Volume 22, Issue 30 (July 26, 2020)
Priests of God
By Kyle Pope
A priest is one who is set apart unto God for a special service to Him and His people. Priests carry out particular acts of worship and offer up sacrifices to honor and petition God. As long as men have worshipped God there have been those who have performed this service.
Under the Patriarchs
The earliest mention of men who served God in this capacity comes in the first book of the Bible. Genesis 14:18-20 tells of a man by the name of Melchizedek. Verse 18 states, “. . . he was the priest of God Most High” (NKJV). Abraham, the great man of faith, was not himself described as a priest, but he gave Melchizedek one tenth of all his spoils after the defeat of Chedorlaomer (Gen. 14:20; Heb. 7:4). Exodus 2:15-21 tells of a man named Reuel (or Jethro) who would later become Moses’s father-in-law. Verse 16 refers to him as the “Priest of Midian.” Even after Moses began to lead Israel, his advice to him removed a great burden from his shoulders (Exod. 18:1-27). During this period of time, the heads of families, even though not described as “priests” were permitted to offer their own sacrifices to God. Scripture, however, has not revealed to us how priests were chosen at this time or what was involved in their service before God. We simply know that there were those who were considered priests who served God.
Under Mosaic Law
When the Law of Moses was given, God set apart a special class of men to serve as priests. This priesthood involved a High Priest (Exod. 28:1) and those of the tribe of Levi who were descendants of Aaron (Num. 3:3). Not every Israelite could act as a priest. Tracing one’s ancestry to Aaron and Levi was required. These men attended to the tabernacle (and later to the temple). They offered sacrifices for the people which the people were not permitted to offer for themselves. Even a king was not allowed to assume the responsibility of a priest (2 Chron. 26:16-21). This was a special role they alone could fill. The lifestyle of the priests was held to a special standard of conduct. They could marry only virgins—no divorced women (Lev. 21). They could drink no wine or strong drink when they carried out their service (Lev. 10). This allowed them to have a clear mind in order to perform their service and offer a pure example before the people.
With the passing away of the Mosaic Law (2 Cor. 3:7-13), the Levitical and Aaronic priesthood passed away. We no longer have a way to know if someone is descended from Levi and Aaron. This has led some to affirm that now there is no priesthood in the age of Christ. That is not true. It is correct that there are no men who serve as “clergy” through whom a separate class of “laity” approach God. It is also true that under Christ there are no individuals who perform the functions of worship for others. Now worship is collective in nature and every individual Christian is expected to offer up “spiritual sacrifices” in worship to God (1 Pet. 2:4-5). However, the age of Christ, like Mosaic Law actually has both a High Priest and a priesthood.
Jesus Is the High Priest. Hebrews 4:14-15 teaches that Jesus Christ Himself serves in the role of High Priest on behalf of Christians. The nature of His work is that of intercession. Scripture says, “. . . He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).
All Christians are Priests. The priesthood under Christ is now made up of all true believers (men, women, old, young, black, white, Jew, or Gentile). 1 Peter 2:4-5 teaches that believers are a “. . . holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Christians carry out this priestly service in the spiritual sacrifices we each offer up to God when we worship Him (1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 13:15), and in daily obedience to Him, which is offered as a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1).
If we are Christians, the question each of us must ask ourselves is if we are living our lives as priests of God Most High? Christians should offer up spiritual sacrifices to God every day in the way we live our lives and in our worship to Him both individually and when we assemble as a church. Just as the people of the Old Testament were commanded to only offer the best they had to God, we too must make certain our sacrifices are the best we have! As priests of God we are called to a special standard of conduct. The world should see the life of Christ in us.
Let’s recognize that we have been set apart to God as Christians and live up to this honor. Peter challenges us to recognize, “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” (1 Pet. 2:9).