Priesthood of the Believer
1 Peter 2:9–10
1 Peter Lesson #061
August 25, 2016
“Father, again we are just so very grateful. We praise Your name for the way You have provided for Jim Myers Ministries and for the way You have so quickly built up their finances. Father, we pray that as the weeks go forward, they can also restore all of these important documents. In many cases they are almost irreplaceable, but due to the fact we have computers, some of it will be able to be reconstructed.
We pray that they’ll be able to pull all that information together and that they will be back in good shape, if not better shape, than they were before. Your blessings are just abundant and we’re thankful for that.
Father, we continue to thank You for Your abundant grace in our lives. You have given us so much. We are provided with so much and yet we don’t always probe the depths of what it is You provide for us.
As we study tonight we will see we are all individual priests to You. We are royal priests. And Father, we pray to You to help us to understand that that this isn’t just another fact, but it is a reality. It transforms how we as individuals relate to You. No one prior to the Church Age ever had these kinds of privileges and the kind of power because of the Holy Spirit that we have as believers.
Father, we pray that we might come to understand this as we study this important doctrine tonight. In Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to 1 Peter, chapter 2. We’re finishing up on this first section in 1 Peter 2:9 and 10. I pretty much went through most of the exegetical material on 1 Peter chapter 2 last week, emphasizing the fact that this quote which comes out of Exodus 19:6 is being applied by Peter under the Holy Spirit to not only the Jewish-background believers that are his primary audience, but it also has application at a broader level to all believers.
That is what is said here in these chapters, and in relation to what is true about these believers is also true of other statements made in Scripture that apply to all believers, whether they come from a Jewish background or a Gentile background.
As I was wrapping up last time we went through the statements that we’re a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and His own special people. In Exodus 19:6 that specifically was directed to Israel and it’s applied here to the church in a broader sense. It’s not Replacement Theology.
This is part of the problem that the early church got into. The earliest church father to talk about the church as spiritual Israel was a church father by the name of Justin Martyr. This was about AD 160. By that time you started having sort of the intrusion of allegorical or spiritualized interpretation, just the beginning. It’s not full board yet, but that influence is there from the culture.
This has always been the problem with Christianity. We’ve let the culture of the world as the Bible calls it intrude itself into our thinking. We don’t completely change the way we think and let it be transformed profoundly by the Word of God. So we bring our pagan worldview with us into the text. And that would be the spiritualization because that came out of the influence of Neoplatonism and Platonism in the Greek world at that particular time. They believed that the literal, the physical wasn’t as important as that which was the ideal or the spiritual behind it.
In terms of interpretation you sort of minimize the literal historical meaning of the words and you’re looking for that hidden or that spiritual meaning that is behind the words.
This plays itself out in another aspect as were looking at this passage. Because of a failure to understand this distinction between Israel and the church and because of the influence that’s coming into the early church by AD 160, of this spiritualized or allegorized interpretation where Israel in the Old Testament is talking about the church in the Old Testament or the believers of the church in the Old Testament.
Then in the New Testament the church is referred to as spiritual Israel. What happens is when you blur this distinction and don’t understand that the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood and all of that, came to an abrupt halt once our High Priest, Jesus Christ, is sacrificed on the Cross.
Once we have that sacrifice and He ascends to Heaven, He becomes our High Priest. Once that takes place then the old ritual sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law is completely ended and done away with. The priesthood ends.
What happens when you don’t see that distinction is that you carry those terms over. You’ve heard it. Some of you come out of certain church backgrounds. Some come out Roman Catholic background. Some you come out of Baptist pietistic backgrounds and they’ll have the altar call at the end of the end of the message.
When I was growing up every now and then I would visit a Baptist church and they would call an altar call at the end of the message. “Come to the altar. Lay it all on the altar.”
Where’s the altar? Altars are where you have a sacrifice. Where’s the altar? They get that terminology because they spiritualized the Old Testament. In its worst form in terms of the history of Christianity was in Roman Catholicism. The leadership in the church became known as priests. They just carried that terminology over.
