That believers are called upon to function as priests is clearly stated in the New Testament. Peter writes categorically, “ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood”, 1 Pet. 2. 9, and the song of the redeemed in glory is, “thou … hast redeemed us to God by thy blood … and hast made us unto our God kings and priests”, Rev. 5. 9-10 A.V. If, then, we are called to such high office, it surely becomes us to learn something of our duties, responsibilities, and privileges.
We can search the Acts of the Apostles, all the church Epistles, and all the personal Epistles in vain for any direct reference to priest or priesthood in a Christian sense; indeed the words are not used in that sense until we come to the Epistle to the Hebrews and to the first Epistle of Peter. Hebrews is mainly concerned with the Person, glories, and accomplishments of our Great High Priest, the Lord Himself. None of the other Epistles go into much detail as to the priest’s office, but we are able to learn much of our calling from the types in the Old Testament.
Although the Old Testament priest obviously had a lot to learn and understand, the first and basic requirement for his initiation was that he had to be born to the position. He had to be of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron. Having been born into the correct family, he was given no option; God required that he should serve in the priesthood. We are in a similar position. The first essential of Peter’s “royal priesthood” is that its members must be born to that position, not in a physical sense but “being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever”, 1 Pet. 1. 23. If, then, we are born again in the true scriptural sense “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”, John 1. 13, then the priesthood is part of our birthright. How do we value this birthright — lightly? or do we hold it as part of that inheritance whereby, having “done the will of God, ye might receive the promise”?, Heb. 10. 36.
Esau, that profane man, held his birthright as of little account. Jacob, the supplanter, wanted that birthright and took it from Esau by guile, a low trick, a despicable action, taking advantage of his brother’s hunger to trade a comparatively worthless bowl of soup for Esau’s birthright. Whom did God blame? Jacob, for behaving so despicably? No! Esau, for despising his birthright. If anyone tricks us out of the enjoyment of our birthright, whom will God hold responsible? The trickster, or us for not valuing and living in the good of our birthright?
It was pointed out earlier that there is no direct mention of our priesthood by name in any of the Epistles until we come to Hebrews; how strange! Here are the church Epistles instructing us in our behaviour as individuals and as assemblies, yet there is no mention of such an important subject as our being called to function as priests. The inevitable question arises, why? Could it be that the Lord in His omniscience knew that the church would be riddled with sacerdotalism? Practically every denomination has its clerical hierarchy, that does not conform to the scriptural pattern. In reality, however, there are no professional and amateur Christians, no first class and second class believers. Priesthood cannot be attained by going to Bible Schools or Seminaries. There is one instructor in the things of God, “the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things”, John 14. 26, and the motive force behind that teaching is not that a man may obtain advancement in the priesthood or even in the church but rather “If a man love me, he will keep my words”, v. 23. All who qualify by new birth are called to be priests.
How kindly and tolerantly we tend to look upon a manmade priesthood, yet how dishonouring to the Lord this is. Twice in those instructive letters to the local churches in Revelation 2-3 the Lord refers to the Nicolaitans; first to the church at Ephesus, 2. 6, and then to Pergamos, 2. 15. In both instances the Lord says that it is deeds and doctrine that He hates. If we discount the claims of the Early Church Fathers that the Nicolaitans were a libertine Gnostic sect, then we know no more of them than is said in Revelation 2. Surely God would not waste precious words in His book, especially where He is issuing detailed instructions to the local churches, unless there was some message here for us. To mention the Nicolaitans once for no apparent reason would be unusual; to mention them twice, and for the Lord of love to pronounce hatred upon them and to commend His people for so doing, must have some important lesson. Names in Scripture have great import; often in the Old Testament they portray the character of the individual, and even in the New Testament Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and more exemplary still is the name of the Lord Himself, that wonderful name, Jesus — “he shall save his people from their sins”. How, then, about the Nicolaitans? The name means, those who conquer or set themselves above the laity or people. Do not let us limit this to manmade priesthoods. Anyone who sets himself up over the Lord’s people is guilty of that which the Lord hates (this must not be confused with the position of elders, who do not put themselves into positions of authority, but are recognized by the assembly as having the necessary attributes). The most glaring form of Nicolaitanism in Christendom is undoubtedly displayed by those who set themselves above the laity in title or dress.
The priesthood is our birthright. Remember that it was not the man who took the birthright by underhand means who incurred the Lord’s displeasure, but the man who held his birthright lightly. The same word is used of him as is used of the Nicolaitans, “yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau”, Mal. 1. 2, 3; Rom. 9. 13. Let us value our birthright if we would enjoy the Lord’s approval.
Finally, the priest was not called upon only to fight against Israel’s enemies, but to stand for the Lord against those of his own nation, Exod. 32. 28; Num. 25. 6-13. These articles are not written to cause dissension, pain or division, but as a priestly exercise to warn against setting foot on the slippery slopes of ecumenicalism that will ultimately lead to a merger with Rome and to the Lord’s wrath being poured out upon that Babylon. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins”, Rev. 18. 4.
To be continued
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