The Royal Priests
In this lesson, I'd like to examine the differences between the priests that served in the Old Testament and the priests that serve today in the New Testament period. So open your Bibles to Exodus 28, and I'll be reading from that passage in a moment.
If we're going to look at the Old Testament, we're going to begin in the Old Testament. Aaron, Moses's brother, and Aaron's sons, were chosen by God to serve as priests in the offering of the sacrifices to God on behalf of the people in the Old Testament. Aaron was to serve as chief or high priest and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, were to assist him in these priestly duties. This would mean that Aaron, primarily, would be in the tabernacle and consequently in the actual presence of God on a daily basis in the pursuit of offering sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, sacrifices of repentance and peace from the people to all mighty God who was literally and not just figuratively in that place before Aaron.
So in order to prepare and protect Aaron for this high and dangerous calling, dangerous because no sinful human could be in the presence of God and live. So therefore, he was outfitted with certain ceremonial garments which represented his special task on behalf of the people, and also protected him from the wrath, and justice, and holiness of God, which destroyed any unclean, or impure, or unholy thing that came into His presence, unprepared or unsanctified.
And so we read in Exodus chapter 28 beginning in verse 1 it says,
1"Then bring forward to yourself your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to serve as priest to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons. 2And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. 3You shall speak to all the skillful people whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may serve as priest to Me.
- Exodus 28:1-3
And so here we see Moses following God's instructions, preparing Aaron to enter into God's presence to do his priestly work on behalf of the people. I want you to note that the sacrifices of the animals and the elaborate preparation and dress and demeanor did not transform Aaron into a holy person.
In other words, a person without sin or imperfection in God's eyes. No, the sacrifice of the animals for his own sins and then for the people's sins, merely acknowledged to God that sin was present and awaiting a final solution, which we know would be Christ's offering of himself as a perfect sacrifice once and for all.
In the meantime, Aaron and all the priests that followed him would offer a sacrifice every morning and every night until the lamb of God would come and be offered once for all men and for all time. So Aaron entered the tabernacle as a sinner covered by a temporary animal sacrifice.
He was not holy but by virtue of his special clothing and his assignment, he was sanctified, meaning that he was there sanctified by his calling and high priestly clothing to carry out a holy duty or holy ministry.
So that we don't lose the focus of this lesson, I want us to recognize how difficult it was for someone to come into God's presence at this time before Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf on the cross.
So in the Old Testament period, in order to come before God, Aaron had to be chosen, first of all, by God. He had to have a ritual bathing every time he removed or put on the priestly garments. And there was only one set of these.
He had to marry a virgin from his own tribe of Levi. He had to sacrifice animals each morning and evening. In other words, he had to kill, dissect, offer parts on the alter, sprinkle blood on the altar, and then dispose of the remaining blood and animal carcass and the skin. He had to dress in order to enter the tabernacle. And then he had to undress in order to leave the tabernacle. This plus other duties to offer incense, showbread, grain, oil, cake and wine offerings. And there was no talking, no visiting, no changing of the manner in which things were done.
They were to be done exactly in this way, day after day after day after day. And also speaking of how difficult it was, the people were not allowed entry into the tabernacle, which was in the desert, and then later the temple in Jerusalem.
Aaronic Priestly Requirements
Only the priests were allowed to enter in because they were chosen by God and had no physical defects. And only the high priest could physically enter the inner chamber called the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant was.
And could only do so once per year, on the day of atonement in order to offer sacrifice for the sins of the people. And we see here, in this model of the temple that you see up on the slide, those large empty areas, that's where the people could go.
But the inner part where the temple was, where the sanctuary was, only the priests were allowed in that area. And then only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies. So what's the point here? Well, the point is that before Christ came, it was impossible for an ordinary person to come into the presence of God for any reason.
The priests were the go-between or the mediators for the people. And being in the actual presence of God was impossible, unless you were a prophet or you were the high priest who could do so only once per year.
Such was the privilege and honor and responsibility of addressing God directly without specifically trained, and selected, and outfitted mediators. But all of that changed when Christ came to die to pay the moral debt for our sins, and then to resurrect in order to prove that He was indeed the son of God.
and then return to heaven. So He could send the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer who repented of his or her sins and was baptized in the name of Jesus. We know that from Acts chapter 2, verse 38.
Now, because of this action on Jesus' part, the purpose of the temple and the priesthood, and the system of sacrifice, and all of the rules and rituals were fulfilled once and for all time. No need for the priestly duties, the elaborate clothing, the rituals, the sacrifices, and especially the strict separation between God and his worshipers under the pain of death.
