence in the matter of approach to God. When the believer is living in his position in Christ as a spiritual believer, there is nothing that can prohibit his approaching God the Father. When this is understood, it behooves the Christian to gain an experiential knowledge by living in his position; and as a result, he has a confidence that encourages his approach to God. The confidence is activated by faith that has Christ as its object [objective genitive]. Paul makes the progression clear. Faith in Christ gives the believer confidence by which he utilizes the boldness and access that he has in Christ. It is crucial for the believer to be directing his faith toward Christ through the Word of God in order to make use of His approach to God in his everyday living.
"Jesus says to him, I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me (Jn. 14:6)." This familiar passage describes much more than salvation for it also clearly predicts the believer's access. Christ anticipated His going to the Father's house where there are many dwelling places and His preparing a place there for believers (14:2, 3). He promised that He would return so that He could receive the believer to Himself and thus believers would be with Him. "And where I am going you intuitively know and the way you intuitively know (Jn. 14:4)." Christ assumed that the disciples would know the place where He was going for He had just spoken of the Father's house. The prospect of access to the Father's house should have been evident since Christ had just told the disciples that He was going to prepare a place then come for them so that they could inhabit the place in His presence. But with all the clarity of the context of Christ's discourse, Thomas raised his hand like a confused student with a question. "Lord, we do not intuitively know where you are going away, or how we can intuitively know the way (14:5)." Christ is the Way for access to the Father. Only through Christ will it be possible for any human to enter the presence of the Father. A believer has the right to approach the Father only through Christ. He has no right to approach God on his own merit or worth. Christ is the Way. Christ promised to return and to take believers physically to the dwelling place He is preparing. After Christ's return for the Church, He will actually present the Church to the Father (1 Thess. 3:13). At that point, all who are in Christ will recognize the access gained by Christ whether they have experienced access in this life or not. It is clear that the way to the Father is Christ. Because of Christ's work, it is possible for the believer in Christ to have the access while on earth to the Father spiritually before he has any physical access. Christ has provided for the spiritual salvation of the human spirit and will in the future actually save the body and soul. A part of that salvation is the way of access in Christ Himself.
Under Law, the way into the presence of God was not manifested. There was no access except on the Day of Atonement. In fact, Scripture barely describes it as worthy of being identified as a way of access. "The Holy Spirit making this evident, the way of the holiest had not yet been brought to light, the first tabernacle still possessing a standing (Heb. 9:8)." Even though the high priest entered the holy of holies, the way of access had not yet been revealed. There was limited access to an earthly representation of a heavenly reality. True access was not available. It had not been revealed. By the time Hebrews was written, the Holy Spirit had made it clear that the first tabernacle was only a parable (Heb. 9:9 Gk.) of what was made available through the work of Christ. The Way had been kept a secret.
In Hebrews 10:19, a compound form of "way," eisodos, is a stronger form than the simple, short word. The eis preposition is a prefix strengthening the form to mean "the way into." The grace believer has a way, but more than that, a way into the presence of God. "Having therefore, brothers, boldness for (eis) the way into [or entrance] the holies by the blood of Jesus." Christ's presentation of His blood makes entrance possible. Entrance is gained by the physical death of Christ. Christ has bought the ticket for the believers admission into the very Holy of Holies. Whether or not the believer uses the ticket to the Holy of Holies in his life is entirely a decision he must make for himself. Undoubtedly, there are believers who have rarely, if ever, enjoyed a relationship to the heavenly holy of holies. The character of the way is evident in Hebrews 10:20. It is a way "that He inaugurated for us, a way freshly slain and living through the veil, that is His flesh." Christ inaugurated, dedicated, consecrated, instituted and initiated a new way of approach. The word "consecrate" or "inaugurate" has the root idea of "making new in." Christ, by His work, established something new. It is so new that it is identified as a freshly slain way indicating that it was a very recent event. Christ provided a living way. Both of the adjectival forms describe the way by contrasting it with the sacrificial system of the Law. Under Law, sacrifices that were freshly slain were dead and only of value for one purpose. They met the requirements of the Law accomplishing the intended purpose of the offerer who brought the sacrifice to be offered. Christ is a freshly slain and yet living sacrifice who gives free, direct access. Christ is the Way.
Approach involves the believer's activity. He must go toward God or approach God to appropriate the access that has been provided. Some may approach assuming that they have access being filled with confidence in the revelation from Scripture. Others will come with reluctance filled with uncertainty because of their lack of knowledge of Scripture or because of their spiritual condition. The way a believer approaches God is based on his understanding of a wide spectrum of biblical revelation. Communication with God, the sufficiency of the work of Christ, and the roles of the Godhead in salvation and Christian living are essential elements for understanding the potentials for approach to God. In every dispensation, approach to God was based on faith alone.
In the chronology of the major acts of faith in the Old Testament, faith is seen as essential for approach to God. "But without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to God even once; for it is necessary for the one who is approaching God to believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of the ones who are seeking Him (Heb. 11:6)." Any approach to God at any time was based on faith. Access to God in salvation always required faith and faith alone. Salvation in the dispensation of grace includes an initial approach to God by faith. "Wherefore He has the power to be saving into all end time the ones who are approaching God through Him, while always living with the purpose of interceding on their behalf (Heb. 7:25)." Christ is continually saving the ones who approach the Father through Him [the Way]. Not only is a believer saved at the moment of his faith in Christ, but also the intercessory ministry of Christ is saving him. When the believer approaches God through Christ in salvation, he essentially believes that Christ has made adequate provision for access to the Father. This is one of the reasons Scripture teaches that faith in Christ at salvation also involves faith concerning the Father. Salvation provides an acceptable approach to God through Christ. Christ is the Way of approach and maintains that Way. A proper relationship to Christ is the basis for the way of approach. Salvation not only provides a way of access but also involves an approach to God through Christ to be saved.
The Law could never make those who approach God mature. In Christ, there is a potential for spiritual maturity that did not exist under the Mosaic Law. No matter how righteous a man was under the Law or how well versed he was in the Law, he had no hope for spiritual maturity. If he offered every kind of sacrifice possible every day of his life, a believing Israelite could never hope to mature. Men often preach that legal principles are necessary for Christian maturity. Scripture teaches that legal principles will never cause any maturity. Great believers under the Mosaic Law were all immature believers. Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Caleb, Gideon, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Hezekiah, Isaiah and Jeremiah had no potential for spiritual maturity because the Law could not bring one of them to maturity. One wonders if the dearth of maturing Christians in the Church today is not partially due to the extensive use of character studies of Law believers in preaching and teaching. The few believers, who attempt to attain the level of righteousness of the Law believer, will always be immature Christians from God's perspective. Any Old Testament believer who approached God, whether priest or high priest, could never mature. "For the Law possessing the shadow of the good things that are coming, and not the image itself of the things, does not have the power itself ever by the same sacrifices that they are offering continually every year to make the ones who are approaching mature (Heb. 10:1)." The same principle has also been discussed in Hebrews 7:11. The means of approach was limited to an earthly representation of a heavenly reality. Even when the Shekinah glory of God was manifested, direct access was impossible. Only a few men had any access of consequence with God. Jehovah always initiated the approach for the individual. Even Moses, whose face shone with the glory of God, did not have the kind of access that the grace believer does. Moses, who had spoken with God, did not have the potential for spiritual maturation. David was identified as a man after God's own heart but could not mature spiritually. All of the wisdom given to Solomon could not bring him maturity. Not one of the Old Testament saints could even hope to possess any measure of spiritual maturity. They were not immature because of the lack of revelation but were immature because God had not provided a way for them to mature spiritually. They could not mature by keeping the law!
Legalism separated man from God. Mount Sinai is used as an illustration of the kind of approach a believing Israelite had to God. "For you [grace believers] have not approached a mount that is being handled and being burned with fire and to darkness, and to thick gloom, and to a hurricane, and the sound of the trumpet, and a voice of utterances, that the ones hearing entreated that not a single word be added to them, for they could not bear the thing accurately charged; if even a beast should happen to touch the mountain, it will be stoned, and that which appeared continually was fearful, that Moses, said, I am terrified and shaking (Heb. 12:18-21)." They could come to the foot of Mount Sinai but that was the extent of the approach no matter what accompanied the approach. They could look and listen but could not touch or come any nearer to God. When they observed the phenomena that the presence of Jehovah produced, the people and Moses were filled with extreme fear. Approach was limited by the prohibitions that were reinforced by the manifestation of Jehovah's power.
On the other hand, the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews will have access to Mount Zion. Because of Who is there and what is there, there will be a closer approach to Zion than Israel ever had to Sinai when Jehovah was there. The access one will have in the future millennial kingdom will involve a freedom to approach Zion without prohibitions. "But you have approached unto Mount Zion even the city of the living God, to a heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels in assembly, and the Church of firstborn ones that stand written in heavens, and to God the judge of all men, and to spirits of righteous ones standing as having been brought to completion, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that is speaking a better thing than Abel (Heb. 12:22-24)." Six groups, persons or things are seen in Zion, the city of God, that is the heavenly Jerusalem: a festive assembly of myriads of angels, the Church, God the Father, patriarchal saints from Adam to Abraham [spirits of just men], Jesus Christ and the blood of Christ. The New Jerusalem will be a place of approach. Some will dwell in the New Jerusalem while others will have access to the city and the members of the Godhead who will establish Their residence there. Israelites on earth will have better access than Gentiles living on earth because the Gentiles will be totally reliant upon the Jews to have any access to the New Jerusalem at all.
The grace believer's present access is unique. When the spiritual believer approaches his God, he approaches a throne of grace. While the throne itself does not possess grace, those who sit on it possess grace. God the Father is the God of grace. God the Son is seated on the throne at the Father's right hand and He has been the manifestation of grace in His provision of salvation and all its benefits. The Son's presence emphasizes the fact that the believer comes in grace having access by grace in the character of Christ. As the Father looks on the Christian who comes to the throne, He directs His love toward the spiritual believer and manifests that love in His gracious response to the qualified believer who has approached the throne. "Let us therefore approach with boldness to the throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy, and that we may find grace with reference to help at a good time (Heb. 4:16)." There is a potential for receiving mercy if mercy is needed and for finding grace for help at a good time. The believer can anticipate a positive response to his approach because his approach is in Christ. A spiritual believer should not be reluctant to use his access to God. Access involves more than communication though Hebrews 4:16 does refer to communication when the believer needs mercy and grace.
The believer must be in a proper spiritual condition to approach his God. "Let us approach with a true heart by a full assurance from faith, the hearts standing as being sprinkled from a malignantly evil conscience and standing as having the body washed in clean water (Heb. 10:22)." When one approaches with a true heart, he has the ability to see things as they really are and to grasp them with his rationale as well as his emotion. There is an awareness of his coming to the Father in Christ and he has confidence that Christ's work is sufficient. A believer should not be reluctant to utilize the approach that God has provided. A spiritual believer has no excuse for avoiding approach to God because he has a proper mental attitude. His approach is by a full assurance that finds its source in faith. As the believer approaches, he comes acknowledging that the access not only exists but also is available for his use. Many believers establish a set of human criteria by which they believe that they have access without any regard for the clear teaching of Scripture. Human requirements will often directly affect the conscience of the individual believer. Conscience involves a basic comparison of what a person knows with what he does [i.e. his activity]. As long as he contradicts what he knows by his behavior, his conscience reacts and attempts to preserve his personal sense of selfintegrity. If a believer has been taught that wearing a beard is not acceptable to God and he grows a beard, his conscience will react to the situation and he may have problems concerning his access to God. A man-made teaching concerning the wearing of a beard can produce a malignantly evil conscience that attempts to place others under standards that have no support in Scripture. Whether a man wears a beard or not, does not affect his access to God and should never prevent his approach to God. In addition to this illustration there are many other things that can affect the conscience of an individual.
Conscience is only as valuable as the accuracy of the intuitive knowledge that the believer possesses. Inaccurate, non-biblical information, that affects a person's behavior, can easily produce a bad conscience when proper things are done. When the Christian has accurate biblical information and lives in light of it, his conscience will be aligned with the revealed Word of God. Whether the information is right or wrong does not make conscience a moral instrument. It is only as moral or immoral as the information it possesses. When a Christian approaches God with a malignantly evil conscience, he is filled with confusion concerning his right to access. He is uncertain as to whether God will accept him or not. In some instances, believers do not even attempt to approach God because their evil conscience says that their behavior and knowledge do not match up and God would refuse to give them the access that they seek. If the believer's heart is a true heart, it sees things as they really are. Instantly, he comprehends the uniqueness of the privilege of direct access from Scripture and approaches God filled with appreciation at such a privilege. Because of Christ's provision of the way of access, all believers are encouraged to become participants in direct approach as spiritual Christians.
