I. THE PRIESTLY THEOCRACY
The “Priestly Kingdom” was the restoration of the Levitical Theocracy. The leaders of the system were Moses and Aaron. Both were of the tribe of Levi. Their ancestor was not highly regarded by his father Jacob for shaming his name, when they killed all the people of prince Shechem who wanted to marry their sister Dinah (Genesis 34:25-31). In his last will, Jacob held forth little hope for Simon and his brother Levi the sons of Leah and Jacob:
Simeon and Levi are brother; weapons of violence are their swords. O my soul come not into their council; O my spirit, be not joined to their company; for in their anger they slay men, and in their wantonness they hamstring oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel (Genesis 49:5-7).
Jacob’s delinquent sons did not turn out as he had predicted. Simeon’s offspring did receive their portion of Canaan, and Levi was not assigned any land. The Levites were chosen to be a people within a nation to serve Yahweh. The Levites became God’s special people for the purpose to teach God’s Laws and God’s Statues to Israel. The heads of the “Theocratic System” were two Levites; Moses the Lawgiver and Aaron the High Priest, and they both were endorsed by God. Their understanding and their interpretation of God’s disclosure of the Law and religion became the foundation of their “Theocracy.” The Law was the absolute authority by which the leaders and the people were to live. To depart from it was the same as becoming unfaithful to Yahweh. There was absolutely no room for questioning the leaders’ authority or the interpretation of what God had intended. This concept was reintroduced by Ezra and Nehemiah:
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden pulpit which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiaj, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabd, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the law. And they found it written in the law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should publish and proclaim in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths; for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the book of the law of God. They kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance (Nehemiah 8:1-18).
The “Priestly Leadership” idea also became prominent among the early Jewish Christians. In Jesus’ day the High Priest and his associates were the power that had Jesus crucified; yet, the priestly line of Zechariah fathered John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. John’s mother, Elizabeth was very likely a Levite and so was her cousin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary may have been the daughter of a priest. This would have been consistent with Moses’ prediction that the Messiah would come from the same tribe that Moses was and restore the Levitical law and worship of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). But that idea did not sit well the descendants of Judah, who believed in another king like David. Hence, there had to be a change in the priesthood, Joseph of the house of David had to adopt Jesus, who was not his biological son (Matthew 1:18-25). Jesus, as the supreme High Priest, was more acceptable than a man who could be the Son of God. The writer to the Hebrew Christians undertook the task to show that it was God’s decision to change the Levitical priesthood and he did with introducing Melchizedek who pre-existed Aaron the Levite, a temporary High Priest before Jesus the Christ.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to god, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.
So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “Thou are my Son, today I have begotten thee”; as he says also in another place, “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 4:14-5:10).
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him; and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, the king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembles the Son of God he continues a priest forever (Hebrews 7:1-3).
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second (Hebrews 8:1-7).
In the opinion of the writer to the Hebrews, the “Levitical Priesthood” was never intended to last because its mission was to prepared the way for an “Eternal Priesthood,” in which all the believers could live and share. Every person, with “God’s Law” written in the heart, would become a priest to God, rendering service in deeds of kindness and forgiveness. It would be a new covenant without any fault.
“For he finds fault with them when he says: ‘The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach every one his fellow or every one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Hebrews 8:8-13).
The most disturbing interpretation of the writer to the Hebrews was that Christ, the final High Priest, had come to dismantle the “temple” (sanctuary) that housed all the memorability, which symbolically represented the presence of Yahweh’s covenant and the endless sacrifice for man’s transgressions:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if sprinkling defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Hence even the first covenant was not ratified without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hand, a copy of the true on, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:11-28).
The writer was merely restating what Jesus had said to the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” … “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24).
Jesus dissolved the “earthy tent” and moved into the “realm of the Spirit” where the human body houses the image of God here on earth, and if that soul or that life obeys the Commandments of Christ, the “Three-in-One- Divinity” will take up permanent residence. Jesus made this promise, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and the Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the father’s who sent me” (John 14:23-24). Jesus delegated that authority or that right to Peter and to the other disciples several times. To Peter Jesus said, “I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). To most of the other disciples, Jesus passed on His Spirit and said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). And to all the disciples Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus also said this, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 13:11-12).
In “The Parable of the Talents,” Jesus showed that those who put what they had to good use doubled their rewards, but the one who was afraid to use his talent lost what he had and more (Matthew 25:14-30). The apostle Peter had this reminder:
Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy (I Peter 2:4-5; 9-10).
The task of a priest is that of an ambassador for Christ and for God. The apostle Paul offered this charge:
Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:17-21).
The priests and ambassadors follow Christ’s orders. They were not to go out and force their way on others. They were to go to people that were receptive to the message of God’s kingdom and accept help from the Apostles. Matthew who was on Jesus’ team added this report:
These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in you belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staff; for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace return to you. And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town (Matthew 10:5-14).
The Kingdom of Heaven is the final home of the redeemed and it is more priceless than the fines treasure or the most costly pearl. And the members of the “Kingdom” must take extreme care not to disgrace their spiritual and eternal home. We conclude this part of our study with these words of our Lord Jesus:
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure in a field, which a man found and covered it up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:43-46).
And what must the members of the kingdom guard against? Jesus warned, “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6).