Pristine Grace

The New Covenant
Essay 07
Jesus Christ: The New Priesthood
by Bob Higby
The New Covenant

"If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need [was there] that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these tings are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For [it is] evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similtude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou [art] a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope [did]; by the which we draw night unto God. . . . By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but this [man], because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. . . . For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, [maketh] the Son, who is consecrated for evermore." Heb. 7:11-19, 22-25, 28 KJV

"As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." I Pet. 2:4-5, 9-10 NIV

"To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests . . . " Rev. 1:5b, 6a

"You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." Rev. 5:10

"Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years." Rev. 20:6

     The priesthood of the grace-covenant is not difficult to understand. There are only two aspects to it:

  1. Jesus Christ is our eternal priest in the power of an endless perfect life, having obtained redemption by his once-for-all sacrifice. He abrogates and replaces the imperfect priesthood of the law-covenant.
     
  2. All believers are made priests by union with Jesus Christ. We already reign with him.

     Although the priesthood of the former covenant is abolished, one might technically argue that the new covenant does have an earthly priesthood. What about the believers who are presently on earth and have not yet entered heaven? They are reigning with Christ and have dominion over this present age. Not in themselves--but through their connection with him.

     With these facts considered, why would anyone want to attempt bringing the old priesthood into the New and everlasting Covenant of Grace? That is exactly what has been done for the last 1900 years. Big time.

     We have already examined 5 major aspects of the law-covenant that men have continually attempted to bring into the grace-covenant.

  1. Conditional or obligatory responsibilities on the part of man, in order to keep the covenant in operation.
     
  2. Works on the part of man to gain temporal blessing.
     
  3. Sabbatarianism, in the form of a 7th-day or 1st-day requirement to sabbatize.
     
  4. A continued covenant of circumcision, in the form of binding the conscience with a particular administration of water 'unto the remission of sins.'
     
  5. A mandate to build and respect a sacred 'house' for God. This dates back to the Constantinian era and is rooted not only in the Old Testament sanctuary & temple, but also the heathen temples of worship.

     The priesthood is a sixth aspect. Although many centuries expired before the clergy got bold enough to arrogate the title of 'priest' to themselves, the principles leading to that final 'departure' from apostolic teaching had been developing for a long time. In the history of congregations, there had been a gradual metamorphosis from a patriarchal to a Levitical model of leadership. The final outcome was the historic clergy/laity distinction.

     The early NT community of believers gathered frequently and ordained elders in each local assembly to be stewards of the gospel. However, we must not think that this was done in Levitical fashion. Often we project our current experience back into the past. The worship of the apostolic era was based on the end of the law in Christ. Therefore, it reverted back largely to the nature of worship before the law. This consisted primarily of families coming together for worship with certain patriarchs (heads of households) appointed as elders (pastors). Of course, nothing in all of this excluded the unmarried.

     The point is this: the early model of leadership was not like that of 1st century culture, any more than it is like 21st century culture. The NT assembly was something radically different from everything else in the culture of those times (ours too). The Jewish and heathen cultures were both immersed in the Levitical model of authority with its priests, temples, rulers, and the like. But the community of believers was founded on a different principle--that of the greatest being a servant (Mark 10:42-44). Some will argue that we can't change today: we're stuck with 'church' (in its predominant form) as much as we're stuck with Jesus. Well, that just doesn't square with scripture or history and God won't accept that excuse. Whatever changes we need to make are no different than those engaged by the first believers. Of course, God may bypass this generation and bring reformation only in another.

     What were the changes in the community of believers that eventually led to an overt churchly priesthood? Two developments occurred:

  1. The clergy/laity distinction came into being. All of this happened after the death of the apostles, with elders beginning to arrogate power unto themselves. Men wanted a 'church' patterned more like the Jewish and heathen religions. Eventually, the concept of one-bishop rule emerged. None of this existed in apostolic times. The first elders (pastors) were not a distinct class in any sense: all believers were considered priests.
     
  2. With the emergence of the clergy/laity distinction, it was inevitable that the concept of a 'sacred house' would emerge. The place for gathering in the early assemblies was one owned by someone in the congregation. But when the new class distinction emerged, the corresponding 'need' for a church/home distinction was inevitable. Hence the rise of the sacred parsonage, sacred church building, and sacred church organization: each of which was separate from the common community of faith.

     Today, we can scarcely comprehend how a community of believers would exist without the non-profit corporation, clergy/laity distinction, building owned by the corporation, and tax deduction of gifts. That is because the Levitical model is so impressed upon our culture. Of course, change does not come overnight and radicalism needs to be avoided. Many separatists have gone down other roads that are even more carnal. But change is possible, one aspect at a time, once we acknowledge that it has to take place.

     Some will no doubt hate the possible implications of the New Covenant in this area! Many like the end of certain laws (the Sabbath, for example) but not necessarily other cherished traditions.