Access and approach are directly related to the priesthood of the believer in 1 Peter 2:4. One of the reasons for approach is to offer up spiritual sacrifices. Approach is a positive reaction to God's goodness. "Since you have tasted for yourself that the Lord is good toward whom approaching for yourselves a living stone (1 Pe. 2:3, 4)." The believer's response to the beneficence of God is approach. It is profitable for the believer to approach God because of the good benefits that are provided to the believer-priest who approaches God. As a believer-priest comes to God, he is counted competent to have direct access. He is motivated by both what he knows and what he has previously tasted. In salvation, he has tasted and found God to be good. God has offered him the privilege of continued access with the potential for tasting more of God's provisions. He has tasted and comes back for more knowing that God has made provision for access and having no reluctance in his approach.
As has already been said, access is not true access unless the believer has a biblical attitude toward his access to God. Some believers stampede the throne of grace presumptuously assuming that access demands Divine attention. As a result, these believers make unreasonable, irresponsible demands on God. Other believers are reluctant to approach God because of an attitude of timidity. Some fear God while others have no assurance that God will accept them into His presence. The attitude God expects from the believer is expressed by the word "boldness." Boldness is not brashness. It is a translation of the Greek term parresia that is derived from a root that means "speech." It has the idea of a freedom in speaking and so came to refer to boldness in speech. As a result, when the believer approaches God, he approaches with openness and a frankness coming from a confidence that in turn comes from faith (Heb. 4:16; 10:19). When the believer approaches the throne of grace, he has the assurance that in his access to God there is a Divine response to him that is not available to carnal believers or unbelievers. Boldness involves a well thought out, sensible presentation of the believer's thoughts and activities to God.
A believer's boldness has its basis in his being in Christ Jesus. "in whom we possess the boldness ... (Eph. 3:12)." Because the believer is in Christ, he should be fully assured and confident that his access relates to how God the Father sees him in Christ. The believer possesses the right of speech. Communication is possible because the Father sees him in Christ approaching in the righteousness of Christ. Paul infers that being ashamed is the opposite of boldness (Phil. 1:20). In Christ, the believer approaches his Heavenly Father with head held high and not hung down in shame. He comes with no merit of his own but in all that he has in Christ. In Christ, the believer approaches the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). An individual who steps forward to approach the throne of an earthly potentate is not normally bold. One must follow proper protocol to make an acceptable approach. He goes before an earthly ruler giving due respect to the person who holds the superior position. Down before the throne, any freedom of speech is limited. It is limited by the time allotted, by the rulers feelings and response, by other people seeking access, and by physical encumbrances. The best planned speeches are forgotten. Important requests are neglected. Self-consciousness may bring personal frustration. The throne of an earthly king is elevated on a dais so that an approaching person must look up toward the one who sits on the throne. He is separated from the ruler by the dais. The Christian is not separated from his God by a dais nor is he forced to look up in abject humiliation. He is seated on the throne of God in Christ at the Fathers right hand. He is in the position of privilege. He always has immediate access to the Father's ear and attention, and thus can come with boldness freely speaking to the Father.
When the believer understands the provisions of the work of Christ, he should have boldness to approach God. "While having therefore, brothers, boldness for the entry of the holiest by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19)." When Christ's blood was applied to the heavenly altar, He made a way into the Holy of Holies possible so that the believer could enter with boldness. Boldness does not come from ignorance or haughtiness but is a confidence that springs from knowledge that adequate provision has been made so that acceptance is possible. It is not to be imagined, but to be experientially known in the life of the believer and thus appropriated in practice.
Boldness in approach to God has a definite influence on the believer's communication with God. This is especially true when the believer asks for himself, aiteo. "Beloved, if our heart does not happen to blame us, we are having confidence with God the Father, and whatever we ask for ourselves we are receiving from Him (1 Jn. 3:20, 21)." Asking communication is only made by the believer for himself. Asking is to be done in the character of Christ (Jn. 14:13, 14) and according to the desirous will of God (1 Jn. 5:14). Asking communication, when done by an abiding believer, has no uncertainty as to its answer (Jn. 15:16). When the believer asks for himself, he knows that he will certainly receive the thing asked for. The believer only needs to ask once and have the confidence that if he has asked in a proper way God will respond and provide the thing asked for. "And this is the boldness that we have toward Him, that if we ask for ourselves [middle voice] anything according to His desirous will, He is hearing us, whatever we ask for ourselves, we know that we have the things asked for that we have asked for ourselves from Him (1 Jn. 5:14, 15)." Because of the spiritual believer's access, he should have boldness when using asking communication. One must know what the will of God is in order to receive the thing he asks for in his communication. This access is unique for the grace believer. "Up until now you have not asked anything in My name; be asking, and you will receive, in order that your joy may be standing as being filled (Jn. 16:24)." No other believers before grace believers had this kind of access in communication. Boldness was not possible in Old Testament communication with God but is now available to the grace believer. A spiritual believer should be in such a condition as to approach the throne of grace with boldness feeling free to speak and share with God the Father. Boldness is a sensible, balanced attitude based in knowledge of the work of Christ and all of its provisions. A calm confidence should possess the believer in every aspect of his approach to God. God has promised to respond to the believer in His goodness.
If the believer knows the Father sees him in his position in Christ, he will actively draw near to God in practice. It is clearly the believer's responsibility to take the initiative and appropriate that which God has provided for him in Christ. "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you, Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double souled ones (Jas. 4:8)." Drawing near to God does not simply involve reading the Bible and praying. If the believer appropriates his position in Christ for himself, he is drawing near to God. He mentally counts it to be so because the Word of God says that he is made near to God in Christ. As he lives in light of that knowledge, the Godhead then has an effective ministry in his life.
Soul liberty, when controlled by the believer's position in Christ, will be free from abuses that normally arise when it is taught. Because of free access, the believer is counted to be competent to approach God. He alone is accountable to God for his theological position and system of belief. Before God, he has the right to choose the local church with which he will affiliate. He can expect to reap either the benefits of his decisions or the adversities from the decisions. His freedom, competency and individualism must be controlled by his access to God. All decisions should be considered from the Divine perspective rather than the human perspective. It is evident that some decisions that the believer is free to make are not what God would desire, but who but God can confront such problems through His Word? If a decision is openly contradictory to truth given for the grace believer, the Word of God is the basis for confronting the believer by another believer. In essence, such a confrontation is to be God confronting man through His Word. Man has no authority outside the Word of God. The believer is accountable to God alone. When he chooses to unite with a local church, he submits to a form of human authority as is evidenced in the legal documents of the local church. In such a relationship, the believer's access to God supersedes his relationship to the local assembly. He has voluntarily subjected himself to the authority of the church. Ideally, a group of believers gathered together should share in the same accountability to God because of their access and the local church should stand before God as a corporate unit comprised of competent believers who have individual access to God.
"Am I competent?" Every grace believer is counted to be competent before God from a biblical perspective. No believer ever enters God's presence by his own right, but always enters in Christ. Christ is the believer's representative while he is living in Him. There is no magic formula for the believers to have access to God. Some churches have special prayers of access in their communion services; but if a believer is truly a believer, there is no need to petition God for access. Direct and free access has been provided by Christ's work giving the believer a way of approach to God with no external interference. No creed, ecclesiastical hierarchy, member of a religious sect or ceremony can gain anyone personal access to God. God Himself establishes the competency of the grace believer. Direct access assumes direct accountability. The privilege of admittance into the presence of God permits the believer to share with God knowing that in Christ, as a spiritual believer, he has God's attention. Soul competency, theological individualism and soul liberty are all based on the believer's free and direct access to God. Since Christ is the believer's High Priest, the provision of a way of access is maintained. Free access is accomplished through a unique priesthood under Christ, the High Priest.
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One of the most practical relationships Christ has with the Christian is that of High Priest over a kingdom of priests. As our High Priest, He heads the order of Melchisedec. Being of the lineage of David and of the tribe of Judah perfectly qualifies Christ to be king but prohibited Him from being a priest of the order of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. Scripture clearly describes Christ as a high priest of the order of Melchisedec who was both priest and king. What Genesis describes concerning Melchisedec in three verses is expanded into extensive material in Hebrews 5-7. Christ's High Priestly ministry is superior to that of Aaron and is one of the better things provided under grace. Christ is a priest after the order of Melchisedec as well as the High Priest of the same order.
Scripture gives a list of requirements that every high priest had to meet in order to perform the services of the office. In order for Christ to be a high priest, it was necessary for Him to meet the requirements. The requirements are not optional but mandatory for one to hold the office. "For every high priest being taken from men ... (Heb. 5:1b)" identifies the fact that no high priest exists without meeting these requirements in order to be acceptable to God for service.
He Must Be of the Human Race. The high priest was to be a male of the human race. "For every high priest being taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things directed toward God ... (Heb. 5:1)." He was taken from among men to act as a substitute for men before God. Since Christ was to be a high priest, the incarnation was necessary. There were other reasons for the incarnation, but it is clear that His union with a human nature was necessary for Him to be considered a high priest for men. Because of the arrangements made in eternity past, the plan of God required that Christ take on the form and nature of man. Every high priest was taken from among men. An angel, cherub or seraph could never function as a high priest. Christ emptied Himself of a portion of His glory and took upon Himself the form of a slave to God the Father and was made in the likeness of man (Phil. 2:7). Aaron was to be taken "from the midst of the sons of Israel (Ex. 28:1)." Every high priest in the Levitical Priesthood was taken from among the sons of Israel. As the God-man, Jesus Christ functioned as a human being thereby qualifying Himself to be a high priest.
He Must Be Appointed by God. Hebrews 5:1 teaches that in order for one to be a high priest, he can only enter the office by Divine appointment. God has the absolute right to determine to whom He wants to give the privilege. The word "appoint" is the normal word used for an authoritative appointment to a particular priesthood. The purpose of the appointment was to offer gifts and sacrifices under the Law (Heb. 8:3). Christ did not make Himself to be a high priest. God the Father appointed Him to the position. The appointment of the Son was predicted in Psalm 2:7, "Let me recall concerning the decree, Jehovah has said unto me, You -- my Son; today I have appointed [or constituted or begotten] you." Hebrews 5:5 clearly relates Psalm 2:7 to Christ becoming a high priest. "So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become a high priest but the One who spoke to Him...." This is immediately followed by the quotation of Psalm 2:7. As further proof of the appointment of the Son to His high priestly position, a clear reference is made to Psalm 110:4. "As He also is saying in another or different place: You -- a priest into the age according to the order of Melchisedec (Heb. 5:6)." Christ is clearly the divinely appointed [or ordained] High Priest.
He Must Have Something to Be Offered. It was necessary for the high priest to not only be eligible to approach God but also to bring gifts and offerings to God. "... In order that He might offer both gifts and sacrifices on behalf of sin (Heb. 5:1c)." Because of the condition of mankind, such offerings were necessary. Man needed a mediator who would stand in his place, offering acceptable sacrifices for sins as well as for all other forms of unrighteousness. A high priest could only function in the office of sacrificer and offerer if he was appointed by God. "And because of it [human infirmity or weakness], he has the obligation, as concerning the people, so also concerning himself, to be offering concerning sins (Heb. 5:3)." There is no question that there is an adequate need for a high priest, but the question is whether there is a high priest who has the capability of presenting acceptable sacrifices and service to God. A polluted high priest could not offer an acceptable sacrifice for anyone. Christ offered Himself, giving the supreme sacrifice of His own life. He not only offered a sufficient sacrifice but also a permanent sacrifice.
He Must Have Compassion. A high priest must be capable of having sympathy for those who come to him. It was essential that he be objective while understanding the needs and problems of the human condition. The High Priest was one "Who was able to be having compassion for the ones who are ignorant, and who are being made to wander, since he also is compassed around with weakness (Heb. 5:2)." The humanity of the High Priest makes it possible for him to relate to the depraved activities of mankind whether done in ignorance or whether they are led astray even to the point of sinning. Christ meets all of the qualifications for being a sympathetic high priest even though He did not sin. "For we are not having a high priest not having the ability [or inherent power] to sympathize [or to have compassion] with our weaknesses, but having been tempted in all respects, according to our likeness without a sin principle (Heb. 4:15)." A high priest needed to relate to the deficiencies of men and understand the exact problems of men. Under Law, he had to ascertain what weakness of man was involved in an unrighteous activity so that he could advise the one who needed to bring a sacrifice as to which offering should be brought: a sin or a trespass offering. If he lacked the ability to identify with the man, he could have prescribed the wrong sacrifice. Christ experienced the whole gamut of temptation yet He did not possess a sin nature and could not have sinned though He could be tempted.
Christ, the Christian's High Priest, meets all the requirements for being a high priest. It is important for the believer to recognize the absolute sufficiency of Christ's position and activity as a high priest. After He proved that He met all the requirements for being a high priest, He was made a high priest with the Father making the appointment official. As a result, the grace believer can have confidence in his Heavenly High Priest and His ministry.
