In the Presence of God–In Behalf of People
1. The concepts of high priest and priesthood are given a very straightforward spiritual application in the New Testament.
a. Christ is our high priest forever (Heb. 6:20).
b. His people are a holy and royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5,9).
2. That means the provisions and regulations regarding the Levitical priesthood in Exodus and Leviticus have a very important educational value for us.
a. They enable us to understand something of what a blessing the work of Christ for us in heaven is.
b. They provide us with a way of understanding our ministry in the world, especially our service in behalf of one another.
3. The first place this background helps us is in developing an appreciation for the nature of the task.
a. We can tell something of what to expect from the setting in which the priesthood was initiated.
i. The people had not been able to endure the presence of God (Ex. 19:21; 20:18,19).
ii. As soon as they entered into the covenant with him, God began to make provision for a sanctuary that he might dwell in their midst (Ex. 25:8).
iii. The plan of the tent of the meeting made it necessary for someone to be appointed to enter the Holy Place to serve before the LORD in behalf of the people (Ex. 28:29).
iv. God chose the ones who were to be appointed to the task, Aaron and his sons (Ex. 28:1).
v. This made it possible for God to meet with his people, and for the people to know their God (Ex. 29:42-46).
b. We can confirm that this is the function of the priesthood from Hebrews 5:1,2.
i. Priests minister mercy to the people.
ii. Priests offer service to God.
4. The Old Testament background also emphasizes the value of the role by using several of the same terms in establishing it that are used of us in our identification with Christ (cf. Hebrews 5:4)
a. Holy garments (Ex. 28:2,4,43; 29:21,29,44; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 13:14)
b. Washing (Ex. 29:4; Heb. 10:22)
c. Anointing (Ex. 28:41; 29:7; 1 Jn. 2:20,26,27)
d. Consecration (Ex. 28:41; 29:1,44; 1 Pet. 2:9)
e. Portion (Ex. 29:26,28; Heb. 6:4)
5. The third area where this background helps us is with regard to the meaning of the work of the priesthood as God intended it.
a. Ex. 28:12 – “...And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance.”
b. Ex. 28:29 – “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place...”
c. Ex. 28:30 – “And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart....Thus shall Aaron bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD...”
i. Their function is never fully explained, but the contexts in which they are mentioned (Num. 27:21; Deut. 33:8; 1 Sam. 28:6; etc.) suggest that they were used in seeking the Lord’s decision on particular matters.
ii. They may have been two stones of two different colors–maybe a bright one and a dark one–one representing a positive answer and the other a negative.
iii. They were the only legitimate means of directly seek a “yes” or a “no” answer from the Lord apart from his speaking directly to the people–but the existence of the priesthood meant that he would not be doing that.
d. Ex. 28:38 – “It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people consecrate as their holy gifts...that they may be accepted before the LORD.”
6. The institution of the priesthood is a very revealing reflection of God’s awareness of our need, and of his care about us.
a. There is, of course, the need for a prophet–one who speaks forth the requirements of the will of God and calls people to their responsibility.
i. Moses was serving in that way at Mt. Sinai, and Christ has become the prophet like Moses to whom we all must take heed.
ii. We work with him in teaching people all that he has commanded.
b. But there is also always the need for a priest–one who recognizes what it is like to be human and can sympathetically represent people before the holy God.
i. We all hunger for that kind of mercy, and we rejoice that we have in Christ someone who always lives to fill that place for us.
ii. If we are a priesthood, we also can intercede for people and be sources of mercy to them.
7. If Christ is a high priest and if we are a priesthood, the law has been fulfilled and there is a new and better covenant (Heb. 7:11-14,19,23; 8:6).