The Priesthood Then—Our Priest Now

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Jesus Christ, in one act at one point in history accomplished what thousands upon thousands of sacrifices into the millions of sacrifices by multitudes of priests could never accomplish. He opened the way to God permanently so that any person at any time by faith in Christ might enter into God’s presence. He is our great High Priest forever.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 6:49

Only Aaron and his descendants served as priests. They presented the offerings on the altar of burnt offering and the altar of incense, and they performed all the other duties related to the Most Holy Place. They made atonement for Israel by doing everything that Moses, the servant of God, had commanded them.

God selected the tribe of Levi out of all the tribes of Israel to manage the physical place of his dwelling. The Levites were a privileged group. But out of Levi, he then selected the clan of Aaron to serve as the priests, and they became the privileged few who ever got to offer sacrifices in the place of worship—the tabernacle, then later, the temple—to the Lord God. They managed the presence of God, mediated the worship of God’s people and made atonement for their sins. Out of all the people who ever lived on Planet Earth, only a select few got to be this close to the presence of the Lord in this important of a role.

Once we get past the Old Testament, there is not much information on the Jewish priesthood. One of the final interactions with this unique group is in Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. We are told in Luke 1 of the father of John the Baptist, who was to be the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah. His name was Zechariah, and he was a priest. He was on duty when an angel of the Lord suddenly showed up to announce to this old man that his old and barren wife was about to give birth to the greatest and last prophet of Israel, and they were to name him John. It is a great story that is worth reading again—a timely story of how God always remembers his promises and is dedicated to fulfilling his plan, but always in his sovereign time.

Now as a priest, Zechariah was a descendant of the priestly line of Aaron—at a time in Israel when there were around 20,000 other priestly descendants. This may seem like a large number, but again, keep in mind that when you consider all human beings who were alive at the time, it was a select group. In the context of tiny Israel, with that many priests and only one temple, these 20,000 men had to be divided into groups that served in the temple only two weeks per year so that all of them could serve.

Now the greatest privilege for an ordinary priest like Zechariah was to burn incense on the altar of the Holy Place. This was granted by lots, so only a very few priests would ever get this opportunity. If a priest was fortunate enough to be chosen, it was the only chance he would get—ever! So when Zachariah was chosen, it was the chance of a lifetime. That is when the angel interrupted his duties with a message.

This angel appeared and stood at one end of the altar in front of the aging priest! Now understand the shocking significance of this event: 400 years of nothing between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the gospel—and not only does God speak, but it’s not through the utterance of a human prophet. This news is so big, so important, and so good that God sends the angel of the Lord! Gabriel appears! As you can imagine, Zechariah did what we would have done: his knees had fellowship one with another. To say the least, he was afraid. But the angel calmed him with these next words, “Your prayer has been heard.” And with that, a new era began; John’s birth was followed by Jesus’s birth, and a new and living way into the very presence of God was ushered in. (Hebrews 10:20).

Jesus Christ, by his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, became the first non-Aaronic priest of God. And not just any priest, the Lion of the tribe of Judah became a High Priest forever—our personal and only priest before God. Through him, we have permanent and free access to the very presence of God. We also have him as our fulltime mediator and intercessor before the Almighty. We don’t have to come to a temple or go through an earthly priest or wait in line to offer a sacrifice for our sins, Jesus our High Priest did that once and for all for us. He ever lives to intercede for us, and he makes a way—he is our way—into God’s awesome presence any time we want for as long as we want.

Can you wrap your mind around that? Jesus is your permanent, personal full-time High Priest. And that makes you one of the privileged!

Going Deeper With God: Have you taken Jesus up on his offer to bring you into God’s awesome presence lately? Remember, through him, you can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that you may receive mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need. (Hebrews 4:16) Do it today—through Jesus, get before God’s throne of grace.

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