The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat
down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves
in the sanctuary, the true tagernacle set up by the LORD, not by man.
The Old Covenant Priesthood Foreshadows the Priesthood of the New Covenant
If an Israelite high priest were to come into the fellowship of a Christian
group today, dressed in his linen tunic, ephod, breastplate, turban, and Urim
and Thummim, he would certainly create quite a stir. When one reads Exodus and Leviticus,
it can be a daunting task to try to relate to all the ceremony, regulations,
special clothing, different orders associated with the Jewish priesthood. If one will
bear in mind that in all this, God had a plan to reveal his plan for the ministry
of Jesus Christ and his church, this confusing array of information which we
cannot really relate to will begin to make sense. In trying to understand the Old
Covenant priesthood and the foreshadows in all these regulations, we will find
further evidence to support the claim that the theme of the Old Testament is
The Messiah is coming, bringing salvation.
Under the Old Covenant, the tabernacle and the temple would not have counted
for much without priests to serve there. Who were the priests? What did they do, and what,
specifically does all this foreshadow in the New Testament? That is the subject of this
First, we will need a primer on the Jewish priesthood. Sometimes the priesthood in the
Mosaic Law is called the levitical priesthood. This is somewhat of a misnomer. All priests were
Levites, but not all Levites were priests. The Levites were the sons of Levi, one of
the twelve sons of Israel. God designated the Levites to serve at the tabernacle
and the temple. The Levites were, in a sense, the ?tithe? of God?s people?devoted
to the ministry of God. However, only a small portion of the Levites were actually
designated priests. ?The LORD said to Moses, ?Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron??? (Leviticus
21:1). Only the sons of Aaron were accepted as priests to actually serve in the sanctuary,
making sacrifices, keeping the lamp lit, replacing the bread and so forth.
The rest of the Levites were designated for such tasks as moving the tabernacle,
singing at the temple and so forth. ?Their fellow Levites were assigned to all the
other duties of the tabernacle, the house of God. But Aaron and his descendants
were the ones who presented offerings on the altar of burnt offering and on
the altar of incense in connection with all that was done in the Most Holy Place,
making atonement for Israel, in accordance with all that Moses the servant of
God had commanded.? (1 Chronicles 6:48,49).
There were many special regulations in the Law of Moses requiring the sons of
Aaron, the priests, to keep ceremonially clean. They could not touch a dead body,
shave their head or marry women who had formerly been prostitutes and so forth.
?They must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Be
cause they present the offerings made to the LORD by fire, the food of their
God, they are to be holy.? (Leviticus 21:6). No son of Aaron with any physical deformity
was allowed to serve in the sanctuary. To us, this might seem a bit prejudiced against
the physically disabled, but all these restrictions have meaning in the antitype
to the priesthood in the New Testament. The point of all these restrictions was so that
priests would be more ?holy? than the other Israelites. The word holy in the Hebrew means
one specially designated, set apart, or pure. This will have great significance
in the antitype to the priesthood in the New Testament.
Amongst the priests, there was one specially designated as high priest. The office
of high priest was of great significance to the entire system of Law instituted
by God through Moses. The High Priest, obviously, had to be a descendant of Aaron. In
?fact, Aaron was the first high priest. The high priest was designated so by anointing
with oil. There were even more stringent rules for holiness for the high priest
than for the other sons of Aaron.
?The high priest, the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured
on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not
let his hair become unkempt or tear his clothes. He must not enter a place where there
is a dead body. He must not make himself unclean, even for his father or mother,
nor leave the sanctuary of his God or desecrate it, because he has been dedicated
by anointing oil of his God.? (Leviticus 21:10-12).
The high priest could not even be in the room with a dead body, never mind touching
one. He was not allowed to leave the sanctuary grounds during his entire term
of office. This must have been a particularly onerous requirement. There is great
significance to all these rules in the antitype to the high priest.
Another aspect of the office of high priest which is hard to miss when one reads
the Pentateuch is the high priestly garments. These are described in some detail in
Exodus chapter twenty-eight. These garments worn by the high priest included a woven tunic,
turban and sash of fine, white linen, and an ephod of gold, blue, purple and
scarlet thread, with twelve different prescious stones woven into the shoulder
pieces. Also included was a breastpiece of the same materials as the ephod. ?Fasten a breastpiece
?for making decisions? It is to be square?? (Exodus 28:15,16). The breastpiece, like
the ephod, contained twelve different precious stones, one to represent each
of the twelve tribes of Israel. This breastpiece was to be worn when the high
priest made decisions in his role as judge. Lastly, the Urim and Thummim were attached
to the breastpiece. These were apparently two larger precious stones which were to be involved
in the high priest?s role of decision-making as judge. The word Urim is derived from
the Hebrew ur which means "light", or "to give light", and Thummim derives from the Hebrew
word tummim which means "completeness", "perfection", or "innocence".