When one organizes or systematizes the doctrine of Christ [i.e. Christology], he will often arrange a section around the offices of Christ. As is normal, it is necessary to divide the inseparable for a proper analysis. The three offices of Christ are the offices of prophet, priest and king. Each one is distinct in the Bible when related to individual human beings. Under Law, one was either a priest, a king or a prophet with a distinctiveness and detachment between each office clearly maintained. It is true that there is an exception with Melchisedec who was both a priest and a king. At times in history, the offices overlapped but the distinction was normally maintained. Christ is directly involved in all three functions. As has already been seen, Christ has been appointed to the priestly office by the Father. He is also seen as a prophet in Scripture.
Peter clearly described Christ as the prophet who fulfilled the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15 in his message in Acts 3:20-22. "A prophet from your midst, from your brothers like unto me, Jehovah your God will cause to stand for you; unto Him you will listen (Deut. 18:15)." Christ clearly identified Himself as a prophet in Matthew 13:57 and Luke 13:33. When Christ performed the miracle of the feeding of the multitude with loaves and fishes, they identified Him as the One who fulfilled Moses' prophecy of one who would come as a prophet (Jn. 6:14). When Christ predicted the sending of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:37-39), many of the people responded by saying that Jesus was truly the prophet (Jn. 7:40). When Christ presented truth in words, it was counted as a part of His prophetic ministry. The acceptance or rejection of His Word as a prophet was the basis for judgment (Jn. 12:48). His words were considered the very words of the Father (Jn. 14:10) rather than His own. He began His prophetic ministry at His baptism, which was the event that officially inaugurated His three and a half year earthly ministry.
Christ is not only a priest, but He is now also the High Priest. The basis for His priestly ministry is evident in that He was appointed to be a priest of an entirely different order -- the order of Melchisedec. It is clear that Christ's priestly ministry was planned and thereby established in the decree (cf. Psa. 110:4; Psa. 2:7) even though it was actually accomplished in His earthly ministry.
Christ is seen as king in three respects. He will be the King over all of Israel because He is of the tribe of Judah and of the royal family of David (Isa. 9:6, Lu. 1:30-32) in the future. Presently, He is the Head of the kingdom that is identified as "the kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13)" that involves His kingly priesthood (Heb. 7) and the kingdom of believer-priests (1 Pe. 2:9; Rev. 1:6). In the millennial kingdom, He will be "King of kings, and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16; 17:14)" as a result of His triumph in His second coming.
Christ was appointed to be a priest in the decree, but it was necessary for the plan of the Godhead to be implemented in His life. Without the incarnation, the priestly ministry of Christ would not have met the Divine standards for priesthood (Heb. 5:1). He was a priest "in the days of His flesh (Heb. 5:7)." "The days of His flesh" are clearly identified as relating to His earthly ministry. "Who in the days of His flesh offering both supplications and entreaties with evidently strong crying and tears toward the one having the power to save Him from death and being heard from His reverence (Heb. 5:7)." His earthly ministry was culminated with His death. It was officially inaugurated at His baptism (Lu. 3:22; Jn. 1:32, 33; Mk. 1:9-11; Matt. 3:13-17). Christ became the High Priest at His ascension. "Having therefore a great High Priest having gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold the confession (Heb. 4:14)." With His ascension into heaven, He showed Himself to be a qualified High Priest. Christ was a priest during His earthly ministry, but was not the High Priest until His ascension. His ascending through the heavens demonstrated His deity confirming all His qualifications. Christ did not make Himself either priest or High Priest (Heb. 5:5, 6), but the Father was the One who appointed the God-man to be involved in priestly and high priestly service. The acceptability of Christ's High Priesthood with the Father is evident in the fact that the Father permitted His humanity to be seated at His right hand in the third heaven.
If Jesus Christ was to serve as a priest, it was necessary for Him to be of a different order of priests than the Aaronic order of priesthood. He was born of the tribe of Judah and therefore unqualified for Levitical service. In eternity past, the Godhead was fully aware of the need for another order of acceptable priestly service. This was made possible through the order of Melchisedec. The Old Testament only has three verses that present Melchisedec in historical narrative to the reader of Scripture. In his case, there are more verses of prophecy and prophetic fulfillment describing him than the initial historical account of his existence in Genesis 14:18-20. He is mentioned in Psalm 110:4 completing the Old Testament revelation concerning him. In the New Testament, he is mentioned by name ten times with a majority of the passages referring to his order of priesthood (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17, 21). More consequential details are given concerning the order of the priesthood in Hebrews than anywhere else in the Bible. Melchisedec is described as the king of Salem and the priest of the Most High God (Gen. 14:18) who blessed Abram and received tithes from Abram of the spoil of battle (Gen. 14:19, 20). That is all of the revelation given in the historical account by Moses. There is no mention that an order of priests was propagated by Melchisedec or that there was any priestly succession by his physical seed. When one looks in retrospect, it appears that his whole priesthood was Divinely arranged so that Christ could function in His priestly office legitimately without being subject to question. Without the previous arrangement, it would have been difficult for anyone to see the significance of Christ's priestly office. Christ is a priest down from, kata, the order of Melchisedec (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 17, 21). The word "order," taxis, describes an arrangement of individuals that makes them a unique group. Originally, the term carried military connotations. A platoon would stand in an orderly fashion as a military unit. It was distinct from other platoons by its own orderly fashion as a special unit. Gradually, the term came to indicate that the group of whatever kind was a distinct class that kept its own order. Hence, an order of priests was governed by the rules for the priesthood making it distinct from other people and other priests. In the order of Melchisedec, there is a similarity to the Aaronic priesthood but the author of Hebrews makes it clear that the supremacy of the order of Melchisedec is far greater. The supremacy is evident in the characteristics of the order of Melchisedec.
The order of Melchisedec is not built on the matter of one's pedigree or genealogy. The history of one's family or life was of no importance. This is illustrated in the life of Melchisedec himself. "Without father, without mother, without genealogy while having neither beginning of days nor an end of life, having been made like the Son of God, abiding a priest perpetually (Heb. 7:3)." In the Genesis account, there is no record of any of the vital statistics for Melchisedec aside from his offices of priest and king. This does not teach that he was a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Son. He was made like the Son of God. The verb has the idea of more than simply being made like but more accurately means to be made like a copy of the original. The copy is based on the fact that Scripture does not reveal a genealogy for Melchisedec though undoubtedly it would have been possible to compose one if a genealogist was present in his lifetime. God the Son does not have a genealogy because He is eternal. There is no such thing as the eternal generation of God the Son found in Scripture. The Son has been the Son [also identified as the Word] sharing in the essential [pertaining to the essence) authority and rights of the Godhead. In reality, His eternality removes any possibility for a pedigree. God does not have or need a pedigree because He is God. The same is true for each Person of the Trinity. In other words, the order of Melchisedec is not based on any form of succession. The individual was considered by himself with no consideration of the contributions of other individuals toward his right to serve as a priest. God's sovereign appointment made Melchisedec a priest. There is no indication that Melchisedec was ever considered to be a high priest. Some have believed that his name is an indication that he was a high priest because it means "king of righteousness" (Heb. 7:2 cf. Hebrew). His name simply ties his priesthood with his ruling as a king evidently predicting from his birth that he was to be a kingly priest in his life.
Psalm 110:4 is the pivotal passage concerning Christ's participation in the order of Melchisedec because it is quoted three times in Hebrews. Three different verbs are employed to introduce the quotation. In Hebrews 5:6 the quotation is introduced by the conventional "he says" while in 7:17 it is "he testifies or bears witness for himself" and in 7:21 it is "The Lord swore." As the teaching of Hebrews progresses, the author uses stronger words to present the quotation beginning with the simple "he says" and ultimately reveals that an oath was made to seal the promise of Christ's priestly ministry. Scripture cannot be changed. It bears record of the certainty of the commitment made between the Father and the Son. God the Son received His priesthood because of an oath made by God the Father that was unchanging and unchangeable. The triple affirmation was given to make it clear that Christ's priestly ministry was a legitimate priestly ministry that superseded the Aaronic priesthood. In Psalm 110, it is clear that the one who was to serve as a priest would also serve as a king.
The Son's position at the right hand of the Father is presented in Psalm 110. "And Jehovah was saying to my Lord [Adonai], Sit at my right hand, until I proceed to set your enemies as a stool for your feet (Psa. 110:1)." He is in a position of power and privilege at the right hand. "The Lord upon your right hand will shatter kings in the day of His anger (Psa. 110:5)." Christ is seen in a position of power and He will also administer governmental power in activity. At the appropriate time, He will rule and have dominion in the midst of His enemies (110:2). His people will be willing in the day when His power will be revealed. They will see the beauty of holiness. The manifestation of His holiness will directly relate to His being a priest that had been confirmed by an oath (Psa. 110:4). His power as the King is evident in His judgment. "He will judge among the nations, He will fill with corpses: He has shattered the head over much land (Psa. 110:6)." Between the description of Christ as the King and His conquest is the guarantee of His priesthood after the order of Melchisedec. When Christ was seated at the Fathers right hand, He assumed the role of King and of High Priest even though He had been a priest in His earthly ministry.
Christ was more than a priest of the order of Melchisedec. He was also a high priest of the same order. Hebrews 5:10 indicates that His high priestly position was given to Him by the Father by proclamation. "Having been declared [or designated] by God a high priest according to the order of Melchisedec." The Father "spoke toward" or "declared" Christ to be a high priest. Jesus became, ginomai, a high priest (Heb. 6:20) as a result.
It is a Perpetual Priesthood. The priesthood of Melchisedec is a continuous priesthood. It is unbroken. He "... remains a priest into perpetuity [eis to dienekes -- or as an adverb -- continually] (Heb. 7:3)." An examination of the root gives a clearer picture of the duration of the priesthood. It is derived from a form of the verb diaphero that means, "to carry through." In other words, the priesthood of Melchisedec carries on. Melchisedec had been its only priest until Christ became a priest. It came through the intervening centuries becoming even more valid when Christ actually appropriated that which had been sworn by the Father. Some interpret it as an eternal priesthood because of this term and the eis ton aiona of Heb. 5:6 and 6:20. The "continually" of 7:3 does not denote eternality. In Hebrews 10:1 the phrase describes the sacrifices offered under Law as continual sacrifices. The Divine Author of Hebrews knew that the sacrifices of the Law would cease with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Roman general Titus. The sacrifice of Christ was offered once for sins carrying it on until it was no longer needed (Heb. 10:12). As a sacrifice for sins, it continued as long as people sinned. After the final judgment of unbelievers at the White Throne Judgment, there will no longer be a need for the sacrifice for sins to carry over. The unbelievers will suffer punishment being incarcerated in the Lake of Fire. The Old Testament, tribulation and millennial saints will possess a new heart that will prevent them from sinning, and they will no longer possess a sin nature. Church saints will have a new heart and a glorified body possessing no sin nature. Satan and his demons will be cast into the Lake of Fire while his world system will be completely destroyed. The spiritual enemies that bring temptation will be gone so the sacrifice of Christ for sins will no longer be an immediate necessity. The aspect of His offering that carries into the distant future is that it provides a position of maturity for the grace believer [a positionally sanctified one] continually (Heb. 10:14).
A question which must be considered is the "forever," eis ton aiona, of Hebrews 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21, and 24. The Greek phrase simply translated means "into the age." It can refer to eternity or it can refer to an age depending on its context. A clear example of the problem is Hebrews 9:26 where the plural of aion occurs. The Authorized Version translates the term as "world," an inaccurate translation. A better translation is "upon the completion of the ages." In 11:3, the plural is again translated "world." "Through faith we are understanding the ages have been adjusted by an utterance of God...." In 6:5, the Authorized Version translates the singular aion by "world" knowing that the Greek participle translated "to come" prevents the concept of eternality. It is best translated "the coming age." In every context in which the preposition eis, article ton and noun aion occur together, one must carefully examine the details of the particular context to determine whether or not it is a reference to an age [with time limitations] or to eternity [with no time involved]. Context will always set the bounds for an accurate translation of the form. The Hebrew text of Psalm 110:4 originally employed the Hebrew combination l'olam that can also be used either way though it far more frequently refers to eternity rather than ages. Because of the Hebrew, it is evident that Christ will be a priest forever. In Hebrews 6:20, He is seen as being a high priest into the age. There will no longer be a need for Him to be a high priest at the conclusion of the legal age with the completion of Daniel's 70th week. His high priestly ministry will be phased out with the establishing of the kingdom. He will continue to remain a priest forever.
