-Ministering As Priests – Then And Now
Old Testament Priests We learn much from Melchizedek, that mysterious priest who is mentioned even more in the New Testament than the Old. Genesis tells us that as Abram was returning after his victory over the kings from the East, this priest brought out bread and wine. While this refreshed Abram, what seems more important was that he blessed Abram, setting “God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth” before him as the One who had delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand. Before blessing Abram, he blessed God for having done this for Abram. The effect of this encouragement became evident as Abram refused to receive anything from the hand of the king of Sodom, while at the same time rendering testimony as to his relationship with the Lord God, whom Melchizedek had just set before him.
The divine commentary on Melchizedek in Hebrews builds on the differences between the priesthood referred to by his name – of which Christ is the supreme example – and the Aaronic priesthood of Israel. While the Jews prided themselves in their God-given Aaronic priesthood, the Melchizedek priesthood is shown to be superior. Christ is ever superior to all He is compared with! A priest in Scripture is normally one who stands between God and man, bridging the gap as it were. We have seen that a priest blesses or speaks well of God. This brings in the thought of worship and sacrifice. A priest also blesses and thus refreshes and encourages man, setting God before him to meet his need. Hebrews 5:4 tells us that no one takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God.
God’s desire was that Israel – the people whom He had delivered from Egypt – be to Him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:3-6). Depending on themselves to do what God said, Israel immediately proved their unfitness and incapacity for this high calling.
God then chose Aaron and his sons to be His priests, telling Moses, “Now take Aaron your brother and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest” (Ex. 28:1 NKJV). He repeatedly emphasizes this purpose – “minister to Me.” When Peter writes of the privilege we as Christians enjoy today of being priests, he begins by saying that we are “a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). This is the Godward side of our priesthood. He goes on with the manward aspect, pointing out that we are simultaneously “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” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Every detail of the life and service of Israel’s priesthood was regulated by God’s direction and was to be to His glory: the holy garments they wore, the ceremonies inducting them into service, the sacrifices they offered, whom they might marry, where they would live, how they would be supported, their many responsibilities and tasks.
We believer-priests of this dispensation of grace are also to be for God’s glory. The details of our lives, however, are not spelled out as minutely as for them, for we have both the complete Word and the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us.
Perhaps because Israel’s priests were given such minutely detailed instructions, and because many Christians do not understand the difference between God’s earthly people (Israel) and His heavenly people (Christians), much of what was God’s instruction for Israel’s priests has found its way into the Christian profession. The priesthood of all believers, while professed in many churches, is actually little known and practiced. Very few live in the enjoyment of the truth of Hebrews 10:19-22 – that the believer-priest is invited to boldly enter into the very presence of God. Most feel that there must be a man between them and God who will represent them to God and God to them. Some of these go-betweens are Christians who truly love the Lord, while others are opponents of the truth of God who want followers who are subject to them.
In Scripture we find Melchizedek, whom we have noted to be a unique picture of our Lord in His royal priesthood. Then there were Israel’s priests, called by God to their office of ministering to Him. The Bible tells us of some very faithful godly priests – such as Phineas, Zadok, Jehoiada, Ezra, and Zacharias. Sadly, we also see repeated failure throughout the history of Israel’s priesthood, beginning with Aaron’s two oldest sons offering strange fire on the very day they began to exercise their priesthood. This failure ultimately culminated in the chief priests and the Pharisees plotting the death of the Lord Jesus (Jn. 11:47-57) and after His death and resurrection relentlessly persecuting His followers.
Besides God’s priests, good or bad, there were, and still are, many heathen priests in the world. Their gods are really malevolent demons, and their followers live in a world of fear. These priests are known by various names: witch doctors, shamans, lamas, mystics, etc. The freedom of religion we enjoy in so many lands not only benefits what is according to God but also protects those who without any sense of shame whatsoever openly worship Satan.
Becoming A Priest
How does one become a priest? Unlike Israel’s priests – who had to be able to trace their ancestry to Aaron (Ezra 2:62) and undergo various procedures during a full week of ceremonial consecration (Lev. 8-9) – every Christian is called both a holy and a royal priest (1 Pet. 2:5,9). Revelation 1:5-6 tells us that Jesus Christ has “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests (literally, a kingdom of priests) to His God and Father.” There is no exception to this; it is true of male and female, old and young, learned and unlearned, rich and poor.
While God’s instructions in the Law about Israel’s priesthood are not instructions for Christian priests today, there are general principles that we learn from them. It is God who determines how the priesthood is to be exercised. There was no such thing as a woman priest in Israel; every female descendant of Aaron was either a priest’s daughter, wife, widow, or possibly divorced ex-wife. A priest’s duties were assigned him by God (Num. 4:5-14,16,28,33; Lk. 1:8-9; Prov. 16:33). Some priests were debarred from serving publicly as priests (Lev. 21:16-24). Eventually Israel’s priests were divided into 24 groups, each of which functioned actively for a week at a time in rotation.
Today we have the Holy Spirit to guide us in the exercise of our priesthood. Every Christian woman is both a holy and a royal priest. Christian women, while just as much priests as Christian men, are instructed in the New Testament not to take a public role of leadership (1 Tim. 2:11-12) but rather to be silent in the assembly (1 Cor. 14:34-35). This in no way infringes on their intrinsic personal liberty as priests before God.
What does God desire of priests today? The Lord Jesus, speaking to the woman at the well, told her that the Father is seeking worshipers to worship Him in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:23-24). He made clear that the regulations God had set up for Israel’s worship, and which the Samaritans had at least in part modeled their worship after, were about to be done away. Outward form and impressiveness are not what God is looking for. He seeks reality. God delights in those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Then He looks for obedience to His Word and willingness to be led by the Spirit. And just as His priests in Israel worked together in harmony according to His directions, so He would have His priests today serve Him harmoniously as led by the Spirit.
Our Priestly Prospect
The 24 elders in Revelation 4-5 are depicted as crowned priests, seated on thrones, prostrating themselves before God and the Lamb, casting their crowns at His feet while acclaiming His worthiness. This is our happy prospect. Looking on to that future day, Revelation 22:3 tells us that, “His servants shall serve Him.” The word translated “serve” denotes priestly service. Our priestly service thus continues for God’s pleasure and our blessing. May this knowledge encourage us in our priestly service today.
By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org
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