4.2.3 Priesthood: Intercession
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 2.3
Priesthood: Intercession and Judgment
The vast majority of the Torah cannot be performed today in any literal way, for one simple reason: there is no bona fide priesthood in Israel, and most Torah precepts involve priests, one way or another. In fact, there hasn’t been a temple since 70AD, nor a priesthood in the Land since the final expulsion of the Jews under Rome’s Emperor Hadrian in 135—the direct result of the failed revolt of the false messiah Bar Kochba a century after the crucifixion of Christ.
Forgive me for beginning this chapter on such a depressing note, but (as we shall see) the priesthood in Israel was so crucial in explaining the plan of God through their Torah-mandated role, it is imperative for us to understand why Yahweh removed them—and when. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in 33AD explained every sacrifice, offering, ritual, and rite the priests had been instructed to observe throughout Israel’s generations. They fulfilled the prophecies latent in every nuance of priestly ritual as commanded in the Torah. So it was important that the passion be performed against the backdrop of Torah observance—with the priests performing their duties in the temple as they’d done for centuries on end, though without having a clue as to what it all meant.
Yahweh allowed the priesthood to continue for a time after the resurrection, giving Israel time to put two and two together. The risen Christ surely gave the two disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-32) a crash course on the prophetic significance of Torah Law. Over the next century, Israelites either received the truth or rejected it, but in the shadow of Calvary, there was no compelling reason to continue rehearsing a play that had already been performed.
The crucifixion may have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” but it was “merely” the climax of centuries of Jewish apostasy and rebellion. The prophet Hosea, a contemporary of Isaiah, paints the scene for us, and it’s not pretty: “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. Therefore the land will mourn, and everyone who dwells there will waste away with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Even the fish of the sea will be taken away….” This was partially fulfilled with the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions, but the job was finished after the crucifixion by the Romans—first Titus, who besieged and destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD, and later by Hadrian. The mention of “beasts” (literally, “living ones”) reminds us of the dietary laws, requiring us to be discerning between what is clean and what is not. And if you’ll recall from our previous symbol-studies, “birds” represent the consequences of our choices, and “fish” indicate “God’s quarry”—the lost humanity He seeks to “reel in.” Hosea (probably without knowing it) was declaring that the opportunities for making good choices and seeking Yahweh in the Land of Promise were going to be curtailed, because life itself was going to be under siege. Why? Because the people had forsaken God’s ways.
“Now let no man contend, or rebuke another, for your people are like those who contend with the priest.” (Hosea 4:1-4) Since the priests were the ones charged with administering God’s law in Israel, to “contend” with them was tantamount to rebellion against Yahweh—even if the priests didn’t really know what they were doing. As Moses pointed out, “Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before Yahweh your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:12) “Contending with the priest” in theocratic Israel was a capital crime, and Hosea declared the people guilty of doing that very thing through their hatred for one another. In the long run, of course, “heeding the priest” was tantamount to receiving the truth they were rehearsing with every ritual: that the Messiah would save us from our sins.
The prophet continues: “Therefore you shall stumble in the day. The prophet also shall stumble with you in the night, and I will destroy your mother….” Before the advent of the Messiah, there was a four-hundred-year period of prophetic silence. There were no prophets in Israel between Malachi and John the Baptist. I take “your mother” to mean “your nation—the land that nurtured you.”
Bearing in mind Solomon’s admonition that “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom,” making wisdom and knowledge the right and left eyes of the Spirit-filled believer, Hosea declares, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me. Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children….” Hosea has more or less equated “rejection of knowledge” with “forgetting God’s Law,” i.e., His Instructions—the Torah. There are two parallel consequences to forgetting God’s precepts, both of them devastating: (1) Yahweh promised to remove the priesthood from Israel—which, as much as any other single thing, is what makes literal Torah compliance impossible today. (2) He would “forget” Israel’s children as they forgot Him. Hundreds of other texts inform us that this is not utter and irrevocable repudiation of the nation, for He has promised to restore and bless her in the Kingdom Age—after they repent and receive their Messiah. The word translated “forgotten” or “forget” here is shakach, meaning “to mislay, i.e., to be oblivious of, from want of memory or attention.” (Strong’s) If you forget where you left your car keys, you’re not going anywhere in that vehicle until you find them. Basically, that has been Israel’s plight for the past couple of millennia: they’re grounded.
Hosea lays the blame for Israel’s “memory lapse” directly at the feet of her prosperity—or more specifically, their failure to recognize the source of their blessings: “The more they increased, the more they sinned against Me. I will change their glory into shame. They eat up the sin of My people. They set their heart on their iniquity. And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, and reward them for their deeds. For they shall eat, but not have enough. They shall commit harlotry, but not increase, because they have ceased obeying Yahweh.” (Hosea 4:5-10) I can’t help but hear echoes of America’s plight here. Once the beacon of faith to the entire world, we have let our high standard of living become our god.
I could write a book on how each of these charges (and punishments) could be laid at America’s doorstep in recent years, but I’ll endeavor to stay on topic: Hosea says, “Like people, like priest.” Like Israel, America used to be the world’s “priest,” that is, the one nation on earth uniquely focused on God’s truth—the “keeper of the faith,” as it were. (Before America, it was Great Britain, and before them, Luther’s Germany.) God’s blessings invariably follow reverence for His word, and then (almost as inevitably) the blessings themselves supplant the God who supplied them, becoming the people’s de facto object of worship. And when the people forget God, the nation’s spiritual influence in the world disappears. If we refuse to speak the truth, we will find ourselves without a voice.
Considering the lateness of the prophetic hour, I suspect that America’s spiritual decline will continue apace until the rapture, followed in due time by the worldwide upheaval of the Tribulation—resulting (perhaps surprisingly) in the world’s “priesthood” returning to where it began—to where it belongs: Israel, this time under the Millennial reign of the Messiah-King Yahshua.
Men have functioned as priests since the beginning of our walk as a fallen race. We see Cain and Abel as early as Genesis 4 bringing their offerings before God. Noah, Job and Abram are all reported to have built altars and made sacrifices. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, is described as “the priest of God Most High,” who blessed the victorious Abram and received a tithe of the booty from his hand. And later, the fugitive Moses married Zipporah, a daughter of the “priest of Midian,” Reuel (a.k.a. Jethro). It would appear that from the earliest times, God-fearing men functioned as priests for their families or communities, building altars, making offerings, and petitioning God for blessings and provision, offering thanksgiving, and interceding with Him for needs that arose.
But it was not until the exodus that Yahweh Himself instituted a priesthood, specifying a regimen of “religious” rites and duties, priestly garments, and regularly scheduled observances. In the absence of any sort of king or government, the priests were assigned to be the administrators of the myriad Instructions Yahweh communicated to the nation of Israel through Moses. But since the majority of these “Laws” applied directly and exclusively to the priests themselves (defining their duties), it is evident that God intended their role to be largely symbolic. That is, the things the priests were told to do, if not totally pointless nonsense, had to comprise signs that were of the utmost importance to the One issuing the Instructions. The world wouldn’t learn what the priestly rituals signified, however, for another fifteen hundred years—until the coming of the Messiah.
Let us then examine the record of the establishment of the priesthood within Israel. Yahweh told Moses, “Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron’s sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.” (Exodus 28:1) As we saw with the Levites, you couldn’t aspire to the position of “priest” in Israel. You had to be born into it. Nor could you opt out of the job: all of the male descendants of Aaron would from this point forward be defined as priests, whether they wanted to be or not.
As history would demonstrate from the very beginning, some priests would prove to be stellar examples of devotion and faithfulness, while others would be total numbskulls—just like the general population. In other words, talent or aptitude had nothing to do with why someone would be called to serve God in this capacity. What was important about the priesthood was not who they were, or even how well they did their work, but only what Yahweh told them to do: rehearse the signs.
From the very beginning, a distinction was made between the High Priest (Aaron) and all the others—his sons. There were certain tasks that only the High Priest could perform—like entering the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement and sprinkling the blood there. Other jobs (such as keeping the menorah supplied with olive oil) were performed by the ordinary priests. Not to let a cat out of the bag, but it will become clear as we proceed that the High Priest ultimately represents Yahshua the Messiah—the One who intercedes for us all before the throne of grace—while his sons, the ordinary priests, perform the roles symbolic of Christ’s followers—His children. Paying attention to who was to do what will tell us a lot about what we as believers are to be doing in this world, and what we are to leave in the hands of God.
It would be obvious who the High Priest was, because Yahweh commanded that he was to be clothed in special garments when he performed his duties: “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest. And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. So they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister to Me as priest.” (Exodus 28:2-4) The ordinary priests had a “uniform” of sorts as well (that is, they all dressed alike), but the High Priest’s garb was totally unique—not so much functional as symbolic.
