Priesthood

After instructing Moses about Aaron and his sons, God concludes with the following:

“Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tabernacle of meeting and wash them with water.  You shall put the holy garments on Aaron, and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest.  And you shall bring his sons and clothe them with tunics.  You shall anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may minister to Me as priests; for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.”

Thus Moses did; according to all that the LORD had commanded him, so he did, Exodus 40:12-16.

There’s a great deal more about Moses and Aaron in Exodus than these few verses, but they are a concise account of Aaron and his sons being consecrated as and beginning their responsibilities as priests.  I’m not so much interested in this priesthood, though I have a few thoughts, as I am about the priesthood to which it pointed and that succeeded it:  the priesthood of the Lord Jesus.

One thing that has struck me in view of the importance of these men all throughout the Old Testament is the fact that there is no “office” of priest listed for the New Testament church.  Pastors and deacons, yes and only; “priests”, not at all.  Historically, the idea has come from those religious organizations who have attempted to mold the New Testament church using Old Testament patterns.  Hence, we have world-wide organizations with a “headquarters” in some earthly city, hierarchies of officials over and above a local pastor, fancy buildings, Bible colleges and seminaries, and all sorts of “programs.” The local church, the local assembly, is all but irrelevant, except to pay the salary of the hierarchy and for all the other stuff.

Yes, they protest, but we need all these things!

The early church did alright without them.

God intended the local church to be all that believers needed for fellowship and teaching, 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 24.

You might answer, “You went to Bible college!”

Yes, I did.

And I’m thankful for it, as I’ve said elsewhere.  The thing is, and only God knows, what could the godly pastor of the church where the Lord Jesus brought me to Himself have taught an ignorant and wayward young man?  And Claude Young, to keep at least the memory of his name alive, was a godly old man.  What blessing could I have been to that church, to which I never returned except a couple to times to visit?  What mutual blessing could there have been?  As I said, only God knows.

But churches lose their young people – their future – to some far-away place, and it’s thought this is ok.

On the other side of this, we knew a pastor in one of these organizations, a good man, a godly man, who loved his people and they loved him.  The organization to which he belonged decided he would be more useful translating the works of some obscure scholar of theirs whom no one had ever heard of.  Never mind what his people or he thought about it or might want.  He must leave his church.  His people were heartbroken and so was he.

In answer to all this, the New Testament knows nothing of anything beyond or over a local assembly, free to associate with other assemblies, but also free from their interference and control.  it’s true that the church at Jerusalem was the “important” church in its time, but it seems to have been replaced, as it were, by the church at Antioch, which itself is long gone.  In any event, there is no Scriptural authority for the man-made organizations which have sprung up throughout church history which obscure and minimize the local assembly.

Having said all this about the New Testament, it’s not that I think the Old Testament isn’t important.  Those of you who’ve followed this blog for any time as it enters its seventh year – thank you, Lord Jesus – know that I do.  It’s just that we’re to be guided by the New Testament, – without ever forgetting the lessons of the Old.  Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-11.

The Old Testament priest was the intermediary between the ordinary Israelite and God.  Even he, though, was limited in this.  He couldn’t just go into the tabernacle when he felt like it.  The ordinary Israelite dare not!

The Old Testament priest had continually to offer animal sacrifices because, in the words of Hebrews 10:11, these sacrifices could never take away sins.

The office of Old Testament priest was hereditary, strictly limited to the family and descendants of Aaron.

The office of Old Testament priest, therefore, was “off-limits” to the average Israelite.  Even a king could get into trouble for interfering, and did, 2 Chronicles 26:16-20.

The OT priest could not forgive sin nor do anything to correct the nature of the one bringing the sacrifice.

There’s only ever been One about whom it can truthfully be said that He forgives sin:  “That you may know that the Son of Man has power [authority] on earth to forgive sin,” – then [Jesus] said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed and go to your house.”   Matthew 9:5, 6.  This incident is also recorded in Mark 2:10 and Luke 5:24.

