The Priesthood of the Believers
© C. O. Bishop 2/24/18; THCF 2/25/18
Hebrews 13:10-16; 1st Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6, 5:10
We have been studying through the Epistle to the Hebrews, for several months, and we are finally in the last chapter, where the writer addresses a number of issues, and gives instructions to believers. You may recall that the book had seven comparisons to Old Testament figures, or “pictures,” each showing that “Jesus is Better.” In fact, that seems to be the central theme of the entire epistle.
There were also seven stern warnings, evidently to those dabblers in the faith, who were not fully committed to the truth of the Gospel, nor to Christ as their only hope for salvation. These warnings were dispersed throughout the first twelve chapters. However, most of chapter twelve and all of chapter thirteen has moved on from that theme, and is addressing only instructions and encouragement to genuine believers.
Verse nine of chapter 13 was an admonition to not be “carried about by strange doctrines,” and it briefly addressed the problem of the Jewish (or other) dietary laws, as an example, where legalism is the broader concept. But, moving on from that idea, the writer ties together the specific dietary laws and privileges of the Levitical priesthood, with its limits and the total privilege of the Christian believer.
The Old Testament priesthood offered sacrifices for Israel, some of which also, subsequently, became the food of the priests and their families. But the sin-offerings brought by the high priest were not to be eaten: not by anyone; they were taken away and burned outside the camp, or outside the city walls, in the times of the temple. But many of the sacrifices were definitely eaten by the priests.
Jesus made one sacrifice, forever: He was executed outside the city, and buried outside the city. He fulfilled the prophetic pre-figure of the sin-offering for the people by the high Priest. And he is now our high Priest.
He has stepped beyond the picture, so to speak, into a reality that transcends what all the animal sacrifices could do. They could only cover sins, as the believers looked to God in Faith. The blood of Jesus takes away the sins of those who look to him in faith. We look, and live!
But something that many people miss is the fact that in bringing us to the Father through his own blood, and opening the way to the Father, (through the veil, which, it turned out, was a picture of his flesh, torn at the Cross); in doing so, He has ordained us as Priests, as well. We bring sacrifices to God, and we make intercessions for one another, and for the lost.
We now serve that altar, as well. But the Old Testament priests, who served the tabernacle or the temple, could not transition from the old, physical altar, to the real altar, unless they also received their Messiah by faith. So they have no privileges at all, in this, the true temple.
A New Altar
10 We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.
Remember that the priests were fed from the sacrifices (not all of them, but many.) And no one else could eat that food. They alone had that privilege. But this situation is reversed: those priests cannot feed at our altar. He goes on to explain why:
11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.
The priests did not eat the carcasses of the animals brought by the High Priest, as sin offerings—those were burned outside the camp. The priests had no right to eat those sacrifices.
12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.
Jesus died as our sin offering. The altar we serve does not include animal sacrifice. It included one Solitary offering for sin, forever. Our worship and service is continually brought to him, but He remains “outside the camp” so far as the unbelieving world is concerned. So that is where we serve Him. We recognize that the genuine service of Christ will never be popular with the enemies of God. Bear in mind, when I use this phrase, the fact that all humans start off as “enemies of God”. Romans 5:10 states that “…while we were enemies, Christ died for us…”
So, to the unsaved, unbelieving World, the service of Christ, at any level, is a repugnant thing. They want it to be “outside the gate”…rejected from “polite society.” We need to embrace that as being simply appropriate. They see us as worthy of rejection: we need to see ourselves in Christ, and recognize that if we are living like him, and not offending by our human follies and sin, but are definitely being rejected because of the Cross, then we must joyfully accept our position in Christ, and understand that our proper place is “outside of polite society,” though those who consider themselves the “polite” ones are actually those who despise Christ.
A New City—our true home.
14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
We know that our citizenship is elsewhere…that our home is elsewhere. We sing “This World is not my home…” and it is literally true. We are just passing through. We are “…pilgrims, in search of a city.” It isn’t comfortable, but it is reality. Embrace reality! This is where we live! We are in Christ, by God’s Grace, and if we want to walk with Him, then we must go where He goes. For the time being, it means we are to be excluded by our co-workers, our neighbors, etc., as “Bible-thumpers, Religious fanatics,” etc. But, for all time, it means we are in Christ. We go where He goes. If he is rejected (and He is), then we should expect to be rejected, too.
In the future, we will no longer be “outside the city.” We will be those inside…with Jesus, in the New City…our new home.
A New Priesthood.
15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Who is it that offers sacrifices, as a part of his job? A Priest does! We are called to be a “holy priesthood” to God. (1st Peter 2:5) Notice that our sacrifices are not only those of praise and thanksgiving: He calls us to do Good, and to share. He counts those things as sacrifices, too, and specifically warns us not to forget the practical side of Christianity. James says similar things, questioning how a genuine spirituality can even exist without a practical outworking of it in one’s life. The answer is…it can’t. The genuine activity of God in a believer’s life always changes the life of the believer, and it always positively affects others!
1st Peter 2:5 says “Ye also, as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
What kind of spiritual sacrifices? “…the sacrifice of praise to God, continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.”
Over in Romans 12:1, 2, Paul exhorts us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice…and he says that it is a reasonable service. We are priests, and all we have to offer is our selves. Jesus already made the only offering for sin. We bring ourselves as a worship offering.
Kings, or “a kingdom?”
