The first mention of a "Priesthood" is found in Exodus 19:6. At the time that God gave the law to the nation of Israel He addressed them as follows: "Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar Treasure unto Me above all people, for all the earth is mine, and ye shall be unto Me "a kingdom of priests" and an holy nation Exodus 19:5-6.
Since this honor was dependent on an "if", for God said if ye obey My voice and keep My covenant, it never materialized. Israel did not obey His voice nor keep His laws, and therefore they did not become a national priesthood. Instead, God chose one family- the family of Aaron - and he and his sons were ordained to officiate as a special priesthood, as we read in Exodus 28:1: "and take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother and his sons with him from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto Me in the priest's office." The New Testament tells us in Heb. 7:11 that this was known as the "Levitical" priesthood because Aaron and his sons were of the tribe of Levi. It is often called the Aaronic priesthood because Aaron was its first High Priest - see Heb. 5:4. This priesthood functioned during the Old Testament days and was still in force when our Lord came from Heaven to be our Saviour.
But upon the death of Christ a change was made, as we read in Hebrews 7:12. Another priest arose, as we read in Hebrews 7:11, after a new order - the order of Melchizedek. Five times in the epistle to the Hebrews we read of Christ as the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. The old priesthood was abolished; a new one took its place. Aaron was the original head of the old Levitical priesthood; Christ is the Head of the new spiritual priesthood. This was dramatically illustrated when our Lord stood before Caiaphas, as recorded in Matt. 26:63-65. Two High Priests faced each other on that occasion; one, the earthly Levitical priest; the other, Heaven's Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. Caiaphas rent his clothes and by Jewish law, he was forbidden to do so - see Lev. 21:1O. By his act he automatically lost his job, and rightly so, for, though he did not realize it, the new High Priest was standing before Him and was about to succeed and supersede him. What's the difference between the Aaronic and Christ's priesthood? Let's see!
The earthly Levitical priesthood and the priesthood of believers.
1. Aaron and his sons were the priests of old.
Christ and his sons (believers) are the priesthood of today. The Lord Jesus is called the "High Priest" twelve times in the epistle to the Hebrews and "Priest" about six times more. As we read for example in Heb. 4:14: "Seeing then we have a Great High Priest who is passed into the Heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession."
2. Aaron was a human being, full of failure. Christ, our High Priest, is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens".
3. Aaron's priesthood was an earthly one and operated in connection with an earthly sanctuary - Hebrews 9:1.
Christ's priesthood is a heavenly one, as we read in Heb. 8: 1: "We have such an High Priest, who sat down on the right hand of The Throne of the Majesty in the heavens."
4. Aaron and his sons offered physical, animal sacrifices, which could never take away sins- see Hebrews 10:11.
Christ, on the other hand, offered Himself through the eternal Spirit without spot to God - Hebrews 9:14. The blood of animals could never atone for sin, but the precious blood of Christ indeed purges the conscience from dead works to serve the living God- Heb. 9:14.
5. Aaron and his sons did what all men do eventually- they died. Heb. 7:23 says "they were many, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death." But: This Man- Christ- continues ever; He has an unchangeable priesthood Hebrews 7:24, and so He is able to save to the uttermost (to the very end) them that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them - Heb. 7:25.
6. Aaron had to offer sacrifices not only for the sins of the people, but also for his own sins- Hebrews 5:3. But Christ died for our sins; He did not offer for His own sins because, praise God, He had none. Aaron offered the blood of others (of animals) for his own sins; Christ on the other hand offered His own blood for the sins of others, which is the exact reverse.
7. Aaron's work never put away one sin. Christ's blood is able to cleanse every soul from sin- I John 1:9.
What does this expression "priest after the order of Melchizedek" mean?
The seventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews fully explains it. Space does not permit us to quote that chapter in full, but let us briefly consider the gist of its teaching:
There was a priest named Melchizedek who lived in Abraham's day, more than 400 years before the law was given. He was not only a priest but also a king - the King of Salem. Salem means "peace", while Melchizedek means "king of righteousness". Naturally this man got his name at birth, but he had to grow up to become King of Salem. He was therefore king of righteousness before he was king of peace. In this he is a beautiful type of Christ, Who is truly the Righteous One by the fact of Who He is, while He became the King of peace through His redemptive work upon the Cross; for He is our Peace and He made peace through the blood of His cross - Col. 1:20.
The fact that Melchizedek lived long before the Levitical priesthood came into being suggests that this higher priesthood of Melchizedek was in God's mind long before the Jewish priesthood commenced. Since Melchizedek typifies Christ and His work, it proves that Jesus' heavenly priesthood in God's purposes preceded the Jewish priesthood.
Since neither Melchizedek's parents nor his descendants are mentioned in Genesis, the Spirit of God in the epistle to the Hebrews uses this to teach that therefore Christ, whom Melchizedek represents as High Priest, had no parents nor descendant. He is the first High Priest after the order of Melchizedek and the last one too, for no one ever was High Priest after this order before Christ and no one will ever come after Him, for the sublime reason that He lives forever. He is our High Priest, as Heb. 7:25 says, because He ever liveth.
The first thing Christ did as High Priest after this new order was to "offer Himself to God for our sins", something Aaron never did nor could do. All the sacrifices which Aaron and his sons offered through the centuries pointed on to the one and all- availing sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross. Christ's priesthood thus sets aside the old order. The only priesthood the Bible now knows about is that of Christ as High Priest, and of all believers as priests, as we go on now to consider.
The priesthood of believers - 1 Peter 2:5-9
Aaron was the first high priest and his sons were priests under him. So now Christ is the one and only heavenly High Priest and His sons - believers in Jesus - form the present spiritual priesthood, as the above cited texts state. We are both a holy and a royal priesthood.
There has arisen, without any warrant whatsoever in God's Word, a pretentious system known as the Romish priesthood! Needless to say the Bible knows nothing whatever of this presumption that would rob believers of their blessings as well as their responsibilities. It is ironical, isn't it, that the very man Rome claims as its first pope- Simon Peter- is the very man (and the only one of all the New Testament writers except the writer of the book of Revelation) who states bluntly that there is no such thing as a Roman priesthood; but that every believer in Jesus is a priest. Rather striking, isn't it, that the man the Romish church claims as its first pope, was a married man. How foolish can man get?
The Roman Catholic priesthood is a re-hash of the Old Testament Jewish priesthood, where only a small group were priests. The priesthood of the whole nation, as we saw earlier, was made dependent on an "if"- if they obeyed God. They did not, so God chose a special priesthood. But being a priest today is not dependent on our obedience, and so in I Peter 2 there is no "if", but the outright declaration that all believers form a holy and a royal priesthood. Our blessing is not dependent on our obedience, but on Christ's. We read that He became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross - Phil. 2:8. It is the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ that entitles us w priesthood - see I Peter 1:2.
The true Priesthood has Christ as its great High Priest and Head, as we have already seen, and His headquarters are in Heaven. The pope in Rome is a false pretender, who without any Scriptural warrant is usurping a place which belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ alone. The "Vicar", of Christ down here is not the pope, but the Holy Spirit, who indwells every true believer in Jesus.
Yes, all believers are priests, including the sisters in Christ. Being a priest does not mean being a preacher. Priests are worshippers and servants, and this is open to sisters as well as brethren, while public preaching or teaching is forbidden to women, who are not to usurp authority over the man.
Priests in the Old Testament were such because they were born into Aaron's family; now we are priests because we are born into God's family. They were priests by natural birth; we are priests by spiritual birth - by being born again.
Since a believer is a priest by new birth, it means that no gift is needed to act as a priest. Prophets in the Old Testament were chosen by God because of special gifts, as today evangelists, pastors and teachers are specially gifted and ordained by the Lord for His service. But this is not so in relation to priesthood. A babe in Christ can pray, or worship, or give of his means; and those are the jobs belonging to priesthood.