It Is a Magnificent Priesthood. "But be contemplating how magnificent this man was to whom the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth from the spoils (Heb. 7:4)." The magnificence of Melchisedec makes Christ's priesthood magnificent. Its magnificence is quantative as well as qualitative. Under Law, every person was required to give a tithe from the high priest downward. Because the sons of Levi were in the loins of Abraham, they were directly involved in the giving of tithes to Melchisedec. Even though his tithe cost him nothing, Abraham still gave to a priest whom he considered worthy of such a gift. Abraham did not offer the tithe as a payment for the bread and wine that Melchisedec provided but gave it because he was a priest; and as a result, Melchisedec gave him a blessing -- the greater blessing the lesser (Heb. 7:7). He is clearly of a different family of people. The Levitical priesthood was considered inferior and by necessity the Melchisedician priesthood was instituted (Heb. 7:11). It was a far greater priesthood than the Aaronic. In Melchisedec, the superiority of priesthood was evident, but in Christ the magnitude of the priesthood is evident. Under Christ, all Christians are priests and hence quantatively the priesthood is far greater. Christ as the God-man brought the magnificence that only deity and perfect humanity could bring to a priesthood. A comparison of Melchisedec and Aaron is easy for the differences are not great while a comparison of Christ and Aaron is difficult because of the extreme differences between the two. The magnitude of the priesthood of Melchisedec is very clear in the fact that it was a priesthood above the Mosaic Law changing the Law. God gave the Melchisedecian priesthood its magnificence. He gave the Mosaic Law and superseded it with the provisions for Christ's participation in the priesthood of Melchisedec along with grace believers. The greatness of Melchisedec gave his priesthood its own greatness, but Christ's participation exposed the priesthood in its full glory.
It Is a Powerful Priesthood. Aaron's priesthood relied upon the willingness of the nation and its leaders to obey the Law for its power. It was limited to the best the flesh could produce and suffered the limitation of power at its worst. The Law was designed by God to restrain the sin nature of each Israelite. If an Israelite had an adequate fear of Jehovah, he would attempt to live strictly within the dictates of the Mosaic Law. If he did not fear Jehovah, he persistently violated the Law so long as it was not enforced with its penalties. Only the imposition of the penalties of the Law gave power to the Aaronic priesthood. Priestly power was based on the death penalty because the threat of death was established as a control upon the sin nature.
A different kind of priest has been raised up "Who has come to be, not according to a law of fleshly commandment, but according to the power of life incapable of dissolution (Heb. 7:16)." The Mosaic Law was a law of death but the new priesthood came according to (kata) the power of life that could never be changed and is endless. The Law itself gave no hope for eternal bliss but temporal, earthly bliss. The priesthood of Melchisedec is one of power -- the power of Jesus Christ, God the Son. He provides strength rather than weakness. He provides profit rather than loss. In Him is the potential for maturation while the Law perpetuated spiritual infancy (Heb. 7:18, 19).
It Is a Superior Priesthood. As has already been seen, the priesthood of Melchisedec has its own magnificence and power that are superior. It is superior to every priesthood accepted by God or instituted by mankind. It is superior in that its sacrifice is superior. Christ's once-for-all sacrifice permanently handled every phase of unrighteousness for which other sacrifices had been offered or had not been offered. All other sacrifices were temporary stopgaps for unrighteous behavior. The best an Old Testament believer could hope for was that his sins could be sent away from him even to the extent that they would be cast into the depths of the deepest sea (Micah 7:19). The possibility of complete removal was never considered a possibility. Christ's sacrifice completely dealt with sin and every other form of unrighteousness.
Christ's priesthood is superior in that it brought a better hope (Heb. 7:19). This hope is the means by which the believer is drawn near to God. Hope is always based in something God has said in His Word. God has promised the believer an eternal relationship that focuses the hope into the future. Hope provides a confidence that God will act because He said He would act in His Word. The Christian's hope is good for tomorrow and next year but also goes into eternity future. Under Law, hope was hindered in its scope for it was limited to the physical lifetime of the individual.
Melchisedec's priesthood was superior in the fact that the Aaronic priesthood was subservient to it in Abraham. It was superior because it was based on an oath (Heb. 7:20, 21). The superiority of Melchisedec is in actuality even more evident when one considers the work of Christ that made the priesthood possible. Because of this, it is more the superiority of Christ than the superiority of Melchisedec.
It Is an Unchanging Priesthood. "And the ones on the one hand are many having become priests, because of death they were prevented from continuing; but this One through His remaining forever [lit. into the age] has an unchangeable priesthood (Heb. 7:23, 24)." It is a priesthood that will not deviate or be violated. None can supersede the priesthood. There will never be a priesthood that will be better nor will there ever be a possible intrusion that will pollute the priesthood. The characteristics that make it unique will not change. The Levitical priesthood was changed being superseded by the priesthood of Melchisedec. Because of Christ's immutability, it is not a changing priesthood. It cannot change because of the unchanged stability of the oath and the decree. The decree provides for its perpetuation. God organized it as unchanging; and hence, it will remain unchanged. It is unchanging because none can supersede, interfere, violate, change or invalidate it.
It Is a Royal Priesthood. Melchisedec was the king of Salem or peace (Heb. 7:1, 2). His name means "King of righteousness." The priesthood of Melchisedec was a royal priesthood, and whatever he desired as a priest, he could accomplish as a king. He not only had rank and authority, but also had the power of a potentate. He could rule in righteousness and maintain peace by his power. Christ is seen as the Head of a kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:5, 6). As has already been seen from Psalm 110, Christ had been prophesied as a ruling priest at the right hand of God (cf. Heb. 10:12, 13).
It Is a Non-Abrahamic Priesthood. Melchisedec was not of the same genealogy as Abraham (Heb. 7:6). He could not be counted as a Gentile for there was not yet a distinction between the seed of Abraham and Gentiles. Melchisedec has been called the priest of humanity rather than for a limited group of people in an era when the head of the household acted as a priest for his family. Melchisedec was unique. He served as a priest for Abraham who had come from a completely different family background. Acceptable priestly service was determined on an individual basis by God Himself. Melchisedec's priesthood was not a hereditary priesthood. It may even be questioned as to whether Melchisedec was a Shemite or not. He was a stranger who came from unknown roots affirming that no distinction was made as to whom he served as a priest.
It Is a Limited Priesthood. Melchisedec's priesthood had a limited number of participants. Evidently, he had no predecessors or successors. His priesthood was one man. Christ was not truly a successor to Melchisedec in a physical sense but fulfilled his priesthood to perfection in the spiritual realm. Scripture never indicates that Christ was a successor to Melchisedec. He was simply placed as a priest of the same order. Only those placed in the priesthood have the privilege of serving as priests. Grace believers are placed in the priesthood by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and so become participants in the priesthood of Melchisedec. The Levitical priesthood involved many priests and high priests who served because of their physical birth. As time progressed, there were different high priests who dominated the Levitical priesthood. The sons of Aaron became less distinct from the rest of the sons of Levi. Various individuals emphasized the multiplicity of the priesthood until in Ezekiel the priestly activities are seen to pivot around Zadok in the millennial kingdom. Because Melchisedec's priesthood is limited, it has a unique standing. Jesus Christ is the one High Priest who had been a priest, an original priest, and a group of chosen people who share the priesthood.
A great deal could be said of the contrasts between the order of Aaron and the order of Melchisedec. A simple summary comparing the priesthoods gives a clear picture of the absolute contrasts between the two. The only similarity that exists is that both performed priestly activities that were similar. The following chart gives an abbreviated picture of the important contrasts. There are thirteen major areas in which there are clear contrasts between the two priesthoods. Each order is vastly different from the other. No grace believer will ever desire to have any relationship to the Levitical priesthood because of the extreme differences between the two. Any allegiance to the Levitical priesthood deprives the Christian of knowledge of his own priestly privileges.
(Note: The following chart has been changed from parallel columns to alternating statements.)
The Order of Melchisedec as High Priest The Order of Aaron as High Priest 1. Melchisedec: Gentile [i.e. non-Jew] Aaron: Only an Israelite ofTribe of Levi of Family of Aaron 2. Melchisedec: Much Older Order of Priesthood (c. 500 years) Aaron: Late Order of Priesthood 3. Melchisedec: Kingly Priesthood Aaron: Tribal Priesthood 4. Melchisedec: Eternal in Quality Aaron: Temporary in Nature 5. Melchisedec: Unchangeable Aaron: Changeable (Heb. 7:12) 6. Melchisedec: Christ Only Successor with Grace Believers Aaron: Succession of Aaron's Sons 7. Melchisedec: One Sacrifice for Unrighteousness Aaron: Many Sacrifices for Unrighteousness 8. Melchisedec: Infinite Value of Christ's Blood Aaron: Ineffectiveness of Animal Blood 9. Melchisedec: Not by Law but by Oath Aaron: Mandated in Law 10. Melchisedec: Conferred by Solemn Oath in Decree Aaron: Transmitted in Heritage 11. Melchisedec: Greater than Aaron Aaron: Lesser than Melchisedec 12. Melchisedec: Blessed Abraham Aaron: Received Blessing in Abraham 13. Melchisedec: Individual Qualifications Aaron: Ceremonial Qualifications
Christ's order of priesthood could not be Aaronic because He was born of the tribe of Judah. He is in a kingly priesthood that is absolutely unique. Its exclusivity is evident in the limited participation in the priesthood historically. Christ was a priest before He became High Priest at His ascension. Christ's activity as a priest was in conformity to the simplicity of the priesthood of Melchisedec. Christ's simple priestly activity stands in perfect juxtaposition to the rigid complexity of the Aaronic priesthood. Melchisedec's priesthood is presented in the most simplistic way possible. There is no ceremony required in the activity of Melchisedec in Genesis. His priestly activity only involved blessing and accepting a tithe. He is not seen as a priest who offered sacrifices. Because he is called a priest, one could assume that he offered sacrifices even though there is no record of such activity. It is evident that Christ only offered one sacrifice and that was substitutionary for unrighteousness. Grace believers have the potential for offering a multitude of sacrifices as participants in the same priesthood. No ceremony or restrictions limit Christ in His high priestly work. He acts as a priest and a high priest only being governed by His character and no other external requirements. He possesses absolute freedom in every aspect of His priestly activity and that freedom is absolutely consistent with His character. As a man, He became qualified to act as a priest for men. During His earthly ministry, He prepared Himself so that He could be the perfect Heavenly High Priest for the grace believer.
Since Christ is the grace believer's High Priest, it is proper to compare Him to Aaron in order to illustrate the superiority of Christ's service. Aaron's physical birth is evident. He was the brother of Moses (Ex. 4:14) and the son of Amram and Jochebed who were both of the tribe of Levi (Ex. 6:20). Aaron married Elisheba and had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazer and Ithamar (Ex. 6:23). Whether Aaron would have assumed the high priestly office or not is uncertain had Moses not shown reluctance to accept the leadership of Israel in Exodus four because of his claimed lack of eloquence. As a result, the leadership was shared between the two brothers with Aaron having the public limelight while Moses actually acted as a priest for Aaron. "And the anger of Jehovah glowed hot against Moses, then He proceeded to say, Is not Aaron your brother, the Levite? I know that he really does speak well, and also behold he is coming to meet you; and he will see you and be glad in his heart, and you will speak unto him, and you will place the words in his mouth and I will proceed to be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will cause you to be instructed concerning that which you both shall proceed to do, and he will speak for you unto the people; and it will be that he will proceed to be for you for a mouth, and you will proceed to be to him for God (Ex. 4:14-16)." Moses acted as an intermediary between God and Aaron before the priesthood was instituted.
Aaron demonstrated his weakness in his leadership in the golden calf incident (Ex. 32:4) and in his rebellion against Moses' leadership (Num. 12:1-15). Aaron supported Moses in the rebellion of Korah because it involved his own priestly office (Num. 16). He was a party to Moses' sin at Meribah (Num. 20:8-13, 24) and was prohibited from entering Canaan dying on Mount Hor near the land of Edom (Num. 20:22-27). Aaron and his sons were given a position of privilege (Ex. 24:1, 9) and were given priestly responsibilities for the nation in the tabernacle (Ex. 28:1, 2) and were formally installed by a solemn act of consecration (Lev. 8). Aaron has been considered a type of Christ by some, but Hebrews clearly indicates that he is to be seen in contrast to Christ rather than compared to Christ. The areas of similarity do not permit this interpretation. It is true that both were high priests, offered sacrifice, served in tabernacles, were representatives of people and were anointed; but Scripture does not and could not call Aaron a type of Christ. Similarity is not identity.