The high priest had many important functions, but his most important role was
to carry out the annual sacrifice on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Only he was allowed
to enter the Most Holy Place on that day, and even he was only allowed there after
liberal sprinkling of the blood of a goat and a bull, offering a sacrifice of
atonement for the sins committed by all the people that year. Bottom line, only
the High priest was allowed into the presence of the Almighty God.
THE SONS OF AARON
What is the meaning of all this for those under the New Covenant? Why should we plow
through all this arcane detail in Exodus and Leviticus which seems unnecessary
for a follower of Jesus to understand? The priesthood of the sons of Aaron tells us a
lot about our relationship with God. Even though all of Israel wer
e chosen as God?s
special people, and even though one of the twelve tribes, the Levites, were
chosen and specially dedicated to the service of the Lord, it was only a very
small proportion of the people, the sons of Aaron, who were holy enough to serve
in the near presence of God, ministering in the temple or tabernacle.
What is the antitype to the priests in the Old Testament? It is anyone who is saved under
the New Covenant. All Christians are a royal priesthood, dedicated to serving before
God in his spiritual temple, the heavenly tabernacle. This should speak volumes to us
about how blessed we are to serve God under the lordship of Jesus.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belinging
to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness
into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9,10).
Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, those who are sanctified through him
are made a royal priesthood. When Peter says ?a chosen people, a royal priesthood? he
is not repeating himself. He is saying that if you are made holy by the blood of Christ,
you are are more than a chosen people (as was all Israel), you are that very
small portion of the chosen people, those holy enough to be declared priests
to serve before God. The awesome thing about this is that, unlike the sons of Aaron,
we serve in a temple where the curtain has been removed. Thanks to Jesus, we priests
serve in a tabernacle where there is absolutely no restriction to direct access
to the throne of the Father in Heaven.
If those who are in Christ are priests, then what does the type say about the
?you also like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a
holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus
Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)
The priests under the Old Covenant were not expected to sit around and look
good. They were expected to offer sacrifices. That is what God expects of all his priests
today. The Christian life is about offering spiritual sacrifices, not to become holy,
but because we are holy. Are these sacrifices required to become a priest? No! They are
expected because we are priests. That is our role. If you are a follower of Jesus,
are you offering these sacrifices through your life right now? Jesus as high priest
offered up as a sacrifice his very self. He expects no less of us as his priests. ?If anyon
e would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and
follow me.? (Luke 9:23). The next chapter will offer a lot of detail about the kinds
of sacrifices God expects of his priests.
There is more to the type and to the antitype. The priests were to have their lives
devoted to God.
He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due the priests
and Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the LORD. (2 Chronicles
The people of Israel were to supply the physical needs of the Levites and the
priests so that they could have their lives totally devoted to the service of
the Lord. It is tempting to see this as analogous to members of a church giving
their ?tithe? so that the paid ?ministers? can devote their time to serving God and
the church. This would be an absolutely false application of this passage. All of those who
are in Christ are priests, and all are to be, as the priest on the Old Covenant
completely devoted to the service of God. It is the world in which we work to earn
a living and among whom disciples of Jesus live who are to supply the portion
for us so that we may serve the living God. The world gives us a job and a place
to live (based on our hard work of course) and we, in turn, minister to them
the message of reconciliation. There is absolutely no clergy/laity implied in the New Covenant
priesthood of all believers. If anything, the ?clergy? is all the saints (and all Christians
are saints), and the ?laity? is those who are not yet saints.
We learn from the Levites and the priests that those who are in Christ are to
be completely devoted to their work of ministry before God. This is reminiscent
of the challenge of Jesus to all who would come after him. ?In the same way, any
of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.? If the relation
between the type and the antitype is correct, there are not two standards of
devotion. A priest of Christ is devoted to him. Period.
There is more still, to this New Covenant priesthood.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made
us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father?to him be glory and powe
r for ever and ever! (Revelation 1:6).
?because you (ie. Jesus) were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for
God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be
a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on earth. (Revelation
Blessed and holy are those who have a part in the first resurrection. The second death has
no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign
with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)
From Revelation 20:6 and from 1 Peter 2:9 we see that we are blessed as priests,
but that we are also holy. We are holy, set apart, pure, saints, both because we
are declared to be holy by God and because we dedicate ourselves to remain holy.