Then, of course, they looked at the communion, which became the mass. They looked on that as a sacrifice and Jesus, under transubstantiation, which is the doctrine of how the Roman Catholic Church looks at the bread and looks at the cup, that they are turned literally into the substance of the body of Christ.
You can’t even understand that term unless you know the background of Aristotelian philosophy. They are turned into the substance of the body and the blood of Christ.
This enters into early Christianity, really between AD 160 and about AD 400. And that gradually develops; it’s not rapid because you don’t have Jerome writing this on Twitter or Facebook so that it spreads quickly. It takes years for these ideas to start to filter around and to be spread, but it slowly develops. You begin to get more of a full-blown Roman Catholic theology by the period between Augustine in AD 400 and Gregory the Great in AD 600. So that’s how it develops.
When you look at this passage here, it really is important. From the dominance of Roman Catholic theology with this distinct priesthood and this marked distinction between the clergy, the priesthood, and the laity where they have certain things that the other Christians don’t have and they have an access to God that the everyday Christian doesn’t have, that becomes so embedded in Roman Catholic theology during the period of the Middle Ages that it creates this superstition.
It creates an ignorance because along with that, only the priests can understand the Scripture. Only the priests can interpret the Scripture. Then by the time Jerome in the third century has translated the Old and New Testaments into Latin, the Roman Empire collapses and Latin is lost as the lingua franca of Western Europe.
People can no longer read and understand the Bible. You go for a period of almost 1,000 years where the Bible is kept away from the people. They can’t read it. They can’t understand it. Masses are in Latin. Nobody understands and this priest craft develops.
All of that goes back to the failure to interpret the Scripture on a historical, grammatical, exegetical basis. When you understand these principles that we’re going to cover tonight related to the priesthood of the believer, you realize that was one of those groundbreaking doctrines that came out of the Protestant Reformation.
All of a sudden they’re being taught that you can read the Bible in your own language. They can understand it because the sermons were all in the “koine” or the common language of the people. They were in German. They were in English. They were in in French and Italian. People could understand it.
The emphasis was that every believer had direct access to God. You didn’t have to go through a priest. Your prayers didn’t have to go through some secondary or tertiary intercessor. Every believer could have access.
Now we’ve lost that. We don’t come out of that kind of a background so we’ve lost the power of that, that every one of us has direct access to God. That was groundbreaking. That was revolutionary in the early 1500s.
We’re looking at this doctrine tonight, wrapping up the first ten verses of chapter 2. I just want to touch on this last verse before we go into the doctrine of the priesthood.
In verse 10 coming out of verse 9, let me read them together. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people that …” The purpose now is applied to Church Age believers. “That You may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
That’s the responsibility of every believer as a priest to proclaim the gospel. It’s to explain the gospel to people and to talk to people. To have the Word of God so saturated in your soul and you’ve memorized so much Scripture that whatever is happening around you, whatever people say, whatever the conversations are, you have the skill to turn it to the Word of God, and to put the Word of God’s light on that circumstance and that situation.
Tuesday night I had just finished reading Elwood McQuaid’s biography of Zvi. That’s a hard name to understand. It’s not an English word. It’s a Hebrew word, but Zvi Kalisher wrote a column for many years in Israel My Glory magazine. I was always amazed when I would read those of how he would talk to Hasidic Jews, secular Jews, and Orthodox Jews on the street. He would just be able to pull up a proverb or another verse from the Old Testament to directly apply it to whatever the question was, or the situation.
If you haven’t done that, then you sit there and two hours later you say, “I really wish I’d learned that a little bit better.” It doesn’t help if you have a tool bag and your tools are left at home or you say that you’ve got that in your notes somewhere. It’s got to be in your head. It’s got to be in our souls. We have to understand it.
Now verse 9 builds out of that and says that, “The one who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” refers ultimately to God the Father. Describing the “you” of that verse it says “you who”, so Peter’s talking to this audience and he’s taking an Old Testament passage and he’s applying it to them, but it has a secondary application and implication for a broader audience.
He’s clearly talking to Jewish-background believers, but it’s not restricted to them. There’s sort of an expanded application here. Back in about 2009 we had Dr. Robert (Bob) Thomas, from Master’s Seminary talk about interpretation. He breaks things down differently than the way Arnold Fruchtenbaum does in terms of your categories of how the Old Testament is used in the New Testament.
