God's Holy Priesthood
By Eddie Cloer
"...To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood, and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (Revelation 1:5, 6).
As a mature man and an American citizen, I have lived under two sets of laws. As a child, I lived under that group of laws which our country has for minors. At that time, I was not permitted to drive a car, own a house, have my own bank account, or vote. I had to live under the supervision of my parents. My signature on any document meant nothing unless it was cosigned by one of my parents. I was regarded as a child, and special laws governed my life and protected me.
Now, as an adult, I live under another series of laws. Within the limits of these laws, I can own and drive a car, own a house, have a personal bank account, and vote for public officials. Under this collection of laws, I am more of an individual, but with these personal privileges come personal responsibilities. I may choose to work and earn money, but I have the obligation of paying taxes on the money I have earned. I have the right to make decisions on my own without the authorization of my parents, but I will be judged by the law as responsible for my actions. It is a new set of laws under which I live as an adult, a set markedly different from the set under which I lived as a child.
The Jews of the first century found themselves in a similar circumstance. They experienced living under two sets of spiritual laws or covenants. They had been living under the law of Moses by sacrificing at the temple, observing annual festivals and feasts, going to God through specially appointed priests, and keeping all the other laws given to Israel through Moses. Then Christianity was inaugurated in Jerusalem on the first Day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ. As some Jews made the decision to follow Christ as His church, they entered into God's new covenant, leaving the law of Moses and come under a new set of laws. As Christians under the new covenant, they would walk by faith, live according to the will of Christ as revealed through His apostles, and serve and worship God as Christ's spiritual body.
As the Jews made this transition from the law of Moses to Christianity, perhaps one truth that stood out in bold relief to them was that God no longer had a select group among His people who served him as priests, but all of his people were His priests. according to the new covenant, Christ has taken all who have been washed in His blood and has made them "to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father" (Revelation 1:6). In Christ, we are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (1 Peter 2:9). We have been added to the church of Christ which is "being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). This priesthood of all Christians should strike us as it must have struck the Jews, inspiring in us amazement, awe, and a deep sense of gratitude.
The priesthood feature of the church, when understood, will encourage every Christian. In the previous age, God honored the Levites by making them His priests; and in the present age, a God has honored every person who has come into Christ by making him or her a priest in His kingdom.
Has this truth about the priesthood of all of God's children gripped us? Have we seen the significance of it? Let us give it more-in-depth thought.
A PRIESTLY PRIVILEGE FROM GOD
Those who have become Christians have had a priestly privilege bestowed upon them. God has honored them with a special relationship with Him, just as He did His Old Testament priests.
The Mosaical priests were granted a distinctive fellowship with God. They lived daily in God's presence in a way not enjoyed by the other Israelites. At every camping site, their tents were located directly in front of the tabernacle, near the visible presence of God. When Israel settled in Canaan, the priests, along with the Levites, received God as their special possession, rather than an allotment of land. They did receive forty eight cities and their surrounding pasturelands as places to live. (Joshua 21:41), but they would be supported by the other tribes so that they could give their time totally to the service of God. Every sacrifice that would be brought by Israel to be offered at the tabernacle would be offered to God by a priest. God had set aside the priests to have a favored association with Him.
This intimate communion with God enjoyed only by the priests in Old Testament times is given in this Christian Age to every Christian. Anyone who comes to God through the gospel is adopted into His family and is looked upon as a person of "His own possession" (Titus 2:14). People who were once "not a people are now the "people of God" (1 Peter 2:10). Those who were "far away" (Ephesians 2:17) from God have been "brought near" by the blood of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:13). God (John 14:23), Christ (Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27), and the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) dwell within us. We walk daily in the fellowship of the Father, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3), and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5).
Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the first copy of the Ten Commandments engraved upon two tablets of stone only to find the Israelites falling down before a golden calf in idolatrous worship. He threw the tablets to the ground, as if to say, "Before I could get down from Mount Sinai with these ten commandments, you people had already broken them!" He ground the calf into powder, scattered the powder over the surface of the water, and made the people drink it. Moses took a position at the gate of the camp and said, "Whoever is on the Lord's side, come and stand beside me!" Immediately, the tribe of Levi fell in beside Moses in brave loyalty and support. Moses commanded the tribe of Levi to go throughout the camp and kill those who had been guilty of this idolatrous worship. They faithfully carried out his order, allowing themselves to be God's instruments of judgment. Because of their faithfulness to God, God honored them throughout the remaining Mosaical dispensation by bestowing upon them the privilege of being His chosen priests. Those of the family of Amram were His priests, and the rest of the Levites assisted them in the Lord's service. Thus, the Levites received the highest honor God can impart to anyone-that of being His chosen servants in the world!
