The New Testament Priesthood

June 13, 2023
Rick Morse

The repeated failures of the Old Testament priesthood reached their pinnacle in our Lord’s time with Caiaphas. He and his preceding generations failed the nation of Israel in their stewardship of divine truth; they served themselves rather than the LORD God, they failed to see that the Great High Priest Himself was in their midst, and they sentenced Him to death. The fault was not in the design of the priesthood as God had intended, but rather in their miserable execution of it. The bringing in of the New Testament replaced that badly flawed priesthood because it most certainly needed to be replaced. 

A properly functioning priesthood is just as essential to a New Testament assembly as it was to the Old Testament tabernacle. A unique and exalted doctrine of the scripturally gathered assembly is the priesthood of all believers. Peter tells us that we are both a holy priesthood in terms of our upward service (1 Pet. 2:5), and a royal priesthood in terms of our outward witness (1 Pet. 2:9). This priesthood is to be embraced, enabled, and enacted with a profound sense of stewardship by each one of us. It is both a high privilege and a holy responsibility.

The New Testament Priest’s Privileges

The book of Ephesians is focused throughout on the relationship of God with His people. The perfect standing of all believers is explained, and the teaching of the epistle is to empower each of us to align our everyday state with our eternal standing.

1. The privilege of acceptance (Eph. 1:6)

Every Christian is assured that his or her acceptance with God is eternally established in the Person of His beloved Son. We are repeatedly told that we are “in Christ” throughout the New Testament, and as such we have complete acceptance with God Himself. I trust none of us ever loses the soul-filling sense of the hallowed immensity of this privilege!

2. The privilege of access (Eph. 2:18)

Rather than awaiting a single day of the year for a single individual to enter the holy Presence of God, every believer is granted unlimited access to God’s throne room at any time. The Old Testament priest had to wait for the Day of Atonement to enter the holy place “that he die not” (Lev. 16:2). With our Great High Priest now seated at the right hand of the Majesty in the Heavens, we can enter any day of the year and at any time of day.

3. The privilege of address (Eph. 3:12)

In the days of Ahasuerus, the king of the Median—Persian empire, no one was permitted to enter his presence unless summoned, and was then not allowed to speak to him unless he specifically permitted it. Even his wife Esther was not exempt from this rule. Not only may we enter the Presence of God at any time, but we can also enter boldly. The original word for “boldly” embodies the concept of speaking freely. Related to this, may we never allow this privileged intimacy to displace our reverence for Him.

The New Testament Priest’s Responsibilities

Leviticus 23 summarizes the feasts of Jehovah on Israel’s annual calendar. These statutes emphasize what the Old Testament priests were to do when they came into His Presence. The previous chapter to this emphasizes what they were to do before they came into His Presence, which accords with our current consideration. Before we enter our Lord’s Presence in the assembly meetings, advance preparation is essential to our proper and mutually beneficial participation.

1. The need to come carefully (Lev. 22:2, 9, 15)

The notion of profaning the Lord’s holy place is fundamentally to be treating it as a common place. Our assembly buildings are not sanctuaries in the sense that much of Christendom regards their structures, but the Lord’s Presence most certainly is a sanctified place. We dare not be careless in treating the assembly meetings as commonplace; our Lord Jesus Christ is in the midst.

2. The need to come clean (Lev. 22:3-6)

Our condition as New Testament priests is not established when we arrive on the Lord’s Day morning. The Old Testament priest was given detailed instructions about washing himself, his clothing, and his tools of service before he entered the tabernacle. We dare not enter the Lord’s assembly with unconfessed sin, which is to be realized upon prior self-examination, repentance, and confession of that sin or those sins.

3. The need to come prepared (Lev. 22:18-29)

Our service as New Testament priests does not begin when we arrive on the Lord’s Day morning. The Old Testament priests were busy prior to their tabernacle obligations in preparing the holy incense, the holy anointing oil, themselves and their garments, and the sacrifices which they would be presenting. “None shall appear before Me empty” (Ex. 23:15; 34:20). What we bring to the assembly meetings by way of worship or ministry should always be the accumulation of what we have gathered and prepared in our daily walk with Him.

Privileges and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. If we hold either or both in low esteem, our Lord will be deprived of our reasonable and rightful service. Next, our whole assembly will be lacking what each one of us should be bringing to add to its collective wealth. Finally, we will also find ourselves lacking in personal growth and lacking real power in the inner man.

It has become tragically common for too many Christians to bemoan that they are not getting much out of the assembly meetings. It is an axiom of human existence that we rarely get any more out of something than what we put into it. Is our assembly getting our best as a New Testament priest? Is our Savior receiving our best as His New Testament priest? If not, then it is safe assumption that we can easily become one of the moaners.

We may well ask ourselves: how would our local assembly fare if everyone put the same degree of care and preparation into it that I do? If the answer makes any of us shudder, may we collectively pray to be delivered from this sad state of existence, and instead strive to give Him our best. 

The old campfire song says, “Dare to be a Daniel.” May we never “dare to be a Caiaphas.”

by Rick Morse