He has one category that refers to what he calls “Inspired Sensus Plenior”. Now that’s a technical Latin term that says there is a fuller sense to a passage in the Old Testament, but because the writers of the New Testament are writing under the inspiration of Scripture, they can take Old Testament passages and apply them in a broader or fuller way. That’s the idea of “Plenior”, that they have a broader sense or fuller sense.
That’s what Peter is doing in this particular passage. The interpretive principle here is that New Testament writers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would take Old Testament passages and apply them to the church. They’re not saying this is what that passage meant in the Old Testament. They had a distinct meaning in the Old Testament, but now they’re applying it in a broader sense.
The reason I say that is because these verses are the phrases that are here in verse 10, “not a people, and now the people” come out of a significant context in the Old Testament, the book of Hosea. Hosea is one of those strange books in the Old Testament. Hosea is a prophet. God called him and said you need to marry a prostitute. Normally that would be prohibited, but he marries her and she has a daughter named Lo-ruhamah. Lo is the Hebrew word for no.
When we took first-year Hebrew, we learned that lo was no, hu is he, and he is she. That’s a quick way to remember some of the short words and little words. So, ruhamah is from the word for mercy. The first daughter is called Lo-ruhamah, or “no mercy” because God is announcing judgment on Israel. This is a sign of that coming judgment.
God said in verse 9 that she would give birth to a son, and he would be called Lo-ammi. Ammi, am, is the Hebrew word for people. The “i” on the ending is a first-person singular so that would be my people. The lo is no, not my people. The explanation is because there would be no mercy; God was going to judge them. You would not be My people, and I will not be your God.
In other words, God is going to use this relationship with Hosea to indicate a divorce because of the apostasy of the people. Now that is the image that’s used in relation to the discipline, taking the people out of the land because they have been unfaithful going after all of these other gods.
It goes on to say that even though they would not be My people, this wasn’t an absolute. He’s still going to fulfill the promises, the eternal promises of the Abrahamic Covenant. This isn’t a breach of the Abrahamic Covenant. It’s not a foundation for Replacement Theology, although that’s where they will go.
In Hosea 1:10, He says, “Yet the number the children of Israel should be as the sand of the sea”. That was the promise to Abraham. His descendants would be as the stars of Heaven and the sand of the sea. “Yet the number the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, you are not My people there, it shall be said to them, you are the sons of the living God.” There will be a change. You will be brought back into this glorious relationship with God.
Then if you read through Hosea, chapter 2 when you come to the end of that chapter, which mostly focuses on what takes place during this judgment period. At the end God says in verse 23, “Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy …” Remember Lo-ruhamah, no mercy?
“I’ll have mercy on Israel who did not obtain mercy; then I will say to those who were [Lo-Ammi] not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God.’ ” That is when Israel turns to God at the end of the period of the Tribulation, Daniel’s 70th week.
This language is then used and applied by Peter in terms of what is happening in the Church Age of those who were not My people. Once the Jews become not My people, they are lumped in with the Gentiles. Now they will become My people.
Peter applies this firsthand in 1 Peter 2:10 using that same language. You “who once were not a people but are now the people of God.” They would not obtain mercy but have now obtained mercy. That language comes right out of Hosea chapter 2 showing that wouldn’t have any meaning if you’re just writing to Gentiles. Writing to Jewish-background believers, it would resonate with them. It would mean something to them.
That wraps up where we’ve gone in the first 10 verses. Now let’s look at the Doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer.
To understand the priesthood of the believer, I think we first of all have to understand what any kind of priesthood is. What is a priest? What does a priest do? As far as a general definition goes, a priest is a religious leader who represents people to God. That’s the role of the priest. He’s an intercessor ultimately; he’s bringing people to God in contrast to the prophet who represents God to the people.
In Israel that priesthood had a little bit more of a distinct function, but priests still existed before you had the Levitical priests of the Mosaic Law. The function still was offering sacrifices and interceding for the people. So that’s the core idea of a priest.