I must save for a future chapter my analysis of what each piece of the High Priest’s apparel signified. (The Torah Code’s whole next unit will explore the symbolism of clothing in scripture.) But there is one telling detail that should be mentioned at the outset: “Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: six of their names on one stone and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall set them in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before Yahweh on his two shoulders as a memorial.” (Exodus 28:9-12)
Onyx was a white or pale green form of calcium carbonate, soft enough to be carved or engraved. (Onyx is sometimes found in nature layered with sardius, a hard translucent deep red or red-orange form of chalcedony, forming sardonyx—from which signet rings and cameos are crafted.) The picture here is of the nation of Israel—all twelve tribes—being “engraved in stone” (that is, made permanent) and placed as epaulets upon the shoulders of the High Priest. He would literally carry the weight of Israel’s destiny on his shoulders. The image comes alive when we realize that Israel is symbolic of “God’s family,” and the High Priest is a spiritual euphemism for Yahshua. This makes Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy all the more poignant: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way, and Yahweh has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
The consecration of Aaron and his four sons is described further in Exodus 29. “And this is what you shall do to them to hallow them for ministering to Me as priests: Take one young bull and two rams without blemish, and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil (you shall make them of wheat flour). You shall put them in one basket and bring them in the basket, with the bull and the two rams….” The elements of sacrifice that would be used to ordain Aaron and his sons are listed here. If you’ll recall, each of these was discussed in detail in Volume 3. Briefly, the bull represents the best endeavors of man, to be sacrificed in God’s service; rams are grown-up lambs with horns (indicating innocence with authority: ultimately, the Messiah); unleavened bread (God’s provision) has been made without any yeast (signifying the absence of corruption); and olive oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit permeating our lives.
Moses makes special note that the unleavened bread, cakes, and wafers were to be made with wheat flour—even though Israel was on a dietary regimen of manna by this time. This is significant because wheat flour was made from the seed of the plant—the genetic component of its life—violently stripped of its outer husk. This chaff represents the mortal body—useful for a time but destined to be discarded—while the seed itself is metaphorical of the soul, the living component of the grain. It’s all a picture of the Passion of the Christ: because of His sacrifice, we too may live—if we are anointed with His Holy Spirit.
The ordination of the priests was a three-step process: first cleansing, then covering, then consecration. “And Aaron and his sons you shall bring to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall wash them with water. Then you shall take the garments, put the tunic on Aaron, and the robe of the ephod, the ephod, and the breastplate, and gird him with the intricately woven band of the ephod. You shall put the turban on his head, and put the holy crown on the turban. And you shall take the anointing oil, pour it on his head, and anoint him.” The process was the same for Aaron’s sons, but their garments, while identifying them as priests, weren’t nearly as complicated (or sartorially symbolic) as the High Priest’s. “Then you shall bring his sons and put tunics on them. And you shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and put the hats on them. The priesthood shall be theirs for a perpetual statute. So you shall consecrate Aaron and his sons….” God intended the priesthood—what it meant, that is—to be “perpetual.” The word used is olam—the Hebrew noun indicating eternity, something of indefinite duration, that which will always continue. Olam is the vanishing point on the horizon—time out of mind, whether past or future. It is the state of being concealed in the mind of God.
But for any of this to be efficacious, the process of redemption had to be addressed as well. Priests were human, therefore flawed and fallen. If they were to stand before God as intermediaries and intercessors, they’d first have to be “bought back” from their sinful state through the shedding of innocent blood.
“You shall also have the bull brought before the tabernacle of meeting, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the bull.” The laying-on of hands signified transference—specifically, that of the priests’ sin to the innocent animal. “Then you shall kill the bull before Yahweh, by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. You shall take some of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and pour all the blood beside the base of the altar….” Following the symbols here, the blood is where the life resides; horns represent authority; one’s finger indicates his works; and the altar is the wrath of God. The picture, then, is of the life of the very best that man has to offer being purposely placed under Yahweh’s authority—surrendering all of our imagined prerogatives to Him. For all intents and purposes, it is a repudiation of religion—the idea of trying to buy or work our way into God’s favor with manmade strategies.
Fat is euphemistic of “the best part,” so the fat of the bull is “the best of the best.” This was to be handled separately: “And you shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, and the two kidneys and the fat that is on them, and burn them on the altar.” Burning something on the altar was symbolic of submitting it to Yahweh for evaluation—trial by fire. Thus “the best of the best” was to go up in smoke—our obedience being offered as a sweet fragrance to God. “But the flesh of the bull, with its skin and its offal [peresh—literally, refuse or dung—perhaps a reference to the intestines], you shall burn with fire outside the camp.” That is, the schemes and strategies of man are to be treated as rubbish: they have no place in the camp of the faithful, where only Yahweh’s opinion carries any weight.
“It is a sin offering….” The sin offering, or chata’t, is described in detail in Leviticus 4. Basically, blood sacrifices like this speak of atonement for sin, for the life is in the blood. Ultimately, Christ’s sacrifice is in view, but the specific animals to be brought by the different classes of Israelites are instructive of how our position in this world relates to our sin and its consequences. Bulls were specified here in the ordination rites of the priests, and were also the animals specified to be brought by the congregation at large. They indicate false doctrines (a.k.a. human wisdom or logic) that lead to sin and death. Ordinarily, the meat of a sin offering belonged to the individual priest who performed the offering, but under the Torah one could not legally benefit from his own sin, which explains why the bull for the priestly ordination ritual was to be burned outside the camp.
The priesthood ordination ceremony continues with instructions for a burnt offering. “You shall also take one ram, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the ram; and you shall kill the ram, and you shall take its blood and sprinkle it all around on the altar. Then you shall cut the ram in pieces, wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and with its head. And you shall burn the whole ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to Yahweh; it is a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to Yahweh….” The burnt offering (the olah) was a voluntary sacrifice made for atonement, homage to Yahweh, and celebration before Him. Total dedication is implied, for the offering was to be completely consumed by fire: it was never to be eaten. The ram is a mature male sheep. It combines the innocence of the lamb with the authority of the leader of the flock—indicated by its horns. This particular ram, like all rams used as sacrificial animals, was prophetic of the Messiah, for it was to be “without blemish.”
As you’ll recall, there were two rams. The second one (also indicative of Christ, of course) was used for a separate symbolic purpose. “You shall also take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall put their hands on the head of the ram [again, indicating transference of guilt]. Then you shall kill the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tip of the right ear of his sons, on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot, and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar….” The symbols here are reasonably transparent: the ear indicates “what you hear” (and by extension, what you say, but you couldn’t put blood on the tongue), the thumb speaks of “what you do,” and the big toe designates “where (or how) you walk.” Each of these things is to be touched and influenced by the blood of Christ in the life of the priest. Right (as contrasted with left) specified the dominant hand—that which is in control.
“And you shall take some of the blood that is on the altar, and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments, on his sons and on the garments of his sons with him; and he and his garments shall be hallowed, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.” (Exodus 29:1-21) Sprinkling or spattering the priests and their garments with blood and oil may sound messy and unsanitary, but once again, it is a prophetic reference to the finished work of Christ. The prophet Isaiah writes, “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently. He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men. So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him, for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider.” (Isaiah 52:13-15) Yahshua’s blood (His life) and oil (His Spirit) has indeed been “sprinkled” on many nations. If only we had been immersed—baptized—in them.
We weren’t finished back in Exodus 29. Still speaking of the second ram, God says, “Also you shall take the fat of the ram, the fat tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, the two kidneys and the fat on them, the right thigh (for it is a ram of consecration), one loaf of bread, one cake made with oil, and one wafer from the basket of the unleavened bread that is before Yahweh. And you [Moses] shall put all these in the hands of Aaron and in the hands of his sons, and you shall wave them as a wave offering before Yahweh. You shall receive them back from their hands and burn them on the altar as a burnt offering [Hebrew: olah], as a sweet aroma before Yahweh. It is an offering made by fire to Yahweh….” The wave (or “heave”) offering was the lifting up of a representative portion of the sacrifice to Yahweh, as if to say, “We acknowledge that this belongs to You.”
This establishes that the second ram, like the first, was an olah, a burnt offering—at least part of it: the right “thigh of consecration” and the fatty organs. The rest was to be eaten by the priests at the door of the tabernacle—making this second ram, for all intents and purposes, a selem, or peace offering: “Then you shall take the breast of the ram of Aaron’s consecration and wave it as a wave offering before Yahweh; and it shall be your portion. And from the ram of the consecration you shall consecrate the breast of the wave offering which is waved, and the thigh of the heave offering which is raised, of that which is for Aaron and of that which is for his sons. It shall be from the children of Israel for Aaron and his sons by a statute forever. For it is a heave offering; it shall be a heave offering from the children of Israel from the sacrifices of their peace offerings [Hebrew: selem], that is, their heave offering to Yahweh….”
The selem (or shelem) is one of seven distinct types of Levitical offerings, the third one employed to be in the priestly ordination ceremony. (And the unleavened bread, cakes, and wafers offered with the second ram could be construed as a fourth—the minha, or grain offering.) The remaining three types of offerings not used to dedicate the priests were the trespass offering (the asham), the drink offering (bekor) and the firstborn offering (the nesek). All seven of these sacrifices—and more—are discussed in detail in Chapter 12 of The Owner’s Manual, elsewhere on this website.