What does the word "priest" mean?
The Hebrew lexicon says priest comes from a root meaning either a "prince" or a "servant". And that's exactly what every Christian-priest is, for I Peter 2:9 says that a believer is a "royal" priest, and thus a prince; and he is a holy priest, to serve God with a holy life. A prince indicates a high position; a servant is a lowly position. Divine grace has made us princes; that same grace delights to use us in His service and that of others down here.
We are holy priests - to worship God by our praise and our sacrificial service. As Peter puts it: "to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." Worship is the priest's first and foremost occupation.
In the Old Testament the high priest alone was permitted to enter into the Holy of Holiest, and that only once a year. Read Hebrews 9:6-8. But when Christ died upon the Cross, the veil that kept man out was rent from the top to the bottom, and so we read in Hebrews 10:19-22,, "We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say His flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God we may draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water." Now we as priests have perfect liberty to come into the very presence of God. By Him, as it says in Heb. 13:15, we may come to offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name.
How does one become a priest?
This is beautifully illustrated in type in the Old Testament priesthood. Let's look at a little of this as seen in Exodus 29. There priests were cleansed, clothed, consecrated.
1. Cleansed. Moses was told to wash Aaron and his sons with water- Exodus 29:4. This ceremonial washing took place but once; afterwards they only washed their hands and feet. Our Lord explains this type in John 13 when He told Simon Peter in verse 10: "he that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet". Jesus told Peter that a believer is bathed only once, implying his original salvation, for Titus 3:15 calls regeneration a "bath" (as the Greek word is). Thus the bathing of Aaron and his sons illustrates new birth,, and it is that which entitles one to be a priest today.
2. Clothed. The Priests were to be clothed- Exo. 29:8-9. The garments were to be made of linen- Exo. 28:42; Ezek. 44:17-18 tells us why this had to be. They were not to sweat in God's presence; there was to be no smell of human flesh when they approached God, but only the sweet savor which speaks of the perfections of Christ. Linen keeps one cool, while wool makes one sweat. Wool is a natural product that grows on a sheep's back, while linen is a manufactured article. So saints in Scripture are seen to wear linen- see Rev. 19:9 and 14. Our covering had to be manufactured for us; we have no natural no righteousness of our own, but we are clothed in a righteousness Christ made for us at the Cross. Thus, being clothed in linen, we see that the believer-priest of today is dressed in righteousness provided for him by Christ's death on the Cross. The believer is seen as fully accepted in the Beloved. Rome boasts its gorgeous garments made of earthly material; the New Testament knows nothing about that sham. The believer is dressed in the spiritual garments of divine righteousness, which make him fit for the presence of God.
3. Consecrated. In Exo. 29:20 the blood was put on the ear, the thumb and the big toe of Aaron and his priests. It was the blood of the ram of consecration see Exo. 29:22. The blood consecrated them to the service of God. Just so the precious blood of Christ consecrates the believer-priest today to His work, to the ministry of worship, intercession and service. The blood being put on the car, the hand and the foot suggests that now as a priest I am to hear God's Word, do His will and walk in His way. I am not my own, but have been bought with a price- I Cor. 6:20.
What are the functions of priests?
1. First and foremost- Worship. Worship always comes first in Scripture. Eleven tribes in Israel were Warriors; one tribe was composed of workers, and one family of worshippers, the priests. Alas, it is still true that so few believers really enter into their privilege of being priests. "The Father seeketh worshippers, to worship Him in spirit and in truth"John 4:23.
As worshippers we offer spiritual sacrifices- the adoration of our hearts. Worship is the only thing we can give to God direct; that's why it is so important, God can get anyone to serve Him if He wants to; in fact, Satan is one of His busiest servants. God uses him for many purposes, as seen in the case of Job, or of Peter in Luke 22:31. But Satan cannot worship God. Only true believers can, those who know and love our Lord Jesus Christ as the One Who redeemed them by His blood.
