Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 5, 1964
NUMBER 26, PAGE 2,19-10a

Priestly Qualifications And Responsibilities

C. G. (Golly) Caldwell, III.

Certainly much may be learned and great lessons of lasting truth can be gleaned from a study of the requirements Jehovah placed upon the Levitical priesthood of old: but to the Christian the knowledge of the expectations of God in reference to His New Testament priesthood is essential — as essential to his reception of an eternal reward as water baptism.

A casual glance at the ancient order in the light of Christ reveals very evident imperfections. The priesthood of Aaron was not designed to be flawless. Perhaps its greatest deficiency lay in the fact that the animal sacrifices offered were incapable of accomplishing a removal of the guilt of sin. (Heb. 10:4). Their very nature, the nature of the trespasses for which they were to atone, and the nature of the offended Deity forbade their perfection. Inadequate also was the high priest, himself. He was but a man and as subject as all other men to sin. Therefore, it became necessary for him to offer up sacrifices for his own transgressions before he could mediate in behalf of the people (Heb. 5:3; 7:27). In a matter of so weighty importance to both God and man, these (and all other) imperfections had to be absolved, and only Divine wisdom could supply the deficiency.

The New High Priest

The need for a new order was recognized many hundreds of years before God saw fit to send it. David sang the song of an eternal priest of Melchizedec's order some ten centuries before that Priest came (Psa. 110:1-4). Zechariah also announced a coming Branch which would sit and rule on His throne as priest and king and bear the glory in the temple of God (tech. 6:12 -13). These inspired men longed ultimately for a perfect priesthood under the Messiah.

That priesthood finally came, but when it came it was rejected. Judging from the emphasis given to it by the writer of Hebrews, the question of His high priesthood evidently was one of the major grounds of contention among the Jews against the Messiah-ship of Jesus. When this man of the tribe of Judah announced that He had become their High Priest they rebelled — and in many respects their rebellion was understandable. The law by which they were governed demanded that the high priest should come of the house of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. Christ admittedly was neither Aaronic nor Levitical in descent (Heb. 7:14). This naturally raised a question in their minds as to His authenticity. They reasoned that if Jesus is not of Levi and Aaron, then he is of another order and thus without authority. This objection is met by claiming Christ as priest, not by physical descent but by Divine right, through special appointment (Heb. 5:46; 7:16 - 17). The writer calls upon his readers to look again at the case of Aaron. How did Aaron become High Priest? By descent? No! By his own will? No! By special appointment of Jehovah was he made priest. So, also, was Jesus made High Priest!

Not only in this way is the new order set forth as being distinct from the Aaronic priesthood, but it is affirmed to be far superior to the old and this new High Priest affirmed to be greater than Aaron. Eight points of superiority are set forth in the seventh and eighth chapters of Hebrews by way of establishing this proposition. First, the lineage of Aaron is considered. Aaron was of the family of Levi, who was of Abraham. This would seem to establish prestige for the Aaronic priesthood. However, on one occasion when returning from battle, Abraham came before Melchizedec and paid him tithes. In lowering himself Abraham signified that Melchizedec was greater than he and thus greater than the generations within his loins. When Christ came after the order of Melchizedec, He was, of course, indicated to be superior to Aaron who was of the seed of Abraham who paid tithes to Melchizedec (Heb. 7:1-11). Second, Christ's order is superior for it came after the "power of endless life" and not after the "law of a carnal commandment" (Heb. 7:16). Third, Christ's order is greater because it comes with an oath; whereas, the Levitical priests were made without oath (Heb. 7:21). Fourth, Christ's order is made sure by a better testament. (Heb. 7:22). Fifth, Christ's priesthood is superior in that it is continued under a perfect, sinless, High Priest who sits at the right hand of God and offers continual mediation for his people (Heb. 7:20-8:1). Seventh, its tabernacle is true not being pitched by man but by the Lord himself (Heb. 8:2). And eighth, Christ's order is superior for it is established on better promises (Heb. 8:6).

The beauty and perfection of the new priesthood rest directly in the perfection of its High Priest. Had Christ not been perfect and sinless, He could not have made the atoning sacrifice necessary for the sins of all the world. Nor could He have ascended to the right hand of God, after offering himself, to appropriate that sacrifice for us.

The Royal Priesthood

In establishing the new order, Jehovah not only ordained a new High Priest, but under Him consecrated a royal priesthood to perform the specified priestly functions (1 Peter 2:5-9; Rev. 5:9-10). While in a sense, chosen of God and foreordained to this service, this priesthood is not limited to any one family, tribe, or nation of people. All who will may enter the profession. All who are willing to accept the rites of consecration, conform to the qualifications, and accomplish the duties of the priesthood may come into the service.

Qualifications Of Christ's Order

Christians, of course, recognize that the new order Is not to be directed by the Law of Moses (Eph. 2:1416; Gal. 5:2-4; Rom. 7:1-4; Heb. 1:1-3; Acts 3:22-23). However, there are very definite similarities between the Old and the New which have been ordered into the statutes of both covenants. This is true of the three major divisions of qualification governing the two orders. The specific rules in each are different because of the different natures of the laws, but nevertheless, the principles involved are identical.