The religious authorities of His time thought the Lord Jesus committed blasphemy because He dared to forgive sin, Matthew 9:3.  We recorded part of our Lord’s response to that in the paragraph above, but in the verses before that, we read, knowing their thoughts, [He] said to them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you.’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?” emphasis added.  One is as easy to say as the other, but only the Lord Jesus has the power and authority actually to doactually to forgive sin.

No man-made priest or any earthly religious organization has that power or that authority  – no matter what they claim.

The reason that there is no “office” of priest in the New Testament church is that it isn’t necessary.  Believers themselves are considered “priests” in the New Testament.

1 Peter 2:5, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:9, But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (emphases added)

Through the Holy Spirit, every believer has access to the presence of God.  We don’t need a priest, the church, Mary, saints…. The list goes on and on.

For through Him we both [that is, Jew or Gentile] have access by one Spirit to the Father, Ephesians 2:18.

Nor do we need for them to pray for us – at the hour of our death or any other time.

There’s only One to whom we need turn – in death or in life:  the Lord Jesus Christ, Hebrews 3:1.  He, and He alone, is our “High Priest.”  We need no other.

He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them, Hebrews 7:25.

 

Advertisements

“Beginning at Jerusalem”

With this post, we start a series on the Book of Acts.

1. Purpose of the Study.

We’re not interested in merely developing some “doctrine of the church.”  There may be a time and a place for such a thing, but in these posts we’re more concerned with “why” the church is than with “what” it is.  For example, when the Lord Jesus ascended, why did He leave only a small, powerless band of men who had no idea what was going on?  Further, what did He expect them to do?  The Book of Acts gives ample answer to these questions, as well as telling us why we have been left in a world increasingly hostile to the Lord Jesus and His message.

2. Some Things to Think About.

In some circles, we hear about a lot about “The New Testament Church.”  More than one group believes it can trace its roots back to Jerusalem, and so, of course, they are The New Testament Church.

An honest comparison between Acts and today shows such differences that it’s sometimes difficult to believe that there is any relationship between us and them at all.  Nor do we believe that it’s necessary to provide a “genealogy” for a church so as to put it in direct succession with the church at Jerusalem.  The only “link” that’s necessary is found in the Lord Jesus and not in some organization or group of organizations.

There are some things to keep in mind:

1. The “New Testament Church,” as such, is a concept, an ideal, that has never existed.  The disciples themselves were blatantly far from perfect and even the church at Jerusalem had its problems, as noted in Acts 5 and 6.  Indeed, most of Paul’s epistles were written to address problems and difficulties in “New Testament” churches.

At the same time, “New Testament churches” seek to be guided by principles of the New Testament and not by church edicts or dictates.

2. When we think of the New Testament church, though, we usually think of the first church, the church at Jerusalem.  A moment’s thought should serve to show that the church at Jerusalem would be absolutely impossible to duplicate today.

a. Many of the people in Jerusalem, both believers and unbelievers, had seen the Lord Jesus and had witnessed or participated in the events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord.  Remember, the Lord was crucified less than two months before Pentecost.  Further, many Jews had seen His miracles or heard His teaching during the three or so years of His earthly ministry.

b. Pentecost, though not the “birthday” of the Church (a thought to which we’ll return later on), was the catalyst igniting it, as it were, and getting it going.   A second “Pentecost,” though some might earnestly long for it, is as impossible as a second Calvary.  It is no more necessary for the Spirit to be poured out as He was in Acts 2 than it would be for the Lord to be crucified.  Both were “once-for-all” events, though it is true that the effects and benefits of those two happenings must be individually applied and entered into.

3. Though many disagree, Acts records a final presentation of her King to Israel.  In Matthew 12:39-41, the Lord stated that Israel would be given one final sign that He was who He said He was:  He would only spend three days and three nights in the grave, no more.  He would physically and bodily rise from the dead.  Cf. John 2:19-21.  See also Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:29, 30 (note “this generation” in v. 30).  This is why the preaching in Acts always mentions the Resurrection.