If a priest under the Old Covenant defiled himself by commiting a sin or some
sort of act which made them ceremonially unclean, they were disqualified from
service?in certain cases for a certain set period, in others, forever. In Christ, we
are priests, holy and acceptable to God, not based on maintaining perfect holiness
in our own life but by the blood of Jesus. Nevertheless, it is the duty of all New
Testament priests to remain as holy as they possibly can. God said to Israel, ?
Be holy as I am holy.? (Leviticus 11:45). Is the call to make every effort to maintain
holy living any less a relevant teaching for the saints of God, the Christians?
One New Testament passage which brings this point out clearly is 1 Corinthians
1:2. Here Paul says, ?To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ
Jesus and called to be holy?? The Greek word for sanctified and holy are the same
in this passage. Paul is telling the Christians at Corinth that they are already holy,
but that they should strive to live in a holy way. All those who would be priests
of God must make every possible effort to abstain from sin. We should come as close
as we possibly can to maintaining the holiness which we already have in Christ. B
eing declared a holy priest is no excuse whatsoever for failing to make every
effort to be holy. That is the message of Paul, and that is the message of the Old
Testament type?the priesthood of Aaron.
The purpose of the priests under the Old Covenant was to make intercession for
Israel. They were to in a sense, make up for the lack of holiness of the people
through their ministry of sacrifice before God. If this is the type, then
what is implied about the antitype?Christians? Every follower of Jesus is a priest and
therefore is a minister as well. Is that not what is taught in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20?
All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave
us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
not counting men?s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of
reconciliation. We are therefore Christ?s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal
Those who are in Christ are priests and they are ministers: ministers of reconciliation. Every Christian
?is a priest and a minister to bring those in the world into the priesthood! Ministr
y to the lost world is an automatic part of the job description of a New Covenant
Another passage which brings out this point is found in Romans 15:15,16;
?because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles
with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles
might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Paul makes the connection between being a New Covenant priest and a minister. One of
our priestly duties is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost so
that they may become an offering, acceptable to God. As with Paul, Christians proclaim
the gospel, not to become priests but because they are priests, making intercession
for the lost.
To summarize, all those who are saved by the blood of Jesus become New Covenant
priests. They are made holy, and therefore they strive to be holy. They are devoted to
God, not to the pursuits of the world. They serve in a temple not made with human
hands. They have direct access to the living God in his holy tabernacle. They are ministers
of reconciliation to those in the world who are not yet priests. If you are a priest
of God, how is your ministry going?
THE HIGH PRIEST
The priesthood of the sons of Aaron is a type, while the the priesthood of all
believers who are in Christ is the antitype. The former serves in a physical tabernacle,
the latter in a heavenly tabernacle. What are we to make of the role of the high priest? Th
e plain white linen garments worn by all the priests when they served at the
sanctuary are mirrored by (are foreshadows of) those in white robes in Revelation:
Then one of the elders asked me, ?Those in white (priestly) robes?who are they
and where did they come from??
I answered, ?Sir, you know.?
And he said, ?These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they
have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.? (Revelation
But what of the high priest, with his beautiful, colorful garments?perhaps even
gaudy by modern standards?
The antitype to the high priest in the Mosaic dispensation is Jesus Christ himself.
Like the high priest of old, he is the one who has gone into the spiritual Most Holy
Place to make intercession for us. Hebrews makes this fact abundantly clear.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,
Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have
a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one
who has been tempted in every way, just as we are?yet was without sin. Let us then
approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and
find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The high priest could relate to the people they represented because they suffered
the same temptations as those for whom they were making intercession, but so
can Jesus Christ! He, too, was tempted in every way we are, yet he did not stumble. The high
?priest of Israel went through the curtain into the Holy of Holies once a year,
by virtue of the blood of a goat and a bull, to make intercession for the people.
Jesus has gone into the heavenly equivalent by virtue of his own blood to
make intercession for us. The high priest was able to approach the throne of
God?the Mercy Seat?once a year. Through Jesus, our high priest, we can approach
the throne of God directly, twenty-four, seven, three hundred sixty-five. The curtain
has been ripped in two! What a great high priest we have in Jesus. The antitype goes
very far beyond the type indeed.
Where would Israel have been without the ministry of their high priest? They could
not approach God directly, but,
Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them
in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (Hebrews
Where would Judaism be without the high priest? Where would forgiveness of sins be
found? The problem is that under the covenant at Sinai, there was no forgiveness without
the ministry of the high priest. Judaism today is an empty shell in that it does not
offer access to the presence of God. The entire sacrificial system, along with
its priests and the high priest disappeared almost two thousand years ago, exactly
as prophesied by Daniel (Daniel 9:26,27), Jesus (Luke 21:20-24) and the Hebrew
writer (Hebrews 8:13).