As described in Leviticus 3, the selem was offered as a spontaneous expression of praise to Yahweh, as a way to express one’s thanksgiving for answered prayer, to underscore the seriousness of a vow the worshiper was taking, or as a freewill offering to show one’s devotion. Unlike the burnt offering (olah), the peace offering was to be eaten by the worshiper bringing it, and it was to be shared with the priest who offers it (though in this case, those were one and the same). If the reason for the selem was thanksgiving, unleavened cakes and leavened bread prepared with olive oil were to be included—defining the reason for this particular peace offering as thanksgiving. This in turn meant that the meal had to be eaten on the same day it was prepared (as commanded in Leviticus 7:15). Any leftovers had to be burned with fire. The message is clear: we are to give thanks as soon as we realize we’ve been blessed—we are not to defer or withhold our praise.
I must pause to remark on the sheer volume of detail in these instructions. I can come to no other conclusion that either Yahweh is a nitpicking control freak who delights in watching us (or at least the Jews) jump through hoops like trained poodles for His own amusement, or He intended for all of us to observe the meaning—the significance—underlying each instruction, even though the priesthood and temple are no more and haven’t operated in any meaningful sense since 70 AD. I think you know which of these theories I ascribe to: there is virtually no bottom to this well of truth—it descends all the way to the heart of God. In fact, I can practically guarantee I’m missing stuff.
At this point, Moses breaks in with a parenthetical statement about what was to happen to the High Priest’s special garments in future generations: “And the holy garments of Aaron shall be his sons’ after him, to be anointed in them and to be consecrated in them. That son who becomes priest in his place shall put them on for seven days, when he enters the tabernacle of meeting to minister in the holy place….” These things would not go in and out of fashion. They were to convey the same symbolic truths throughout Israel’s generations.
Now back to the instructions concerning the peace offering ram. “And you shall take the ram of the consecration [i.e., the second ram, the selem] and boil its flesh in the holy place.” It wasn’t to be roasted over fire, which would have indicated judgment, or even wrath: this was just food. “Then Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. They shall eat those things with which the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them; but an outsider shall not eat them, because they are holy. And if any of the flesh of the consecration offerings, or of the bread, remains until the morning, then you shall burn the remainder with fire. It shall not be eaten, because it is holy.” As we discussed, this is because the nature of this particular peace offering was to underscore thanksgiving. But thanksgiving for what? The priests being ordained didn’t actually know at this point. But we who live in the shadow of Calvary are in a position to figure it out: we are to be thankful for what the priesthood represents: the opportunity to stand before the Almighty, cleansed, covered, and consecrated, and to serve as intercessors between God and man.
This ceremony was to go on for an entire week. “Thus you shall do to Aaron and his sons, according to all that I have commanded you. Seven days you shall consecrate them.” Seven, of course, is the number indicating completion or perfection. A seven-day procedure is a thinly veiled euphemism for a lifelong process of consecration. The priests (and what they represent) weren’t ordained on a whim: this would consume and define their entire lives. “And you shall offer a bull every day as a sin offering for atonement….”
The priests themselves weren’t the only things being dedicated in this process. The altar—the place where their ministry would be most visible and most significant—was to be consecrated as well: “You shall cleanse the altar when you make atonement for it, and you shall anoint it to sanctify it. Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and sanctify it. And the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar must be holy.” (Exodus 29:22-37) To consecrate the altar for seven days is to declare that God’s judgment—His means of separating the guilty from the innocent—is complete, permanent, and sufficient.
Yahweh concludes the passage, “So I will consecrate the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. I will also consecrate both Aaron and his sons to minister to Me as priests. I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am Yahweh their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am Yahweh their God.” (Exodus 29:44-46) We should not gloss over Yahweh’s own declaration as to why all of this was to be done: so that Israel—and through them all of us—might come to know that Yahweh is Almighty God, and that He had come to dwell among us.
The ordination rites themselves, considered in isolation, looked to the casual observer like so much religious hocus pocus. Sure, Yahweh had revealed Himself to be God by bringing Israel out of bondage in Egypt with a mighty hand—and He was leading them through the wilderness by means of the visible, awesome Shekinah cloud of fire and smoke. But the ritual of priestly dedication would not in itself directly reveal that “Yahweh is God” until what it symbolized became a reality—in the passion of the Christ. Only then would the Messiah’s role as humanity’s High Priest become apparent, with the rending of the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, symbolically granting direct access to Yahweh through prayer to every believer. This was the whole point: that “they shall know that I am Yahweh their God.”
When God repeats something in scripture, it’s a good indication that what He said is really important—that He doesn’t want us to miss its significance. And with many aspects of life in theocratic Israel, Moses records God’s instructions in one place, and in another Israel’s compliance with them. So having seen Yahweh’s directions concerning how to ordain the priests in Exodus 29, we should not be terribly surprised to find Israel’s careful compliance recorded in Leviticus 8, and we are gratified to see that they closely adhered to the Instructions.
The chapter concludes with a few final clarifying instructions from Moses: “‘And you shall not go outside the door of the tabernacle of meeting for seven days, until the days of your consecration are ended. For seven days He shall consecrate you. As He has done this day, so Yahweh has commanded to do, to make atonement for you. Therefore you shall stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of Yahweh, so that you may not die; for so I have been commanded.’ So Aaron and his sons did all the things that Yahweh had commanded by the hand of Moses.” (Leviticus 8:33-36) For their part, the priests were to (1) stay put within the tabernacle for an entire week, day and night. (Considering their duties at the altar, this apparently means “within the tabernacle courtyard,” not “within the Holy Place.”) And (2) do whatever Yahweh had instructed concerning the offerings, the clothing, and the washing—the particulars of which are recorded in Exodus 29.
And Yahweh, during that same seven day period, was also to do two things. (1) He would “consecrate” the priests. The word for “consecration” here (ordination, in some translations) is not (as we might have expected) related to the idea of holiness. Rather it is the Hebrew noun millu, meaning a setting (as of gemstones) or installation. It is the same word used for the golden settings of the twelve gemstones on the High Priest’s ephod. Yahweh is saying (in so many words) that the priesthood was being put in place to be seen and appreciated, prominently displayed like a precious jewel for the edification of Israel. Yahweh would also (2) “make atonement” for the newly ordained priests. The verb kaphar literally means to cover or coat (as with bitumen waterproofing or paint), hence to appease, cleanse, forgive, be merciful, pacify, or pardon.
So at the end of the seven days, the ordination process was complete. But the work of the priesthood was only beginning. Leviticus 9 continues the story, without taking a breath. “It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. And he said to Aaron, ‘Take for yourself a young bull as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering, without blemish, and offer them before Yahweh. And to the children of Israel you shall speak, saying, “Take a kid of the goats as a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering, also a bull and a ram as peace offerings, to sacrifice before Yahweh, and a grain offering mixed with oil; for today Yahweh will appear to you….”’”
Here we go again with the incredibly complex imagery. Let’s break this down into its component parts. First, since the priests were fallen men, they were to acknowledge that fact (even though they were now ordained into Yahweh’s service). So the same offerings we just saw are required again: a bull as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. Because the priest were already consecrated, the second ram—the peace offering of consecration—was not required of them this time. What’s left is the sacrifice of man’s good intentions (the bull for the chata’t) and the ram of homage to Yahweh. Basically, the priests were saying through all of this, “We will not engage in the sin of manmade religion, but will honor Yahweh by simply obeying His word.”
Second, the people of Israel were to make sacrifices (offered up by the newly ordained priests). The imagery here is totally different. The sin offering this time is a young goat (symbolic of mischief—sin), and the burnt offering of homage to Yahweh consists of a calf (read: service) and a lamb (innocence)—both of which ultimately point toward Christ. This time, young animals were specified, as if to say, “You, Israel, are new to this, and inexperienced. You’re no longer slaves; you’re now full of promise, energy, and enthusiasm. But the only way you’ll succeed is to honor Yahweh your God.” Then a bull (man’s endeavors) and a ram (innocence with authority) were to be offered up as peace offerings—the inclusion of the grain offering (the minha) once again establishing the motivation of the selem as thanksgiving, which must, according to Torah principles, be timely and spontaneous.
Third (and almost lost in this avalanche of minutiae) was the fact that now, on the eighth day, Yahweh promised to reveal Himself to all concerned. “So they brought what Moses commanded before the tabernacle of meeting. And all the congregation drew near and stood before Yahweh. Then Moses said, ‘This is the thing which Yahweh commanded you to do, and the glory of Yahweh will appear to you.’” (Leviticus 9:1-6) Most of the rest of the chapter relates in detail how the priests and congregation complied with Yahweh’s instructions. It concludes, “Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them, and came down from offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of Yahweh appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before Yahweh and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” (Leviticus 9:22-24) A perfectly rational response. Shock and awe.