Christ's uniqueness far surpasses that of Aaron. His conception was supernatural resulting in the virgin birth. He was born of the tribe of Judah yet He was a priest who became a high priest after a period of preparation. He was perfectly qualified to become a high priest. The superiority of Christ's high priestly ministry can easily be seen in its affect. With an utterance of His mouth, He formed the ages. He shared in the essence of God and exhibits the attributes of God. He was above all spirit beings and human beings. "God in these last days spoke to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through the agency of whom indeed He made the ages; who continually existing the radiance of the glory, and the exact expression [English "character") of His substance, while bearing all things by the utterance from His power, having by Himself made cleansing of sins, He sat down on the right hand of the greatness in high places (Heb. 1:2, 3)." The book of Hebrews begins with a description of the superiority of God the Son and carries the theme throughout the book. He is greater than angels (1:4), Adam (2:5-9), Moses (3:3), Joshua (4:8), Aaron (5:4), Abraham (6:13), Melchisedec (7:4, 25, 26), Judaism (7:19) and the sacrifices (10:5-7). Because of who He is and what His role is in the plan of God, there are a number of things that would not exist if Christ did not exist or function as a member of the Godhead. Without Him there is no creation (Heb. 1:2), Church (3:6), rest (4:9), High Priest (5:10), priesthood (7:24), new covenant (8:6), object of faith (10:19) or basis for faith (11: 1). It might seem unnecessary to attempt to relate the God-man to the simple humanity of Aaron, but the distinctiveness of the two is easily seen when carefully studied. The following chart gives a general overview of the great contrasts between Christ and Aaron.
Christ Aaron 1. t: Out of Tribe of Judah 1. Out of Tribe of Levi 2. Kingly Priest 2. Priestly Order of Succession 3. Virgin Born - Supernatural 3. Born of Two Parents - Natural Birth Birth 4. Direct Divine Appointment 4. Hereditary Succession in Divine Order 5. Immortal 5. Mortal 6. Eternal 6. Temporal 7. King of Peace 7. priest of Penalty 8. One Sacrifice 8. Many Sacrifices 9. His Own Blood 9. Blood of Animals 10. Entered Once for All 10. Entered Many Times 11. Absolutely Clean 11. Many Cleansings Necessary 12. Made a New Covenant by His Blood 12. Made A Priest by the Old Covenant 13. Individual Qualifications 13. Ceremonial Qualifications 14. For the Church of God 14. For the Nation Israel 15. No Sin Nature 15. Sin Nature 16. Heavenly Intercessor 16. Earthly Intercessor
Christ and His priesthood are better than Aaron and His priesthood. Christ was a priest without limitation while Aaron was completely limited as a human who possessed the results of the fall including a sin nature. Aaron's frailty is very evident in the golden calf incident where he attempted to pay homage to other gods as the Egyptians would by making an image to represent the deities. Aaron did not have enough sense to know that such an activity was unacceptable to Jehovah, the God of Israel. As soon as Moses was gone for any length of time, Aaron returned to the gods of Egypt. Without Moses' acting as a spokesman for God, the man who was to be the high priest was no different than any idolater of any of the Gentile nations. Christ was never limited by His humanity in His relationship to His deity. The union of humanity and deity was perfect to the degree that the limitations of His human nature were made up for by His Divine nature when it was necessary. An Israelite who approached Aaron for priestly service could never come with confidence because of Aaron's human frailty. The grace believer comes to Christ with absolute confidence knowing that He will never fail and will consistently care for His own in all His wisdom and power.
In order for Christ to be a sympathetic high priest, it was necessary for Him to prepare for His high priesthood in the realm of His humanity. His incarnation made it possible for Him to be the High Priest for human beings. Hebrews two describes Christ as a human possessing a human nature. Man was made a little lower than the angels (2:6-8 cf. Psa. 8:4-6). "But we see Jesus, the One having been made less, a small thing alongside angels through the suffering of death with glory and honor having been crowned so that by God's grace He might taste of death on behalf of all mankind (Heb. 2:9)." Because of His humanity, He is not ashamed to call the sanctified ones, brothers (2:11-13 cf. Psa. 22:22). "Since therefore the children stand as sharing blood and flesh, He shared also Himself in the same manner the same things, in order that through death He might destroy the one having the manifest power of death, this one is the devil (Heb. 2:14)." Christ took on the seed of Abraham. Proper preparation was necessary for Him as a human so that He could be a merciful and faithful High Priest. "Whence He was obligated according to all things to become like His brothers, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the things directed toward God, with the purpose of making propitiation for the sin of the people, for in that which He has suffered being tempted, He has the power to help the ones who are being tempted (Heb. 2:17, 18)." Christ's humanity prepared Him to be a merciful high priest. When human beings suffer the results of unrighteousness, Christ will sympathize with their suffering and manifest His love in mercy for His priesthood. He is a faithful high priest because He had been a man among men and so knew the consistent need for the high priestly ministry. His close relationship in His own humanity provides the basis for the believer's confidence that Christ will function as a high priest standing for him in the very presence of God the Father.
Christ had suffered together with human beings in their weakness and was tempted just as they were tempted. A part of His preparation involved His ability to relate to human suffering and temptation. He proved in His earthly life that He was qualified to be a high priest. "For we do not have a high priest not having the ability to suffer together with [or sympathize] our weaknesses standing as one having been tempted according to all respects according to human likeness but without sin (Heb. 4:15)." Christ's temptations were real temptations from Satan and the world system. They were directed toward Christ's human nature. Temptation is not sin. Because of the union of divine and human natures [hypostatic union], it was impossible for Him to sin. Hence, he was impeccable. Impeccability does not prevent temptation, for temptation has its ultimate source in externals, but it does guarantee that sin will not be committed.
Another part of Christ's preparation was that He learned obedience. "Though continually existing as Son, He learned obedience from the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:8)." Christ perpetually had the quality of being a Son. Sonship was not related to birth but to a position of privilege and authority. In the Greek society of the New Testament era, a child became a son when it was assumed that he was capable of handling adult decisions, responsibilities and privileges. Until such a time, he was counted to be a child who had no rights or privileges even though He was the heir. He was in a period of training for adulthood under the tutelage of a slave, if the family was wealthy enough to have a skilled teaching slave. He had no more rights than the slaves until he was counted to be a mature son (huios). The Jewish procedure for bar mitzvah is similar in that it proclaims the male to be a man when he reaches a certain age and meets certain requirements. Christ was a Son with full standing and privilege as an equal Person of the Godhead. He was no less God because of the designation of Son. He was in a position of equality, intimacy and privilege. Because of Christ's authority, it was not necessary for Him to be obedient to anyone; yet in His incarnation, He took on a human nature and set aside His glory learning obedience. The very God of glory emptied Himself, taking on the form of a bond slave being in the likeness of men. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death (Phil. 2:7, 8). Christ's learning obedience was a part of His preparation for His position as High Priest so that He could be the perfect High Priest for those He represented in the third heaven. He is the perfect sympathizer because of the lessons that He learned in His earthly sojourn. His preparation permitted Him to stand in the Presence of God the Father as the perfectly qualified representative because He possessed an experiential knowledge of the human condition and its limitations because nothing human was alien to Him except sin.
Under the Law, the high priest was the representative of the whole nation. Of all of the sons of Aaron, he was the most important because he not only represented the nation but also the tribe of Levi, the sons of Aaron, his own household and himself. He was required to wear shoulder pieces on his shoulders with the names of the sons of Israel written on them (Ex. 28:1-11). Every time he was in the presence of Jehovah, the stones showed that he was a representative for the whole nation. "And you will place the two stones upon the shoulder pieces of the ephod for stones of remembrance [or memorial] for the sons of Israel; and Aaron shall lift up their names before Jehovah upon his two shoulders for a remembrance (Ex. 28:12)."
Aaron and every other high priest also had the names of the sons of Israel placed upon his heart. "And Aaron will lift up the names of the sons of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goes unto the holy place for a remembrance [or memorial] continually (Ex. 28:29)." Each of the twelve tribes had its name engraved on a semiprecious stone as a signet that was set in gold (Ex. 28:15-28). The high priest was qualified to represent the nation by the names of the tribes that he carried on his high priestly garments. Every time he put them on, he was reminded of the solemnity and importance of his service for the nation. He was reminded of the need for being qualified in order to serve in the high priestly office.
The most obvious physical representation of the qualification was the plate of gold that was mounted in front of the high priestly miter or turban. It was engraved with "HOLINESS TO JEHOVAH." "And it will be upon Aaron's forehead and Aaron will lift up the perversity of the holy things, that the sons of Israel will cause to set apart for all their holy gifts, and it will be upon his head continually for acceptance for them before Jehovah (Ex. 28:38)." It was absolutely necessary to have a qualified priesthood to bear the perversity of the nation and a qualified high priest to bear the perversity of the priestly family of Aaron (Num. 18:1).
Christ was qualified because He was found to be mature or complete. "And being made perfect [or mature] He became the cause [or author] of salvation for all the ones obeying Him (Heb. 5:9)." In His humanity, it was necessary for Christ to be mature or perfect. The passive verb indicates the involvement of the divine nature with the human nature making this qualification possible. He was the motivator or cause of salvation as a direct result. He could be the perfect substitute and a representative high priest as a human being. He was absolutely perfect in all of His maturity.
Hebrews 7:26 lists five qualifications that Christ possessed to be High Priest. "For such a high priest was indeed necessary for us [or suitable], holy, not evil, not defiled, having been separated from sinners and becoming higher than the heavens (Heb. 7:26)." What an expansive set of qualifications there were for Christ's entry into His high priestly ministry at His ascension. Generally, the word hosios is translated "holy" in the Authorized Version, but it has a greater emphasis on purity than the reparation or being set apart of hagios. It describes one who is careful to maintain a proper, acceptable relationship. It is more closely related to righteousness (dikaios) than holiness. Christ carefully maintained Himself in order to retain a proper relationship to the Father. He was pure and fulfilled every requirement for entry into the Holy of Holies. He was qualified because He had no evil ["harmless" A.V.]. No one could accuse Him justly of any form of evil. He was innocent of any and all charges against Him. He could easily meet the qualifications for righteousness in His high priestly ministry. Christ was free from defilement. He bore no pollution of any sort because He was unstained. Since He was holy, He was one who stood as set apart from sinners to God. In His earthly ministry, Christ was among sinners even to the extent that the scribes and Pharisees had accused Him of being a "friend of publicans and sinners (Matt. 11:19)." In His resurrection and ascension, He was completely separated from sinners. In His ascension, He ascended higher than the heavens. He passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:14 Gk.). Christ was qualified in every phase of His existence. From His incarnation forward, in His life, He was pure and lived up to the Divine standards. In His resurrection and ascension, He proved Himself to be qualified to enter the Holy of Holies in heaven with nothing preventing Him from offering His sacrifice. He was the first human to enter into the third heaven because of His perfect qualifications. Because He was qualified, He could offer the acceptable sacrifice of Himself for every form of unrighteousness.
As High Priest, Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice. Such a sacrifice was totally unique from the sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple. "Who does not have a daily need, as the high priests to offer up sacrifices first on behalf of his own sins, then for the sins of the people; for this He did once for all offering up Himself, for the Law appoints men possessing weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath after the Law appoints the Son who stands complete into the age (Heb. 7:27, 28)." He offered Himself in realms physical and spiritual. It is assumed that anyone who is selected to be a high priest will offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (Heb. 5:1).
As a high priest, it was not only normal for him to bring sacrifices, but he also needed to have something to offer. "For every high priest is appointed with the purpose of offering both gifts and sacrifices; whence it is necessary even for this priest to have something that he may offer (Heb. 8:3)." Without something to offer, his high priestly ministry would be ineffective because the existence of the Priesthood was to offer sacrifices and gifts to God. Christ had a sacrifice that He presented -- His own blood! "How much more the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself once and for all free from blemish to God ... (Heb. 9:14)." He offered Himself and then took His blood to heaven as a sacrifice.
Christ is the forerunner for the believer in that He entered within the heavenly veil for the Christian (Heb. 6:19, 20). He entered into the veil with His own blood and there He purchased eternal redemption. "Neither through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood He entered once for all into the holies, having found eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12)." He did this as the believer's substitute and now appears in the presence of God the Father for grace believers (Heb. 9:24).
Christ's sacrifice was effective. He appeared [or was manifested] to put away the sin nature through the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). He completely dealt with every aspect of unrighteousness -- acts of sin, sin nature, sin guilt, transgressions and such like. He bore the sins of many (Heb. 9:28) but went far beyond that in His cross work. By the will of God, the work of Christ is applied to grace believers. The believer is sanctified or set apart through the work of Christ. "By which desirous will we are those who stand as sanctified ones through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:10)." Christ's offering was good for sin forever (Heb. 10:12). "For by one offering He has brought to completion into perpetuity the sanctified ones (Heb. 10:14)." The sacrifice of Christ has a permanent value as it is applied to all believers.
By His sacrifice, He established the new covenant for the Church (Heb. 9:15-22). "This is the new covenant by [instrumental] my blood ... (1 Cor. 11:25)." The new covenant affirms for the believer that Christ indwells him. Because of Christ's sacrifice, His blood keeps on cleansing believers from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).