Priests got the best of everything. They got the shoulder and the breast of the meat offering- Lev. 10:15. Those two pieces, of course, illustrate that the love Christ (typified in the breast), and the power of God (seen in the shoulder), are the food and the strength of the worshipping believer- priest.
Priests are not only worshippers,, but intercessors. As Christ our great High Priest intercedes for us in heaven, so we on earth intercede for others, as we read in I Tim. 2: 1. praying for others is truly priestly service.
Priests in the olden days carried the ark, holding it on their shoulders. So we, as spiritual priests, hold up Christ of which the ark was a type. The priests upheld the ark as the army marched around Jericho, telling that we as priests uphold Christ as we walk down here in spiritual victory over the enemy around US.
The priests also blew trumpets before the ark as they went around Jericho, calling attention to that ark. So we blow the gospel trumpet and thus call men's notice to Christ our Saviour.
Priests in the Old Testament also carried the sin of the people on their hearts, as we read in Lev. 10: 17 and Numbers 18: 1. Those who realize their privileges and feel their responsibility as priests today will bear the sorrows and the sins that often afflicts God's people' and will carry the burdens of God's people and pray for them. Priests offer to God in a definite way, follows:
1. Their praise and adoration- 1 Peter 2:5; Heb. 13:15. And let us not forget, this is not only done in one's private, individual life, but in a very special and blessed way when believers meet together in church fellowship. Our blessed Lord saw fit to institute that memorial feast we call the Lord's Supper, on the night He was betrayed. And the apostle Paul, receiving it directly from his risen Lord in glory, tells us in I Cor. 11 that we are to break the bread and drink the cup in memory of His death for us on the Cross. Acts 20:7 indicates it was the custom of the early Church to do this every first day of the week; and many of us today still do so. That hallowed hour, each Lord's day morning, is truly an hour of worship, when as priests, unitedly, we offer to God spiritual sacrifices, the fruit of our lips, pouring out our hearts before Him. Dear reader, do you do this? If not, you have missed a tremendous blessings as well as having failed to obey His last request ere He died for you.
2. Believers bring their gifts, their money. With that sacrifice, too, God is well pleased - see Heb. 13:16.
3. Believers present their bodies as a living sacrifice - Rom. 12: 1. Our time, our talents, our labor, etc., etc., belong to Him, and it is true worship to yield them gladly in His service.
Priests should live holy lives.
Finally, let us take a brief look at what kind of people priests should be. This also is typified in the commands given to priests in the Old Testament. Compare Exodus 30:18-21 with John 13:10. Priests' lives were to be clean and pure.
If anything is amiss in a believer's life and testimony, he is not to officiate as a priest. This is set forth in Lev. 21:17-23, as follows: "for whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, let him not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or anything superfluous, or a man that is broken-footed or broken handed, or crookbacked, or a dwarf, or he that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy or scabbed, or hath his stones broken. No man that hath a blemish . . . shall come nigh to offer the bread of his God. He shall eat the bread of his God . . . only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come nigh unto the altar . . ."
Needless to say these things now have their spiritual meaning for us. No physical deformity today bars a believer from living for and serving the Lord. The things mentioned above speak of spiritual blemishes. A blind man speaks of one who is spiritually blind and does not see the wonderful truth of the Word; a lame one is he whose life is not right; one with a flat nose speaks of a believer who has no spiritual discernment; a crooked backed is one whose life is not upright or straight (who is dishonest perhaps in his business dealings etc.); a dwarf, one who has never grown m grace and in the knowledge of Christ. In simple words, a Christian, if he is to serve God aright, must see to it that his fife is right, that he walks with and lives for Christ.
Yes, every Christian is a priest. It is a great privilege but also a great responsibility. Don't rob yourself of its joys and blessings and certainly don't let Rome rob you of it.
-August Van Ryn