Lesson 6 The Priesthood Of The Church

“You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5) “…you are a royal Priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9).

The very word priest suggests someone who is functioning at the heart of spiritual activity, engaging in rituals or prayers that mediate between God and man. From the most ancient of times, priestly activity has always been evident, both in false religion and in true worship. In the patriarchal period of the Old Testament, the heads of families, such as Abraham, are seen building altars and preparing offerings to God in a priestly way. Melchizedek, King of Salem {(the ancient name for Jerusalem) functioned as a priest of the Most High God to whom even Abraham paid tithes (Gen. 14:11-20). He became a figure or type of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest (Heb. 7:11-22). Priesthood is a significant and holy office in the sight of God, if conducted according to His precepts.

Calling Of Priests

In the Bible the word priest comes from the Hebrew word kohen which may also be related to an Arabic word meaning “to draw near.” This concept of drawing near to God is seen in Exodus 19:22; 28:43 and 30:19,20. From the time of Adam it was necessary for sinful man to draw near to God on the basis of blood sacrifices. Job, a contemporary of Abraham, offered sacrifices to God on behalf of his family (Job 1:5). When the nation of Israel was brought into being by God, His desire for them was that they be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6). Because of their sin and failure to fulfill the purposes of God, they were allowed to have a representative priesthood of one tribe (Levi), selected to serve for the other tribes. Of this select group, the sons of Aaron alone qualified to have one of their number be the high priest and thus enter into the holy of holies, the most sacred inner shrine of the Temple. Even this privilege was limited to once a year, until the time of our Lord Jesus’ great sacrifice (Heb. 9:6-14). Now all believers can enter the holy place, the very presence of God, by reason of the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19-22). Thus, priesthood is no longer a role reserved for the privileged few but accorded to all who have been cleansed through the sacrificial work of our Lord Jesus.

All believers now are counted as both a holy and a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5,9). This is called the priesthood of all believers. The Lord Jesus alone is the Great High Priest (Heb. 6:19,20), and believers have been made a kingdom of priests serving God under Him (Rev. 1:6). This astonishing truth was well known to the early church but became obscured over the centuries, until it was rarely known. What obscured it? Obviously the lack of Bible knowledge made it possible to keep believers ignorant. The rise of the system known as clericalism in the church created a special class of men who alone were called “priests” and who alone could appoint succeeding “priests.” They administered what were known as the sacraments, dispensed the elements at the Communion, stood behind fenced rails at altars and lifted up their hands to bless people on behalf of God. The ordinary believers were called laity, meaning common people, and were reduced to the role of spectators or secondary participants. They had no idea that really all of them were to be a kingdom of priests with equal privileges in the sight of God. Nor did they realize that those who stood in robes before them were merely man-made priests, serving without any authority or status given them from God.

The clergy-laity distinction among Christians is clearly wrong, being based in part on the Old Testament distinction between the priests and all other Israelites. Unfortunately, it is the Old Testament system appearing in Christian clothing.

It may be helpful to make some distinctions between Biblical teaching and modern practice. To understand the meaning of the priesthood today, consider these distinctions:

1. Priests Are Appointed Only by God. “No man takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God” (Heb. 5:4). In fact, appointment to the priesthood now takes place the instant we are born again, since all believers are royal priests. Old Testament priesthood was a matter of family birth (Num. 3:3), dating back to patriarchal family heads. New Testament priesthood is a matter of new birth, as far as God is concerned. Other earthly priests are simply man-made, without divine sanction, as illustrated in the book of Judges (17:5,6). No man or religious institution has the authority to appoint someone a priest.