Through Christ, anyone today may be granted the honor which God granted only to the Levites in Old Testament days. Whoever comes to Him in faith and obedience is added to God's set-apart people, His holy priesthood.
This amazing truth has a message for us. First, it should remind us that God has given His redeemed people significance and worth in His sight. We have been lifted from being nothing to being God's special possession. We are not just "a people"; we are "the people of God." In addition, this truth should clarify our mission in this world. We are servants of God in a particular sense. Further, this truth should produce in us an undying attitude of gratitude. We are where we are and what we are because of God's grace.
A PRIESTLY ACCESS TO GOD
Those who are members of the spiritual body of Christ have a priestly access to God. We do not have to go through any other human being in order to approach Him. Through Christ, we have an open approach to God.
The Jews could only reach up to God through a human priest. God spoke to the Jews through a prophet or priest, and the Jews sacrificed to God through the priest. The Jews had to have a human "go-between" to bridge the gap between them and God.
Now, in Christ, the Christian can go directly to God through Jesus. All barriers between God and man have been removed by the cross for both Jew and Gentile. At the end of a section on the unity that Jews and Gentiles have in Christ, Paul mentioned this access: "For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:18). Later, Paul wrote, "In whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him" (Ephesians 3:12). Jesus is the only mediator needed for the Christian to come to God: "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).
I have two presidents in my life. The more immediate one is the president of Harding University, where I daily teach Bible. He is my boss. I see him every day in chapel, and I speak to him often in teachers' meetings and when I pass him in the hall. I visit with him at social functions and see him at worship services at the College church, where I worship when I am not away preaching. I speak to him so often and have been so closely associated with him for several years that I would call him my personal friend. I could telephone him at any hour of the day, and I would be allowed to speak to him about whatever I wished. If he could not come to the phone to talk with me, he would return the call as soon as he could.
The second president in my life is the President of the United States. I have never spoken to him personally. I have seen him in person only one time, and that was from some distance away as he rode in a car in a parade. All I really know about him is what I have read in the newspapers or have seen on T.V. I cannot say that I know him as I friend. I know nothing first hand about his personal life, and he knows nothing about mine. If I should need to call him about an important matter, I would not be allowed to talk with him. I would only be promised that the message would be sent to him. He lives in a world far removed from mine. I have no real accessibility to his life and power except at the voting machine when our nation chooses its President every four years. What he does trickles down to affect me, but he never sees me, and I only see him from a distance.
Whoever comes to Him in faith and
obedience is added to God's set-apart
people, his holy priesthood.
What is the difference between these two presidents? It is simply this: I have access to one, and I do not have access to the other. The difference is in that one word: "access." My relationship with God, since I am a Christian, would be compared with my relationship with the president of Harding University. Through Christ, I have free and unhindered entrance to God. I can approach Him in prayer at any time. I walk daily in His companionship and strength. Because He is the Almighty God, He never needs to put me on hold or return a call when I pray. The door into His presence, because of Christ, always stands ajar for my entrance. He not only allows me to come into His presence, but He welcomes me into it. He seeks my fellowship, and I seek His. He is truly my heavenly Father.
The Jews under the law of Moses did not have the access to God that I have as a Christian. They went to God through Levitical priests. God was their constant companion, but their access to Him was limited to an approach through a human priesthood.
This truth about priestly access which Christians enjoy should not only encourage us, but also should energize us. God welcomes us into His presence, enjoys our fellowship, and gives us freedom of approach to Him even as a father gives his children admittance to himself. Let us employ this opportunity of fellowship with God through prayer, companionship, and spiritual service.
A PRIESTLY FUNCTION FOR GOD
As Christians, we have a priestly function. We do the work of priests.
In Old Testament times, the priests offered the sacrifices to God for all of Israel. Only the priests could enter the Holy Place of the tabernacle as the worship of God was conducted. The common Israelite, as he stood at the entrance of the tabernacle, was represented in the tabernacle by priests. On the great Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place, into the presence of God, with the blood of the atoning sacrifice, through which the nation's sins would be cleansed until the next Day of Atonement. Beyond these worship responsibilities, the priests had a specific commission from God to teach His laws throughout Israel so that His nation would be confident of His will for them.
