The Christian Priesthood (Paper 1)
Jack Hunter, Kilmarnock
In considering the subject of Christian priesthood, two points will need to be covered by way of introduction.
(a) Every Believer is a Priest.
Observe carefully the literal translation of Revelation 1. 5-6, "To him who loves (present participle) us, and washed us from our sins in his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen". We note the threefold occurrence of "us". It is clear that all those who have been washed from their sins are loved, and that all those who are thus washed and loved are constituted both a kingdom and priests. Every Christian, that is, belongs to the priesthood in view. The moment that I was converted I became a priest, and I was given the right and the title, through the Lord Jesus, to enter into the presence of God. I do not need any other man to stand between me and God. It is important to realize that priesthood is not a matter of any special spiritual ability and gift, nor is it bestowed by human ordination; it is the Christian's birthright I
The expression, "a kingdom, priests", is an allusion to the words which God spoke to Moses concerning Israel, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests", Exod. 19. 6. In his first Epistle, the apostle Peter also refers back to the language of Exodus 19. 6, "ye are ... a royal priesthood", 1 Pet. 2. 9. The slight difference of expression is due to the fact that, while John translates direct from the Hebrew text, Peter makes use, as was his habit, of the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, in which see also Exodus 23. 22). Both apostles are, however, making the same point. It was God's original intention that every Israelite should have been a priest. As a result of failure in the people, however, the priesthood was limited to the Aaronic family of the tribe of Levi. The apostles are drawing attention to the fact that, in the present dispensation, God's purpose is realized in that every Christian forms part of His priesthood.
(b) What is a Priest? First and foremost, a priest is a man who acts towards God, and, in acting towards God, blesses others around him. We see this in the first man to be specifically called a "priest" in the Bible, Melchizedek. Of course, he was not the first man to perform a priestly function, Gen. 4. 4; 8. 20, but he is the first man given the title in Scripture. We are told that Melchizedek blessed God and that he also blessed Abraham, Gen. 1 4. 19-20. It is clear from 1 Chronicles 23. 13 that, in a similar manner, the Aaronic priesthood was to minister to the Lord and also to bless men in His name. The dignity which attached to the priests of the Old Testament consisted, therefore, not only in that they were privileged to worship God, but in that they were in a position to bless men in God's name. We will find that Christian priests also act towards God, and in acting towards God, bless those around them. As we approach our subject, we note that it involves many aspects of our Christian lives, such as the offering up of our praise, doing good to others, the holy art of practical giving, our gospel preaching and the total consecration of our bodies to God for His service.
(1). The Offering of our Praise,
Heb. 13. 15; 1 Pet. 2. 5. Peter describes Christians as "a holy priesthood". Although all believers are priests, alas, not all believers are priestly in character. As Peter indicates in the context, consistency in a Christian priest requires the laying aside of "all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings", 1 Pet. 2. 1. We should aim to develop in priestliness.
The apostle keeps up the figure of priesthood when he states that the object of our being constituted a holy priesthood is that we should "offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ". Notice particularly the words "offer" and "sacrifice". These words form part of the language of priesthood. Other passages, which we will be considering later, do not actually contain the words "priest" or "priesthood", but the presence of "sacrifice" and/or "offer" alerts us to the fact that they are set against the background of priesthood.
God has always expected and demanded the exclusive worship of His people, e.g. Exod. 34. 14; Deut. 26. 10. The Lord Jesus said, "the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth : for the Father seeketh such to worship him", John 4. 23. We shall discover shortly that God requires our worship at all times. Yet there is no more fitting occasion for us to bring Him our sacrifice of praise than at the Lord's supper. Many religious systems around us talk of "Services for Divine Worship" when, in effect, the gatherings in question provide only a sermon to be heard. Let us be clear: worship and the ministry of God's word are two entirely different things. It is true, of course, that suitable ministry can aid the worship of the saints. Nevertheless the two things must be distinguished. Ministry comes from God through Christ to men; worship ascends from men through Christ to God. No system is of God which restricts to one man the offering of worship and which denies the privilege to others present. (It will be appreciated. I am sure, that the responsibility of functioning publicly before God rests with the man, 1 Tim. 2. 8). Although the exercise of our priesthood is by no means limited to such meetings as the Lord's supper and the prayer meeting, it is sad that in many places brethren (and particularly younger brethren) seem reluctant on these occasions to be heard offering up "spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ". Brethren, the Lord Jesus did not save us only that we might be in heaven by and by, but that we should be worshippers now.
The writer to the Hebrews joins the apostle Peter in emphasizing that only Christ can introduce us into the presence of God: "by him", Heb. 13. 15. He adds, however, that praise and thanksgiving should be offered to God in all circumstances of life. His exhortation is, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually (dia pantos, which indicates "that a certain thing is done frequently throughout a period", W. E. Vine), that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name".
The writer of the Epistle must have been aware that praise and thanksgiving would not prove easy to his readers in the situation which they were facing. They were encountering the bitter hostility and fierce opposition of their countrymen. They had already suffered the spoiling of their goods, 10. 34. It is comparatively easy for us to praise God when the south wind of prosperity and peace blows, when our lives are free from troubles and cares. But it is a very different thing when the north wind of adversity and trial howls around us; we may be facing sudden redundancy, our health may have failed us or we may have lost a loved one. We have much to learn from the example of Job. He lost his business and his family almost at a stroke, Job. 1.13-19. He was reduced from a millionaire to a pauper as his whole world crashed about his feet. How did Job react? "Then Job arose ... and worshipped", v. 20. Although he was in total ignorance of the true cause of his sore trial, Job. 1. 6-12. he submitted worshipfully to the will of God. Let us heed the words of the apostle, "giving thanks always for all things", Eph. 5. 20.
To be concluded