All of this was set aside. Before sacrifices for sin was offered daily. And those who wished to offer praise or simple thanksgiving to God, had to wait in line, and approach God through a complex manner with the assistance of a Levite and a priest, and proper sacrificial animal, and of course produce or wine or grain.
How all sins were forgiven forever, rather now, all sins were forgiven forever in the water of baptism, Acts 2:38, and prayers of praise or thanksgiving were facilitated by the Holy Spirit Himself, who dwelt in the heart of every baptized believer.
This was the difference between the old system and now the new system under Christ. Now, every believer in Christ was invited to draw near to God so that God could draw near to them. Exact opposite from what was happening in the Old Testament.
No elaborate dress was necessary. No unique social position was required. No ritual reserved only for the priests was now done. As a matter of fact, the new class of special ministers, called elders or preachers or teachers, in this new system were there to help worshipers to know God more intimately, and in effect enable believers to draw more closely to God than ever before.
Not to keep them back for safety's sake as has been the task in the Old Testament. One issue remained, however, God was still a perfect and holy being. And man, although forgiven and covered by an imputed, meaning a borrowed or a temporary righteousness given them by Christ, man was still an unholy sinner, standing in the presence of a holy God.
How to reconcile this untenable situation until Jesus returned to judge the world and equip all the faithful in Christ with a glorified body that would not just be righteous and holy through imputed righteousness, but would become innately or naturally righteous and holy because there would be no sin attached to these glorified bodies and never would be.
And so the holy ones in Christ would stand before God on their own merit as sinless beings. That would be the final solution. That's the end game for existing within the God head in the new heaven and the new earth.
But the question is, what about now? How has God managed to draw us near without the intermediary of the priesthood, so that we would not be destroyed because He is God and we are at best forgiven and temporarily covered sinners? How does He solve that problem? Well, the short answer is that He has made all of us priests.
But you are A CHOSEN PEOPLE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR GOD'S OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
- I Peter 2:9
You see, this means that before in the Old Testament, a selected group performed the acts of worship on behalf of the chosen people. But now in the New Testament, the chosen people, chosen through their obedience to the gospel, these people now draw near to praise, to give thanks, to remember, and to honor the living God as a witness to unbelievers and those who worship false gods.
New Testament Priests
Like the priests in the Old Testament, the priests of the New Testament are enabled to do this in three ways. First of all, we have been instructed in proper ways of worship, just like Moses instructed Aaron in what he ought to do as a priest of God.
We also have been instructed in proper ways of worship. Moses received instructions from God and he carefully coached Aaron in all of the ways that the priest was to carry out his duties. This included the building of the tabernacle, and its furnishings and its function. He also trained him in the times and the ways that Aaron and his sons were to handle all the different sacrifices and offerings. Well, in the same way, the New Testament instructs us, the New Testament priests, in how to plant and build up and organize a local church.
We also have instructions on how to worship God and how to preach the gospel and how to make new disciples. There's even information on who is to lead and how that leadership is to be exercised, as well as who should be disciplined and how this should be done and why.
Another thing that has been done for us as priests, as New Testament priests, we have received an anointing from God that permits us to draw near to Him. The Old Testament priests were anointed and thus given access to the presence of God because they came from the family of Aaron, the brother directly called by God to lead the people.
This calling gave them privilege, and this privilege gave them access to God. We are anointed by God who called us through the gospel to believe in His son Jesus Christ for salvation. God anoints us as New Testament priests by giving us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us as a guarantee that we will one day be risen from the dead to dwell in perfect union with God through Christ.
We read about that in Ephesians 1:13. Through the spirit, we have access to the presence of God to offer our worship and make our requests known to him. Our faith in Christ brings us the spirit and the spirit brings us to the Father.
A third thing, the Old Testament priests were sanctified in their work by the special coverings made specifically for their ministries. You knew that they were the priests by what they wore. They had the breast piece with the precious stones.
They had the ephod and the multi-colored tunic, the shoulder pieces, and the turbine with the golden plate that read, holy to the Lord, all of it in gold and in the finest linen. Their coverings set them apart and identified who they were, and what was their purpose, which was to glorify and serve God on behalf of the people.
Today, we, as New Testament priests, do not wear special clothing as the priests did in the Old Testament to signify our sanctification to the Lord. Oh, of course, there are many religious groups that have a variety of costumes signifying religious themes, but we have no instructions in the New Testament about distinguishing church workers and members with distinctive clothing.
These are man-made traditions and they don't accurately reflect Peter's vision of the entire church being a holy nation and a royal priesthood. Actually, the covering that we, as Christians, wear to actualize and identify our sanctified status is piety.