The priest under the law of Christ is first of all commissioned to keep himself free from defilement. He is as responsible for keeping his life exempt from the contamination of sin as was the Levitical priest for keeping from bodily defilements. Jesus bewildered his disciples and confounded the Pharisees but nevertheless presented this great lesson in a parable in which he compared the defilements recognized by the Jews (the things from without the body) with the true defilements as seen by the Father (the things which come from within the man). He affirmed that the things which come from without (such as eating with unwashed hands) cannot defile him because they come not from the heart. But the things which truly defile the man are those things that originate and proceed from within: "evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies" (Matt. 15:10-20; Mk. 7:14-23). Sin in all its corrupting force and deceiving power, leaves the soul of the Christian defiled just as leprosy or any other infectious disease made unclean the body of the priest of old. That man who gives himself to iniquity in act or thought is a man who automatically suspends himself from his priestly office. Such is not to say that he cannot turn in repentance and offer up prayers in his own behalf, but it is to say that continuing in a sinful, defiled state he cannot but turn Jehovah's ears from him (Isa. 59:2).

It. is not enough for the Christian to refrain from the specified violations of law. He, too, as the Old Testament priest, must form virtuous habits which set him forth as an example of righteousness to the world. The slightest implication of impurity has often destroyed the effectiveness of the workings of a New Testament priest. In the sermon on the Mount, Christ declared that the life of His follower must be a light to the world. It is not to be hidden, but is to be allowed to shine forth the praise of God (3)1:. 5:13-16). Peter ordered that to our faith we add virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Pet. I:5-7). These virtues emphasize the beauty and perfection of God's new priestly family. It stands without defilement and without impurity in character and example if it stands in the word of the Lord.

Then, too, a priest is to serve in the strength of a whole man — not necessarily whole in body as those of old, but whole in heart or spirit. There is no place for weakness or cowardice. That man who shrinks from battle, who abandons his cause in the face of opposition, who allows the word of Jehovah to go undefended in the presence of error cannot be a priest of the order of Christ. Members of the Laodicean church took the middle-of-the-road, compromising position of half men, but the Lord said, "I will spew thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:16). They had simply failed to meet the priestly qualifications.

Obligations Of Christ's Order

Laid also upon the members of the priesthood of Christ are certain definite obligations or duties very similar in character to those given to the order of Aaron.

Our first obligations, as was theirs, is to offer up sacrifice. Under spiritual law, the sacrifices of our profession become spiritual in nature (I Pet. 2:5). We are told that continually we must offer the "fruit of our lips" in praise and thanksgiving to God. We are to please Him by offering our substance in doing good and communicating to others (Heb. 13:15-16; James 1:27). And along with the fulfilling of our natural predisposition to supply the necessities of our fellows, we must sacrifice of our earnings for the spiritual cause we have espoused. Paul affirmed that sacrifices which enable the promotion of gospel teaching and the spread of the kingdom of Christ are not only acceptable and pleasing to God, but also abound to the heavenly account of the priests who offer them. (Phil. 4:15-18). All offerings are to be made in simplicity or singleness of mind (Rom. 12:8), purposefully, not grudgingly or of necessity, but cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7). These rules governing sacrifice extend to the offering of our very bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). This involves the expenditure of time, the exertion of energy, and the self-denial of worldly pleasures. It could involve the giving of our lives by our refusing to deny the One who died for us (Rev. 2:10). When once the martyr spirit is lost, the priest loses the potential summit of his sacrificial privilege and obligation.

It is ours also to guard the sanctuary of Jehovah. Men respected as elders of the people have entered the temple of God and profaned its purity. Those who stand before God's nation to read from His law have desecrated the holy place. Malachi wrote of the condemnation which rested upon the priests of old who had not kept the law and had caused the people to stumble (Mal. 2). It takes but a man with an honest heart, the spirit of Christ. and a determination to follow the Book to see the same today. Through the stubborn egotism and fanciful ideas of some of our "great preachers" the people of God are caused to stumble. The leaders of God's nation today are as divided as were the Sadducees and Pharisees in the time of Christ. What has caused the division? Any man who blames the word of God blasphemes the wisdom of Jehovah. Any man who justifies the division as matters of opinion deceives himself and fails to adhere to the Divine call to unity. The blame lies squarely upon the shoulders of the priests who fail to guard the sanctuary by not demanding that its work, its worship, and its organization be directed solely by the pattern given by Jehovah. Demanding adherence to the pattern does not infer, nor allow, the Pharisaic attitude of complying strictly with the letter of the law and caring little for righteous intents of the heart. But neither does it allow the forsaking of the law in order to accomplish a reconciliation with those who exchange New Testament authority for the schemes and devices of men.

And finally it is the solemn duty of our office that we teach the law to the people. This entails a two-fold responsibility, edification of those already in God's family and evangelization of the world. Paul exhorts that we "follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" (Rom. 14:19). Both peace and edification come only as we are developed in spiritual strength through the preaching of the gospel. Without such teaching the Christian will ever remain a child "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every kind of doctrine;" Eph. 4:14), still having "need of milk and not of strong meat" (Heb. 5:12). And we have also the intense obligation to teach the way of the Lord to the lost. We receive a commission, similar to that of Christ to his apostles, (Mk 16:15-18); in the words of Paul to the young man Timothy, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2).

Punishment For Priestly Failure

Let us ever strive to uphold these qualifications and obligations, for as the punishment for failure was great to those under the law of Moses, it is even greater under the law of Christ. Paul warned that those who know not God and have obeyed not the gospel at His coming will be victims of "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Peter gave notice that to those who had accepted the responsibilities of the teacher of truth and then turned back to the erroneous ways of the world would come a latter end worse than that they would have received had they never known the way of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:20-21). And John wrote that all would be judged out of the books and those not found therein would be cast into the "lake of fire" (Rev. 20: 12-15). We must ever strive to hold to the path mapped out by our great High Priest, and beware lest any man lead us into the forbidden ways of death and destruction.