The Priesthood of Believers
by Steve Klein
Introduction: The concept of a priest -- a ministry of holy service and sacrifice based upon the premise that the one who serves as priest has special or privileged access to God.
BACKGROUND -- The Service of Priest in Ancient Times
1. Definitions of "priest.".
The OT (Hebrew) word for priest is "cohen." . Modern Jews who have this name are regarded by other Jews as descendants of the priests. . The exact origin of cohen is uncertain, but it "seems originally to have meant a seer, as well as one who has to do with divine things." (Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 682).
"The NT (Greek) word for priest, hiereus, related to heiros, holy, indicates one who is consecrated to and engaged in holy matters." (Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 682).
2. Priests in the Patriarchal Period
Melchizedek king & priest of Salem blessed Abraham, Genesis 14:18-20
Moses, though not called a priest, performs the priestly function of intercession in Exodus 8:9, 28.
Jethro, priest of Midian offered sacrifice, Exodus 18:1, 10-12.
3. Duties of Priests In the Mosaical Period
Generally, Levitical priests had the duties of teaching the law and offering sacrifices. Deuteronomy 33:10 states "They shall teach Jacob Your judgments, And Israel Your law. They shall put incense before You, And a whole burnt sacrifice on Your altar." (cf. Leviticus 1)
The priests were to offer sacrifices and burn incense
Others had no right to make certain offerings, cf. Uzziah, 2 Chronicles 26:17-19.
The teaching, interpretation and application of the God's law was also a special function of the priests, Deuteronomy 17:8-11; Leviticus 10:11"and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by the hand of Moses."
God brought charges against the Israelites when, according to Jeremiah 2:8 "The priests did not say, 'Where is the LORD?' And those who handle the law did not know Me..."
Levitical Priests were to maintain personal holiness -- in keeping with their holy service, Leviticus 21:1-8.
The High Priest's office had unique functions associated with it -- most significantly the offering of the sin offering on the day of atonement, Leviticus 4:3-21; 16:2ff, 29-34
4. Levitical priests in the NT
The duties of Levitical priests in the NT times continued generally to be what they had been from the beginning.
It is estimated that there were about 18,000 priests circa 100 BC (Jeremias, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, pp. 200ff.). About 300 per week were assigned by course to duties in the temple (cf. Nehemiah 10:3-9; Luke 1:8 - Zacharias). Those priests not associated with the chief priests (i.e. high priest, captain of the temple, director of weekly course, etc.), lived ordinary lives in towns throughout Judea and Galilee, often working secular trades or serving as scribes during the time they were not serving in Jerusalem (ISBE revised, vol. 3, p 964).
In the New Testament we see the Levitical priests still being relied upon to know and interpret the law. Herod called the chief priests and scribes together to find out where the Christ was to be born, Matthew 2:4.
We see that the priests were still receiving offerings. In Matthew 8:4 Jesus instructed a leper He healed to show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded..." (cf. Lev. 14:2ff).
PRIESTS TODAY -- Christians as priests.
1. The OT prophesied that the remnant of God's people would be priests,
Isaiah 61:6 But you shall be named the priests of the LORD, They shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, And in their glory you shall boast.
This prophecy has been fulfilled according to Revelation 1:5b-6 "To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
2. Our duties as priests mirror those of the priests under the old law. (note the similarity between 1 Peter 2:9 and Exodus 19:6 'And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.")
We have a High Priest who alone as entered the Holiest Place with the blood of the atoning sacrifice, Hebrews 9:12 "Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption."
Like the Levitical priests, ours is to be a "holy priesthood" -- 1 Peter 2:5; 1:15-16.
1 Peter 2:4-5 teaches that we are a priesthood to offer sacrifices. Our sacrifices include the following...
The fruit of our lips, Hebrews 13:15-16 "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
Our bodies, Romans 12:1
Giving of self for others well being, Philippians 2:17 "Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all."
Supporting those who preach, Philippians 4:18 "Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God."
1 Peter 2:9 indicates that we are a priesthood to proclaim his praises (tell others about Him and his will).
Conclusion: We are priests -- as Christians each of us has this ministry of holy service and sacrifice because we have privileged access to God. What a high and holy calling!
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