Peter uses a passage from Exodus 19 in I Peter 2:9, directly quoting God speaking to His people through Moses. Peter reminds us that we had no true identity prior to obtaining mercy, but now we are His people. now we are His priests. In the Old Testament, a priest was one who performed sacrificial and mediator duties. In Latin, a priest is one who “builds bridges.” A priest crosses the divide between the mortal and the divine.
These duties go back to the days of Cain and Able in Genesis 4. Also Noah, after disembarking from the ark, offers sacrifices to God – as do Abraham, Job, and other Old Testament figures. Numerous individuals are engaged in priestly service in the Old Testament prior to the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. With the establishment of the Levitical priesthood comes an established covenant relationship.
Holy and Anointed
The Levitical priests oversaw the daily offerings and sacrifices, and God emphasizes their holiness when making the offerings. They maintained the lamp, the alter fires, and the incense. They maintained the sanctity of the people, keeping the covenant, knowing the covenant, and teaching the covenant. They were to maintain their own purity in their service of God. They were set apart for service unto God most high.
Exodus 29:7-9 describes the anointing of Aaron and this priesthood. No other was to use it or duplicate it in Exodus 30:31. Exodus 40:14 continues this anointing for Aaron’s sons. This holy oil is used again in I Kings 19:16 when the prophet Elijah is instructed to anoint kings and prophets. Kings, prophets, and priests were all sanctified by this holy oil – all those who served God as mediator between Him and His people.
Exodus 7:16 records God calling His people from Egypt so they may serve Him, and Numbers 3-4 records the census of the Levites. Time and again, reference is made of the Levites serving in the tabernacle. In the New Testament, in Hebrews 9:1, these duties are revisited. Throughout history, God expects sacrificial service from those ordained in His service. These roles had nothing to do with helping “me.” Rather, the focus was and is on serving others and serving Gods.
An Imperfect Priesthood
There were shortcomings, however. In Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu are struck down for insufficient service. I Samuel 2:12 records the failings of the High Priest Eli’s sons. In II Kings 23, we read of priests offering children in sacrifice to Molech, and Malachi 1:6 has God scorning the priests who fail to honor Him properly and fail His name. Though the priests were outwardly sanctified, human failings could still bring down these separated servants of God.
A Perfect Priest and King
Psalm 110, however, speaks of a king higher than David, and this king would also be a priest in a manner similar to Melchizedek. Also, Zechariah 6:9-13 contains prophecy of a priest who would sit on His throne, a Branch that would promote peace through His roles as priest and king. This is a unique pairing of roles, for, in the Old Testament, the offices of priest and king were strictly separated.
In Luke 1, Zechariah the priest (a coincidence of names that is probably no coincidence), is serving before the alter of incense. There, Zechariah learns that his son will be the forerunner to the Messiah, and we can read of the ministry of this son in John 1. Those listening ask John if he is the one to come, and John answers that He prepares the way.
Hebrews 7 draws a distinction between the priesthood of Aaron’s sons, Melchizedek, and Jesus. The Hebrew writer argues that Jesus’ priesthood is established by an oath and that it is an eternal priesthood. Hebrews 4:14-16 describes the High Priest of Jesus as one who shares our humanity, and Hebrews 2:14-17 calls Him our brother. He is better mediator of abetter covenant enacted upon better promises. He intercedes on our behalf, and He is God’s obedient servant as seen in Hebrews 5:7-9. His service is obedient and sacrificial.
A Nation of Priests
Returning to I Peter 2, we are a spiritual house, a priesthood given over to spiritual sacrifices. Philippians 2:5 calls on us to have the mind of Christ. As Christ’s service was obedient and sacrificial as a priest of God, we are to likewise serve. We are priests serving under a great High Priest and King. Our mindset is not centered on “me” any more than Christ’s. He gave Himself on our behalves, and we should be sacrificially giving ourselves over to Him. We can be a beacon hope for one another and for the world, serving in God’s house as priests.
lesson by Tim Smelser