The Priesthood of All Believers
By P. G. Mathew, M.A., M.Div.,
Part 7 and 8
1 Peter 2:9, 10
Christians can rejoice! Why? They have been greatly honored by God. The triune God chose them from all eternity, from all the people of the world—not because of anything distinguishing in them but because of his great love—and has given them great honor by making them into kings and priests. They are a royal priesthood, in other words.
The apostle Peter wrote about this in 1 Peter 2:5, "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ," and in 1 Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood." And because believers in Jesus Christ are made priests, they do not need human priests to represent them before God. No, they enjoy direct access into the very presence of God! A church that teaches that Christians cannot come to God directly but that they need a priest to represent them before God is not a church in accordance with Peter's own inspired apostolic teaching. Although Christians were nobodies, they have been made somebodies, and we can rejoice in this honor God has bestowed on all who have believed the gospel and put their trust in Jesus Christ.
Every believer is a priest and king irrespective of external factors such as color, gender, race or position in life. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). We are all kings and priests by divine will.
Priesthood Fulfills God's Plan
This dignity of being part of a royal priesthood is a fulfillment of God's eternal covenant plan. Immediately after the exodus of God's people from Egypt, which is a type of our redemption from sin, God appeared on Mount Sinai and said, "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:4-6).
St. Peter's expression, a royal priesthood, comes from this passage in Exodus 19. It was the will of God that all the redeemed of the Lord, not just Aaron and his sons, be priests. The Aaronic priesthood that offered bloody atoning sacrifices represented the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Christ's priesthood was necessary because the sins of God's chosen people needed to be atoned for before they could come before a holy God as priests. But even before we are told of the Aaronic priesthood, in Exodus 19 we read of God's eternal plan of making all his people kings and priests, based on his covenant of grace.
Isaiah also prophesied about this in Isaiah 61:6, "And you will be called priests of the Lord; you will be named ministers of our God." No doubt Isaiah was reflecting on the Exodus passage. So we see that it was God's eternal plan to make his people, those whom his Son would redeem by his own perfect, atoning, bloody sacrifice, the priests of God.
The Great High Priest
As we said, the Aaronic priesthood represented the priesthood of Christ. God chose Aaron to offer bloody sacrifices to atone for the sins of his people. Whenever Aaron entered into the Holy Place, he was to wear priestly garments as well as an ephod upon which was fastened two onyx stones engraved with the twelve names of the sons of Israel. He was also to wear a breastpiece on which was mounted four rows of precious stones, three stones in each row, with one of the names of the sons of Israel engraved on each stone. Dressed in the ephod and breastpiece, Aaron would thus bear the names on his shoulder and his heart before the Lord whenever he entered the Holy Place, indicating that the high priest loved and assumed the responsibility for every redeemed Israelite.
But we know that Aaron himself was a sinner and thus was an imperfect type of the true high priest he represented, Jesus Christ. Jesus loved us everlastingly and took on himself the responsibility of taking away all the sins of the redeemed by coming in the fullness of time to be our high priest. He offered once the perfect atoning blood sacrifice of himself to God to put away the sins of his people once and for all, so that his people could then be brought into the very presence of God in him.
In the book of Hebrews we find many passages which explain this high priestly work of Jesus Christ. First, in Hebrews 7:23-28 we read, "Now there have been many of those priests," meaning priests of the Aaronic priesthood—imperfect, sinful human beings who themselves needed atonement—"since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect for ever." Here we see salvation, which is found in no one else. We must come to God through Jesus Christ, the perfect High Priest, who lives forever and sacrificed for our sins once for all when he offered himself.
In Hebrews 10:11-14 we read, "Day after day every priest," meaning every priest of the Aaronic priesthood, "stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest" referring to Jesus Christ "had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins" meaning the sacrifice of himself—he was the priest and he was the victim, "he sat down" he had completed his job "at the right hand of God." Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy."
Access to God Through Christ
Through the work of Christ we now have access to God. In Hebrews 10:19-22 the writer begins, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place. . ." Now that is an interesting statement. Why? In the Old Testament only the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place, which represented the presence of God above the mercy seat, and he could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement, and only with blood. But here the writer says Christians now have confidence to enter God's presence. How could that happen? We did not naturally have confidence, because as sinners we could not come to a holy God. In fact, there was a veil, a barrier, that prevented us from coming into his presence. But Jesus Christ, the great high priest, dealt with the problem of sin by his perfect, bloody sacrifice. He did not die for his own sins on the cross, but he died to take away our sins by his death. As we trusted in Jesus Christ, our sins were forgiven, our consciences cleansed, and we gained access to God's presence. Thus, the author of this epistle could write, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place"—not once a year, but any and every day—"by the blood of Jesus. . ." meaning we can never enter into the presence of our Father unless it is in the name of Jesus Christ, "by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God"—near to the Most Holy Place, in other words— "by the blood of Jesus Christ with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."