There’s more going on here than meets the eye. We’re all familiar with the concept that symbolically, seven indicates completion or perfection. God’s “week” is seven days long, six days of work followed by one final day of rest. This Sabbath Law was established in the creation account in the very first chapter of the Bible. It was incorporated into the foundational Ten Commandments, and was mirrored in scripture in a myriad of ways, such as the Sabbath year cycle, the historic-prophetic picture of the church presented in Revelation 2 and 3—seven spiritual profiles appearing in turn—and the series of judgments during the Tribulation: seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls.
If you’re familiar with my writings, you’ve noticed that I’m convinced that God ordained only seven millennia for the tenure of fallen man upon the earth—that is, seven thousand years between the sin of our father Adam and the close of Christ’s earthly kingdom. (This doesn’t mean that Yahweh created the universe about six thousand years ago, by the way, nor does the Bible say He did. Man’s clock—the story of our redemption as recorded in scripture—began ticking with the fall of Adam.) The recurring pattern throughout God’s word is six plus one—six of one thing followed by one of another—totaling seven. The seventh day of the week is the Sabbath, God’s designated “day of rest.” Thus the seventh millennium of man will consist of the kingdom of Yahshua, the long-awaited rule of the Messiah over all the earth.
But occasionally, as here in the priestly ordination or in the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, God speaks of what happens on the eighth day. This is not of the first day of a subsequent week, you understand, but an eighth day in its relationship to the completed seven-day unit. Any way you slice it, the eighth day speaks of “a new beginning,” but in this context I believe it speaks specifically of the eternal state following the tenure of mortal man upon the earth. You can call it “heaven” if you want, though that’s pretty fuzzy terminology. It is the everlasting life for Yahweh’s children of which He speaks so often, an eternal existence lived out before God in new immortal bodies that are designed to live forever.
So how is this idea illuminated by the eighth day of the priestly ordination procedure? Let us read the end of Leviticus 9 again: “Then the glory of Yahweh appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before Yahweh and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” That’s right: during the eternal state, God’s glory will at last appear to all of us who love Him—no longer cloaked (as it must be now) in diminished forms and anthropomorphic disguises, but shown in its full, brilliant magnificence. The sacrifice of Christ will at last be seen to have been accepted by Yahweh, proved to be efficacious for our salvation and reconciliation. At the moment, this is a reality we must receive on faith, taking God’s word for it. But in the eternal state, faith will have been replaced by sight—evidence and hope exchanged for visceral and unassailable proof.
And what will our reaction be—when we finally experience Yahweh in his uncloaked brilliance? We too will shout and fall on our faces. I’m sure there was an element of terror and alarm in this event when Aaron and his sons were ordained, for it was totally unexpected, not to mention potentially lethal. But with us—on the eighth day of our ordination (so to speak)—it will be like suddenly getting everything we always hoped for, only to find it all a thousand times better than we ever could have imagined. Our shouts will be of unrestrained joy, and our prostration before Yahweh the inevitable result of our hearts of worship finally expressing what we never quite could before this. And the best thing about it? For God’s children, the eighth day never ends.
We get the sense that the altar hadn’t even had time to cool off when this happened: “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before Yahweh, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from Yahweh and devoured them, and they died before Yahweh.” Christians who are used to pomp and liturgy in their religious observance might react, “Well that seems a little harsh. All they were just doing was what you might expect a priest to do—offering incense before the Lord. Our clergy does that sort of thing all the time.” That’s kind of the point: Nadab and Abihu were inventing religious rituals on the fly—and that’s what got them killed. “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what Yahweh spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy, and before all the people I must be glorified.’” So Aaron held his peace.” (Leviticus 10:1-3)
Aaron had to have been crushed by the incident. Any father would have been, losing two of his children suddenly like this—for any reason. But Moses’ explanation mollified him. It hadn’t been that long since Moses had climbed Mount Horeb to receive the Ten Commandments. At that time, Yahweh had warned him, “Let the priests who come near Yahweh consecrate themselves, lest Yahweh break out against them.” (Exodus 19:22) But they were consecrated, were they not? Nadab and Abihu had gone through the same seven-day ordination ritual their father and brothers had. This episode demonstrates that our outward actions don’t necessarily reveal what’s in our hearts. For example, God is forever bemoaning being circumcised in the flesh but not in the heart. The same could be said of the rite of Christian baptism: if you baptize an atheist, all you get is a wet atheist. The rituals mean something, but they’re easy enough to fake (at least before men).
Let us consider, then, the precise nature of what Nadab and Abihu did wrong. We read, “Each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before Yahweh, which He had not commanded them.” Describing how the altar of incense was to be used, Yahweh had told Moses, “Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before Yahweh throughout your generations. You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it.” (Exodus 30:7-9) Mistake #1: Aaron (i.e., the High Priest) was to offer the incense—not his sons. The underlying truth here is that Christ alone is qualified to stand before Yahweh and administer our prayers (symbolized by the incense). Even now, with the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies having been torn in two at the crucifixion of Yahshua, we must rely upon the intercession of our Savior—who is also our High Priest. The bottom line: we must not pray to (or through) the Pope, or Mary, or some dead “saint.” Only Christ can intercede for us.
The word translated “profane” here is the Hebrew verb zuwr, meaning to be another, to be unauthorized or estranged. Strong’s defines it: “to turn aside; hence to be a foreigner, strange, profane; specifically to commit adultery.” There are always two ways to do something, God’s way, and zuwr—something else. The precept calls for the incense to be burned at morning and twilight. Mistake #2: Nadab and Abihu (presumably) offered their incense when they felt like it—not when God had instructed. Morning and twilight speak of the beginning and the end of the day—we hear echoes of Yahshua’s self-description “the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end” here.
Yahweh had issued explicit instructions concerning the formula for the priests’ incense. (See The Torah Code, Volume 3, Unit 1, Chapter 7). We are not told what sort of recipe Nadab and Abihu used, but either way they ran afoul of this precept: “[The incense] shall be most holy to you. But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for Yahweh. Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.” (Exodus 30:36-38) Mistake #3: don’t tamper with Yahweh’s symbols or counterfeit or co-opt them for your own purposes. God “commanded” the priests to do all these things in order that we (the observers) might come to understand the plan of God for our redemption and reconciliation. Therefore, doing things our own way—practicing religion and inventing rituals—can be far worse than simple disobedience through error, misunderstanding, or even lust. It is, whether we realize it or not, misleading to our lost brothers—guiding them toward the road to ruin. If you’re lost, you shouldn’t be giving directions.
At this point, there were two dead priests lying in the courtyard, and their bodies needed to be removed. Normally, their nearest relatives would have taken care of it, but Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar were now ordained priests, and could not become ceremonially defiled—even for their own kin. In the Law of the Red Heifer, we read, “He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days…. Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of Yahweh. That person shall be cut off from Israel.” (Numbers 19:11, 13)
The solution was for two of Aaron’s cousins—Levites who were as close to being priests as you could be without actually being priests—to take care of the burial chores. “Then Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, ‘Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.’ So they went near and carried them by their tunics out of the camp, as Moses had said….” The key to the spiritual truth here is in the pallbearers’ names. Mishael means “Who is like God?” His brother was named Elzaphan, meaning “God has concealed” (in the sense of treasuring or protecting something). And Uzziel means “God is my strength.” Put together, the message is, “God’s unique and unmatched strength protects His treasured people.” Or something like that. The tragic deaths of Nadab and Abihu were necessary to protect Israel (and us) from falsehood—the error of presuming Yahweh could be regarded as something less than holy or approached without due reverence.
The High Priest and his sons were not even allowed to openly mourn. “And Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons, ‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people. But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which Yahweh has kindled. You shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of Yahweh is upon you.’ And they did according to the word of Moses….” This may seem counterintuitive, but I think the idea is that if you represent God (as an intercessor) it is inappropriate to leave the impression that His judgment might in any way be unjust. Mourning is right and proper, however, for those who rely upon intercession as the vehicle of grace—knowing that we too would be under just condemnation were it not for Yahweh’s infinite mercy.
The priests were now given a bit of instruction that seems to come out of left field—or it may help to explain Nadab’s and Abihu’s state of mind when they disobeyed Yahweh. “Then Yahweh spoke to Aaron, saying: ‘Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which Yahweh has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.’” (Leviticus 10:4-11) Could it be that Aaron’s two elder sons were “under the influence” when they made their terrible blunder? The record doesn’t say, but God wanted to ensure that future priests always had their wits about them when they “got behind the wheel” of the nation of Israel. It was their job to “distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean,” and to teach Israel through their words and walk what Yahweh had ordained.
Eventually, there would be enough priests that they would serve in courses of rotation—one week on, 23 weeks off—and when they were “off duty” at home, they could enjoy a glass of wine if they liked. But at the moment, there were only three of them: they all had to stay as sharp as possible in the performance of their priestly duties. As Paul would later put it, “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:18-21) In other words, whether with priests or ordinary believers, it is never a good idea to consume alcohol if there is any chance you may be called upon to intercede with God for another person. I don’t know how to break it to you, but ever since advent of the telephone, we’re “on call” 24-7. The only safe “drug of choice” is the Holy Spirit.
