A Kingdom of Priests

We read in Rev. 1:6 that we are, in Christ, a nation of king-priests, a Kingdom of priests, just as He is now a king-priest after the order of Melchizedek. Reading between the lines, much of the Old Testament denunciation of Israel relates to the errors of the priesthood. " Like priest, like people" is a saying which has a definite Old Testament basis. The failure of the priesthood was a major reason for the apostasy of the old Israel. We ought to at least be prepared for slight similarities with the new Israel. There is little doubt that the early church went astray because of " false teachers" - the equivalent of false priests under the Old Covenant.

Priestly Responsibility

Of course, every Israelite was intended to be a priest; they were to be " a Kingdom of priests" . The " covenant of my peace" was with both Israel (Is. 54:10) and the priesthood (Mal. 2:5). The same is true of spiritual Israel; " a spiritual house, an holy priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:5). The process of baptism recalls the way in which the priests washed and then embarked on service to the rest of Israel. Christ is the supreme priest; but because we are " in Him" , we too have some part in the priesthood. Note how the priests are described in language relevant to the Lord: " The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity" (Mal. 2:6). Thus we must " present (our) bodies a living sacrifice" to God (Rom. 12:1); making the believer " the offering and the priest" , as Christ was (and is). It is interesting to consider Christ's words of Mt. 5:29,30 against this background. He invites the zealous saint to cut off the various limbs of the body (for they all cause offence at some time!), so that he might enter the Kingdom. To the Jewish  mind, imagining such a scene would have created the impression of priestly action. Again, the sensitive reader is invited to see himself as " the offering and the priest" .

The main priestly duty was to teach God's word to the people. A whole string of texts make this point: Dt. 24:8; 2 Kings 17:27; 2 Chron. 15:3; Neh. 8:9; Mic. 3:11. Note too the common partnership between priests and prophets. Because of their role as teachers, it is understandable that the anger of the first century priesthood was always associated with Christ and the apostles teaching the people: Mt. 21:33; Lk. 19:47; 20:1; Acts 5:21. The priests felt that their role was being challenged. As part of the priesthood, our duty is to all teach or communicate the word of God to each other. It was God's intention that natural Israel should obey the spirit of this, so that they would " teach every man his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord" (Heb. 8:11). That was how God intended Israel of old to fulfil this idea of being a priestly nation. The Gentile Israel has been chosen to bring forth fruit where they failed; and so we must ask if this is how we really are as a community. Where is our sense of real responsibility for each other, our sensitivity to the effect we have upon each other? Where is the enthusiasm of communication which Heb. 8:11 implies? Given current communication possibilities, the current plethora of Christian magazines is indeed quite right- so long as they are communicating the real knowledge of the Lord rather than being political flagships. Discussion after Bible class, the posing of profitable questions to each other, lively correspondence columns- these are all part of it. It isn't something just for the academically minded. If we truly " know the Lord" , we will want to communicate that relationship to others, as a Kingdom of priests!

Yet it is evident that some will be able to publicly communicate this knowledge of the Lord more fluently than others. For this reason, God arranged for a group of individuals to have the specific duty of teaching Israel in an organized fashion. What Israel failed to appreciate was that those priests were intended to be a priesthood within a priesthood. The early church made the same mistake; 'leave the Bible study to the priests/ ecclesial elders' has ever been the temptation of the average Israelite. There is a like danger facing the present generation of believers, blessed as our platforms presently are with some of the finest expositors and encouragers our movement has yet produced. Yet in our reaction against the 'priesthood' of the apostasy, we may have gone too far; so that in some churches, there are few, if any, who have a real sense of spiritual responsibility for their flock. And yet we all supposed to be part of a Kingdom of priests. All too often brethren end up as church leaders or Secretaries, simply because there is no one else to do the job. Any who can pen push with reasonable efficiency, and maintain a steady attendance over a period of years, normally fall into positions of church leadership by default. Yet what is required is brethren who can broadly match the 'priesthood within a priesthood' of the Old Covenant; brethren who have made a conscious commitment to oversee the spiritual welfare of others; brethren who will analyze the needs of the ecclesia, and work long and hard to prepare an exhortation relevant to needs; brethren to organize transport rotas so that none are left at home who want to be at a meeting.

I am not suggesting a 'full time' salaried ministry as the answer to all problems; but rather, a conscious appreciation of the spirit of priesthood. There are a number of New Testament indications that we are to have some system of eldership within our churches; and to " submit to" those who are in this position (1 Cor. 16:16), insofar as we recognize that they have our spiritual well-being truly in their heart.