The high preist was a great thing for Israel, but he was not without his problems.
First of all, he as a sinner. Jesus, on the other hand, was sinless. Second of all, the
person selected as high priest had a way of dying on a regular basis: ??but
because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save
completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede
for them.? (Hebrews 7:24,25). No more getting used to a new high priest. No more
revolving door involved. Our high priest is a priest forever.
Such a high priest meets our need?one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart
from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not
need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for
the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered
himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which
came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews
Jesus has done it. He has arrived in the heavenly temple forever. No more daily sacrifice. No
?more cringing, hoping we do not somehow violate some seemingly minor aspect
of the law as did Uzzah, and he was struck dead. The ministry of Jesus may be the
antitype of the ministry of the high priest, but his ministry is so much superior!
The earthly sanctuary where the old high priests served was just a copy. When someon
e who comes into the sanctuary on the coattails of Jesus, they are coming into
the real thing. We do not need priests to int
ercede for us: we are priests! And we have
a personal relationship with the head guy in the priesthood?high priest Jesus
Christ. ?The throne of God (mercy seat) and of the Lamb (high priest Jesus) will be
in the city, and his servants (us, priests) will serve him. They will see his face,
and his name will be on their foreheads.? (Revelation 22:3,4). The high priest offered
incense at the golder altar, we offer the antitype to incense, prayer, right
there at the feet of the throne. What an honor! What a priveledge! Do we really appreciate this
The point of what we are saying is this: We do have a high priest who sat down at
the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the
sanctuary, the true tabernacle.
Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it
was necessary for this one also to have something to offer?. They serve at a
sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven?. But the ministry
Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is a mediator
is superior to the old one, and is founded on better promises. (Hebrews 7:1-6).
More will be said on the superiority of the New Covenant in another chapter.
Consider some of the details of the Old Testament description of the ministry
of the high priest, and their application to the antitype, Jesus Christ. ?He must
not enter a place where there is a dead body.? (Leviticus 21:11). The priests could
not touch a dead body, but the high priest could not even be in the same room
with a dead person. This is a foreshadowing of the spiritual high priest who serves
in a sanctuary where there is no more death and no more tears.
?He must not make himself unclean, even for his father or mother, nor leave
the sanctuary of his God or desecrate it, because he has been dedicated by the
anointing oil of his God.? (Leviticus 21:11,12). The high priest was kept very pure through
a seemingly endless list of rules for keeping ceremonially clean. Jesus, our high
priest, was pure throughout his life. He never sinned at all. He asked the crowd,
?Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?? (John 8:46). His accusers were silent.
Notice that Leviticus 21:12 states that the high priest was not allowed to
leave the sanctuary for the entire duration of their office for any reason whatsoever.
This was a very tough restriction. Perhaps the high priest was tempted to think his
office was not such a great priveledge. What a great foreshadow of the ministry of Jesus,
who has gone into the heavenly tabernacle. ?The LORD has sworn and will not change his
mind: ?You are a priest forever.?? (Psalm 110:4). Jesus never leaves the heavenly sanctuary
either. He is at the right hand of the throne forever.
No one with a physical defect was allowed to serve as high priest. ?No descendant
of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the offerings
made to the LORD by fire.? (Levitics 21:21). This was not a sign of Judaism?s
insensitivity to the physically challenged. It is a foreshadow of the lamb without defect,
And what about the really strange garments the high priest wore: the tunic and sash,
the ephod, the breastplate and the Urim and Thummim? Of course these served their purpose
for the Jews in order to mark out the significance of the office of high priest.
One can easily imagine the Jews loving the pomp and circumstance of the office
of high priest. However, one should bear in mind that all these things serve as foreshadows
of the work of the antitype?the high priest Jesus Christ. The apostle John saw a vision
of high priest Jesus on the island of Patmos, including his brilliant white
robe and golden sash (Revelation 1:13). Like Moses, when he went into the Most Holy
Place, Jesus? face shines with an intense brilliance.
The twelve different precious stones on the ephod and on the breastplate of
the high priest stand for the twelve tribes of Israel, but also are prefigures
of the twelve apostles chosen by the greater high priest, Jesus Christ. The twelve
precious stones in the high priestly garment also prefigure the twelve gates,
the twelve angels and the twelve foundations in the heavenly city where Jesus
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed
me the Holy City, Jerusalem