So when it comes to our priesthood that means that we are representing ourselves before God. We are coming before God in terms of an intercessory ministry that would involve praying and that would involve the study of the Word, all of those things. It’s grounded in our High Priest.
The basic thing we need to remember if we’re thinking theologically, is how do we defend the fact that we have a universal priesthood for the believer? At the instant that we are saved, we are identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, and we are placed into Christ.
We are in Christ. We are in Him. If He is a High Priest, we have a priesthood because we are in Him. That is what makes the difference. Our priesthood in the Church Age is a distinctly spiritually based priesthood.
What we’ll see is in the Old Testament is that it didn’t have anything to do with your spiritual condition. It was all related to genealogy and physical characteristics. In the New Testament it’s all related to being regenerate and being identified with Christ.
- That’s our general definition. A priest is a religious leader who represents people to God. Now in terms of a little addition to that, as I was saying in the introduction, due to the failure of the early church to distinguish between Israel and the church, the titles of Israel’s priesthood, their spiritual leaders, got transferred to the church. Pastors became known as priests and that just led to a complete destruction of biblical ecclesiology of the role and the purpose for the local church.
- As I said priests didn’t begin with the Levites. You had priestly functions and you had people who functioned as priests in Genesis. We’ll look at a little background. Initially from the time of Adam’s fall the first priestly act really is when he is coming as an intercessor and they begin to offer sacrifices. That was under the patriarchy.
Now remember in terms of our Old Testament, there was a period of time in the Old Testament between the fall and the Flood. That is an age known as the Age of the Gentiles. You don’t have a distinction made yet with the Jews. It’s the Age of the Gentiles.
It’s comprised of three dispensations. You have the dispensation of what was called innocence, which even though some people misunderstand it, that is a very good word because it’s a legal word. And that’s the emphasis in Scripture. Our relationship to God is based on a legal function and it’s not just that we’re not guilty. We are declared innocent.
Man was declared innocent, because he had not sinned yet and it’s not innocence in the sense of naïveté. It’s innocent in the sense of being not guilty. Later on this really is important because that ties into the whole idea of justification, imputation of sin, and things of that nature.
In the early Age of the Gentiles you have the family priest. The patriarch is the family priest and so this is operational through all the families and you see it functioning at different times in the Old Testament, and in this period.
For example, when Noah comes off the ark we’re told that the first thing he did was to build an altar to the Lord, and he took of every clean animal and every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. Remember, he took seven of the clean animals on the ark, three pairs so they can propagate the species quickly and one extra one. Wonder why he took that extra one? So that that would be available for a sacrifice. Immediately coming off the ark, he builds an altar and offers sacrifices to the Lord.
Then the next time we see this operational is in Genesis chapter 12 after Abraham has been called by God to leave Ur of the Chaldees and to go to the land God promised. Of course he goes to Haran for a while in northern Syria before he finally heads down from the north and heads down into the Promised Land. The first place he stops is a place called Shechem. He comes to a place called Shechem which obviously has some sort of habitation at that point, a very small village.
He comes there and we’re told as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh and Canaanites were in the land. So there are Canaanites who are living there and he’s going to go to this grove of oak trees, this particular area. He is going to build an altar to the Lord.
The Lord appeared to him there and said, “I’m reiterating the promise of the land, to your descendants I will give this land. And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” He builds an altar to the Lord and we’re told that as he does this he proclaims the name of the Lord. That means he is proclaiming the gospel in Genesis 12:8.
Last year when we were in Israel, we went over there and in previous times we’ve gone through this area. You can see it. It’s a about day’s walk south of Shechem. As you go down that north-south highway that runs through the backbone of Samaria in what is called the West Bank. It goes right between Ai on the east and Bethel on the west. If you know where to look just to the west of that highway there is the remains of a 4th century church that Jerome tells us was built on the traditional site where Abraham had built this altar. This is pretty well attested.
Later this was where Jacob laid down and used a rock for a pillow and had his vision. God reconfirmed the covenant there. So this is that spot. In Genesis 12:8 it says, “And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and he proclaimed the name of the Lord.” It’s usually translated called upon the name of the Lord, but it meant that this is where he is basically going to preach the gospel at that point. So that’s the patriarchal priesthood.