Disposing of the dead was normally the responsibility of those near of kin to the deceased. Everyone in Israel grew accustomed to the task, for the whole original exodus generation left their corpses lying in the wilderness—with the exception of the children and possibly some of the Levites, who were technically exempted from the curse because they weren’t numbered among the armies of Israel. As we saw above, God had made it clear that touching a corpse would make one defiled—and He had instituted a symbol-rich procedure (the Law of the Red Heifer) for achieving the necessary ceremonial cleansing. (See The Owner’s Manual, Volume 1, Chapter 15, elsewhere on this website.) It might be presumed that the Levites, or at least the priests, would have been called upon in a family’s time of grief—something that easily could have morphed over time into an association of the Levites/priests with the “business” of funerals—taking care of the dead.
But beginning with the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, and later (more generally) in Leviticus 21, we see Yahweh making sure that this did not happen. Everyone became defiled from time to time—it was unavoidable, an artifact of the human condition—but the priests were to avoid that status if at all possible, because it temporarily blocked their direct communion with Yahweh. “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘None shall defile himself for the dead among his people, except for his relatives who are nearest to him: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother; also his virgin sister who is near to him, who has had no husband, for her he may defile himself. Otherwise he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself….’” Under this rule, dealing with the corpses of Nadab and Abihu would have been allowed, but for the fact that, as Moses put it, “The anointing oil of Yahweh is upon you.” That is, the ordination process was barely complete when this happened, so its symbolic significance could have been misconstrued if they had turned aside now to deal with the consequences of sin.
The priest-specific instructions continue: “They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any cuttings in their flesh.” These were well-known pagan practices—things Yahweh’s priests were warned not to emulate, because this was not just another cult. “They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they offer the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, and the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy….” Some of what Yahweh was telling His priests to do may have borne some superficial similarity to what Egyptian and Canaanite priests were doing. After all, Satan is a master counterfeiter. But because they were set apart to Yahweh, the God of Israel, they were to do only what He ordained.
The instructions next specified who a priest could marry—or more to the point, who he could not. “They shall not take a wife who is a harlot or a defiled woman, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for the priest is holy to his God. Therefore you shall consecrate him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I Yahweh, who sanctify you, am holy….” The point was that a man becomes “one flesh” with his wife. This is not saying that divorce—or even prostitution—is an unforgivable sin. It (as usual in the Torah Code) is merely pointing out a symbolic truth: you cannot be truly holy if you are joined to someone who is in turn joined to a stranger—or an enemy.
And here’s one that will turn your hair white: our children have the power to pollute or defile their parents: “The daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, she profanes her father. She shall be burned with fire….” Again, to the casual observer, this seems awfully harsh. But Torah principles always outweigh individual considerations because the entire point of the “rules” is their symbolic significance. The point here is that a daughter (like a son) represents her father before the world. So if a daughter becomes a ritual prostitute in the temple of Molech (for example), she is, for all practical purposes, equating (or at least linking) the God her father serves with a false deity: she is de facto calling her father (the priest of Yahweh) an idolater. You can’t take the ball and run with it here: God is not saying that all hookers must be burned at the stake forthwith. He’s saying that spiritually, it is a capital crime to equate a false God with Yahweh. Basically then, this is a corollary to the Third Commandment.
The foregoing instructions applied to priests in general, but now the focus shifts to the High Priest—those descendants of Aaron who would fill his shoes in succeeding generations. Because he symbolizes the ultimate High Priest, Yahshua, the standards are higher and the requirements are more exacting—and prophetic. “He who is the high priest among his brethren, on whose head the anointing oil was poured [a clue as to his prophetic profile: “Messiah” means anointed] and who is consecrated to wear the garments [all of which reveal the Messiah’s character and mission], shall not uncover [literally: neglect] his head nor tear his clothes.” (Leviticus 21:1-10) Disheveled hair and torn clothing were signs of mourning and distress. The High Priest, in his role as Christ’s surrogate, was instructed not to publicly mourn or show grief with these signs.
Why? Because Christ (being God in flesh) was never caught off guard, shocked by our behavior, or surprised at our untimely, self-imposed deaths. Yes, He was prophesied to be “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” because He knew, before He could even crawl, mankind’s desperate and persistent wickedness. He mourned over the fate of Jerusalem and wept at the tomb of Lazarus—not because He was hopeless or distressed, but because of His unfathomable empathy for our lost world—empathy that would drive Him to the cross.
Interestingly, though scripture is replete with instances of kings and leaders rending their garments in mourning (Job, Jacob, Joshua, David, Hezekiah, Ahab, and Mordecai come to mind) there is only one High Priest of Israel who was recorded as having “torn his clothes.” At Yahshua’s “trial” before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas asked Him if He was the Christ, the Son of God. “Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?’ They answered and said, ‘He is deserving of death.’” (Matthew 26:64-66) One gets the feeling that Caiaphas tore his robe less out of mourning than for dramatic effect, as if to say, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard!” Of course, it would have been, had Yahshua not been telling the truth about Himself. But in rending his garment, Caiaphas demonstrated his unworthiness to hold the office of High Priest. The Torah meant nothing to him—personal power was everything.
Back in Leviticus 21, the instructions continue: “Nor shall he go near any dead body, nor defile himself for his father or his mother. Nor shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am Yahweh….” As we saw above, ordinary priests were limited to immediate family members in their permission to deal with death: mortality was an inconvenient fact of life, but it was to have minimal impact in the life of the believer. But the High Priest couldn’t go near any corpse—not even his own father or mother.
It wasn’t only that he would become ceremonially defiled by doing so, rendered incapable of performing his duties in the tabernacle or temple. The reason (once again) is that he was a symbolic stand-in for the coming Messiah, whose “job” it was to restore life, not accommodate death. In other words, death and the office of the High Priest are by definition incompatible. To “leave the sanctuary” in times of mourning would be the symbolic equivalent of “abandoning the words and work of God in favor of our own devices when things didn’t go quite as we’d planned.” In this world we will have tribulation. There will be setbacks, detours, disasters, and death, for we are a fallen, mortal race. Remaining “in the sanctuary” (that is, remaining purposely reliant on the One who never leaves what it signifies) is crucial: it is the only logical place for a believer to be found in times of trial.
And marriage? Regular priests were prohibited from marrying pagan-cult prostitutes (duh) and divorced women. They could, however, marry widows—undefiled though formerly married. The High Priest, on the other hand, was more restricted in who he could choose as a bride: “And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow or a divorced woman or a defiled woman or a harlot—these he shall not marry; but he shall take a virgin of his own people as wife. Nor shall he profane his posterity among his people, for I, Yahweh, sanctify him.’” (Leviticus 21:11-15) As a practical matter, this would require that “the next High Priest” would have to be selected in his youth, before he married—although it was the normal practice for every man in Israel to “take a wife in her virginity.”
But practicality had nothing to do with the principle of the thing. Once again, we see the High Priest prophetically standing in for the Messiah, whose bride—the church—is said to be a chaste virgin, washed clean of all iniquity in the blood of Christ, and clothed in garments of imputed righteousness. Paul writes, “I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (II Corinthians 11:2) And “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) We are introduced to this bride in Revelation: “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:6-8) That is why the High Priest could marry only a “virgin of his own people.” Since Israel (“his own people”) is symbolic of God’s family, we’re talking about Christ’s exclusive, monogamous relationship with believers here.
For the remainder of Leviticus 21, we’re back talking about priests in general (that is, not the High Priest exclusively). “And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron, saying: No man of your descendants in succeeding generations, who has any defect, may approach to offer the bread of his God. For any man who has a defect shall not approach: a man blind or lame, who has a marred face or any limb too long, a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, or is a hunchback or a dwarf, or a man who has a defect in his eye, or eczema or scab, or is a eunuch. No man of the descendants of Aaron the priest, who has a defect, shall come near to offer the offerings made by fire to Yahweh. He has a defect; he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. He may eat the bread of his God, both the most holy and the holy; only he shall not go near the veil or approach the altar, because he has a defect, lest he profane My sanctuaries; for I Yahweh sanctify them.’ And Moses told it to Aaron and his sons, and to all the children of Israel.” (Leviticus 21:16-24)
If we ignore the symbology of the thing, we will get entirely the wrong impression here. Basically, the precept says that while any priest (by virtue of his relationship to Aaron) is entitled to receive God’s bounty and provision, no priest who is not free of physical defects may present offerings or sacrifices in the sanctuary. They may be minor and barely noticeable (like a small scab or patch of eczema) or major and obvious—impossible to conceal (like being a dwarf, hunchback, or paraplegic). These defects are a thinly veiled euphemism for sin, for moral failings.