And I'd like to explain how this virtue is necessary if we're to carry out the calling and the special access to God that we have been given by virtue of the Holy Spirit living within each and every baptized believer.
You see, just as the elaborate clothing identified and legitimized Aaron's role as a high priest, trained and equipped to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people to God, a Christian's piety identifies and legitimizes his unique service as a New Testament priest before God.
which is quite different than the role and duties of the Jewish high priest. Here then are the differences. First of all, they were classified as high priests, a designation of rank above their fellow priests, who also served but could not enter the Holy of Holies, which was reserved only for the high priest chosen by God and continued by succession.
Christians, on the other hand, are referred to not as high priests but as royal priests, which combines both royalty and priesthood. I read once again,
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood.
- I Peter 2:9a
You see in the Old Testament priests, they could not serve as kings and kings could not serve as priests. Note that King Saul had the throne taken away from him because in his impatience, he performed Samuel's priestly duty of offering up the sacrifice before going into battle, First Samuel chapter 13.
There was only one priest in the Old Testament who served as both priest and king, and that was Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham after his victory over the kings who kidnapped Lot and his family. Let's read just a small portion of that episode.
17Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18And Melchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 19And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20And blessed be God Most High, Who has handed over your enemies to you."
- Genesis 14:17-20
And so we read that Jesus was a priest but not from the priestly line of Aaron, who could only serve as priest, but rather Christ was a priest from the lineage of Melchizedek, the priest king, because this was the type Jesus was.
He was a high priest in offering himself. And he was a royal king who was the leader of the people that he was saving. These qualifications were necessary because first as a priest, He had to offer sacrificed.
Secondly, as a king, He led his people to God and secured their peace and righteousness. And thirdly, as an eternal being prefigured or previewed by an eternal type, like Melchizedek, He guarantees these blessings for His people in perpetuity.
1For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. 3Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.
- Hebrews 7:1-3
So when Peter refers to Christians as royal priests, he means that through Jesus, we also have become spiritual royalty, as well as priests. Royalty in the sense that we are sons and daughters of the King, which makes us princes and princesses part of the royal household of God with its blessings and its privileges, which are full access to God in prayer, and full access to the blood of Christ for ongoing forgiveness, and full access to the spirit for spiritual wisdom, and power to overcome sin, and full access to God's promise of resurrection and eternal life. These are the blessings reserved for the children of the King. But Peter also says that we are a royal priesthood.
Differences between Aaronic and Royal Priesthood
Like the priests of the Old Testament, we offer sacrifices to God. However, unlike the Aaronic priesthood, who offered both sacrifices for the sins of the people, as well as sacrifices that represented peace, and thanksgiving and joy, we only offer one type of sacrifice and it's not sacrifice for sins, since Jesus, our high priest has offered himself a sacrifice for all sin for all time.
So there is no longer any need for that type of sacrifice. No. Our sacrifice offering is explained by Paul in Romans chapter 12, where he says,
1Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
- Romans 12:1-2
Note the major differences between our New Testament priesthood and that of Old Testament priests that serve the temple.
First of all, the nature of the sacrifice that we offer. Old Testament priests offered dead animals, along with grain, and oil, and wine, and produce, strictly controlled as to the time and quantity. However, Christians offer the content of their own lives on a daily basis as a continual spiritual service of worship to God.
They don't represent anyone but themselves. However, unlike the Old Testament priests, who represented the many, each Christian is a source of love and adoration offered to God. Instead of offering a dead animal or inanimate objects, the Christian royal priest is completely committed in that he or she offers self whenever and to the degree that he or she chooses.
In other words, my life is not separated from my worship to God. In other words, you know, I have my regular life and then I have my temple duty. No, my life is my worship. And God assures me that He accepts this form of worship, that He actually desires this type of worship from His royal priests.
So the first major difference between worship with the Old Testament priests and worship with royal priests is that at certain times they offered things to God. But now we, as royal priests, offer ourselves to God over and over and over again each day.
The second difference between the old and the new is the quality of the Old Testament sacrifice was static, but the sacrifice offered by the royal priests is continually improving. There was nothing that the Old Testament priest could do to improve his work.
However, there were many ways for his offering to be corrupted. In other words, it couldn't get better. It could only get worse. The prophet Malachi mentions this type of deterioration in Malachi 1,
6"'A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?' says the Lord of armies to you, the priests who despise My name! But you say, 'How have we despised Your name?' 7You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, 'How have we defiled You?' In that you say, 'The table of the Lord is to be despised.' 8And when you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not evil? Or when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not evil? So offer it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you, or would he receive you kindly?" says the Lord of armies.