Christ's sacrifice as a high priest was perfect. He took his own blood into the third heaven and placed it on the altar in heaven. As a result, He provided a permanent sacrifice once for all removing the need for any other blood sacrifices for sins and other forms of unrighteousness. His sacrifice was satisfactory to God the Father and became the basis for the grace believer's salvation. He was a perfectly qualified high priest so that He could bring His perfect sacrifice into the third heaven to make a perfect provision for the believer's perfect salvation, providing reconciliation, redemption and propitiation for the believer.
Christ served as a high priest in the heavenly tabernacle. The earthly tabernacle and temple were patterns of the actual heavenly tabernacle arrangement. In the heavenly tabernacle/temple, the third heaven was the Holy of Holies where God the Father focused His residency as a Person with the other Persons of the Godhead when they were not resident upon earth. The starry spaces of the second heaven were counted to be the holy place while earth and its atmosphere, the first heaven, were considered to be the temple court. Hebrews teaches that God gave specific instructions for the earthly tabernacle because it was to follow the pattern of the heavenly tabernacle. For a more detailed development of the heavenly tabernacle see the chapter on the believer's place of service.
As High Priest, Christ did more than just enter into the third heaven. He went through all three heavens and beyond as a proof of His deity. A great deal could be said about the prior ascensions of Christ between the cross work and the resurrection, but suffice it to say that Christ took His blood to heaven during the three days and nights His body was in the tomb. He entered heaven as the believer's forerunner (Heb. 6:20). He performed His service of sacrifice in the third heaven by sprinkling His blood on the heavenly altar only to return to the place of sprinkling and to be seated at the right hand of God the Father (Heb. 8:1, 2). There He functions as a priest and performs His high priestly duty for the grace believer. His priestly service is supreme over any other priestly service. "But now has obtained a more excellent priestly service, by how much even He is a mediator of a better covenant that has been ratified upon better promises (Heb. 8:6)." Not only is His place of service better but also the service itself is better. Christ entered heaven and applied His blood to the heavenly altar before His ascension, cleansing the heavenly Holy of Holies. He returned to the same place to appear in the presence of God for grace believers (Heb. 9:24). He remains seated at the right of the Father within the Holy of Holies acting on behalf of the Christian in the proper place and in a proper way.
Two major aspects of Christ's work directly relate to His priestly service: His intercession and His advocacy. Both are clearly taught in Scripture, but there is a great deal of controversy as to how these are accomplished. Some believe that Christ's presence at the right hand of the Father is in itself intercession while others see His cross work as His intercession with the Father. Hebrews 7:25 clearly describes Christ's intercessory ministry. "Wherefore He has the inherent power to save to the all end time the ones who are approaching God through Him, while always living with the purpose of interceding on their behalf (Heb. 7:25)." Christ's intercession is that which keeps the believer saved to the all end time or uttermost. Christ saves on the basis of the permanence of the provisions of His cross work. He is living in the realm of His humanity. The Christian has the confidence that the Savior Himself is making intercession with the Father maintaining his salvation. Romans eight further emphasizes the same truth. "Who is the one who is condemning? Christ Jesus is the one having died but rather having been raised, who is in the right hand of God, who is also interceding on our behalf (Rom. 8:34)." When someone attempts to condemn the believer, Christ keeps the believer from being condemned. The word "condemn," katakrino, means to make a judgment and to provide a penalty for the judgment. Christ's intercessory ministry guarantees the believer's salvation keeping him saved. Because of this, the believer's salvation is as good as Christ's intercession for him. The believer can have a consistent assurance that nothing can or will separate him from the love of God and of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39).
Christ is the believer's advocate (parakletos) as high priest with God the Father. When the believer sins, Jesus Christ functions as an advocate at the Fathers right hand. "My little born ones, these things I am writing to you in order that you may not sin and if anyone happens to sin, we continually have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and He continually is a place of satisfaction concerning our sins, but not concerning ours alone, but concerning all the world (1 Jn. 2:1, 2)." He is literally "one called alongside the Father." Whenever the believer commits an act of sin, Christ stands alongside the Father to affirm that He has already dealt with that sin in His cross work. The penalty has already been paid. One must recognize that Christ's advocacy is alongside the Father while the Holy Spirit's advocacy is alongside the believer. Essentially, 1 John 2:1, 2 tells how 1 John 1:9 is implemented. The believer sins and Christ acts as an advocate with the Father. The sinning believer confesses his sin and the Father forgives continuing the cleansing for all other forms of unrighteousness. The believer's Heavenly High Priest continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of His sacrifice -- the blood has been applied and continues to be efficacious for all believers.
While Christ is involved in His present work as High Priest, He is dwelling in light and His humanity possesses immortality. No human can enter unto the presence of God until he possesses immortality. "The one who is continually having immortality, while dwelling in unapproachable light, whom not one of men saw nor has the ability [or inherent power) to see, to whom is honor and might eternal: Amen (1 Tim. 6:16)." Christ is the High Priest who is dwelling in light as He accomplishes His priestly ministry. While seated in light at the Father's right hand, He is anticipating His kingly role that will be fulfilled in making His enemies to be His footstool, "For the rest [or henceforth] expecting until which time His enemies are placed as a footstool for His feet (Heb. 10:13)." He expects the fulfillment of the prophecies of Psalm 110 concerning His role as a kingly priest. In His human nature, He possesses the anticipation. Hence, Christ is involved in keeping the Christian saved and being an advocate when the believer sins. He continues in His effective high priestly ministry with the Father for the benefit of the Christian.
Several provisions are made for the grace believer because of Christ's priestly ministry. A major theme of the book of Hebrews is that of new and better things that Christ has made available to the grace believer in contrast to the limited provisions of the Mosaic Law. Why should a Christian have any confidence in the Mosaic Law or any other law principle when Christ supremely provided benefits that are far greater than any available under Law? Because Christ provided new and better benefits, there is no reason for any confidence in Law and its extensive limitations. Christ has provided a new covenant, a special freedom, a boldness and assurance and a potential for maturity that never existed before.
The Provision of a New Covenant. Christ, by His shed blood, provided a new covenant for the Church. It is described as being new (Matt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24; Lu. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:8; 9:15; 12:24) and better (Heb. 7:22; 8:6). The new covenant is new in time, (kainos -- Matt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24; Lu. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:8; 9:15) and new in kind, (neos -- Heb. 12:24). The new covenant is seen in contrast to the Law that is identified as the old covenant (2 Cor. 3:14; Heb. 8:9) or the first covenant (Heb. 9:15, 18). it is not the new covenant for Israel of Jeremiah 31:31-34 even though the passage is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 to illustrate the fact that it is possible to replace the Mosaic covenant.
A very common interpretation of the new covenant in Hebrews is that it is the fulfillment of the covenant that will be made with Israel in the future. In Hebrews eight, the author is very careful to include Israel and Judah as the sharers in the covenant (8:8) and to include the indicator "after those days" of future fulfillment. In Hebrews 10:16, only a portion of the passage is used omitting Israel and Judah and the reference to future fulfillment. When one reads Jeremiah, it is evident what the days are that must be fulfilled in order for the covenant to take affect. They are days of great affliction and tribulation that produce weakness and pain (Jer. 31:15-21). The new covenant with Israel makes it possible for Israel to receive the land promises of the Palestinian covenant (Deut. 29) and promised that Israel would receive a circumcised heart (Deut. 30:6). The Jeremiah covenant will be fulfilled when Christ comes back bringing forgiveness after the purging of the non-elect Jews and Gentiles.
The new covenant, seen in Hebrews, is clearly described in 2 Corinthians 3:6, "Who also made us sufficient ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of spirit, for the letter kills, but the spirit is making alive." It is evident that the new covenant is a unique covenant providing a ministry for grace believers. The Law had a glory of its own (2 Cor. 3:7-13) while the new covenant has a far greater glory. The grace believer has something written inside that is to be reflected as in a mirror [or mirrored] on the outside that is a superior glory. "But we all with a face which stands as being unveiled, beholding the glory of the Lord are being made to give an outward expression of the inward reality with reference to the same image from glory to glory even as from the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18)." The new covenant makes it possible for the indwelling Christ who was written inside the believer by the Holy Spirit to be reflected outwardly for others to see. As a result, the believer can be Christ-like. The cup that is presented at the Lord's Table service is a representation of the new covenant that is made possible by Christ's blood (1 Cor. 11:25). Every believer is a participant in the new covenant and has Christ indwelling him as his eternal life (1 Jn. 5:11, 12).
Jesus Christ is the surety of the new covenant in His priestly work. "By [lit. down from] so much indeed Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant (Heb. 7:22)." "Surety" comes from a root that means "a pledge." It describes someone who puts up a bail by life or property to make certain that something will be accomplished. Christ, Himself, is the bail bondsman who guarantees that the better covenant will be accomplished. In a sense, He guarantees His own indwelling of the grace believer. He is more than a bail bondsman in that He is also the Mediator of the covenant (Heb. 8:6; 9:15). The new covenant has been established on better promises (Heb. 8:6). As a result of Christ's mediatorial work, the believer receives his inheritance. "And therefore He is mediator of a new covenant, so that death having come to be for redemption of the transgressions upon the first covenant, the ones who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15)." As the Covenant Maker, Christ gave His own life as a priest to inaugurate the covenant (Heb. 9:16) shedding His blood thereby establishing its permanence (Heb. 9:18). Christ made provision for His indwelling in His priestly ministry through His cross work so the sheep could show forth the Shepherd in their individual lives.
The Provision of Freedom from Fear of Death. Because of the work of Christ, the believer does not need to be filled with the fear of death that had terrorized the Old Testament believer and unbeliever alike. Death still carried its sting and was a source of fear (1 Cor. 15:54-56). Because of Christ's priestly work, the grace believer no longer needs to fear death. Satan had the power over death before Christ's triumph and the power was taken from him in a unique way. "Since therefore the children stand as sharers of blood and flesh, He Himself shared the same things, in order that through death He might destroy [or render useless] the one who possesses the visible power of death, this one is the devil, and set free these, as many as by fear of death through all of their living were continually held in slavery (Heb. 2:14, 15)." Christ has set believers free from Satan's tyranny over death and has liberated man from the sting of death.
The Provision of Boldness for the Believer. There are two ways to provide boldness to an individual. One is changing the object feared while the other is changing the reason for fear. Boldness is an expression of individual confidence whether it is personal or generated by a group. In the Greek, boldness was a freedom and a willingness to communicate to another person. Christ's high priestly ministry makes it possible to come to the throne of grace in confidence knowing that in Christ the believer can receive mercy and grace in the time of need. Because Christ is a sympathetic high priest, the believer has boldness of access to God the Father through the Son.
The Provision of Assurance. Assurance also involves the individual believer's attitude. When he recognizes the provision of Christ, he realizes that Christ's priesthood is one according to the power of an endless life (Heb. 7:16). This information should have a direct influence upon his perspective. "Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith having our hearts sprinkled from a malignantly evil conscience and the body standing as washed in pure water (Heb. 10:22)." Assurance extends into several major areas. The believer should have assurance in the effectiveness of his own priestly ministry in an unchangeable priesthood with Christ as high priest (Heb. 7:24). He should have assurance concerning the power of the life in Christ (Heb. 7:16). Assurance should produce activity. Assurance concerning the believer's permanent salvation is the result of his recognition that Christ's high priestly ministry of intercession keeps the believer saved (Heb. 7:25; Rom. 8:34) and His advocacy deals with all the sins that the believer might commit (1 Jn. 2:1, 2). Assurance in Christ's high priestly activity will encourage the believer to utilize his direct access to the Father through Christ. Christ provided assurance by His high priestly position and activities. Every Christian should know the facts and enjoy the assurance provided in them. Christ has made confidence possible by His own perfection and work.
The Provision for a Potential for Maturity. No one could mature under the Mosaic Law. "For the Law could bring nothing to maturity, but a bringing in of a better hope through which we are drawing near to God (Heb. 7:19)." It is clear in the Authorized Version. The root is translated "full age" in Hebrews 5:14 with the idea that perfection is really maturation or completion. Priestly service itself under Law could not bring maturity to the priest (Heb. 9:9). Even a righteous believer could not bring enough gifts and sacrifices to Jehovah to make him mature (Heb. 10:1). A grace believer living by Law will never reach any level of spiritual maturity. It is possible for a grace believer living by grace principles to mature in Christ Jesus (Col. 1:28). These are the ones who have the real ability to assimilate solid food. Having accurately interpreted the Word and having been illumined by the Holy Spirit, they comprehend a large body of doctrine and can relate other truth to what the Word says for their personal benefit. "But solid/substantial food is belonging to mature ones, the ones because of their condition, while having their perceptive faculties standing as exercised toward distinguishing both good and bad (Heb. 5:14)." The author of Hebrews encourages his readers to be carried on to maturity (Heb. 6:1). Some of his readers were babes when they should have been experienced in the Word to the point that they were truly teachers (Heb. 5:12, 13). Their spiritual infancy was based in the fact that they were attempting to live by certain principles of the Law as principles for Christian living and so were babes or inarticulate babblers. When they spoke of Christian things, they could not communicate truth but simply exposed their ignorance of the Word in empty, ignorant talk. The Church of Jesus Christ must come to realize the impotence of the Law for Christian living. Many churches prevent their people from maturing because they persist in teaching the Law as a principle for life. How many young children have learned the ten commandments [the Decalogue] before they have heard of Christ's provisions for salvation by grace. Whether the churches believe in salvation by education or not, the Law holds too important a position in many churches. Christ's priestly ministry provides a totally new way for spiritual growth. Under Law, Israel was confined to spiritual diapers while grace provides the potential for spiritual adulthood to the grace believer.
