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 Introduction to the Believers Priesthood

John Hoole January 2, 2005


WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORD "PRIEST?"

o You may think of a religious leader.

o You may think about a man who wears a certain kind of robe who may perform certain religious ceremonies.

o You may sadly think about scandals that are in the news.

o You may think positively about a person who is your friend.

God's Word does not describe a priest like we think at all. In 1 Peter 2, God describes a priest as something totally different.

1 Peter 2:9-10 NKJV

9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

Here, we are given this description of a priest - they are:

o Chosen
o Royal
o Holy
o Special
o Declaring Praises of God
o Changed citizenship - from darkness to light
o People of God
o Received mercy when, before, they saw no mercy in their future.

Today we are going to talk about the fact that each of you who know Jesus Christ as your Personal Savior - those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life - are "priests" in a real sort of way.

The Passage we just read declares that we are a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9),

Four verses earlier, we are called a "holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5).

And, in Revelation 1:5, we are described as a "kingdom of priests." We also know that while we hold the office of priest before God, Christ is our High Priest.

Hebrews 9:11 NKJV

11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.

The background for understanding this calling to priestly intercession is found in the Old Testament example of the Levitical priesthood. Let look at the Old Testament priesthood to see what bearing it might have on us today.

The first mention of the Jewish priesthood is in Exodus 19:3-6. NKJV

3 And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:
4 'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself.
5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.
6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel."

Notice that at the beginning of the Jewish priesthood, God said that every person would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation before all the other nations of the world. They did not fulfill this function very well. So God turns to one tribe within the nation to provide the religious leadership.

WHICH TRIBE OF ISRAEL DO WE ASSOCIATE WITH THEIR PRIESTHOOD?

The Tribe of Levi.

WHEN WAS THE TRIBE OF LEVI DECLARED TO BE THE PRIESTLY TRIBE?

Not until after the Exodus. Levi, the 3rd son of Jacob, died in Egypt at the age of 137 (Exodus 6:16). So Levi never knew he was the ancestor of the priestly clan while he was alive. God did not establish the tribe of Levi as those who would carry out the religious duties until all Israel was camped at Mount Sinai. In fact, it was not until the incident with the golden calf.

>Moses was atop Mount Sinai, having a meeting with God. The people conned Aaron to build them a golden calf for them to worship. While on top the mountain, God tells Moses what the people were doing. Moses quickly comes down the mountain, and when he sees them worshiping the golden calf, in his anger, he throws to the ground the stone tablets in which God had inscribed the 10 Commandments.

Look at Exodus 32:25-28 NIV

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.
26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him.
27 Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'"
28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.

The tribe of Levi applied themselves to act righteously. This projected them into being the religious leaders of all Israel.

Have you noticed that in the last few minutes, when referring to the tribe of Levi, I have said they became the religious leaders? I did not say they were priests. Let's look at the descendants of Levi. Levi had three sons. Their names were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

Following the Exodus, the descendants of these three were given specific functions.

o The Gershonites maintained the covering, hangings and the door of the Tabernacle.

o The Merarites (Meh RAY ites) maintained the planks, bars and cords of the Tabernacle.

o The Kohathites were responsible for the articles of furniture, the vessels and the veil of the Tabernacle. The Kohathites, and they alone, carried the Ark of the Covenant from place to place.

FROM WHICH TRIBE DID MOSES AND AARON COME?

Moses and Aaron were, of course, Levites.

FROM WHICH OF THE 3 SONS OF LEVI DID MOSES AND AARON COME?

They were, according to Exodus 6, from the family of Kohath.

Both Moses and Aaron were grandchildren of Kohath. Along with their sister Miriam, they were both sons of Amram and Jochebed.

When you read or hear of the Jewish priesthood, they are sometimes referred to as the Levitical priesthood. At other times they are called the Aaronic priesthood. Today those terms are used somewhat interchangeably. But from what we have just learned, those two terms are not identical. Not all descendants of Levi were sons of Aaron.

If today you were to study the priesthood in Jewish literature and the Bible, the Hebrew word for "priest" is Kohen, pronounced Ko-HANE. This word is found over 750 times in the BibgleThe Hebrew word priests (plural) is "Kohanim." All "Kohanim" have one ancestor - Aaron.

In 1978, a seminary was founded in Israel for the training of priests. Orthodox Jews believe that one day their Temple will again be restored on Mount Moriah, and there will be a need for acting priests. The name of this seminary is Eteret Kohanim.