We have been offered a new way into God's presence, which is Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection. When Christ died on the cross, the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom, indicating the way is now opened. That is why the writer of Hebrews can tell us to come to the Most Holy Place in confidence in the blood of Jesus Christ as priests in fulfillment of God's eternal plan for a royal priesthood.
If any church teaches that a person needs to be represented by a human priest because he or she is not good enough to come to God, that church is absolutely not in accord with the gospel. Our great High Priest perfectly fulfilled what the Aaronic priesthood typified and foreshadowed. By his perfect sacrifice which was offered once for all and acceptable to the Father, he atoned all our sins and took them away once and for all.
A Holy Priesthood in Christ
In Christ we are holy, and therefore Peter could write in 1 Peter 2:5 that we are a holy priesthood. In Christ we are holy, and therefore in him we have access to God the Father. The barrier of the thick veil was torn from top to bottom when Christ died on the cross, and a new and living way to God was opened up for us in Christ. Jesus solved our sin problem and clothed us with the garment of his perfect righteousness, and in his name we now can come to the Father, pray to the Father, prophesy, serve, witness, rule, come and go, live and die. In his name we now can gather together and worship God in spirit and in truth.
In Christ we are a holy priesthood without distinction and discrimination. All are priests, whether Jew, Greek, male, female, slave or free. We are a holy priesthood which offers spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God dia Iesou Christou —through the agency of Jesus Christ. As believers in Christ we have come to him and are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, a royal priesthood.
This holy priesthood belongs to Jesus Christ and we participate in it through him because Jesus fulfilled what the Aaronic priesthood typified. It is not correct for anyone to continue the Aaronic priesthood because Jesus finished it. Jesus made this clear when he confronted the unholy priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Martin Luther and others confronted the unholy priesthood of their generation. To pretend that one must continue the Aaronic priesthood is a serious error. There is no more bloody sacrifice. We must only believe in the gospel, in the finished work of Jesus Christ in our behalf. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.
An Honored Priesthood
To us who believe, 1 Peter 2:7 tells us, is honor given. We read about that in the Greek text. A great dignity has been conferred upon us—we have been made royal priests in the Royal Priest, Jesus Christ.
In Hebrews 5:4 we read of the high honor of God's royal priesthood of believers: "No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God just as Aaron was. So Christ did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him. . .'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'" Christ was given this honor by the Father, and in Christ and through him we are also priests. So in Christ and through Christ we are also honored by God our Father. If this is so, what more do you need for your self-esteem? Our self-esteem ought to be harmonious with the esteem that God has granted to us in his Son, Jesus Christ.
Kings and Priests
We must also realize that not only are we priests, having access in Christ to the Most Holy Place, to serve and worship God, but we are also kings. A royal priesthood means that Jesus is the King, and in him we are kings.
The offices of priest and king were separate in Old Testament, and kings were not allowed to offer sacrifices or function as priests. However, some kings did try to take the honor of the priesthood on themselves. For example, King Saul was told to wait until Samuel came to offer sacrifices, but he did not wait. Acting as a priest, he offered sacrifices at Gilgal and received God's judgment for his actions (1 Sam. 13). There was another king, Uzziah, also known as Azariah, who ruled in Judah for fifty-two years. In 2 Chronicles 26:16 we read, "But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the Lord followed him in. They confronted him and said, 'It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense.'" God punished Uzziah with leprosy because he wanted to take the honor of the priesthood upon himself, and he died in his leprosy.
Messiah: A Priest and a King
Now, the Old Testament did speak about one who would have both offices of priest and king. In Genesis 14 we read that, after a war against several kings, Abraham was met by a person named Melchizedek. In Genesis 14:18 we read, "Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram." Melchizedek was both king and priest of the Lord, and as such he foreshadowed the Messiah, as we read in the messianic prophecy of Psalm 110: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'"
In Zechariah 6 we read of a man named Joshua, also called the Branch, who would be a king and priest. This is a prophecy pointing to the Messiah, who is also referred to as a Branch in Isaiah 4:2. The word branch means lowliness and humility, and so these prophecies mean the Messiah will be lowly and humble as well as being a priest and a king. In Zechariah 6:13 we read, "It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty, and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne." Only in the Messiah do these two offices coalesce, and so, again, here Zechariah is describing the blending of priestly and kingly dignities in the person of the Messiah.
