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Priesthood

When speak­ing of Abra­ham, we men­tioned how Jesus Christ is the “priest for­ev­er accord­ing to the order of Melchizedek.” As the “priest for ever,” Jesus is also the com­ple­tion and ful­fill­ment of the Old Tes­ta­ment priest­hood of the Levites.

In the Old Tes­ta­ment, God ordered Moses to build the taber­na­cle with a sanc­tu­ary for wor­ship and sac­ri­fice.

And let them make me a sanc­tu­ary, that I may dwell in their midst, Accord­ing to all that I show you con­cern­ing the taber­na­cle, and all of its fur­ni­ture, so you shall make it. (Ex 25:8–9)

In the taber­na­cle there was a sanc­tu­ary sur­round­ed by a court yard. With­in the sanc­tu­ary was the “most holy place.” A spe­cial ark was built to hold the tables of the covenant law sur­round­ed by two cheru­bim. The ark was kept in the most holy place. Above the ark of the covenant was the mer­cy seat from which Moses would speak to the peo­ple (Ex 25:14–22).

In the sanc­tu­ary, spe­cial tables were placed which held “plates and dish­es for incense” and “flagons and bowls with which to pour liba­tions.”

…of pure gold you shall make them. And you shall set the bread of the Pres­ence on the table before me always. (Ex 25:28–30)

There also was the gold­en altar upon which the ani­mal sac­ri­fices were offered.

A lamp­stand of gold, with “sev­en lamps for it” which were light­ed with pure olive oil, was placed in the sanc­tu­ary. And between the var­i­ous part of the taber­na­cle, cur­tains were hung.

And you shall make a veil of blue and pur­ple and scar­let stuff and fine twined linen; in skilled work shall it be made, with cheru­bim; and you shall hang it upon four pil­lars of aca­cia over­laid with gold, with hooks of gold, upon four bases of sil­ver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the tes­ti­mo­ny in thith­er with­in the veil; and the veil shall sep­a­rate for you the holy place from the most holy. You shall put the mer­cy seat upon the ark of the tes­ti­mo­ny in the most holy place. And you shall set the table out­side the veil, and the lamp­stand on the south side of the taber­na­cle oppo­site the table; and you shall put the table on the north side. And you shall make a screen for the door of the tent, of blue and pur­ple and scar­let stuff and fine twined linen, embroi­dered with needle­work. And you shall make for the screen five pil­lars of aca­cia, and over­lay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases of bronze for them. You shall make the altar of aca­cia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad; the altar shall be a square, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make horns for it on its four cor­ners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall over­lay it with bronze. (Ex 26:31–27:2)

The priests of the taber­na­cle were to be the Levites, the men from the tribe of Levi.

Then bring near to you Aaron your broth­er, and his sons with him, from among the peo­ple of Israel, to serve me as priests… (Ex 28:1)

God com­mand­ed that spe­cial vest­ments be made for the priests to wear when serv­ing in the sanc­tu­ary (Ex 28). He also ordered that spe­cial oil be blend­ed for the anoint­ing of all of the uten­sils of the taber­na­cle, as well as for the anoint­ing of the priests. He also ordered spe­cial incense to be made for burn­ing in the holy place.

…you shall con­se­crate them [the fur­ni­ture and uten­sils], that they may be holy; what­ev­er touch­es them will become holy. And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and con­se­crate them, that they may serve me as priests. And you shall say to the peo­ple of Israel, ‘This is my holy anoint­ing oil through­out your gen­er­a­tions.’ (Ex 30:29–31)

And the incense which you shall make accord­ing to its com­po­si­tion, you shall not make for your­selves; it shall be for you holy to the Lord. (Ex 30:37)

God also pro­vid­ed a very detailed code con­cern­ing wor­ship and the offer­ing of the var­i­ous sac­ri­fices. He explained which ani­mals should be select­ed and how they should be killed. He told which offer­ings should be made on which occa­sions and for what pur­pos­es. He gave instruc­tions about offer­ings for peace and for praise, for thanks­giv­ing and mer­cy, for for­give­ness of sins and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with God in times of trans­gres­sion. He also told which feasts should be observed, when they should be kept and how they should be cel­e­brat­ed, The books of Exo­dus, Leviti­cus, Num­bers, and Deuteron­o­my are filled with such spe­cif­ic and detailed instruc­tions.