What has all this taught us?

o All priests would come from the tribe of Levi, but not all Levites were priests.

o Priests are the descendants of Aaron

.

The High Priest

While the children of Israel were camped at Mount Sinai, God further narrows the lineage of those who would be allowed to become High Priests. In addition to the priests, there was a person designated as the High Priest. In some passages, this person is referred to as:

o The head priest

o The great priest

o The chief priest (2 Kings 25:18)

o The priest that was anointed (Lev. 4:3)

The high priest is the only priest anointed on the head. All other priests were limited to sprinkling their garments with anointing oil. Additionally, there are two references to a person called "the second priest." (2 Kings 23:4; 25:18) This person officiated in the place of the high priest when the high priest was not available.

FROM WHOM ARE THE HIGH PRIESTS DESCENDANTS?

They had to be descendants of Aaron.

In the beginning, the office of high priest was held for life, and would be a descendant of Aaron, through Eleazar, the eldest son then alive. Eleazar was Aaron's 3rd son.

DO YOU REMEMBER THE NAMES OF AARON'S FIRST TWO SON AND WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?

Their names were Nadab and Abihu, and they died before the Lord because they offered strange fire at Sinai (Numbers 3:4).

WHY, THEN, WAS THE OFFICE NOT PASSED TO THEIR SONS?

According to Numbers 3:4, neither of them had any children.

The office of High Priest was held for life from Aaron, through Eleazar, for the next 296 years, when it was passed to the descendants of Eli, who was not a descendant of Eleazar, but Ithamar, who was the 4th and youngest son of Aaron. I do not know the reason for this transfer. The high priest remains in this clan until Abiathar, whom Solomon removed from office because of desecrating the office. In 1 Kings 2:26, Solomon said Abiathar deserved death, but he wouldn't kill him, because he had carried the Ark of the Covenant before his father David. He was sent into exile.

At that time Solomon appoints Zadok to be the high priest, which put it back in the lineage of Aaron's son Eleazar. The Jews believe there were, in all, 83 high priests, beginning with Aaron, and ending with Phannias in A.D. 70.

Lets quickly look at some of the functions and interesting facts of the priesthood.

1. They maintained the Tabernacle - Numbers 18:3.

2. The priesthood was perpetual - Numbers 18:8.

3. Those with physical defects were rejected for the priesthood - Leviticus 21:17-23.

4. Priests taught the Law - Leviticus 10:11.

5. Priests offered sacrifices - Leviticus 9.

6. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies - Exodus 30:7-10.

7. Priests inspected the hygiene of Israel - Leviticus 13 & 14.

8. Priests acted as judges - Deuteronomy 17:8-13.

9. Priests collected Taxes - Numbers 18:21-26.

Allow me to take a quick detour here. WHO IN THE NEW TESTAMENT DO WE KNOW WERE TAX COLLECTORS? We know of two by name:

o Zacchaeus - who was a chief collector - i.e., over a region.

o Matthew - Matthew 9:9. Matthew had another name - what was it? Levi - Mark 2:14.

Was he a descendant of Levi, who we know were tax collectors in the beginning? We are not told - but it is something to think about.

10. Preserved and transmitted the Law - Leviticus 10:11; Deut. 17:18; 33:10.

11. After the Exodus, those Levites who were not the descendants of Aaron:

o Assisted in the sacrifices (Numbers 3:5; 8:14-19).

o Cared for the holy things (Numbers 3:5; 8:14-19).

o They served the priests - Numbers 18:6.

o They served from age 25 to 50, then retired - Numbers 8:24-25.

FROM SLAVERY TO PRIESTHOOD

Allow me for a moment to step back to the Exodus. Can you imagine how it must feel to be a slave? If all of your family had been slaves for 400 years, you would be a slave to the core. Can you imagine how it must feel to suddenly be a free person. That's whiplash.

But there is more whiplash coming. Shortly after you escape slavery, you are told you are a priestly people. That is what happened to the Hebrew people. A mere 50 days after they leave Egypt and the pit of slavery, God told them they would be God's priestly kingdom for the entire earth. From slaves to priests almost overnight- so quickly, is a sharp religious and cultural whiplash.

At that time, God did not say that only a few of God's people would be priests. God said the entire community of Israelites would be a priestly kingdom. Over the next 1300 years or so, certain people did serve Israel officially as priests. But God clearly saw the nation as a holy and priestly nation. The mission of God's people was to be priest to those around them and to each other.

As the people of God, they simply could not leave the responsibilities of being holy just to someone who had the title of priest. God called them - all of them - out of Egypt to be a holy and priestly nation (Exodus 19:6).