Because Christ is the High Priest for the believer, there are some important provisions that make the fullness of Christian living possible. When one grasps the essentials of the provision of Christ's priestly work and ministry, it should have a positive affect on the way he lives. All of the joys of salvation can find their focus in Christ who is their Heavenly High Priest for the priesthood of the grace believer. Pastors and teachers need to learn the importance of Christ's high priestly work and communicate it to their people if they ever hope to see them mature in their Christian lives. To neglect the importance of the believer-priest and his relationship to Christ as High Priest is to deprive him of an important part of the teaching of Scripture.
The believer is a participant in a unique priesthood after the order of Melchisedec. He is in that priesthood because Christ is in that priesthood and God the Father sees the believer in Christ as a believer-priest. Christ is a kingly priest presently anticipating His ultimate victory over His enemies. He is the believer's intercessor keeping him saved by His intercessory ministry at the right hand of God the Father. He is also the High Priest standing alongside God the Father as the believer's Advocate when he sins. Christ is the perfect Priest and High Priest. He was made a priest at His baptism that initiated His earthly ministry and became High Priest at His ascension according to Scripture. During His earthly ministry, He was prepared to become a sympathetic high priest (Heb. 4:16). He was perfectly qualified to become High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 7:26). Christ did not become a high priest to assume an office for inactivity, but He is actively involved in high priestly work. May the hearts of believers be filled with thanksgiving and praise to their Heavenly High Priest!
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A Christian has no right to question his involvement in the priesthood of all grace believers. He is a priest whether he likes it or not. He may not feel like a priest. He may prefer to have other individuals perform priestly service for him rather than to be actively involved in priestly activity. Some believers are ignorant of what a priest should be doing. Many of these Christians think in terms of the Old Testament tabernacle or temple with the whole system of blood sacrifices and believe that priestly activity is incomprehensible and is not worth the effort. It is necessary to describe the activities expected from a grace believer-priest in order to see the potentials that exist for his priestly activity.
Imagine the son of a chief executive officer of a major corporation being asked, "What does your father do?" He replies, "He just sits at his desk and does nothing." A child's response may be cute in its ignorance but it demonstrates a need for knowledge. "What does a priest do as a priest?" There are many potential responses evident in the churches today from both pastors and their people. "Well, a priest acts like a priest." Great answer! For all the mention there is of the priesthood of the believer in the New Testament, there is limited information concerning what a priest actually does. "If I am a priest, what are my duties, abilities and privileges?" This question should be asked by believers more often and accurate biblical answers given. There are some believers who acknowledge that Scripture does say that they are priests, but they do not consider it to be an important enough subject to discover what Scripture actually teaches concerning proper priestly activity. One of the initial points of confusion is where priestly service is performed. If Christ is in heaven, how does the believer serve in his priesthood while living on earth? Is priestly service a future activity entered by death so that the believer can serve as a priest with Jesus Christ? No, it is service done in this life on earth and presented in heaven.
The Place of Service. While more detail will be given concerning the heavenly tabernacle or temple, a brief discussion of the place of service is important so the believer can understand the significance of acting as a priest in this life. The grace believer-priest performs heavenly service from earth by priestly activities performed on earth. God has equipped each believer with all that is necessary to perform priestly service every day of his life. Wherever a Christian is, there is a potential to be acting as a priest. Priestly service has no bounds in time or space -- it can be done anywhere and at any time.
As human beings, men tend to be horizontal in their perspective. Each has an earth-bound perspective and tends to build every aspect of life on the circumstances and events that surround his earthly existence. Believers also permit the horizontal point of view to influence their thinking and behavior. One of the most difficult things for a believer to do is to set his thinking on things above. He finds it difficult to get out of the earthly thinking rut and to get into a heavenly thinking routine. It is difficult for human beings to develop a perpendicular, heavenward perspective. The believer has the potential for developing a proper direction of perspective to the degree that he is able to see things on earth as God sees them. Scripture gives extensive revelation describing how God perceives earthly life. Because He is the God of truth, He sees things as they really are. Human life is filled with multiple observations and opinions concerning what is real and what is not. The Christian serves as a priest on earth while God counts his service to be in heaven. In other words, a Christian can act as a priest on earth and in heaven at the same time. He performs a priestly service on earth that directly affects other people on earth. As a result, the recipients of priestly service benefit from the priestly activity of the individual priest as one individual benefits from another individual. The Christian who is acting as a priest knows that he has performed priestly service and can see it as work done on earth, but he can also see it as work done and presented in heaven because God counts it to be so from His perspective.
The earth's atmosphere is the court of the heavenly tabernacle. If a believer offers a sacrifice of fellowship by relating to other believers horizontally in the court, God the Father counts the fellowship to be done by a priest in Christ and is satisfied with the sacrifice offered from His own right hand. When the believer thinks in terms of God's viewpoint, his perspective is concentrated heavenward and becomes perpendicular as well as horizontal. Such an arrangement is unique to the priesthood over which Christ is the High Priest. One of the great privileges of the believer-priest in this priesthood is the privilege of sacrifice. A priestly privilege is offering acceptable sacrifices to God.
The Practice of Sacrifice. One of the great privileges of the believer-priest is the offering of spiritual sacrifices. Most Old Testament sacrifices were blood sacrifices, but the grace believer is free from the inconvenience and expense of slaying an animal for a blood sacrifice. Spiritual sacrificing for spiritual believers is a regular, frequent activity. It is not a once-a-week activity, but involves the offering of a large number of sacrifices every day as the Christian focuses his attention on the work of God around him. Six sacrifices are identified in Scripture. Only one is offered one time while the rest are offered repeatedly. When the believer understands what the sacrifices are, he will have the privilege of knowingly offering them to God and they will become a regular part of his every day activity.
Blood sacrifice has been a critical part of many of the religions of the world. Somewhere in the religious nature of man there is a desire to approach God by sacrifice. Sacrifices are made for a number of reasons. The gods are appeased and so provide benefits and protection withholding judgment and disaster. Other deities are fed by sacrifices. Some sacrifice as a means of preventing evils in life while others sacrifice so that their enemies might suffer evil. Many sacrifices are given to atone for sins. There was a time when people considered offering blood sacrifices to be limited to the underdeveloped countries of the world and never a part of civilized society, but there are contemporary reports of cults in civilized societies who practice blood sacrifice. Several years ago, authorities found nearly 50 animals tethered in a New York apartment awaiting sacrifice by a cult imported from South America and the Caribbean. They were to be offered to feed their blood to the saints.
God inaugurated a blood sacrificial system for Israel as a part of the Mosaic Law. Because man has difficulty understanding God's arrangements, He made it clear in the Law in great detail. Sacrifice for Israel was a part of the bondage of the Law. If a person violated the Law, he was to sacrifice or his human life was required. If a believer desired to express his appreciation to God, he brought a sacrifice as a means of communicating that appreciation. Physical sacrifices were given at a great expense. A portion of the givers income was slain as a sacrifice. Some sacrifices were arranged so that the poor person could give less while the wealthy person would give an animal of far greater value.
The sacrifices of the grace believer are not limited to the affordable or to the isolation of a specific location. Undoubtedly, poor believers offer more sacrifices than rich believers. In many ,ways they have more reasons to rely on God than the rich. Because of the sacrifices' spiritual nature, it is possible to offer them at any time at any place. Priestly service can be performed at home, in the car, in the grocery store, in the shop, on the job -- anywhere the believer is. Spiritual sacrifices have been offered in some of the most unique places. Some sacrifices require the presence of other believers or unbelievers, while others only require that a spiritual believer relate to his God. Spiritual sacrifices involve the rationale of the believer that in turn produces an activity of either the mind or of the body. Some sacrifices involve mental activity and may not involve physical activity at all. Others involve spiritual activities that God counts to be acceptable sacrifices. Men may call many activities sacrifices but the absolute test of the activity is whether God identifies the activity as a sacrifice or not.
Every sacrifice is offered by human beings with a hope that it will be accepted by deity. By faith, the offerer expects his deity to say, "Yes, you have offered a sacrifice, I accept it as such and am pleased with you." How does one know that any deity has accepted any sacrifice? -- by faith alone. In some religions, the adherents believe that their sacrifices are acceptable because they have been taught that it was true by way of oral tradition. Others have written records of religious practices that authenticate the offerer's sacrifice. Witch doctors or other religious authorities give authoritative guidelines for bringing acceptable sacrifices. Human beings follow these lesser authorities and bring sacrifices to their gods in accord with human regulations. The God of the Bible does not leave the Christian ignorant concerning what the sacrifices are that He finds acceptable. He gives a clear statement as to what the sacrifices are and how they are to be offered. They are identified clearly as sacrifices in Scripture. One may ask, "What are the spiritual sacrifices of the Christian?" A substantial section of this book will identify the sacrifices and how the spiritual grace believer can offer them. Are there more sacrifices than the six identified in Scripture? Without revelation, it is impossible to say there are more. God has given adequate revelation in Scripture for the believer to know what He counts to be a sacrifice. Any other activities that may be considered sacrifices are based on speculation and have no authority for being offered as sacrifices. One must be satisfied with the revelation of Scripture and avoid speculative theological conclusions not authenticated by God in His Word.
The Progression of Service. Particular activities are normal for priests and are not normal for those who are not priests. Specific priestly service is normal for the believer-priest. "He has gone into full-time Christian service" is frequently used of missionaries, pastors, evangelists and such like. It is a misnomer to consider those who make their living from the Lord's work to be in "full-time Christian service" inferring that the rest of the Christian Church is not in "full-time Christian service." The clergy-laity system has produced this error and it has carried over into many other realms of Christendom. Every Christian should be in "full-time Christian service." Many Christians are more "full-time" than their own pastors because they have learned the Christian life and live the Christian life as serving believer-priests. Professional Christian service does not necessarily mean that it is "full-time Christian service." True service is the consistent activity of the spiritual believer doing what God desires him to do. Every believer has the potential to serve his God actively as a believer-priest in consistent priestly activity.
Once again, Scripture is the final authority for the believer's service. Manuals of church procedure and pastoral theology are not necessary for understanding the believer's service as a priest. So much has been written on how to serve God that Scripture has been given a place of secondary importance in the minds of many believers. Believers become more concerned with how to handle preadolescent junior high boys who wear white leather sneakers than they are about truly being believer-priests in service. Scripture must be returned to the position of prominence as the source of revelation for priestly service. Some believers will react by saying Scripture does not provide adequate information so one must formulate arbitrary information to help with service. As a result, the word of one who serves becomes more important than the Word of the Master -- God Himself. It is true that most English translations obscure the Greek terms that relate to priestly service, but the chapters on priestly service will provide a systematic presentation of New Testament revelation. Of course, sacrifice is a major part of priestly service, but a careful consideration of the contexts in which the key words are found will develop the doctrine of priestly service in a comprehensible way.
As a believer matures, he learns what the will of God is in Scripture. A part of the will of God involves his priestly service. He will see more and more of his activity as conforming to activity that Scripture describes for priests. One of the joys of the Christian life is knowing that one's service conforms to the Word of God and that it will absolutely bring God glory through the believer. As a result, there should be real joy in the privilege of performing priestly service.
The Potentials in Specialization. The world today is a world of specialization. Every major field of endeavor has its own set of specialists. As anyone knows who has worked in areas where a measure of specialization is necessary, there are those who are truly specialists and those who think they are specialists. The true specialist not only has ability in the field above what is normal but also works at applying that ability to the job. In his work, his conclusions are built upon premises that he himself has verified through past research and experience. As a result, he is accurate in the task he is asked to perform and does it better than most others. Then there are those who say they are specialists who have neither the ability nor the expertise to do the job. Frequently, they are the best talkers while in practice they lack the very ability they say they possess. An untrained man off of the street could do the job just as well as they do. This is true in the realm of spiritual things. Specialization in the Church has existed from its founding on the Day of Pentecost. Some believer-priests are convinced that they are specialists in every area of church and Christian activity. "Some pastors who read this can identify specific people in the local church who fit into this category. People in the local church will also see pastors who fit as well. Some human egos expect themselves to be experts at everything though in practice the person is an expert in name only because he has neglected the areas in which he has real ability. Every Christian can serve as a believer priest and offer sacrifices, but he is a specialist in only one area. His specialization can easily be in what is normal for all believer-priests, but he is given an ability over and above that which other believers possess. God did not provide a catalog of job descriptions for the believer to choose from either at salvation or at any other time in his Christian experience. God has sovereignly given each believer his area of spiritual expertise that exceeds that which is normal for all other believers.