While pass­ing through the desert and into the promised land, the Peo­ple of God car­ried the taber­na­cle with them. They set it up in each place where they camped. Final­ly, after the cross­ing of the Jor­dan Riv­er and the set­tle­ment in Canaan, the city of Jerusalem was estab­lished by David the king. David’s son Solomon was then com­mand­ed by God to build the tem­ple in which the wor­ship of God would take place and the rit­u­al sac­ri­fices would be offered.

In the four hun­dred and eight­i­eth year after the peo­ple of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel… he began to build the house of the Lord. (1 Kg 6:1)

The house of the Lord was of the same pat­tern as Moses’ taber­na­cle. It had the out­er court, the inner sanc­tu­ary and the most holy place in which the ark of the covenant was kept. It had the altars for incense, liba­tions and burnt offer­ings. It had the lamp­stands and the table for the bread of the Pres­ence. It had all of the uten­sils and vest­ments nec­es­sary for the ser­vice of the Lord (see 1 Kg 6–8).

When Solomon fin­ished build­ing the tem­ple, (+c. 960 BC) he con­duct­ed a great cel­e­bra­tion of ded­i­ca­tion.

Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanc­tu­ary of the house, in the most holy place, under­neath the wings of the cheru­bim.

There was noth­ing in the ark except the two tab lets of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the peo­ple of Israel, when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to min­is­ter because of the cloud; for the glo­ry of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. Then Solomon said, “The Lord has set the sun in the heav­ens, but has said that He would dwell in thick dark­ness. I have built thee an exalt­ed house, a place for thee to dwell in for ever.” (1 Kg 8:6, 9–13)

Solomon then blessed the peo­ple and addressed them con­cern­ing the build­ing of the tem­ple which the Lord promised David that his son would build. He then offered a long prayer of ded­i­ca­tion, ask­ing God to be with the peo­ple and to receive their prayers offered in the tem­ple.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heav­en and the high­est heav­en can­not con­tain thee; how much less this house which I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of thy ser­vant and to his sup­pli­ca­tion, O Lord my God, hear­ken­ing to the cry and to the prayer which Thy ser­vant prays before Thee this day; that Thine eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which Thou hast said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that Thou mayest hear­ken to the prayer which Thy ser­vant offers toward this place. And hear­ken Thou to the sup­pli­ca­tion of Thy ser­vant and of Thy peo­ple Israel, when they pray toward this place; yea, hear Thou in heav­en Thy dwelling place; and when Thou hear­est, for­give.” (l Kg 8:27–30)

Thus, the tem­ple which Solomon built to the Lord became the sole place for the for­mal wor­ship and the priest­ly sac­ri­fices of the Peo­ple of God. The tem­ple was destroyed dur­ing the time of Baby­lon­ian cap­tiv­i­ty, and was restored in the time of Ezra and Nehemi­ah only to be defiled again by for­eign invaders, and final­ly destroyed com­plete­ly by the Romans in the year 70 AD.

It was proph­e­sied in the Old Tes­ta­ment that the time would come when the glo­ry of the Lord would fill all cre­ation. It was fore­told that in the time of the Mes­sian­ic King, God would dwell in men as in His holy tem­ple. The rit­u­al sac­ri­fices of the tem­ple would cease, as the per­fect and ever­last­ing covenant of mer­cy and peace would be accom­plished between God and man (see Isa 55:3, 61:1–11, 66:18–23, Jer 31:31–34. Ezek 34:22–31, 37:24–28).

When Jesus came, the new and ever­last­ing covenant between God and man was estab­lished for­ev­er. The tem­ple of God became the body of Christ, which was the assem­bly of His peo­ple filled with the Holy Spir­it of God. Indeed, one of the accu­sa­tions against Jesus at the time of His cru­ci­fix­ion was that He said that He would destroy the tem­ple in Jerusalem.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the tem­ple He found those who were sell­ing oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the mon­ey-chang­ers at their busi­ness. And mak­ing a whip of cords, He drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the tem­ple; and He poured out the coins of the mon­ey-chang­ers and over­turned their tables. And Ne told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His dis­ci­ples remem­bered that it was writ­ten, “Zeal for thy house will con­sume me.” The Jews then said to Him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this tem­ple, and in three days 1 will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has tak­en forty-six years to build this tem­ple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But He spoke of the tem­ple of His body. When there­fore He was raised from the dead, His dis­ci­ples remem­bered that He had said this; and they believed the scrip­ture and the word which Jesus had spo­ken. (Jn 2:13–22)

