A Study of Priests
The term priest is used today in many different religious settings. If you were to ask a person what his understanding of "priest" is, he would respond based on his experiences and familiarity. The common definition of priest is, "A person whose office it is to perform religious rites, and especially to make sacrificial offerings" (Random House College Dictionary, pg. 1051). Regarding priests, please consider the following:
"And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests ("a kingdom and priests," ASV): and we shall reign on the earth" (Rev. 5: 9, 10).
The New Testament makes it abundantly plain that Christians are priests. John again, "And hath made us a kingdom priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Rev. 1: 6, ASV). The inspired apostle Peter perhaps made the fact of each Christian being a priest even plainer:
"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (I Pet. 2: 9).
Since each Christian is presented in scripture as a priest unto God, our time would be spent well in studying the matter of priests. We shall approach a study of the priesthood under three headings, the Jewish Priesthood, the Catholic Priesthood, and the priesthood concept set forth in the New Testament.
The Jewish Priesthood. The Jewish or Levitical priesthood served a vital need and purpose under the Law of Moses. I shall insert the following from Smith's Bible Dictionary pertaining to the Levitical Priesthood:
"When established. The priesthood was first established in the family of Aaron, and all the sons of Aaron were priests. They stood between the high priest on the one hand and the Levites on the other. [HIGH PRIEST; LEVITES] The ceremony of their consecration is described in HIGH PRIEST - 1986 (Ex. 29: 1, Lev. 8: 1 . Duties: The chief duties of the priests were to watch over the fire on the altar of burnt offering, and to keep it burning evermore both by day and night, (Lev. 6: 12, 2 Chroni. 13: 11), to feed the golden lamp outside the vail with oil (Ex. 27: 20, 21, Lev. 24: 2), to offer the morning and evening sacrifices, each accompanied with a meet offering and a drink offering, at the door of the tabernacle. (Ex. 29: 38-44) They were also to teach the children of Israel the statutes of the Lord (Lev. 10: 11, 33: 10, 2 Chroni. 15: 3, Ezek. 44: 23, 24). During the journeys in the wilderness it belonged to them to cover the ark and all the vessels of the sanctuary with a purple or scarlet cloth before the Levites might approach them. (Num. 4: 5-15) . "
The chief function of the Levitical priests was that of offering animal sacrifices for the sins of the people. However, " it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Heb. 10: 4). The Aaronic Priesthood was only temporary and looked to Christ and his "once for all" sacrifice (Heb. 7; 8). Since the priesthood and the Law of Moses were interrelated, a change in one affected the other. This is the meaning of the language, "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Heb. 7: 12). The priesthood and the Law of Moses were both taken out of the way (Heb. 7; 8).
The Catholic Priesthood and other man-made systems. Out of all the human introduced priesthoods including the occult, the Catholic Priesthood is the most universal and well known. If you attend a traditional Catholic religious service, you see men dressed in robes and peculiar hats conducting a very solemn service or liturgy (their official readings, prayers, and utterances). Some present confess their sins to the officiating priest in a booth. The Catholic priest administers "baptism," "mass," and performs the "last rites" over the dead (the scriptures know nothing of sprinkling/pouring for baptism, mass, or the last rites). The priesthood is over the common man and directs, administers, and determines the spiritual instruction of the common man.
It is the claim of Catholicism that it is the true church, going all the way back to the apostle Peter as the first Pope. It is strange that you cannot read about Catholicism as an acceptable system in the New Testament. There were no popes, Catholic priests, or Catholic Church in the First Century (cp. Rom. 16: 16, I Cor. 4: 16). The only intimation of Catholicism in the New Testament is seen in the prophecies pertaining to the early church falling away (Acts 20: 29, 30, 2 Thes. 2: 1-9, I Tim. 4: 1-3). In these verses, we do read of error and apostasy beginning within the eldership; one man sitting in the temple of God as God and receiving worship; and certain teachings such as abstinence from meats and marriage characterizing this falling away. Beloved, Roman Catholicism with its attendant priesthood is the result of error and spiritual perversion of the true church of which we read in the scriptures, the church over which Jesus is the head and Savior (Matt. 16: 18, 19; Eph. 1: 22, 23, 5:23).
The priesthood in which every Christian is a functioning priest. We began this study by noticing verses in which it is stated that Christians are priests and collectively constitute a "royal priesthood" (Rev. 1: 5, 6; I Pet. 2: 9). The pertinent question is how does each Christian serve as a priest?
One way in which each Christian functions as a priest unto God is by directly officiating in his worship. Regarding the fact that the Christian directly officiates as his own priest in religious service to God, please consider the teaching resident in the Hebrew Epistle:
"10: We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. 11: For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. 12: Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13: Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. 14: For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. 15: By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name" (Heb. 13).
Notice that the Christian has "an altar" and Jesus is the sacrifice belonging to the Christian (vs. 10, 12). The Christian offers up the sacrifice of praise to God continually and the Jewish priests who do not even believe in Jesus have no place at this altar (vs. 15, 10). Instead of animal offerings and "odours," there are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5: 8, 8: 3). The Christian does not go through a human priest, but is able to himself approach God through Jesus Christ, the High Priest for all Christians who intercedes in heaven (I Tim. 2: 5; Heb. 4, 5).
The sacrifice of the Christian is perpetually valid. In fact, this offering is so perfect that one offering was all that was required for all time, I refer to the sin offering of the Sinless Lamb of God. To this end, please consider what God's word says:
"23: It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24: For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: 25: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; 26: For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27: And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 28: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9).
The idea of a mere man having to serve as a priest today for others is repulsive. Moreover, the thought of a professional priesthood is not only reprehensible, but also such removes the Christian from his place of direct proximity with God. The Christian through Jesus is now able to directly approach God regarding the expiation of his sins and Jesus is the means of that forgiveness (I Jn. 1: 7, Heb. 4-9). The Lord's Supper that is celebrated each Lord's Day proclaims Jesus' offering and provides the Christian with the opportunity of spiritually participating in Jesus' death by remembering Jesus (Acts 2: 42, 20: 7; I Cor. 11: 23-29).
We are to shun the antiquated Levitical Priesthood and all man-made priesthoods such as the Catholic Papacy and embrace, cherish, and maintain the purity of each Christian being a priest unto God. Such a priesthood, though, requires activity as opposed to passivity. (For related study, click on "The High Priesthood of Jesus")