It is difficult for some believers to accept Scripture's teaching concerning their specialization. Human pride says, "I can specialize in as many things as I want." God says, "I have given you a specialization from your salvation, use it and develop it to my glory." It is a sad condition in the Church today to see those believers who are functioning in the norm considered as having a specialty because the true specialist is doing other things. It is like a man who has a phenomenal mathematical ability, a love for engineering and a PhD. in engineering pursuing a career in botany because he likes to talk to plants even though he cannot remember their names in English let alone in Latin. It makes no sense. God has given a specialization knowing exactly what the man's makeup is. One of the greatest joys for the believer-priest is to see the active results produced by his specialization in the lives of other believers.
What is this specialization? How does one receive the specialization? It is the believer's spiritual gift that was given to him at the moment of salvation. It is well known that there are many major theological controversies concerning spiritual gifts. The theological pendulum swings from one extreme to the other and rarely stops in the middle. At one extreme are those who believe that every gift given in the early church plus a few are available to every believer today. At the other extreme are those who deny that any spiritual gifts exist today at all. In between these extremes, there is a wide variety of theological positioning. With the amount of revelation concerning spiritual gifts in Scripture, it would seem that one conclusion should be dominant, but it is not so. Because of the controversy concerning spiritual gifts, some have chosen to ignore them completely and avoid any controversy. One does not need to be a Greek scholar to understand spiritual gifts. A true, objective Greek scholar is without excuse if he chooses to disregard the grammar of the text of Scripture. Careful, consistent exegesis of Scripture provides incontrovertible conclusions concerning gifts. Many have permitted experience and emotion to provide the basis for their understanding of spiritual gifts rather than sound biblical exegesis based on objective fact. Though some gifts were revelatory in nature and limited to the early transitional church, there are nonrevelatory gifts that are extant today. One of the blessings of priestly service is using one's spiritual gift as well as living in the norm with other believers. While one believer may have the spiritual gift of giving, it does not mean that he will be the only one who gives the sacrifice of giving. In the norm, every believer gives but the one with the gift has the ability to give more and in more appropriate circumstances. As an example, most believers see their giving obligation as being met when they give in the Sunday offerings while others are giving to needs in the church in ways far more extensive than the offering and often are not even concerned about the tax deduction. Some of these are likely to have the spiritual gift of giving. When the believer-priest is using his spiritual gift, he is functioning in the realm of his specialization. Each believer has one gift and has the potential to be using that gift in helping other believers function best in the norm.
What does a priest do as a priest? First of all, the believer is to be living as a priest. He is a priest and never ceases to be a priest. He does not hang his priestly attire in a closet awaiting the next opportunity to serve as a priest. His life is a priestly life. He may live the priestly life with consistency. He may live it as the sons of Eli did or as Aaron did but it is still a priestly life whether filled with sin or filled with service and only limited sin. A priest lives as a priest -- it is his vocation. Every believer is a priest. He serves on earth, but God counts his service to be in the third heaven because he is in Christ as a believer. Sacrifice is a normal part of his activity as he learns the potentials for priestly service. Sacrifices are offered many times each day if the believer is in a proper condition. The sacrifices are spiritual in nature. He has a unique priestly service that is performed throughout his life as a spiritual believer. He has a specialization by which he exceeds the norm for priestly service and so is an expert at specific duties. His spiritual gift is his expertise. As a result, his whole life should be constantly affected by the joys of priestly service to his God.
Not only does the individual believer benefit from priestly activity, but also the whole Body of Christ. When a priest is doing priestly activities, the whole Body can benefit whether in the local church or outside of the local church. When a large number of believers are spiritual and living as priests, the whole church matures and accomplishes many things to the glory of God. Is this blind idealism in a church that is comprised of a majority of carnal believers? The doctrine encourages a greater emphasis upon biblical Christian living with believers having victory over their spiritual enemies. It is possible to see the priesthood functioning as it ought to be functioning. Many observe the church and see the priesthood as they would have seen the sons of Eli who were corrupt, immoral and sinful. What a pity! It would be a wonderful testimony to the power of God and the work of Christ if individual churches would strive to learn the spiritual life and function as units of believer-priests to the glory of God.
When the question "why?" is asked, it seeks a sufficient motivation for a person to be involved in an activity. "Is there a good enough reason for me to participate?" It requires an adequate reason that will move the individual to action. Why should a grace believer function as a priest? There is one acceptable motivation seen in Scripture. Human methods of motivation are very much like the methods of the Old Testament. They involve reward or punishment or the combination of both. The grace believer's motivation is not reward or punishment that are the expected results as a result of participation or nonparticipation.
It Is Not a Punishment Motive. The grace believer should not be functioning as a priest in fear of punishment. God does not penalize believers for failure to perform as priests. Even though God has provided everything necessary for priestly activity, He does not have a set of special penalties for neglect of priestly service, sacrifice or specialization. Some believers might be willing to act as priests if God drove them along with a bullwhip. They might react as the Canaanites did in the book of Joshua before the hornets came and moved them into action -- flight. They would act as priests if external circumstances forced them out of the sense of self-preservation. The prospect of punishment is not a motivation for being a functional believer-priest.
Rather than dealing with an activity that is not being performed, God goes to the very root of the problem when penalty is involved. A carnal believer cannot function as a priest. His carnality prohibits it. God can punish the carnality of the believer and often does. The Corinthian church experienced some of God's punishment for carnality in His chastening and scourging. "Because of this many among you are physically weak [or sick] and crippled and a number sleep (1 Cor. 11:30)." The possibility of punishment can be a motivation to move the believer from his carnal condition into spirituality. Punishment or chastening itself is designed to correct the believer so that he can live in his position in Christ. A part of his being in Christ is his being a priest. God deals with the source of the problem rather than the surface of the problem.
In the Dispensation of Grace, God generously provides all that is necessary for the Christian's life and godliness. The negative threat of Sinai has been replaced with the offer of positive grace for Christian living. Fear in the New Testament is totally different than that of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, there was always a fear of the penalty being administered by the personal representatives of God. Under grace, the only fear that exists for a spiritual believer is the fear of displeasing God, not because of the prospect of punishment but because of love. Before a believer can ever function as a priest, he must first be a spiritual believer living in his position in Christ. Punishment is only a motivation for the carnal believer who needs to be threatened in order for him to take necessary steps to be spiritual.
It Is Not a Reward Motive. Human nature has a magnificent appetite for reward. Reward is a motivation that affects every part of the life of an individual. Good service brings the reward of a return customer and a good tip. Good service may bring a larger order. When a man opens the door for a lady, he is rewarded with a "thank you." An honest day's work brings a reward in financial remuneration and possibly a bonus. A person will frequently ask, "if I do it, what will I get out of it?" One of the reasons that people have such a great difficulty is the reward motive that permeates their lives. Some believers have the "well done thou good and faithful servant" syndrome that is also a reward motivation. How many preachers have taught that this is all the reward they need to be serving the Lord? It would be just as easy to say, "Well done thou good and faithful priest." Not one of the victors crowns possibly awarded to the believer at the Bema Seat [i.e. judgment seat] of Christ directly involves priestly activity. True, indirectly they might but there is no priestly crown given as a reward for priestly service performed. The rewarding of a victor's crown may be a motivation for priestly activity. Some believe that their reward is the content of their future tense salvation, but this is an open contradiction to the clear revelation of Scripture.
Under Law, reward was a definite motivation as well as punishment. Essentially, the Law could be summarized as "You do or do not do this and I will bless you, if you don't do this, I will punish you." The reward for Israel was physical prosperity and protection while they lived in the land. Obedience brought prosperity while disobedience brought punishment. Even the Aaronic priests suffered in a similar way -- if they neglected their priestly service, they starved to death because they made their living from the service that they performed as priests. In the Dispensation of Grace, God changed the approach completely and took away both the reward and punishment motives of the Law and replaced them with a love and glory motive.
It Is a Love and Glory Motive. God's grace has already provided all of the believer's needs so that he can serve as a priest. To the grace believer, God says, "I have blessed you and you can do this in response." The reason a grace believer serves as a priest is from a love motivation. Christ has provided everything necessary for a Christian to be an acceptable priest. In the decree, every detail of the priesthood had been arranged with no strings attached aside from a believer's being in a right relationship with God. The believer's priestly privilege is a part of the free gift provided at the moment of salvation. His relationship in Christ makes his priestly service effective. Because of the gracious provision of God placing the believer in the priesthood, the believer must make the decision to appropriate that which has been provided. He will neither be penalized nor rewarded for his decision.
When the Christian is spiritual, he possesses an other-centered love (agape) that provides an other-centered motivation for acting as a priest. He understands that he does not have a right to be a priest in himself, but that Christ has made a gracious provision for the priesthood of the believer. A believer should function as a priest in a love response to Christ and other members of the Godhead. In order for the believer to comprehend certain aspects of Christ's character, he must become active as a priest who is relating to Christ as High Priest. Because the believer loves Christ and the Father, he desires to take advantage of the gracious provision of the priesthood. Through that love, there is a strong interest in doing those things that will bring pleasure to God as a direct result. One of the manifestations of Divine love was the gracious provision for the believer of the possessions that he has in Christ. In turn, he should reciprocate in love as a result of the provision. When a parent gives a child something, he expects the child to use it for its designed purpose. A toy dump truck or a doll was not given to be hung on the wall for decoration but to provide the joy of play for the child. A parent would be disappointed if his child would put the toy designed for play in the closet and never use it. Our Heavenly Father will not be disappointed but definitely desires for believers to be enjoying the provisions of grace. Since love is other-centered, it leads the believer to have concern for giving God glory through that which He has provided for the believer.
One of the beauties of God's grace is that the grace believer can show forth God's glory by what is done through him. An effective believer-priest provides a basis for God's receiving glory through his priestly activities as a Christian. Bringing glory to God is the basic motivation for every Christian activity. God's opinion of Himself is seen in the provisions that He makes. When the Christian performs priestly service, believer and unbeliever alike can see the glory of God exhibited in the activities. In His glory, the full weight of God's character is manifested in certain aspects evidenced by His activity. The glorification of God is the basic motivation of the Church in every aspect of its activity. Every action of the spiritual Christian should be done knowing the potential for bringing glory to God. When the believer has the opportunity to do good, he should never consider the beneficial results for his own personal reputation but should focus his attention on how the activity will bring glory to God. This should be true of every sacrifice and the carrying out of his priestly service. The reason for God's arrangement for the believer's salvation is to bring praise of the glory of God (Eph. 1:12). The love motivation should automatically produce a glory motivation for the believer's priestly activity.
It is difficult for many believers to respond in love because they have rarely had the fruit of the Spirit produced in their lives. It is much easier to function in a punishment and reward situation. In a sense, the individual shares the responsibility for motivation because the one who provides either the reward or punishment is also a motivation. Love does not expect anything from the object of that love. Love becomes self-motivation, seeking the very best for its object. A Christian performs as a priest because he has the fruit of the Spirit in his life. As a direct result, he can possess a love that he can then direct toward God. God has designed priestly service to bring Him glory. When the believer understands this and responds in love, he will willingly serve as a priest. God has made it possible for the believer to accomplish His work in His way. Out of love for God, the believer should seek God's way for accomplishing His will; and when he discovers that way, he should do what needs to be done in God's way in love. Christendom has a wide variety of ways established to do the work of God. Many of the programs for organization, administration and action are totally foreign to Scripture's revealed procedure. How can a church organization expect people to respond to God in a proper way when it does not conform to Divine procedures in itself?
"But times have changed!" Many feel that the practice of the New Testament procedures is archaic and impractical. Modern methods are necessary to appeal to the modern man. Programs are designed to motivate church members to be involved in the church program by their presence and their pocketbook. Many feel that an effective priesthood of all believers is impractical in their churches and so neglect it. It is true that it will not work in some churches because their whole program and organization prevents it. Pragmatism has overcome the simplicity of the New Testament provisions for a believer's service. Every true believer has priestly privileges that can be used to the glory of God when he is motivated by love. What a shame it is to deprive the believer of his God-given privilege and replace it with modern techniques that profess to be far more practical than the clear teaching of Scripture. The priesthood of all grace believers is a reality and practical. With careful, accurate teaching, the believer should learn how to find his life filled with joy as he functions as a believer-Priest. A major portion of his priestly service is that of offering spiritual sacrifices to his God. Sacrifices are sources of real enjoyment for the spiritual believer.
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