Now the chief priests and the whole coun­cil sought false tes­ti­mo­ny against Jesus that they might put Him to death, but they found none, though many false wit­ness­es came for­ward. At last two came for­ward and said, “This fel­low said, ‘I am able to destroy the tem­ple of God, and to build it in three days.”’ And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men tes­ti­fy against you?” But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure you by the liv­ing God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, here­after you will see the Son of man seat­ed at the right hand of Pow­er, and com­ing on the clouds of heav­en.” (Mt 26:59–64)

In Christ, the Mes­si­ah, human per­sons become the tem­ple of the Liv­ing God. The dea­con Stephen, the first Chris­t­ian mar­tyr, bore wit­ness to this and died for his tes­ti­mo­ny (see Acts 7:44–59). The apos­tle Paul also taught this explic­it­ly, as did the apos­tle Peter.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who has made us both one, and has bro­ken down the divid­ing wall of hos­til­i­ty, by abol­ish­ing in His flesh the law of com­mand­ments and ordi­nances, that He might cre­ate in Him­self one new man in place of two, so mak­ing peace, and might rec­on­cile us both to God in one body through the cross, there­by bring­ing the hos­til­i­ty to an end. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have access in one Spir­it to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourn­ers, but you are fel­low cit­i­zens with the saints and mem­bers of the house­hold of God, built upon the foun­da­tion of the apos­tles and prophets, Christ Jesus Him­self being the cor­ner­stone, in whom the whole struc­ture is joined togeth­er and grows into a holy tem­ple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spir­it. (Eph 2: 13–22)

Do you not know that you are God’s tem­ple and that God’s Spir­it dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s tem­ple, God will destroy him. For God’s tem­ple is holy, and that tem­ple you are. (1 Cor 3:16–17)

Come to Him, to that liv­ing stone, reject­ed by men but in God’s sight cho­sen and pre­cious; and like liv­ing stones be your­selves built into a spir­i­tu­al house, to be a holy priest­hood, to offer spir­i­tu­al sac­ri­fices accept­able to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scrip­ture: “Behold, I am lay­ing in Zion a stone, a cor­ner­stone cho­sen and pre­cious, and he who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” (1 Pet 2:4–6)

Jesus Christ is not only the liv­ing tem­ple of God—God Him­self in human flesh—through whom all men become God’s tem­ple in the Holy Spir­it; Jesus is also the one great high priest and the one per­fect sac­ri­fi­cial offer­ing, Who assumes and ful­fills the entire Levit­i­cal priest­hood of the Old Tes­ta­ment which was mere­ly a “shad­ow” of the “real­i­ty” to come. Upon the cross, Jesus sac­ri­ficed Him­self. He rose from the dead and entered the sanc­tu­ary in heav­en. After this, there is no oth­er priest­hood and no oth­er sac­ri­fice well-pleas­ing to God (see Heb 6–10).

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more per­fect taber­na­cle (not made with hands, that is, not of this cre­ation) He entered once for all into the Holy place, tak­ing not the blood of goats and calves but His own blood, thus secur­ing an eter­nal redemp­tion. For if the sprin­kling of defiled per­sons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ash­es of a heifer sanc­ti­fies for the purifi­ca­tion of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eter­nal Spir­it offered Him­self with­out blem­ish to God, puri­fy your con­science from dead works to serve the liv­ing God. (Heb 9:11–14)

For Christ has entered, not into a sanc­tu­ary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heav­en itself, now to appear in the pres­ence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer Him­self repeat­ed­ly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year­ly with blood not his own; for then He would have had to suf­fer repeat­ed­ly since the foun­da­tion of the world. But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sac­ri­fice of Him­self. And just as it is appoint­ed for men to die once, and after that comes judg­ment, so Christ, hav­ing been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a sec­ond time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eager­ly wait­ing for Hint. (Heb 9:24–28)

Con­se­quent­ly, when Christ came into die world, He said, “Sac­ri­fices and offer­ings thou hast not desired, but a body h ast thou pre­pared for me; in burnt offer­ings and sin offer­ings thou hast tak­en no plea­sure. Then I said, ‘lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’ as it is writ­ten of me in the roll of the book.” When He said above, “Thou hast nei­ther desired nor tak­en plea­sure in sac­ri­fices and offer­ings and burnt offer­ings and sin offer­ings” (these are offered accord­ing to the law), then He added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abol­ish­es the first in order to estab­lish the sec­ond. And by that will we have been sanc­ti­fied through the offer­ing of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands dai­ly at His ser­vice, offer­ing repeat­ed­ly the same sac­ri­fices, which can nev­er take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a sin­gle sac­ri­fice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until His ene­mies should be made a stool for His feet. For by a sin­gle offer­ing He has per­fect­ed for all time those who are sanc­ti­fied. (Heb 10:5–14)

