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a holy priesthood

When Israel assembled at Mount Sinai, God promised they would be his people, his treasured possession, and would be to him “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4–6). Not long after this promise God gave instructions for Israel to set apart Aaron his sons:

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.”

Exodus 28:1 ESV

The promise was the nation would be a kingdom of priests yet the priests would come from one tribe, the tribe of Levi, and not from the entire tribe but from one single family line within the tribe. Only Aaron and his four sons would serve as priests. Then we learn that two of Aaron’s four sons died before having children, leaving his sons Eleazar and Ithamar as the priestly line. They would serve as priests along with their father, and their sons would serve alongside them, and their sons’ sons. Throughout Israel’s history, as each tribe grew and multiplied in number, less than one-twelfth of the people would—could—serve as priests. Of the twelve tribes, one family line within one tribe would be granted this incredible privilege.

Fast forward a few centuries to the days of King David. When he was old and past the point of being able to serve as king, he made his son Solomon king. Solomon would go on to build the temple to replace the portable tabernacle. In his final days David reorganized the Levites and the priests. Since Levites were no longer needed to assemble / disassemble the tabernacle, David reassigned them new tasks. He also reorganized the priesthood, yet the priesthood was still a tiny fraction of the whole nation.

David assembled all the leaders of Israel and the priests and the Levites. The Levites, thirty years old and upward, were numbered, and the total was 38,000 men. “Twenty-four thousand of these,” David said, “shall have charge of the work in the house of the LORD, 6,000 shall be officers and judges, 4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 shall offer praises to the LORD with the instruments that I have made for praise.” And David organized them in divisions corresponding to the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.”

1 Chronicles 23:2–6 ESV

Aaron was descended from Kohath. Even if the Levites were evenly divided by family line, then Aaron’s descendants were only a little over 12,000 men. We know from David’s census in 1 Chronicles 21 there were 1,100,000 able-bodied men in the north and a further 470,000 men in Judah, and this did not include any men from Levi or Benjamin (1 Chronicles 21:5–6). There were easily five million people in the nation at the time David reorganized the priesthood, yet only about 12,000 of them could serve as priests in God’s “kingdom of priests.”

Fast forward several centuries again. Peter is an apostle of our Lord. In his first letter to believers scattered across Asia Minor he wrote this:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

1 Peter 2:4–6 ESV

Peter tells these followers of Jesus that they are the true temple, the spiritual house where God dwells. Rather than simply being a structure wherein God dwells, they serve within that structure in an important way: they are a holy priesthood and they offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. The apostle John, in his vision of the saints in heaven, wrote this:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9–10 ESV

The nation of Israel never saw the day when they were a kingdom of priests, yet now in Christ this promise has been fulfilled. Every person who confesses Jesus is Lord, regardless of tribe or language or people or nation, whether male or female, young or old, rich or poor, regardless of family line, every person who confesses Jesus is Lord is a priest of God and is part of that kingdom of priests.

Think of the privilege we are granted in Christ! We serve as that kingdom of priests. Each one of us through Christ is to offer up sacrifices to God—sacrifices that are fully and completely acceptable to God through Jesus. What are these spiritual sacrifices we offer to him? We are. We offer ourselves up to God day by day, and these offerings are acceptable to him through Jesus. We are acceptable to God through Christ!

We must, therefore, remember our responsibilities as priests. Like the priests in the temple in Jerusalem, we must be careful to offer up our morning and evening sacrifices, which is to say, each day we must offer ourselves to God for his glory. We must get up each day and choose to live for him, knowing that the life we live for him is the sacrifice God desires from us. Let’s live for him today.