These holy functions of the priests during the Old Testament period find their parallel in what Christians are asked to do in this Christian Age. No animal sacrifices are offered during the Christian dispensation, but the spiritual sacrifices of singing, praying, observing the Lord's Supper, giving, studying the Word of God, and rendering Christian service are offered to God by each Christian. Of singing, the writer of Hebrews said, "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15). In Revelation, in apocalyptic language, the prayers of the saints on earth are described as incense being placed on the golden altar (Revelation 8:3). One of the overarching purposes of the church on earth is to "offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). The writer of Hebrews pictures the door to the presence of God as being always open to Christians through the blood of Christ:
Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10: 19-22).
Christ Jesus has become our great, eternal High Priest, and every Christian is a priest who can come to God anytime, anywhere through Him. Our Savior has "entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" for us (Hebrews 9:12). High priests of the Old Testament Age offered an animal sacrifice and took the blood into the Most Holy Place for atonement for the nation once a year, but Christ went into heaven itself with the offering of Himself (Hebrews 9:24, 25). Now, through that personal sacrifice which Christ has made, He will remain our High Priest forever, thus providing for us a personal priesthood before God. Because of this, Christians have been commanded to teach God's Word throughout the world that all men may know of His saving grace (Mark 16:15,16).
The function of an object generally suggests its identity. Because an instrument which has a long handle and a sharply curved blade on the end of it is used for hoeing, we call it a hoe. Because a little tool which has a short handle and a metal head with a flat side is used for hammering nails, we call it a hammer. Since Christians are to function as priests before God, we are not surprised that the New Testament calls us priests. Three times in the New Testament, Christians are specifically referred to as priests (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6); and at numerous others times their priesthood is implied by their function (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Hebrews 13:15).
The truth that we have been invited by the Lord to function in this world as priests of God should give us a clearer vision of the importance of our work and service. Any Old Testament priest would have a sense of significance surrounding all of his activities-for he was God's special servant, guiding His nation in worship and service before God. Even so, as God's holy priesthood today, we worship, serve, and teach in gratitude that God has given us this incomparable function on His earth.
Since we function as God's priests, we should feel a great sense of responsibility. The head of a trucking firm placed a sign over the exit gate for the truck drivers to read as they left to take their loads to different destinations. It read, "Beyond This Gate, You Represent the Company." When people saw those truck drivers, they saw the company. Since we are God's priests, we represent God in the world. Fellow priest, do we take our responsibility seriously?
Christians, then, are God's holy priesthood in the Christian Age. We have priestly access to God, we have been granted priestly privileges, and we fulfill a priestly function in the world. We have the highest honor, for we have been set apart to be Jehovah's own people. We have the highest calling, for we have been set apart to be Jehovah" own people. We have the highest calling, for we have been called to be holy, to be like God. We have the highest work, for we have been given the function of priests of God.
Are you a Christian? Have you allowed Christ to cleanse you of your sins and make you one of God's priests? We should want to be Christians, not only because of what a Christian receives, but also because of what a Christian is and does.
Our songs echo our interests, loyalties, and values. This is also true in heaven. What songs are being sung in heaven? Notice the song that was sung by the court of heaven when the Lamb took the book with the seven seals out of the hand of the One who occupied the throne:
"Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth" (Revelation 5:9,10).
If you were asked by the president of your nation to serve the nation as part of his cabinet, would you accept? Most likely. If you were asked by the mayor of your city to serve your city as its special servant, would you accept? Surely you would. God, the Creator of the universe, the One who has offered redemption to you through His Son, is asking you to come to Him and serve Him and this world as His holy priesthood. Will you accept?
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
1. Compare the laws for minors and the laws for adults in your nation. 2. Describe how the Jews of the first century may have been confused about which law they were under, whether the law of Moses or the new law of Christ. 3. What do you think stood out as being really different in the mind of a Jew who had become a Christian? 4. What kind of special relationship existed between God and the priest of the Old Testament? 5. How does being God's priests give us worth and significance today? 6. What does the phrase "access to God" mean? 7. List specific blessings which we enjoy as a result of having access to God. 8. How do we function as God's priests today? 9. List the Scriptures which refer to Christians as priests of God. 10. How does Revelation 5:9, 10 reflect the priesthood of believers? 11. How does one become a priest of God today? 12. Can anyone become a priest of God today?
For Preaching and Teaching Purposes: Sermon or Teaching Type: Basic pattern- deductive; textual. Subject: The church. Theme: The church as God's holy priesthood. Title: God's Holy Priesthood. Preaching or Teaching Portion: Revelation 1:5, 6. Proposition: (Declarative) The church is God's holy priesthood today. Interrogative Question or Probing Question: How? Key Word: Ways. Major Points: I A Priestly Privilege From God; II. A Priestly Access to God; III. A Priestly Function for God. Sermonic or Teaching Objective: To persuade the Christian to live as God's priest.