And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 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 Peter 2:4-5) (LSB)
Never having been involved in ancient Judaism, we don’t really understand the elements of priesthood that become ours as believers. We are all the poorer for our lack of knowledge.
So how are we to understand the priesthood? Here are six characteristics and their parallels to the believer’s priesthood.
Now as for you, bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priests to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. (Exodus 28:1)
Nobody volunteered for the priesthood. There weren’t any applications to be filled out and filed with Moses for him to select from. Nobody voted on who the priests would be. God sovereignly chose Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, and out of their loins was to come the priesthood chosen by God.
Priesthood is an elect privilege. And so it is with our priesthood (John 15:16). If you are a priest today, it is because you are a Christian. And if you are a Christian, it is because you are chosen before the foundation of the world to belong to God.
Before embarking on their priestly duties, there was a cleansing that Aaron and his sons had to go through (Leviticus 8). They were washed, anointed and clothed. They were atoned for by a sin offering and sprinkled with blood.
It was quite an operation that they had to go through. But it all says the same thing: You can’t enter the priesthood until you have been cleansed and forgiven of sin.
Our Lord Jesus says to His disciples in John 13:8, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
Jesus washed His people. Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not by works which we did in righteousness, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”
You became a priest because you were cleansed.
The priests were given special garments (Exodus 28). And the garments all symbolized the priests’ unique call to purity and virtue and to identification with God. When you saw the garment of a priest, it symbolized purity, virtue and identification with God, as God’s representative. Priests were called to holiness. They were called to look different in order that everyone might know that they belonged to God.
In Psalm 132:9 we find the spiritual significance of this: “Her priests also I will clothe with salvation.”
You are a priest because you have been clothed with the garments of salvation.
As part of the cleansing ceremony, Aaron and his sons were anointed with oil.
What is this anointing? It’s really very simple. It was the identification that the power and presence of God would rest on the priests. It symbolized the Holy Spirit.
And is it not true that we who are priests have been anointed with the Holy Spirit? In 1 John 2:27 we are reminded of this wonderfully: “And as for you, the anointing whom you received from Him abides in you.”
Who is this anointing that abides in us? The Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is equated with power:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. (Acts 1:8)
The priests in the Old Covenant could do what nobody else could do. They could go where nobody else could go. They could act in ways that nobody else could act. They had special authority and privilege, and that has been granted to us in the anointing of the Spirit of God.
Priests were not just empowered or anointed, but prepared.
And you shall not go outside the doorway of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the day that the period of your ordination is fulfilled; for he will ordain you through seven days. (Leviticus 8:33)
And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people. And the glory of Yahweh appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before Yahweh and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar. And all the people saw it and shouted and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:23-24)
Now, what the Word of God is saying to us here is, “Before you can actually function as a priest, there is a preparation of heart that is necessary.” There is a waiting time for heart preparation. I really believe that those seven days are symbolic of spiritual preparedness — readiness of mind and heart which takes into consideration the seriousness of priesthood.
Remember what Paul says in Galatians:
But when God, who had set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might proclaim Him as good news among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. (Galatians 1:15-17)
Paul had been called, cleansed, clothed in righteousness and anointed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. But he went away for a time of preparation.
I would even go so far as to say that when a person makes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God usually works a ripening of that marvelous gift of salvation in the heart before there is a readiness for spiritual ministry. There is a time of preparation where one thinks deeply about the spiritual commitment made and where the Spirit of God readies the heart for priestly service.
Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans and put fire in them. Then they placed incense on it and offered strange fire before Yahweh, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of Yahweh and consumed them, and they died before Yahweh. (Leviticus 10:1-2)
The “strange fire” was fire offered other than how God had ordained. It wasn’t authentic fire. It was an artificial offering instead of the real thing. And the priests were ordained to obedience. God makes that abundantly clear by burning these new priests to a crisp.
God sent a message to every priest after them: “You are ordained unto obedience.” Those who have the privilege of coming near to God must treat Him as holy. And that includes us (1 Peter 1:14).
So, this is what it means to be a priest. And you want to know something? This is what you are. You’ve been elect. You’ve been cleansed. You’ve been clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You’ve been anointed for spiritual service by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You’ve been prepared by the Spirit for spiritual service. And you have been called to obedience, because God has ordained that you should walk in good works.
In addition, as a priest, you now have the privilege of offering up sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. And next time, we’ll see what that means.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1989, titled “The Believer’s Privileges, Part 2: Access Part 1.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
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