2. Priests Have No Special Garments. In Israel there was divinely prescribed clothing for the high priest and his associates (Exod. 28:2,40). But that system has been wholly set aside by God (Heb. 7:12,18,19). Just as now we have no Temple, no sacrificial altar, no prescribed rituals or festivals, so we have no robed priests. The attempt to revive portions of this Old Testament system and put it all in Christian clothes is a denial of the present Scriptural order. Someone has called this practice of special priests, special clothing, holy altars, candles and incense “the unauthorized shade of a departed shadow.” The Old Testament system was just a shadow, a symbolic pattern pointing to Christ. The Lord has come. The shadows are no longer needed.

3. Priests Are Not Ceremonialists. By this we mean that they do not have some official authority to administer the Lord’s Supper, bless the elements, transform them, perform baptism rituals, or offer prescribed prayers before the congregation. Priests have no special powers which are not available to all who believe. Such ideas are in clear contradiction to the New Testament order of the priesthood. Our powers in the Lord are spiritual rather than ceremonial.

Privileges Of Priests

In a general way a true priest represents man to God and also represents God to man. A priest enters the presence of God, being cleansed by the blood of Jesus. There he prays for himself and for others. He also communicates with God on behalf of those who have no access, those who are not saved and cleansed by the blood of Christ. What are our privileges as priests?

1. We Have Access to God. Without it we could not be priests. With confidence far greater than ancient priests, the believer can come boldly before God, entering through the veil which is His flesh (Heb. 10:19,20). The Temple veil was torn to permit direct access to God at the very moment of the death of the Lord (Mark 15:37,38). All who believe can draw near to God in full assurance (Heb. 10:22).

2. We Offer Sacrifices to God. Anyone who functions as a priest must have something to offer to God (Heb. 8:3). In Old Testament times this involved animal sacrifices, as a picture of the coming blood sacrifice of Messiah. It also involved the first fruits of crops, vineyards, and money. Worship recognized the goodness and blessing of the Lord as the owner of all. The sacrifice of Christ has now ended the need for memorial offerings of animals. We are now privileged to bring other offerings to God in the light of His Son’s great sacrifice for us. These include (1) the daily yielding of our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1,2). (2) The sacrifice of our monetary gifts (Phil. 4:16-18; Heb. 13:16) in a systematic way (1 Cor. 16:1,2). (3) The sacrifice of our service (Phil. 2:17). (4) The sacrifice of our gospel witness, which can bear spiritual fruit in souls won to Christ (Rom. 15:16). (5) The sacrifice of praise, our verbal worship to God (Heb. 13:15). Such sacrifices should be offered to God with a deep sense of their significance. These are spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5), not petty donations.

3. We Make Intercession to God. From the earliest Biblical accounts, it is evident that men needed others to pray for them (Job 42:8-10). It is stated that God is astonished that believers do not intercede with Him for others when the need is great and opportunity available (Isa. 59:16). If our Lord takes time daily to intercede for us, His people, (Heb. 7:25), how much more should we do the same for all men (1 Tim. 2:1,2). We are invited, as well as commanded, to use the holy privilege of intercession before Him as His priests. Intercessory prayer that is holy is like incense offered before God (Rev. 8:3,4).

4. We Have Satisfaction in God. The Levites of Israel were given no land like the other tribes. The Lord was their inheritance (Deut. 18:1,2). Our great reward for serving Him is the supreme joy of ministering to Him. Another benefit will be treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20). There may even be rewards in this life (Luke 18:28-30). However, neither material things, nor earthly joys can ever be our ultimate satisfaction. God must be our complete satisfaction.

Priests may function in assorted other ways. They should be able to counsel from the Word (Mai. 2:7; Heb. 5:12) as the representatives of God. They should be able to distinguish between the holy and the profane, or between the unclean and the clean (Lev. 10:10). They may be called to judge in the difficult areas of personal conflicts (1 Cor. 6:3; Ezek. 44:24). In dealing with the ignorant and misguided, they must learn to be gentle, realizing their own weaknesses (Heb. 5:1,2). All these can be undertaken as a priestly function for God.