In Revelation 1:6, the apostle John states that Jesus “has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father….” (KJV) I am not sure why they do it, but many newer translations render this “a kingdom of priests”. The Greek word “basileis”, used here, is also used over in Revelation 17:12, where it talks about “…ten kings which have received no kingdom as yet…” The word there for “kings” (Greek, basileis”) is identical to that in Revelation 1:6, while the word for kingdom is different: it is the Greek word, “basileian”.
The wording in the first chapter (also in Revelation 5:10) makes it clear that our placement as kings and priests (not a “kingdom of priests) is past-tense. It is a done deal. Jesus has already made us kings and priests in Him, and we shall reign (future tense) on the earth. The “reigning” part is evidently future, or at least partly future, but the priesthood portion is current. It is now! We have already been given the dual-duty of serving as an ambassador, reaching out to the World, in the name of the King of Kings, while also serving as priests, offering sacrifices and prayers to the Holy God to whom we belong.
In case you haven’t thought this through, we are the only body of believers in history who have been so described. The Jews in the Millennial Kingdom, living in Israel, are to be called “holy unto the LORD”, and are said to be “a kingdom of priests”. That fits! Israel has always been a nation; and a kingdom is what they have been waiting for. But the Church has never been a nation, and is not looking for a kingdom, but the Bridegroom. The Church is the Bride of Christ. And Jesus, though He is certainly “King of Kings”, is not said to be the “King” of the Church, but the “Head” of the Church. The Church is also the “Body of Christ.” We are not a kingdom of priests, but kings and priests. Romans 5:17 says that we shall “reign in life”. We need to think about that one! Will you choose to “reign” in life, or still be a slave to your old nature?
A New Assignment
We have been given the spelled-out task of being ambassadors of Christ, reconciling the World to God through the person of Christ. Paul says that the job is to be accomplished by the preaching of the Cross…evangelism and discipleship. This is not a slick “sales-job,”, but an honest task of clearly, simply presenting the King, both by our words, and our living example.
Paul pointed out the folly of trying the “Madison Avenue” approach: “…not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect” (1st Corinthians 1:17)
This is not about “clever” approaches, and persuasive presentations. It is about living the truth of Christ in your life, constantly, and speaking the truth of Christ when an opportunity is given. It is about looking for those opportunities, and praying in advance for the opportunities to come. It is about anxiously watching for the chance to share, and yet offering no offense by sharing in a wrong context, or a wrong time.
It is also about being courageous enough to go ahead and take the risk of rejection: we know that the majority will reject the Lord, and likely reject us with Him, but that does not mean we are not to share with them. Jesus died for the sins of the whole World. He said that was what he came to do, and that is what He did. If we have any doubt about that, we need to turn to 1st John 2:2 where it says, “…and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole World.”
This is why the Apostle Paul stated that he was “…debtor, both to the Greeks and to the barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise…” He knew that his job was to present Jesus to a world of lost sinners for whom Jesus had already died! Jesus, whose blood had already paid for their sins. Jesus, who, being believed in, is God’s only offer of redemption.
Don’t we have that same debt? Since you know that the price of redemption has already been paid, but that, for lack of faith in that blood-sacrifice, people are doomed to a Christless Eternity; don’t you have an obligation to be looking for opportunities to turn people away from destruction?
In the news lately, we heard of a mass-shooting, at a school in Florida. An unarmed security guard confronted the shooter, and put himself between the shooter and the children at whom he was shooting. He died in his task. Meanwhile, it turns out that there were one or more deputies, outside the school, armed, and sworn to protect, who refused to enter the school, but stood outside, listening to people being killed inside.
Which of those fellows would you rather emulate? When they stand before their judge, in whose shoes would you rather be?
We know people are dying for lack of a voice from God. We have to choose whether to be that voice. That is our only job. Will we do it?
A New Future
Our future has already changed. We are secure in Christ. We will be with Him for eternity, regardless of our current failures. But: our eternal reward (not our salvation: not eternal life)– our eternal reward depends on how we respond to Him as our Master.
We will be where He is. We will live through the Millennial Kingdom in our new bodies, and will be given tasks with which to honor the King. However, the kind of tasks we are given (as nearly as I can understand it) will depend on how we respond to our assignments in this life.
We have many tasks, in this life: some big, some small, some seemingly insignificant. But the assigned job, of every believer, great or small, is “Ambassador for Christ”. You may feel that you have been assigned the ambassadorship to the worst hole-in-the-wall, insignificant dump on the planet. But if you are faithful to serve there, then you are honoring God with your life. He doesn’t miss anything. He knows our hearts.
Remember the poor widow, regarding whom Jesus said “She has given more than all the others, for out of her deep poverty, she has given all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4) Jesus knew exactly what was going on in the hearts of each of the worshippers. He knows our hearts today, as well.
Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise.” Daniel 12:3 states that “…they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.”
We knew an elderly woman at Cornell Estates, some time ago, who was confined to a wheelchair, due to a stroke and extreme age (100+ years), but she was still actively seeking to lead people to Christ. As we got to know her, we discovered that, when she was younger, she had hosted “good news clubs” in her home…and that today, all the deacons in her home church had been led to Christ in her home as young children, and today are the leaders of her church. Do you suppose she qualifies for these passages? How about someone who has never aggressively preached the Gospel, but who has faithfully lived it, and demonstrated the practical righteousness, that ultimately turned many to righteousness? I think the same passages apply.
I really do not want to be like those deputies in Florida who stood outside and listened to children being murdered, without attempting to confront the gunman. I want to go ahead and take the risk, and do the job I was called to do.
Lord Jesus, give us clear minds to think through our life circumstances, and the courage to face our environments with the mind of Christ. We are not our own masters, and you have given us a job. Give us the Grace, day by day, to be faithful to that job.