Also in Genesis, just a couple of chapters later, we’re introduced to another priesthood. It’s one that is shrouded in a little bit of mystery because we’re just told about it in these three verses. This takes place after an army of terrorists, you might say, after these armies of kings from the East under Chedorlaomer and some others come invade the Promised Land.
They go to the beautiful area around the Dead Sea, which isn’t so beautiful today, and they capture a lot of booty and they kidnap a lot of people. Then they head back north all the way up towards the area into Syria again. Then Abraham goes with his men and he defeats them, takes back the captives and all the booty, and returns to a town called Salem, which is Jerusalem.
That’s the original name from the root shalom, meaning peace. He comes to Salem and when he comes to Salem he is going to give of the plunder that he has recovered. He’s going to give 10% to the priest-king of Salem. We’re told about this in Genesis 14:18–20.
The ruler of Salem is a Gentile and Jewish tradition and the older Jewish writings believed that this was Shem, the son of Noah. If you work out the chronology, it certainly works. Shem would have still been alive at this time. In fact, Shem wouldn’t probably die until Abraham is about 160 years old.
We’re told that Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. So this prefigures and foreshadows a communion. It’s a meal of fellowship and we’re told he was the priest of the God Most High. Now the term Melchizedek is broken down. Melchi is the word for king. Zedek is righteousness. So this is a title. I don’t think it’s a name.
There are others in the Bible who have this title. For example, one of the Canaanite kings in Joshua 10:1 is called Adonizedek, the Lord of righteousness. So this would be a title.
He is identified as the priest of the God Most High, El Elyon. He blesses Abraham and says, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High [El Elyon], the Possessor of heaven and earth.” One of the interesting things here is the word for possessor. It’s the word, qanah, and qanah is usually a word that indicates some sort of economic purchase or buying something.
When you buy something you become the owner of it so it came to mean the owner of something. What was interesting is in a lot of pre-modern cultures, if you asked someone if you saw, for example, someone who had had made a paddle for a boat, if you asked who owns it, it’s the person who made it. If you saw someone who had made a carriage who owns it, it’s the person who made it.
This idea of ownership and possession is very closely related and the idea of the one who created it or the one who made it. In fact a couple of the Hebrew dictionaries identify another meaning of this word as “create”. I think that fits the context better as we understand God presented in Genesis. He is not the possessor or simply the owner of Heaven and Earth. He owns it because He made it. That fits with the title. He’s God Most High, El Elyon. He is the highest authority in the entire universe and He owns and He controls and He rules over the heavens and the earth. Melchizedek blesses El Elyon. In verse 20 he says, “ ‘Blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all.”
Here we see this function of this Gentile priest and that’s distinct. Now “priest” isn’t mentioned again in Genesis at all. This is the last time we see any indication of a priest other than the function of the patriarchs in terms of building altars and offering sacrifices.
- The third point here is that the first mention of “priest” in Israel is a passage we looked at last time. Exodus 19:6 is the passage quoted in 1 Peter 2:9, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” That’s the first time you see this. So as a kingdom they are distinguished from all other kingdoms and all other nations on the earth in that they are going to have a priestly function in relationship to them.
We see that this is fulfilled when we look at the eschatology in Isaiah 2:2–3. Also, I have at the bottom of the second reference Micah 4:1–3 and Zechariah 8:20–23. All these verses talk about the Kingdom or when the Kingdom comes. See if you don’t have a view of a literal future Jewish kingdom centered in Jerusalem, then you can’t figure this stuff out.
If you have an allegorical view then you’re just thinking this somehow relates to Heaven or whatever. So in verse 2 we read, “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days [that’s the latter days of Israel] that the mountain of the Lord’s house [that is the Millennial Temple that’s described in Ezekiel 40 and following] shall be established on the top of the mountains.”
There will be a topographical change probably due to this earthquake that takes place at the end of the Tribulation period. This changes and probably elevates a huge mountain in Jerusalem that will become the place where the Millennial Temple is built. It’s not the current Temple Mount because it’s too small to fit the dimensions of the Ezekiel 40–48 description of the Temple.