Holiness Of Priests

The believer-priest today is under no less obligation to be holy in his life and walk than his Old Testament counterpart. Those who serve must be holy and not touch the unclean (Isa. 52:11). There were detailed rules to bar priests with defects from ministry (Lev. 21:16-23). Some were temporary, meaning they could serve once the problem was corrected. Others were permanent. There were many rules regarding defilement (Lev. 21:1-5; 22:1-9). Written on the turban of the high priest were these words, “Holy to the Lord,” indicating this high sense of consecration.

This marked emphasis on holiness led many priests to be preoccupied with the ritual forms of defilement. The Lord rebuked this outward preoccupation at the expense of inner purity and consecration (Matt. 23:25,26). Inner defilement is the dangerous kind. It may be masked by a hypocritical emphasis on external matters. Defilement breaks fellowship with God and thus, until cleansed, interrupts the exercise of priestly privileges (Psa. 66:18). True holiness is not reflected in special doming, special buildings or special days for religious activities. Holiness is a pure heart, righteousness, love, faith, and peace that pleases God (2 Tim. 2:22). It is pure religion that causes a man to visit the fatherless and afflicted (Jas. 1:27). It is a pure conscience that is sensitive to God in things that permanently matter, and thus qualifies a priest for service (1 Tim. 1:5). The Old Testament priest had to be ceremonially clean. The New Testament priest must be spiritually clean.

The mark of a priest must be that of absolute dedication to God in every area of life. That person is God’s man or God’s woman. It is separation unto God and as well as from defilement that constitutes the full concept of holiness or sanctification. The ritual consecration of Aaron and his sons by Moses typified the setting apart of man’s whole being for God. Blood was applied to the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand and the big toe of the right foot (Lev. 8:23). This signified that the hearing, service and walk of a priest was sanctified by blood in order to prepare him to live for God. Our priestly goal today must be the same. Christ saved us to live a life of holiness in pleasing God. Defiling habits, obscene reading or visual matter, corrupt speech, or ungodly associations must be expelled from our lives. Consecration to God of our time, energy, gifts, and other special abilities is proper priestly living.

Conclusion And Application

It is not enough to just outwardly endorse the priesthood of all believers as a Biblical doctrine in which we believe. It is not enough to strongly condemn clericalism or other practices which hinder the understanding and practice of true priesthood in the church or out of it. It is necessary that we realize the full implications of being a holy member of a kingdom of priests and begin to function actively as such. The truth of God calls for response in an active way.

Since we have access to God, we should approach Him often with clean hands and a pure heart. Since we are called to offer sacrifices, we should do so in all areas enumerated. Since we can intercede for others, then let us not disappoint God by failing to use each opportunity. Since we are to have satisfaction only in God and not in material things, then let us re-evaluate the true riches found only in Christ. Finally, remember we have the highest call to holy living. When these things become true in daily living then we are practicing the priesthood of all believers. Public worship, in a godly way, is an honor for a priest, although not a requirement. However, the private exercise of the priesthood is always available to all believers and should not be neglected.

Lesson 6 The Priesthood Of The Church

1. Read Hebrews 9:1-10. Before you studied this topic, what did the idea of priesthood mean to you? To what extent were you aware of the truth of Revelation 1:6?

2. Contrast the attitude about drawing near to God in Hebrews 12:18-21 with Hebrews 10:19,20. What is your attitude when you draw near to God?

3. Read Hebrews 10:19-22. What freedom do we now have that the Old Testament priests did not have?

4. Read Hebrews 13:10-16. As priests, what is our “altar” and what are our

“sacrifices”?

5. What is the application of Leviticus 8:23 to a New Testament priest?

6. After reading the Lord’s words in Mark 7:1-5, what can you do to avoid the Pharisees’ hypocrisy of outer correctness, yet inner defilement?

7. Before you studied the New Testament doctrine of priesthood, how were your thoughts different from your perspective now, especially after studying the lesson notes?

8. Opinion: What in this lesson most affected your thinking?