Exodus 19:6 NKJV

6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel."

Every person was called to be priestly and holy.

The same is true for those who have been slaves to the devil and bound by sin. When they come to Christ, He sets them free, but also calls them to be priests. We are to be holy and be priests to those around us. Don't become like the Jews, who let some be priests and failed to act as a kingdom of priests.

When Jesus gave his life for our sins, the curtain between people and God was torn wide open - Matthew 27:51.

Matthew 27:50-51 NKJV

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; …

In the Old Testament, only the high priest was permitted to enter into the Holy of Holies.

WAS THERE ANY RESTRICTION UPON THE HIGH PRIEST CONCERNING ENTRANCE INTO THE HOLY OF HOLIES?

The High Priest could do this only once per year.

ON WHAT DAY OF THE YEAR DID THE HIGH PRIEST ENTER?

On Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement.

Hebrews 9:6-8 NKJV

6 Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services.
7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance;
8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.

But when Christ died upon the Cross, the veil that kept man out was rent from the top to the bottom. And now we have access.

OUR PRIESTHOOD

Hebrews 10:19-22 NKJV

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest [Christ] over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Now that you are a priest before the Lord and before the world, we have perfect liberty to come into the very presence of God. No curtain now separates the people from God. No longer do the people of God need a priest to represent them before God.

Ephesians 2:13-18 NKJV

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one,...

We'll continue reading this passage in a moment. Look at that last phrase.

WHAT IS PAUL TALKING ABOUT WHEN HE SAYS GOD "HAS MADE BOTH ONE"?

Actually there is a dual meaning in these words. If you look at the previous 4-5 verse, you will notice he is telling his listeners that the Gentiles, who were once far off, now had access to God. The wall that separated the court of the gentiles from the court of the Jews in both the Tabernacle and the Temple, had been taken down. But there can be no doubt that Paul is also telling us that the two rooms in the Tabernacle/Temple have now become one room.

Let's reread verse 14 and continue on from where we left off earlier. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation… The term "middle wall of separation" has to be talking of the wall that separated the two rooms, not just the wall that separated gentiles from Jews.

Let's continue reading from verse 15 through 18:

15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,
16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.
17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.
18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

The use of the term "both," in verses 16 and 18, most likely is referring to the Jews and Gentiles.

Before continuing, I must give a brief historical and doctrinal setting. Why am I emphasizing that all believers are priests before God? I mentioned earlier that the Hebrew word for "priest" is "Kohen". In Latin, the word for "priest" is SACERDOS. It literally meant, one who presents sacred offerings. Over time, beginning about the 5th century, on through the Middle Ages, there evolved a class of people who were given elevated stature in the Church. They believed that there was a priestly class within the Church, ordained by God, like the sacerdotal Aaronic priesthood.

When Marin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, he was declaring war against the idea that salvation was mediated through the priesthood via the sacraments. Luther rejected the idea that a priest could control an individual's life, both here and hereafter. Luther insisted that everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ is a priest. This thought came to him after he was convinced that the Scripture was the only authority for a Christian.

Three important phrases come out of this protest of Luther. Sola Gratia By grace alone. Sola Fide By Faith alone. Sola Scriptura By Scripture alone.

As he studied the Bible, especially the writings of the apostle Paul, he discovered that in and through Jesus Christ a believer possessed the righteousness of God. Therefore, that person had immediate access to God, without the mediation of a priesthood. Thus, for Luther, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is a sequel to the doctrine of justification by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide). Those who are clothed in the perfect righteousness of God are welcome in the presence of God. There is no need for a "pontiff", which literally means "bridge builder," because Jesus Christ alone is the way to the Father.

While the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Leviticus, gave elaborate ceremonies for the ordination of priests, the New Testament contains none. The reason that there is no ordination ceremony for the priesthood in the New Testament, is that the New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers. Neither is this priesthood limited by gender, age, or social status. God had promised that He would pour out His Spirit on men or women, young or old, slave or free (Acts 2:17-18).

In Ephesians, we are told that God present to the church a number of positional gifts.

Ephesians 4:11 NKJV

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

Look at that list. Priests are not mentioned. God's gifts are not confined to a particular segment within Christianity. Everyone must use individual gifts for God's work and for God's glory. Because Jesus came, died, and was resurrected, the priesthood changed. Believers no longer need to have a priest - they are priests themselves. This hierarchy no longer exists. All are equal.

   
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