It will be built on the top of the mountains and all the nations shall flow to it. Israel becomes a priest nation. All the Gentiles, that’s the Hebrew word there, the goyim. “… All the Gentiles will flow to it. Many people will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
This is when they function as a priest nation. Now does that mean that they don’t have a priestly tribe functioning within the nation? Of course not. They still have within the nation the function of the Levitical descendants of Zadok. Zadok was the descendant of Aaron, who after the judgment on the House of Eli, it is through, and after Abiather, the high priest at the time of David, allies himself to Absalom, then you have this shift. Zadok is the high priest who stays loyal to David. So it’s the descendants of Zadok who are going to be the family of the high priest and serve in the Temple of the Lord in the Millennial Temple. You have a priestly nation for the rest of the world and then you have a priest tribe in the middle.
- In terms of the Old Testament priesthood, priests in Israel were limited to the tribe of Levi and the descendants of Aaron. It gets a little confusing as you read about the priests and the Levites. Priests are the descendants of Aaron but not all and there’s just one line from Aaron from which the high priest would come. The other priests seem to have been descendants of Aaron.
Then you had others in that tribe, the Levites, who would also serve in the Temple doing multiple functions. The priests came down through a line from Aaron through Eleazer. Then you had others that functioned in the Tabernacle and the Temple.
You think about some of the things we studied in the past, when you’re looking especially at the Temple, Solomon’s dedication of the Temple when he sacrifices 900 bulls. You have to have a huge logistical framework to do that. You have to have a lot of people working.
You have people who are Levites because only Levites can work in the Temple, so they have to be your building engineers and your construction workers. They have to be the ones who make all the instruments. They have to be blacksmiths. They have to make the knives and keep the knives sharp. They have to be seamstresses because they have to make all of the garments. Everything has to be done by Levites so you have a huge division of labor.
Those Levites who lived in Jerusalem could serve there. But, of course, if you were a Levite and you lived up in the north or way down in the south near Beersheba, you couldn’t do that, so you were sort of a non-functioning Levite. If you moved to Jerusalem, then you could have a part in the worship. It focuses on the tribe of Levi and the descendants of Aaron.
- The responsibilities of the priests included the service in the Tabernacle and the Temple. You had to keep the place clean. They had to wash down the entire altar and keep everything clean. Blood corrodes things very rapidly and stinks and attracts flies and all these other things, so they used a tremendous amount of water. They had to build holding tanks.
They’ve discovered these cisterns under the Temple Mount and in other parts of Jerusalem that would hold water. They discovered aqueducts. Most of the aqueducts are from the Second Temple. But they would bring water from the hill country in the north and hill country in the south. You have all these priests. You had to have thousands of them to carry out all of the work so that it would function efficiently on the feast days when tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands came to Jerusalem at Passover and Pentecost and all the other feast days.
- The Levites were the smallest of all the tribes according to the census in Numbers. They were not given an allotment or inheritance or possession in the land. They weren’t given a tribal area. Their inheritance was to be the Lord. In various passages, it talks about the fact that the Lord was supposed to be their inheritance or their possession. God would provide for them.
Some cities were to be set aside for the Levites: 48 towns throughout the land. This is designated in Joshua 21:41 and 21:13–19. So this is all part of God’s design to provide a priestly tribe.
- There are two passages in the Old Testament that directly describe the Levitical priesthood, Leviticus 21 and 22. They describe what could disqualify a priest, what qualified a priest. Numbers 18 also describes various functions of the priesthood. There’s never a mention of a spiritual qualification and it never says they had to be a believer. That’s because the ritual isn’t reality. The ritual, the priesthood wasn’t reality.
I’ve taught this and you’ve heard me say this many times that when you would go into the Tabernacle or Temple, so to speak, if you are ritually unclean because you have performed some act that made you ritually unclean, it wasn’t necessarily a sin. To touch a dead body is not immoral or sinful, but it is a reminder of the effects of sin, so it would make you spiritually unclean.