While there were plenty of priests in Israel’s history who had no physical defects to prevent their service, we must admit that none of us are free of moral blemishes or spiritual handicaps. With the exception of our High Priest, Yahshua the Messiah, we are all disqualified from offering up the sacrifices required to atone for our own sins. It’s sort of a catch-22: you don’t need offerings if you’re sinless, but you can’t make offerings if you’re not. Were it not for a High Priest who was also “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”—both offerer and offering—we would remain banned from our holy Creator’s presence for eternity, condemned by our sin.
If you’re steeped in “religion,” you may find it odd that God didn’t weed out the “defectives” from the priesthood, cutting them off without support, sustenance, or hope, an embarrassment to be swept under the rug. And the picture becomes even more amazing when we realize that these physical defects, whether subtle or obvious, symbolize moral failure—sin. But no: they were still provided for out of the tithes of the Levites, just like the “perfect” priests were. Yahweh’s point, of course, is that forgiveness is available to everyone, the practically perfect and the total basket case alike. It’s all a picture of grace—of God extending forgiveness and favor to those who don’t deserve it, ’cause let’s face it: none of us deserve it.
One might conclude, then, that there is no particular advantage to leading a sinless live (or at least attempting to), since the same grace is extended to all believers. Paul spotted the fallacy in that argument from a mile away: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?... Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?... For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?” That is, “Did you really benefit from your sin? No. It was never your friend.” “For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:1, 15-16, 20-23)
Or to put it in the terms of our priestly precept: yes, God will provide salvation and sustenance to his child, no matter how serious or obvious his defects are. But still, it’s no fun being a blind one-armed hunchback with acne. Sin is a handicap—it holds us back from realizing our full potential. We should therefore avoid being “defective” to whatever extent we can manage.
The offerings brought by the children of Israel were to be food for the priests and for their families. But some of what was brought was to be dedicated to Yahweh—totally consumed in flame. So the priests were warned to make a clear distinction between what was theirs and what was God’s. “Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel, and that they do not profane My holy name by what they dedicate to Me: I am Yahweh.’” (Leviticus 22:1-3) In the context of the peace offering for instance, they were told, “The flesh that touches any unclean thing shall not be eaten. It shall be burned with fire. And as for the clean flesh, all who are clean may eat of it. But the person who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to Yahweh, while he is unclean, that person shall be cut off from his people. Moreover the person who touches any unclean thing, such as human uncleanness, an unclean animal, or any abominable unclean thing, and who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to Yahweh, that person shall be cut off from his people.’” (Leviticus 7:19-21)
The spiritual lesson here was that God’s character was not to be associated in any way with uncleanness, imperfection, or sin. We’re all familiar with the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) That’s really an anemic translation, however. Expanded to reveal its true impact, the command would read, “You shall not (nasa) lift up, accept, advance, bear, tolerate, respect, or regard the (shem) name, position, individual nature, character, designation, authority, fame, or reputation of Yahweh your God in a (shav) destructive, beguiling, false, evil, ruinous, idolatrous, harmful, devastating, wasteful, immoral, deceptive, or dishonest way.” Treating the sacrifices in a profane manner would violate this precept, whether the priests understood it or not.
Yahweh is holy, and those who served as priests were charged with making the distinction between “clean” and “defiled” obvious. So again, Moses warns the priests: “Say to them: ‘Whoever of all your descendants throughout your generations, who goes near the holy things which the children of Israel dedicate to Yahweh, while he has uncleanness upon him, that person shall be cut off from My presence: I am Yahweh….’” “Uncleanness,” a euphemism for sin, must never be associated with Yahweh’s name or character.
The various sources of this hypothetical “uncleanness”—and the remedy for it—are now explained: “Whatever man of the descendants of Aaron, who is a leper or has a discharge, shall not eat the holy offerings until he is clean. And whoever touches anything made unclean by a corpse, or a man who has had an emission of semen, or whoever touches any creeping thing by which he would be made unclean, or any person by whom he would become unclean, whatever his uncleanness may be—the person who has touched any such thing shall be unclean until evening, and shall not eat the holy offerings unless he washes his body with water. And when the sun goes down he shall be clean; and afterward he may eat the holy offerings, because it is his food. Whatever dies naturally or is torn by beasts he shall not eat, to defile himself with it: I am Yahweh. They shall therefore keep My ordinance, lest they bear sin for it and die thereby, if they profane it: I Yahweh sanctify them.” (Leviticus 22:3-9)
As you can imagine, it would have been practically impossible to remain ceremonially undefiled for very long. But while the priest was in this “unclean” state, he was not to participate in the sacrifices or partake of the offerings that God had designated as his food. At sunset, and after he had bathed, he would be considered clean. But since neither the position of the sun relative to the horizon nor the comparative cleanliness of one’s skin had any real effect on one’s spiritual fitness before God, we must consider what these things symbolized. The sun’s going down—the light going out—is, I’m afraid, a picture of physical death: we won’t be able to fully enjoy the eternal benefits of God’s provision of reconciliation and redemption as long as we inhabit these mortal bodies.
But in the meantime, we will be immeasurably better off if we are clean—if the filth of the world has not been allowed to build up upon us. Remember a few pages back, when we were instructed concerning who the priests could marry, and why? This issue dovetails with that of the cleanliness required of priests for provision and service. Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25:27) Being “holy and without blemish” is the key to a productive, fulfilled life for any believer. This is achieved by “the washing of water by the word.” That is, the Word of God is what cleanses us, to the extent that we heed it. And the Word of God is personified in Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, though a different word for “word” is used.)
The fundamental reason the priests couldn’t minister in the tabernacle if they were in ceremonially unclean was that sin cannot dwell in Yahweh’s presence, any more that darkness and light can coexist. It’s all metaphorical with the Aaronic priesthood, of course: the things they were required to do (even though they were mortal, fallen humans like the rest of us) placed them in Yahweh’s very presence—symbolically, anyway. Their function was to intercede between the Children of Israel (representative of “God’s family”) and Yahweh Himself.
Intercession implies contact with each of two estranged parties, the point being to reconcile them. The dictionary defines the verb “intercede” as “to act or interpose in behalf of someone in difficulty or trouble, as by pleading or petition; to attempt to reconcile differences between two people or groups; mediate.” It’s from the Latin intercedere, meaning “to go between.” Thus “intercession” is defined “an interposing or pleading on behalf of another person; a prayer to God on behalf of another.” When we pray, we’re communicating with God; when we pray for someone else, we’re interceding.
The Levitical priests (and especially the High Priest) fulfilled this symbolic mandate by offering sacrifices on behalf of the people (all of them representing the coming Messiah or our need for His grace), and burning incense (symbolic of prayers to Yahweh). It was no coincidence that the altar of incense within the Holy Place was to be positioned right in front of the veil separating this room from the Holy of Holies—where God’s shekinah-glory represented His presence. Everything the priests did in their official capacity was, one way or another, designed to demonstrate or prophesy the reconciliation of man to God.
Doubtlessly the most direct example of symbolic priestly intercession was the Day of Atonement, the rites for which are described in Leviticus 16. This was the only day of the year when the High Priest was authorized to venture into the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant was. He was first to wash his body, and then don the symbol-rich holy garments. There was a ram, presented as a burnt offering, and two goats as a sin offering. But before all that, he was to offer a bull as a sin offering for his own trespasses. Only then could he attend to the rituals revealing how Yahweh would atone for the sins of Israel. The first lesson, then, is that he who intercedes between man and God must himself be clean.
The High Priest still couldn’t just waltz into the Most Holy Place, however. He used live coals from the altar in a censer to burn the specially formulated priestly incense (each ingredient of which was symbolically significant—see Volume 3, Unit 1, Chapter 7) as he entered the sacred room. The picture is that of being covered with prayer as he sprinkled the blood of the bull (the sin offering for his own house) seven times before the mercy seat with his finger. Seven, of course, speaks of the complete efficacy of the act, and his finger indicates his works: in other words, God’s instructions indicate that what would be done to atone for our sins would be totally sufficient.
The sin offering of two goats is perhaps the most revealing part of the ritual. One of them, chosen by lot, was to be offered up on the altar. No surprise there. But the other one was to be let loose in an uninhabited land, free to live out its life. Both goats speak of how Yahshua deals with our sin. (1) He died in our stead, taking the penalty for our sin upon Himself, but (2) He also lives—in a land in which no man dwells, at the right hand of the Father. And here, in heaven, is where Christ—our eternal High Priest—intercedes for us: “But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:24-25)
The roles of both Day-of-Atonement goats are seen in Isaiah’s prophetic portrayal of the Messiah: “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way, and Yahweh has laid on Him the iniquity of us all [that’s the sin offering on the altar of sacrifice]…. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession [there’s the role of the living goat] for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:6, 12) In His role as the slain sin offering, He “poured out His soul unto death,” and by doing so “bore the sins of many.” But in His role as the “scapegoat” (literally: the “goat that goes away”), Christ becomes an intercessor on our behalf before the Father, having been qualified for the role by taking our sins (and God’s wrath) upon Himself—just as the priests laid their hands on the head of the scapegoat, symbolically transferring Israel’s sin to him. Our reconciliation with God cannot be achieved without both the death of the innocent and the life of the intercessor.