- Malachi 1:6-8
As royal priests, however, Christian's spiritual service is not static but transitional by its very nature. The Old Testament priests had a standard plan they had to adhere to, in a strict and unchanging manner. Given their imperfection and lack of the spirit, there was only one way to go. And that was down.
Royal priests, however, are involved in a transformational experience of worship whereby the revelation and guidance of the New Testament and the empowering of the Holy Spirit within them. They are, as Paul says, being transformed into better human beings, which is the will of God and which is the substance of their worship.
Instead of dead animals and rituals that only pointed to things to come or things in heaven, today's royal priests offer the living sacrifices of lives changed for the better as praise to a living Lord in real time.
And they are on duty 24/7. We know that God was often not well pleased with the Old Testament priests because of their failings. And we read about that in Malachi. But the royal priests, who are not conformed to this world, and thus transformed by good and acceptable behavior have God's approval that their living worship is acceptable and pleasing to Him at all times.
So let's review before I make one last point, shall we? Through Christ, Christians have been made into royal priests who are enabled to present better and more pleasing sacrifices to God, because their sacrifices are first, living and not dead.
Secondly, transformational rather than static. And thirdly, constant instead of strictly dated. One last point about the coverings worn by these two types of priests. The coverings that identified the high priest were physical in nature. The covering that identifies the royal priest is spiritual in nature. In other words, you knew who the high priest was because he's the one who wore the ephod, and the jewel breastplate, and the head covering with the golden plate that said holy to the Lord. Regardless of the kind of man he was on the inside, the garments that were worn on the outside, identified him as the high priest. There was no doubt. As I mentioned earlier, the covering that identifies the royal priest is spiritual in nature and can be referred to as piety.
Now, you see God calls us to be holy because we are a royal priesthood, constantly offering a living transformational sacrifice of our lives in Christian service. This is what we do. But our covering, our royal priestly garment is piety.
This is what identifies who we are. Very simply piety is one's respect for the things, and the people, and the activities of God. You respect, and you revere, and you hold in honor, and it is obvious that you do so.
The degree of piety we have signals how effective we are as royal priests, and how much respect we promote in others for our God in the interests of our faith. In light of what we have learned today about who we really are in Christ, royal priests, and what our ongoing spiritual task is each day, which is offering transformed lives as acceptable spiritual worship to God.
Should we not carefully consider our look and our attitude of piety before an unbelieving world? Should we not examine everything about ourselves before going out to school, or to work, or to church, or recreation, and see if our dress, or attitude, or intention is pious, respectful of God and ourselves? To be even more specific, should we not cover ourselves with piety and respect for God, most especially when we actually come before Him to offer our public corporate worship? Should we not wear piety, especially during this time? And yet, I see many whose bodies are barely covered to even express basic modesty, let alone piety. I hear empty chatter during prayer. I note those who even refuse to move their lips when songs of praise are being sung. I observe a lack of interest and involvement during the brief hour set aside for public worship.
I know that many give a tiny portion to the Lord while indulging in all manner of pleasures for themselves. And some who sound the loudest Amens give nothing at all from month to month. I noticed that many never stay to greet and to get to know their brethren.
And as long as I've been here, there are certain ones who have never lifted a finger to volunteer or to serve the church in any way. I noticed many who want to please fashion and the world more than they want to please Christ.
And then there are some of our royal priests who are here week after week after week, who even participate in the worship of God, but nevertheless, continue in unrepented and unforgiven sin that they are quite aware of.
They won't quit church, but they won't quit sin either. I could go on and on to describe the impious actions and attitudes of those who should know better, but I'll stop here to make my point. God has made all of us royal priests with the incredible privilege of offering constant transformational, acceptable worship to Him.
However, so many are not serving in that God given role because they refuse to wear the spiritual garments necessary to do so. They are impious. They are unspiritual. They are disrespectful. They are ungrateful.
If we are the royal priesthood of the New Testament, I exhort you therefore, to look in the mirror as you prepare to come before the Lord and see if you are covered with piety. See if you're covered with humility and love and the desire to offer acceptable worship to God as the royal priests that He has called you to be.
If you've neglected that in the past, then let this be the time that we either put on the white robes of purity, that baptism in the cleansing blood of Jesus assigns to us, or let us put on the royal priestly garments of piety, and humility, and love, so that we can begin to effectively minister an acceptable worship to our Lord Jesus Christ as the royal priests that He has called each one of us to be.
If you need to do either one of these please come as we now sing a song of encouragement. Shall we?