You have a number of things that would make a person spiritually unclean, but it didn’t necessarily make them sinful or out of fellowship. If you’re living up in Dan or you’re living in the Galilee or somewhere and you commit a sin, you can’t run down to Jerusalem and offer a burnt offering at the Temple—otherwise you’d never come back home. You’d just sin and sin and sin, so you would confess your sin.
That’s reality—your personal relationship with the Lord. David is out with his sheep. He prays to the Lord. He confesses his sin. But when he goes to worship at the Temple, he has to be ritually cleansed. The priesthood is related to that ritual idea, so there’s not a spiritual qualification, only a ritual qualification, because the ritual is just foreshadowing or creating a picture of the spiritual reality.
The requirements are genealogical and they’re physical. If a Levite had any kind of defect, like a deformed arm or blemishes on his skin and various other things are mentioned, then you could not serve in the Temple. That doesn’t mean you were just a rotten, corrupt sinner. You just couldn’t serve. It all has to do with visualizing the effects of sin and that sin keeps people away from God.
In Numbers 18:6–7 God says, “Behold I Myself have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel. They are a gift to you, given by the Lord, to do the work of the tabernacle of meeting.” It’s a pure genealogical requirement.
Verse 7, “Therefore, you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything at the altar and behind the veil [the high priestly family]; and you shall serve [Aaron]. I give your priesthood to you as a gift for service.”
See, we have these gifts and functions to serve the Lord. That’s an essential idea of the priesthood. I give you this priesthood “as a gift for service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” No one can come in the presence of God unless they’re ritually clean, so if they’re outside and they’re not designated, then the automatic penalty is the death penalty. God is serious about that.
- Under the eighth point that’s all Old Testament, all leading up to and pointing to the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. That’s the next significant priesthood mentioned in the Bible, it’s when we get into the New Testament. Hebrews 2:17–18 and 3:1, “Therefore in all things He [Jesus Christ] had to be made like His brethren.” That’s the incarnation. He had to be a man. Only a man could serve as an intercessor.
1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and man.” The Mediator has to partake of both sides in order to bring about that meeting. He has to partake, “had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest.” Only a human being can represent himself to God. If He was just God, He could not do that.
Verse 18, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted …” Now that doesn’t mean He was enticed to sin, but tempting means that you are objectively enticing somebody to sin, not that you’re responding to it.
Some of you know what I mean. If you’ve ever been on a diet and you feel really good, one day somebody offers you chocolate cake and ice cream. You say, “I’m not even interested.” We’ve all had days like that. Then the next day comes along and someone puts that in front of us and we almost eat the plate it’s on because we yield to it. But they’re both temptations. Whether you respond positively to it or not doesn’t define it as a temptation.
Jesus is tested and because of that He is qualified, so therefore He is able to aid those who are tempted. That’s us. “Therefore,” the writer of Hebrews concludes, “Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.” He is our High Priest.
In Hebrews 5:5 we read, “So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He [that is God the Father] who said to Him [God the Son]: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’ ” That’s a quote from Psalm 110:1, a Messianic prophecy.
Then in the next verse he quotes from another verse from Psalm 110:4, “As He also says in another place: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’.” What tribe is Jesus from? The tribe of Judah. The Ruler of Israel had to come from the tribe of Judah.
The prophecy that Jacob made to his son Judah in Genesis 49 was that the scepter would not depart from that tribe. The scepter is a sign of being a ruler. So Jesus could not be a priest, a Levitical priest, because He’s from the tribe of Judah, but He is a priest. He is a Royal High Priest because He is a priest according to the type of Melchizedek. That helps us understand our royal priesthood, because we’re in Christ. We are in Christ. He is our Royal Priest and because we are in Him, we are royal priests. Our priesthood derives from His high priesthood.
Then it goes on to talk in verse 7 about Christ, “who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear.” That is because of His response, His obedience to God’s authority.
That’s Hebrews 5:8–10, “Though He was a son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected [He had to be matured, brought to maturity], He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest, ‘according to the order of Melchizedek’.” That’s why I spent time giving that as background. Only then can we understand the high priesthood of Jesus, and only then can we understand our derivative priesthood, which is a royal priesthood derived from Jesus.
