There are two Bible words that merit further rendering. The first is covenant (often called a promise) –the other is law. Both are associated with the founding of a priesthood.
Here’s an example relating them to something more familiar…
When a city leader is hired, but before he begins his duties, he signs an agreement to be on his best behavior during his employment. The intent is to avoid bringing embarrassment upon the city. Public attention to his behavior can detract from his position and cause the city to operate less efficiently –expending effort to fix the problem and repair its image. This correlates to the solemn, legally binding agreement forming a priesthood. It’s the covenant between them and God.
That city leader is given a set of objectives to accomplish –a description of his job. Regardless of his position, he must also agree to obey all of the city’s rules: hiring practices, property codes, traffic regulations –and everything else in its legal system. This correlates to the priesthood’s law. It’s God’s instructions for their ministry.
Under the Old and New Covenants
The covenant with the Hebrews (the Old Covenant) began with If you 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; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). It was the promise that set them apart as a people who would preach salvation –the gospel– to world. All of them were involved in that ministry –as His ambassadors– by living as directed by the Law.
There were four different roles within their community which would represent the categories of people in the world. They can be viewed through their assigned religious tasks and their permitted areas for meeting at the tabernacle. First, here’s a summary of their roles –and then it’s followed by what they represent.
- There was the high priest. His most significant task was performed on the Day of Atonement. It’s when he took the sacrificial blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled that offering on the Mercy Seat. He was the only one allowed to go in and meet with God –to ceremonially take away the sins of the entire community. The rest of the year the high priest oversaw the other priests.
- There were the priests. They officiated with daily sacrifices and offerings at the altar. They maintained the scrolls containing the Law and taught it to the people. They took care of the tabernacle and all that was in it. They were judges when religious offenses were committed. They were permitted inside the holy place to put fresh showbread on the table, to keep the lampstand lit and to offer incense.
- There were other members of Levi’s tribe who weren’t Aaron’s descendants. They assisted the priests with the sacrifices and offerings but could not participate at the altar. They carried parts of the tabernacle but could not touch any parts associated with the holy place. They judged offenses of the Law, but not those committed by priests. They helped with the scrolls and they taught the Law to the people.
- The rest of the people were allowed only in the outer court. They came on special feast days with their sacrifices and offerings. They also came to the priest at the birth of a firstborn male child or animal, the discovery of an infectious skin disease, finding mildew on their dwelling, the failure to observe cleanliness guidelines, and many more.
When Jesus came, He showed the parallel between these religious roles and life-realities under the New Covenant.
- Jesus, the High Priest, paid for the sins of the world with His own blood and took it into the true Holy of Holies –heaven– the source of mercy from God’s wrath. He is the only who has ever been qualified to be with the Father. Now He lives there, represents His followers to His Father and listens to them intently.
- There are His followers –those who have entered the kingdom of God and attained eternal life. They are the new priests –with their lives offered for God to use as He pleases. They personally meet with Him. They know the Word of Life. They care for other believers. They can relate to life’s problems and tell the world about the grace they have received. They are the only ones who can advise their brothers and sisters in God’s ways. They have the Holy Spirit who feeds them, guides them and relates to them.
- Like the Levites who helped the priests, there are those who aid in perpetuating Christianity. They do what looks like the things that born-again believers do. They translate, print and give away Bibles and they preach from them. They carry on physical church traditions. They judge everyone –although their hypocritical words don’t apply to believers. They attempt to follow the letter of the Law –legalistically doing what looks right– but they do not personally know the Author of grace and mercy. They’re not allowed into His meeting place –the kingdom of God. They’re not in contact with the Holy Spirit and they don’t have eternal life.
- And there are the rest –the lost. Many attend church organizations on special occasions –the holidays, weddings and funerals. They go when problems overwhelm them. They haven’t entrusted themselves to God –they too are still outside of His kingdom –they’re without eternal life.
A Picture within a Picture
Have you seen cases of a picture within a picture –like reading a story about a person who is also reading a story –or a TV show about people in a TV show? What I’ve described above is such a case.
The Hebrews were a community of ordinary people who needed to know about God’s salvation. Obscured as it was, the priests taught about it with their system of laws (guilt, death penalty, substitute sacrifice and new life). Those priests were led by the high priest who officiated at the Passover and Day of Atonement. And it all was alluding to a future event –the coming Messiah.
In the same way, the world is composed of ordinary people who need to know about God’s salvation. The new priests –ambassadors of Christ (the Messiah)– tell about Him. He is the High Priest that fulfilled the Passover and Day of Atonement. That event is now in the past.