Like the offerings, the picture of the priest found in Leviticus displays New Testament truth — in a detailed form. Once again, Leviticus brings out a human need — the need for a priest, the need for another human being to help us to see ourselves, and to apply biblical truth to our lives. The New Testament presumes our familiarity with the priesthood — but many of us know little about it. So in this study we will learn about ourselves as priests, and, furthermore, learn about Jesus’ role in our lives as high priest.
In this series of messages, we will consider chapters 8 & 9, where Aaron and his sons are ordained as priests, then offer their initial offerings to the Lord: chapter 10, when two of Aaron’s son act presumptuously before God and are immediately killed; and chapters 21 and 22, which lay down requirements for those of Aaron’s descendants who would serve as priests. I commend all of these passages to you for your personal study.
God’s Plan for a Kingdom of Priests
Before we turn to Leviticus, I want to introduce this series by examining God’s plan for a kingdom of priests. The idea that the office of priest is shared among a large number of believers did not begin with the New Testament. From the time that the Israelites stood before God at Mt Sinai, this was God’s plan.
We see this first of all in Exodus 19:3-6:
3 And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. 5 ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
God says, “If you obey my voice and keep My covenant, then you will be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.” Did they obey his voice and keep God’s covenant? No — as we’ve noted before, God knew they could not keep this covenant; he had already planned to send His son to deal with man’s sin. He instituted the entire sacrificial system because of man’s weakness, foreshadowing what Jesus would accomplish on the cross — meeting our need for acceptance, our need to respond, our need for peace, our need for forgiveness, and our need for reconciliation. The Israelites, like the rest of us, were not able to live up to God’s holy standard — but God instituted the law as our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, to show us our need for a savior.
So God’s plan was to establish a kingdom of priests. But the nation of Israel did not and could not fulfill that plan. So God said through the prophet Jeremiah 31:
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, “declares the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
In this new covenant, by writing the law on the hearts of his people, God would fulfill the plan laid out in Exodus 19, the plan to establish a kingdom of priests. Peter declares the fulfillment of this plan in chapter 2 of his first letter, beginning in verse 4 (by the way, this passage also shows that Peter understood that he himself was NOT the rock on which the church would be built):
4 ¶ As you come to him, the living Stone– rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him– 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. 6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” 8 and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message– which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Peter tells us in verse 5 that we are being built up as a “spiritual house for a holy priesthood,” and then in verse 9 he quotes directly the Greek translation of Ex 19:6: We are (right now! this is not future tense, but present!) We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. God’s plan expressed at Mt Sinai and prophesied through Jeremiah has been fulfilled: Now God has a kingdom of priests.
John echoes this theme in Revelation chapters 1 and 5. Verses 4-6 of chapter one constitute John’s greeting to the recipients of this letter, the seven churches in Asia. He concludes that greeting by saying, “To him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood — and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.”
Note he did not say: “He has made SOME of us.” or “He has selected from among us certain ones to be priests to God.” All of us are priests.
So God from the beginning intended to create a kingdom of priests, a holy nation for his own possession. The Israelites thought that they could become that nation by obedience to the law, but they never did and never could. The purpose of the law was to show us our inability to be holy and righteous before God, to show us that we can only become holy and blameless by throwing ourselves on the mercy of God — as David did in Psalm 51. We, like David, need for God to create in us a clean heart, we need God to wash us and make us clean, we need God to put His Spirit in us and to write his law in our hearts. And when God sanctifies us, when God saves us by the blood of Jesus, we become a kingdom of priests, dedicated to His service.
So, if you are saved by the blood of Jesus, you are a saint and you are a priest.
So we are priests: who now is the high priest? The book of Hebrews makes this very clear: Jesus himself is our “merciful and faithful high priest (2:17).” He is “our great high priest who has passed through the heavens (4:14). “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (7:25)”
Therefore, we need no superpriests or human high priests today; Jesus accomplished everything necessary for our forgiveness and salvation. Indeed, the primary purpose of the Jewish high priest was to foreshadow Jesus himself.
So all believers are priests, with Jesus as our high priest. We will use these insights to help us interpret these five chapters on the priesthood in Leviticus. Statements about the priests in general are symbolically true of all Christians; statements about the high priest alone are symbolically true of Jesus.