Then in Hebrews 4:14 and following, we read, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens [the first heaven is the atmosphere of the earth, the second heaven is the universe, the third heaven is the Throne Room of God], Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”
That’s the exhortation there. Don’t give up. Don’t fade out, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.” You take out the double negative and he’s saying we have a High Priest who understands our weaknesses because He was tempted in every category, even as we are, but He did not sin. Therefore He is able to strengthen us.
And how does that happen? Verse 16: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace.”
We can do that only because we’re priests, because we have a High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ who has opened the way so our priesthood is embedded. Remember Hebrews is also a Jewish epistle just like 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and James, written to Jewish-background believers. So that helps us to understand some of the Jewish connection that’s going on here, recognizing that the Jewish background of the priesthood is the framework for helping us understand our priesthood.
- As priests we are to bring sacrifices. That’s part of the role of the priest, to bring sacrifices. We studied that before and this doesn’t mean that you have a sense of loss or giving up. It’s that you’re offering something freely to God for His service. This is seen in 1 Peter 2:5, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ.”
We talked about those. Financial giving is one of those spiritual sacrifices, offering praise to God, and singing hymns to God. That’s a spiritual sacrifice. Living our life for Him. That’s another form of that spiritual sacrifice where we are serving Him.
In Romans 12:1 Paul says, “I beseech you, I beg of you, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable …” That means totally set apart, unique, “holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service.” That is a priestly verse. That’s a function of our high priesthood. That is so great that we can serve the living and true God.
We do that because we have been made a temple. A temple is a place where deity dwells, and God the Holy Spirit has made our bodies a temple for the indwelling of Christ. Romans 8:9 says that “… if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” The Spirit of God dwells in us to make us a temple. In Colossians 1:27 Paul writes to them, “God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you.” That’s not in the church. That’s in the individual believers in the church. “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 both talk about the fact that the believer is the temple of God, because the Spirit of God dwells in him. The Spirit of God is what sanctifies us so that Christ can dwell in that sanctified space inside of us. All of this is directed to something in the future.
Revelation mentions this three times in the opening introduction. John writes that He has made us kings. That’s actually a bad translation. He has made us a kingdom, royalty. That would be better. He has made us royalty. He “has made us royal [no “and”, that was a textual variant], priests to His God.” So this refers to what happens, what is transacted at the point of our salvation. We are made priests to His God and Father.
Then in Revelation 5:10 you have that heavenly scene where you have the church and the angels before the Throne of God. This is the scene where they are searching, and one of the angels is searching everywhere. They can’t find anyone qualified to open the scroll that the Father has in His hands.
Then the Lamb comes forward. There’s this dramatic scene where the Lamb takes the scroll and then the angels and the 24 elders break out in a chorus. The 24 elders are praising the Lamb because He has redeemed us, they say, referring to them as Church Age believers. “You have redeemed us.” It can’t be angels who say that.
Revelation 20:6 says, “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.” [That is a multiple resurrection. We’ll study that Sunday morning (Matthew) on resurrections.] “Over such the second death has no power, but they [Church Age believers] will be priests of God and of Christ and reign with Him.”
That’s the idea of royal priesthood. Royalty reigns and we’re called priests of God, so we reign as a royal priest for one thousand years in the Millennial Kingdom. That gives us the scope of what the Bible teaches about our priesthood. We develop as priests only as we grow spiritually, developing the capacity to serve and function as royal priests when the kingdom comes.
Next time we’ll come back and get into some really interesting material starting in 1 Peter 2:11 that shifts gears. It sets the stage for everything that’s covered down through almost the end of chapter 4. None of it is going to make any of us comfortable. We come to study the Word, not to be told how great we are, but how great the Lord is and how we are to serve Him. We’ll come back next time and get into that next section.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to trust You, to trust Your Word, to learn Your Word, to be transformed from the inside out by the renovation of God the Holy Spirit, taking Your Word to apply to our lives.
Help us to understand and to think about and reflect upon what it means to be a priest, a royal priest to You. This is our position. This is who we are, our status in Christ. Father, challenge us with what we’ve studied today. In Christ’s name. Amen.”