In our own strength, however, we are neither innocent nor clean: even our own deaths would not qualify us to intercede with God. So Yahweh assigned the priesthood to represent that which Christ would do for us what we could not: “Let the priests, who minister to Yahweh, weep between the porch and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare Your people, Yahweh, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, “Where is their God?”’” (Joel 2:17) It’s kind of funny, if you think about it. God is saying, “Come before Me, you priests, and plead the case of My people, even though they’re fallen, prone to sin, vulnerable, and not terribly bright. I’ll even tell you what argument I’ll respond to—My own honor, My own inviolable promises.” It’s like being in a courtroom where the judge is pulling for the defendant (even though he’s obviously guilty), because he loves him so much. The priests are to serve as the defense attorneys. Yes, we don’t deserve to be set free, but the fine has already been paid, so all the judge really wants is for us to “go and sin no more.” Justice and mercy will both have been served.
Another function of intercession is to plead with Yahweh for the protection of His people. Bearing in mind that Israel, whose capital city is Jerusalem, is symbolic of “God’s family,” we see God assigning people to intercede for them—for us. “I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem. They shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of Yahweh, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” (Isaiah 62:6-7) These “watchmen” are those who keep, observe, guard, and preserve that which Yahweh has placed under their care—in the symbolic sense, God’s family, and in the literal sense, Israel. (Remember, just because things in Yahweh’s lexicon take on symbolic proportions, the literal sense is always true as well. Literal fulfillments guarantee the symbols.) Jerusalem will be made “a praise in the earth.” It will be the capital not only of Israel during the Messiah’s thousand-year reign, but the capital city of planet Earth as well—“the city of our God…the city of the Great King…the city of Yahweh of hosts,” as Zion is called in Psalm 48. But until this has been made an objective reality, we are to take note of those who would harm Jerusalem (and all that she stands for) and intercede for her before Almighty God.
When we’re praying for the peace of Jerusalem, we are asking Yahweh to deal with His enemies, those who stand against His agenda—the salvation of the human race. But what about our enemies? What about those who operate as if bringing us down will somehow lift them up? You know the type: abusive employers, self-absorbed politicians, thoughtless criminals, narcissistic drivers, litigious neighbors—people who don’t mind hurting others if they perceive some advantage for themselves. Yahshua gives us the counterintuitive instructions: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) The point is, these are people for whom Christ died. They’re sinners, just like you and me. They’re lost, just as we once were. We’re not to pray for their success in hating others, of course; rather, we’re to intercede for them as priests—knowing that “they know not what they do.” What does it mean to “do good” to them? Think about it. What’s the best thing that ever happened to you? You found Christ and received His salvation, right? So pray that the peace and forgiveness you’ve found will make its way into your “enemy’s” life—driving out the bitterness and selfishness that makes him so miserable.
One doesn’t have to be an enemy, of course, to merit our prayers. Anyone in need, whether they know it or not, is an appropriate object for our intercessory attention. And Paul points out that it’s okay to have an ulterior motive: “I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence….” If those who wield temporal power over us are at peace with God, they will be more likely to have peaceful intentions toward us. Love is not negated or cheapened just because there may be some benefit for us as a side effect to our supplications.
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth….” Praying for a bad man’s salvation is never wrong, for God desires no one to perish, but for all to come to repentance. As a mental exercise, imagine what would have happened if Adolph Hitler had come to Christ in, say, 1941. Millions of lives might have been saved. I have no doubt that many prayed for his demise—I wonder how many prayed for his salvation.
In the end, when we intercede for people, we are actually doing so in emulation of Christ: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:1-5) If He could pray for forgiveness for the very men who were nailing His hands and feet to the cross, we should do no less. Instead of cursing the tax man, the traffic cop, or the boss who makes life a living hell, we are instructed to pray for them—intercede for them. We don’t need their permission to do this.
After all, we’re not perfect either—not yet. We are to intercede for others because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. “The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God….” As we live among the people we are to pray for, the Spirit dwells within the souls of believers. And just as the miserable crank who lives next door (hypothetically, of course) doesn’t know why he’s miserable (and needs our prayers, even if he doesn’t want them), we often don’t perceive what is really needed in our own lives, either. So the Spirit intercedes for us.
It helps to understand that as Yahweh is God, so is the Holy Spirit, and so is Yahshua—they all share the same identity, though not the same form: God is One. So it shouldn't be considered strange (or contradictory) that both the Spirit and Christ are said to make intercession for us. Whether near or far, dwelling within us or “on a long journey,” God is on our side. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:26-27, 31-34) The picture is: God pleading with God on behalf of God’s children. It almost feels like cheating.
The reason God does this is that He is love personified. And we are told time and again that we are to love others—and especially fellow believers—in emulation of God’s love for us. So naturally, we are to intercede for them—that’s what friends do. “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.” (I Thessalonians 1:2-3) To modify the bumper sticker, “Friends don’t let friends go it alone.”
This is more obviously true today than perhaps ever before: we are in a spiritual battle. Paul warned us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The battle lines are drawn, and we dare not go out there to wage spiritual warfare butt naked and empty-handed. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God….”
Satan may be navel lint in God’s eyes, but he is eager and able to hurt us if he can. We need to form ranks and operate as one army, following the orders of our Commanding Officer, Yahshua. And He wants frequent and timely “sit-reps” from us (that’s prayer, in case you missed it) informing Him of conditions on the battlefield from our point of view: enemy troop movements, casualty reports, requests for intel or air strikes, and, when it comes to that, calls for evacuation. Just because He’s omniscient, it doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to hear from us, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:12-18)
Remember our definition of intercession—it “implies contact with each of two estranged parties, the point being to reconcile them.” In our battlefield metaphor, picture us as passing on information to headquarters from fellow troops under fire whose “coms” are down. If we don’t communicate on their behalf, they may suffer needless hardship. And it goes both ways: we are to report their distress, asking for intervention from above (as it were), but we are also to inform and encourage those engaged in the battle who are having trouble hearing from headquarters. That function is the role of priests.
“Judge not.” It’s the first (and sometimes the only) Bible verse fragment most non-believers ever learn. It comes in quite handy when they’re trying to get us to sit down and shut up about their favorite sins. Even taken in context, it seems (at first glance) to support their presumed God-given right to sin like Caligula without being called out for it by holier-than-thou do-gooders. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Yahshua’s point—and a very important one—is that since we’re all sinners, we have no right to point fingers of blame at other people’s bad behavior unless we’re perfect in God’s sight—and none of us are. But you can’t logically make the leap (as so many do) to the conclusion that if no one is qualified to accuse you of being a sinner, then your sin is inconsequential—or even acceptable. God implied no such thing. While we are not to make groundless accusations concerning someone else’s character, or even behavior, we are still to consider sin—whether defined in God’s word or merely in our own consciences—to be sin (a.k.a. wrong).
This puts Christians on a tightrope, of sorts. Love for our brother or neighbor (Leviticus 19:18; I John 3, 4) is required of us; we must be concerned for the life of our fellow men. If we pretend that sin isn’t bad, then we have failed to love our brother, for “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) So allowing someone to die in ignorance if it is our power to guide them to life and truth is the antithesis of what we are commanded to do: love them. But if we “judge” our brethren (in the Matthew 7 sense) then we have become hypocrites, falling short of Yahshua’s instructions to the contrary.
Basically then, we are to revere God by aligning ourselves with His stated opinion on what is evil and what is good, while loving our neighbors in spite of their shortcomings. After all, part of “loving our neighbors as we do ourselves” includes forgiving them—for we certainly do that for ourselves. Christ was quite clear about this: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) The nuance here is that the “trespasses” we are to forgive in others are presumed to be against us—personally. If you steal from me or injure me in some way, I am to forgive you—period. But how can I forgive you (or condemn you, for that matter) if you sin against someone else—even yourself? Ultimately, justice is Yahweh’s prerogative. All we can really do is follow His instructions concerning what is sin, and what is not. This is as true for governments as it is for individuals: if God says it’s wrong, then it’s wrong.
Right about now, you’re saying, “Fine, but what in the world does all of this have to do with priests?” Good question. The Torah, as it turns out, is peppered with situations in which priests are called upon to act as judges—to discern between clean and unclean, valuable and less so, right and wrong. So because virtually everything in the Torah has symbolic significance, we must conclude that whatever it is that priests signify is linked in some way to the function of judgment.
I’ll offer a few examples, just to establish the principle. Leviticus 27 discusses the idea of redeeming persons and property dedicated to God. That is, if a vow had been made to God (in thanksgiving, for instance) that an animal (clean or unclean) or even a person (whether the one making the vow or someone under his control, like a child or bondservant) would be consecrated to God, that person or property would be put into the care of the priests, for their service. (The dedication of young Samuel is an example of the principle—see I Samuel 1:11.) Yahweh made it possible to redeem—buy back—the dedicated person or thing, so He established a redemption price. In the case of persons, it was a specific amount of money based on the projected value of their service. In the case of animals, the priest would set a value upon each one, and if redeemed, one-fifth of that value was to be added. A similarly complicated formula applied if a house, field, or vineyard was dedicated.