Finally, it is sometimes said that Acts is historical and “transitional,” and so we shouldn’t rely on it to teach “doctrine.”  Acts is transitional, but it contains some very strong doctrinal statements.  Now, these must not be isolated from the rest of Scripture, as some do, but neither are they to be ignored.  Acts shows the “transition” from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis.  Further, it shows the transition of Christianity from a local sect only in Jerusalem and Judea to an influence which moved the world of its day.

Revelation 1:19, 20: The Seven Churches

“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands:  The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  (NKJV)

John had been so overcome by the vision of our Lord that perhaps he had missed part of it, that is, what the Lord was holding in His hand.  He held seven stars and was standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands.  Our Lord describes what these things mean:  the seven stars are the “angels” (“angeloi”) of the seven churches and the lampstands represent the seven churches themselves.

There’s some discussion about who these “angels” were.  Some believe the word is simply used in its primary meaning of “messenger.”  These are human messengers sent from the churches.  “Angel” is simply the transliteration of the Greek word into English.  And it’s true that angels often brought messages from God.  Another view is that they are actual angels, who watch over the churches.  We do read in Scripture of the activities of angels with regard to what goes on in this world, Psalm 91:11; Daniel 11:20, many others.  Others believe it refers to the actual pastors and leaders of the various churches.

I tend to the view that it does refer to the actual pastors and teachers.  It teaches us that pastors don’t belong to the church, or to the denomination or even to themselves.  They belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.  They are His and, though they have responsibility to the church they lead, they are ultimately responsible to Him.  There is no greater calling in this world than to stand before people and open to them the Word of God.  But there is also no greater responsibility than that.  Even the simple posts that I write for this blog have eternal repercussions.  Spurgeon used to say that it crushed him into the dust to stand before eternity-bound men and women with the Scriptures.  I’m afraid we’ve lost that sense of awe in this day of mega-churches and Christian “personalities.”

The churches are depicted by seven individual lampstands.  These were lamps which would have burned olive oil.  This compares to the single lampstand with seven flames which burned in the Tabernacle, Exodus 26:31, 32, 37.  I think these portray the distinction between Israel and the church.  As a nation or as a people, Israel was a single entity.  They had a single “holy city,” and a centralized religion with its headquarters in the Tabernacle, then, later, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Later on, in the various dispersions and such, the “synagogue” sprang up as a local focal point of instruction and worship.  But the Jewish heart was always with the land of Israel, regardless of where the body was.

I don’t think Gentiles really understand the attachment the Jew has for his homeland.  I worked for a few months as a janitor in a conservative Jewish synagogue and saw firsthand their love for “eretz Yisrael”.

In contrast to the unity of the nation, “the church” knows no such centralization.  We have no “holy city,” no “headquarters” on this earth.  There is no such structure to the church.  Each church is directly responsible, not to some earthly leader or body, but to the Lord Himself.

Scripture describes the church as both an organism and an organization.  The “organism” is called “the body of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 12:31.  True believers are members of that one body.  If you are a believer, though you and I may never meet in this life and might be separated by thousands of miles, live on opposite sides of the planet and have different languages and cultures, we are still related through the Lord Jesus.  We are brothers and sisters.  For lack of a better word, the body is “universal.”  There is only one.

But that one body functions in and through the local church, the local “organization.”  The problem comes in with the confusing of the organism and the organization.  There is no universal “organization,” no world-wide “church,” in Scripture.  Each local church is independent.  No other church can tell it what to do, and it can’t tell any other church what to do.  Certainly, churches can cooperate in various endeavors.  The problem is that the “endeavor,” whatever it is, tends to take on a life of its own and to overshadow the local church.

Through John, our Lord addressed each of the seven churches.  He didn’t have John give the message to some centralized authority, which then filtered it down to the various churches.

These were seven local, contemporaneous churches.  They all existed at the same time.  But “churches” are really just the people who make them up.  So our Lord isn’t just addressing some nebulous something out there.  He’s talking through them to you and me.  He’s giving each one of us counsel, warning, encouragement, promise.  We can find ourselves described in one of these churches, with the attendant counsel given by our Lord.