Jesus Christ is the Messiah. And he is not only the great High Priest, but he is also the King of kings and Lord of lords. To him is given all authority in heaven and on earth. He functions as King and Priest.
We Are Also Kings
In Christ, then, we are also kings. Why? What he is we are as creatures. He is the Son; therefore, we are sons of God. He is the Priest; therefore, we are priests of God. He is the King; therefore, we all are kings too.
In him, therefore, not only have we been given the dignity of priests, but we have also been given the dignity of kings. As King, Jesus waged battle against Satan, sin, and death, and defeated all his enemies by his death on the cross. "Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Col. 12:15). Therefore, because he rules, we rule; because he judges, we judge; because he wages battle against evil, we wage battle against all evil; and because he is victorious, we are victorious in him. We are kings and priests of God in Christ. What dignity!
As kings we reign even now on earth. Now, that may sound foolish to those who do not believe, but this is what the Bible declares. And if you believe in Christ, you believe in this also. In Romans 5:17 we read, "For if, by the trespass of the one man," that is, Adam, "death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." Here Paul is speaking about believers in Jesus Christ, describing them as those who receive as a gift God's abundant provision. Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly." When we put our trust in Jesus Christ, we receive God's abundant provision of grace and the garment of Christ's perfect righteousness. What happens next? We begin to reign in life. The moment we believe, our reigning begins.
Are You Reigning?
Are you reigning in Christ? Or are you still one who is wounded, outcast, sinful, timid, and hopeless? If you have trusted in Jesus Christ, you have been changed. You have been taken out of the miry clay of misery, wretchedness, depression, gloom, hopelessness and death, and your feet have been planted on a solid rock. You have been given a song to sing, even praise to our God. You have been given new dignity. You have been given abundant provision of grace and the perfect righteousness of Christ. You have entered into what is called reigning in the sphere of life—not physical life, but eternal life.
In Revelation 5:9-10 we read of God's purpose in making us kings and priests. "And they sang a new song: 'You are worthy,'" speaking about Jesus Christ "'to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.'" God did not give us this dignity to serve ourselves or anyone else. On eagles' wings he carried us to himself, and we have been made kings and priests to serve our God.
Kings Must Wage War
In 2 Samuel 11:1 we read, "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war. . ." I want to spiritualize that a little. Before we became Christians, we were living in deep darkness, in the winter of life. We were rebels, slaves of sin. We thought about uncleanness, we wallowed in uncleanness, and we delighted in uncleanness. What darkness! What hell! What slavery!
But then spring came and God called us out of darkness. The gospel was declared and the Spirit of God worked in our hearts, changing our nature. We were enabled to trust in Jesus Christ. As crocuses blossom and birds sing in the spring, we were taken out of the caves of filth and darkness and brought into the light. We were emancipated from slavery to sin, worldliness, and this world. Our chains were broken asunder and we were freed.
Now, people can be emancipated and still remain less than kings, but Jesus Christ has also made us kings and priests. As kings, we must, therefore, do something. In the spring kings must go forth to war. The moment we received Christ, spring sprung, and we were delivered from all slavery to sin and to this world. We were enabled to go forth to war in Jesus Christ, and we must go.
How long will the war last? Oh, this war is going to go on until Jesus comes again. This spring never ends. Perhaps you have wondered why you have had problems since you trusted in Christ. You must see it this way: You were emancipated out of the darkness, misery, gloom and slavery of sin, made a king and priest, and given a job. What is that job? You must wage war. But we can rejoice even in this war. Why? Our victory is assured. Jesus Christ has defeated all of his enemies on the cross, and therefore we are told he leads us in triumph always.
Think about this, brothers and sisters. For the first time, maybe, in your life, believe the gospel. You may not have paid attention, but the gospel of Jesus Christ will liberate you and give you victory over sin, Satan, and death. Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is at hand," and that kingdom is the rule of God in Jesus Christ. Like a heat-seeking missile, Jesus Christ came against triumvirate of evil, sin, Satan and death. He defeated them on the cross for us, set us free, and made us kings and priests to rule, serve, and go forth to war for him. The victory is assured. May we rejoice as we embrace these truths!