In the Church of Christ, there is only one priest­hood and one sac­ri­fice. It is the priest­hood of Jesus and the sac­ri­fice of the Cross. The entire Church of Christ is a “roy­al priest­hood” (1 Pet 2:4–6)

Jesus Christ is not only the liv­ing tem­ple of God—God Him­self in human flesh—through whom all men become God’s tem­ple in the Holy Spir­it; Jesus is also the one great high priest and the one per­fect sac­ri­fi­cial offer­ing, Who assumes and ful­fills the entire Levit­i­cal priest­hood of the Old Tes­ta­ment which was mere­ly a “shad­ow” of the “real­i­ty” to come. Upon the cross, Jesus sac­ri­ficed Him­self. He rose from the dead and entered the sanc­tu­ary in heav­en. After this, there is no oth­er priest­hood and no oth­er sac­ri­fice well-pleas­ing to God (see Heb 6–10).

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more per­fect taber­na­cle (not made with hands, that is, not of this cre­ation) He entered once for all into the Holy place, tak­ing not the blood of goats and calves but His own blood, thus secur­ing an eter­nal redemp­tion. For if the sprin­kling of defiled per­sons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ash­es of a heifer sanc­ti­fies for the purifi­ca­tion of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eter­nal Spir­it offered Him­self with­out blem­ish to God, puri­fy your con­science from dead works to serve the liv­ing God. (Heb 9:11–14)

For Christ has entered, not into a sanc­tu­ary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heav­en itself, now to appear in the pres­ence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer Him­self repeat­ed­ly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year­ly with blood not his own; for then He would have had to suf­fer repeat­ed­ly since the foun­da­tion of the world. But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sac­ri­fice of Him­self. And just as it is appoint­ed for men to die once, and after that comes judg­ment, so Christ, hav­ing been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a sec­ond time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eager­ly wait­ing for Hint. (Heb 9:24–28)

Con­se­quent­ly, when Christ came into die world, He said, “Sac­ri­fices and offer­ings thou hast not desired, but a body h ast thou pre­pared for me; in burnt offer­ings and sin offer­ings thou hast tak­en no plea­sure. Then I said, ‘lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’ as it is writ­ten of me in the roll of the book.” When He said above, “Thou hast nei­ther desired nor tak­en plea­sure in sac­ri­fices and offer­ings and burnt offer­ings and sin offer­ings” (these are offered accord­ing to the law), then He added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abol­ish­es the first in order to estab­lish the sec­ond. And by that will we have been sanc­ti­fied through the offer­ing of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands dai­ly at His ser­vice, offer­ing repeat­ed­ly the same sac­ri­fices, which can nev­er take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a sin­gle sac­ri­fice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until His ene­mies should be made a stool for His feet. For by a sin­gle offer­ing He has per­fect­ed for all time those who are sanc­ti­fied. (Heb 10:5–14)

In the Church of Christ, there is only one priest­hood and one sac­ri­fice. It is the priest­hood of Jesus and the sac­ri­fice of the Cross. The entire Church of Christ is a “roy­al priest­hood” (1 Pet 2:4). The ordained cler­gy of the Church exists to man­i­fest and real­ize the unique priest­hood of Jesus in the com­mu­ni­ty which is the “body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27).

In the King­dom of God, Christ, the great High Priest and Lamb will rule. He Who “was dead and is alive again” (Rev 2:8) will gov­ern all cre­ation which will be the dwelling place of God.

And I saw no tem­ple in the heav­en­ly city, for its tem­ple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glo­ry of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glo­ry into it, and its gates shall nev­er be shut by day—and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glo­ry and the hon­or of the nations. But noth­ing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who prac­tices abom­i­na­tion or false­hood, but only those who are writ­ten in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21:22–27)

Thus, the Old Tes­ta­ment tem­ple, the priest­hood and the sac­ri­fices are all ful­filled in Christ Who is Him­self the Tem­ple and the Priest and the Sac­ri­ficed Lamb of the King­dom of God which exists for His Peo­ple whom He has made “a king­dom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:16, 6:10).