I don’t want to get bogged down in the details, but merely establish that the priests were called upon to make value judgments. “If it is an unclean animal which they do not offer as a sacrifice to Yahweh, then he shall present the animal before the priest; and the priest shall set a value for it, whether it is good or bad; as you, the priest, value it, so it shall be. But if he wants at all to redeem it, then he must add one-fifth to your valuation. And when a man dedicates his house to be holy to Yahweh, then the priest shall set a value for it, whether it is good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand.” (Leviticus 27:11-14) The priest, then, was to evaluate what was dedicated to God. Was it a wonderful thing, or practically worthless? Suddenly, Christ’s “Judge not” admonition is coming into focus. The hypocrisy of condemning our neighbor for his sins—in light of our own faults—is still wrong. But we are definitely to judge whether any given act is sinful—or even ill-advised.
Another example of priestly discernment is the case of leprosy, covered in Leviticus 13 and 14. It was up to the priests to determine whether a skin condition was actually “leprosy” or not. “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore. Then the priest shall examine him, and pronounce him unclean.” (Leviticus 13:2-3) Again, I don’t wish to delve into the minutiae of the Law of Leprosy here, but merely focus on the priest’s role. In this case, both the High Priest and the ordinary priests were authorized to judge the disease—on a case by case basis.
Because the disease could spread from person to person throughout the community, God used leprosy as another euphemism for sin. Once we realize that this is a spiritual metaphor (in addition to presenting a practical procedure protecting public health), the symbols fall into place like a child’s jigsaw puzzle. We all have suspicious sores, for we are all sinners by nature. The question is, are we or are we not allowing God to heal us?
The problem with “leprosy” (which apparently encompassed a whole range of conditions, not restricted to Elephantaisis graecorum, or Hansen’s disease) was that it could be highly contagious. It could spread by contact from one person to another, unnecessarily infecting the entire community. It was the priest’s job to identify it and isolate the one who had it, so it could not easily spread through the congregation. It was also the priest’s job to declare a “false alarm” when something that looked like it might be leprosy turned out to be a mere scab that was healing on its own. It’s fascinating to me that God built our bodies with defense mechanisms so they could (under normal circumstances) heal themselves. The procedure called for the priest to quarantine the suspected leprosy sufferer for seven days, to see if God’s natural healing mechanism was doing its job. And at the end of the seven days, the priest was to declare the patient either clean or unclean, depending on the evidence he saw.
If we submit ourselves to the judgment of the High Priest (ultimately, Yahshua) or even to His trusted sons, the rank and file priests—i.e., ordinary believers displaying Christ-like discernment—then we scabby sinners shall be isolated for seven days to await the healing process God has ordained. This “isolation” is a picture of holiness—of being set apart to Yahweh. The “seven days,” I’m afraid, is the sum total of our earthly mortal existence. In other words, we will remain under the curse of sin as long as we are dwelling in these mortal bodies. But when the “isolation” period is over, we can be declared clean, for God’s healing mechanism will have cured us from our endemic iniquity. “If the bright spot stays in one place, and has not spread, it is the scar of the boil; and the priest shall pronounce him clean.” (Leviticus 13:23) I realize that I’m over-simplifying this, but I merely want to focus on the symbolic role of the priest.
Clothing in scripture is symbolic of “how God sees us.” It is a subject so broad, it will receive its own multi-chapter unit in The Torah Code. Thus our garments too are subject to “leprosy” (that is, to the effects of sin in our lives). We read, “If a garment has a leprous plague in it, whether it is a woolen garment or a linen garment, whether it is in the warp or woof of linen or wool, whether in leather or in anything made of leather…it is a leprous plague and shall be shown to the priest. The priest shall examine the plague and isolate that which has the plague seven days. And he shall examine the plague on the seventh day. If the plague has spread in the garment, either in the warp or in the woof, in the leather or in anything made of leather, the plague is an active leprosy. It is unclean. He shall therefore burn that garment in which is the plague.” (Leviticus 13:47-52)
Linen and wool are contrasted as the difference between imputed righteousness and good works (that which makes you sweat)—see Ezekiel 44:17-18. Leather seems to indicate that which is neither manmade nor supplied in any special sense by God, but occurs naturally—that is, as part of the everyday providence of the Creator. “Leprosy” can occur in any of these media. That’s no big surprise where human works (wool) are concerned, and not entirely unexpected in the “neutral” territory of what happens in the normal course of life (the leather). But linen—the realm of imputed righteousness? How could sin infect that? It’s the issue of “cheap grace” that we studied a few pages back, in Romans 6: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” Imputed righteousness is the only kind of virtue we have. We are accounted as worthy before God only because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. So to use grace as an excuse to redefine sin as “no big deal” is to infect our linen garment with a “leprous plague.” You may as well just set fire to it.
Priests couldn’t heal anyone of leprosy. But they were charged with declaring the “clean” status of someone who had been healed. “Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest. And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop.” (Leviticus 14:1-4) Thus begins the long, complex, symbol-rich explanation of how a leper could re-enter Israelite society as one made whole. Again, I don’t intend to analyze the whole procedure, but merely point out that it was the priests who were charged with its implementation—with “judgment.”
If leprosy represents sin, then it was the priests who pronounced the scourge removed. They didn’t cure the leprosy themselves, but simply declared that it had been cured—or not. The distinction is important. Only God can forgive sins, but our fellow believers can rejoice with us in our spiritual rebirth. At the same time, we are charged with being discerning: people who enter our congregations claiming to have been “healed,” yet who are advocating (for example) compromise with the world as a means of attracting “worshipers” are to be gently informed that their leprosy persists—they must remain outside the camp.
This is admittedly tricky business. On the one hand, we are to be forgiving and tolerant of attacks against us. On the other hand, we are to hold the line against the creeping erosion of scriptural authority. In the spirit of the Bereans, we must be willing to carefully consider what is being taught, searching the scriptures for verification or renunciation. I myself get called a heretic (in so many words) from time to time by people who sincerely believe I have contradicted the teaching of scripture—just because they have never (yet) encountered or embraced something I have stumbled upon in God’s word.
For example, if you have never pondered the meaning of the Sabbath Law in the context of the prophetic nature of the seven Feasts of Yahweh (which are mandated all together in Leviticus 23) you might never countenance the idea that God has revealed, to the very day, the date of His second advent. If all you knew was that Christ had declared the date of the rapture to be unknowable—and then jumped to the conclusion that this truth must somehow apply to every facet of Last Days chronology—you might react to the revelation (as one gentleman did recently) by virtually accusing me of having blasphemed the Holy Spirit. I forgave him, of course, for he had no idea what he was talking about, not having considered the evidence. (See The End of the Beginning, Volume 4, Appendix 1, elsewhere on this website, for the data.) But it brought the issue of priests “judging leprosy” home for me: not every scab or scar on a Christian’s life or insight is a horrible, communicable disease that must be kept away from the congregation of the righteous at all costs. Sometimes, it is merely the evidence of confusion being corrected, or of ignorance encountering enlightenment. As Yahshua knew all too well, the unexpected can be mistaken for heresy.
The whole concept of priests judging leprosy is echoed in the New Testament principle of apostolic “binding and loosing,” i.e., forbidding and permitting. Thus we are introduced to the concept that the priesthood’s functions—of interceding for their people and judging between clean and unclean (that is, right and wrong)—have parallel manifestations in the church—the called out assembly of Christ.
Because the church was set apart for a different purpose Israel had been, Israel’s “Laws”—instituted to symbolize the Messiah’s mission—no longer applied (beyond their underlying truths of course, which were expanded and clarified by Yahshua). When Yahshua asked His disciples, “Who do you think I am?” “Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter [Petros—a small stone, a pebble], and on this rock [petra—a mass of connected rock, a boulder or cliff—referring not to Simon, but to the truth he had recognized] I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-19) A bit later, He made it clear that this “binding and loosing” function applied to all of the disciples, all of us who have accepted Yahshua as the Anointed One: “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)
Clearly, Yahshua was conferring authority on His disciples. But what sort of authority? He Himself had declared that the Torah stood inviolate, and that He Himself personified its ultimate fulfillment, so it wasn’t the authority to declare anything in the Law of Moses to be invalid. On the other hand, we (Jews and gentiles alike) are saved by grace, not works. Acts 15 records the inevitable “showdown” between Law and Grace. The bridge that had to be crossed was: do gentiles have to become Jews first in order to be saved?
The test case was circumcision. Did gentile believers have to become circumcised (as male converts to Judaism would have been) in order to receive salvation under Christ? The answer, it turned out, was no. Circumcision had been instituted as a sign, and Israel alone was tasked with rehearsing the signs of Yahweh required under the Torah. That being said, receiving salvation by grace was, for all intents and purposes, the fulfillment of what the sign of circumcision meant—the permanent and irrevocable separation of a believer from his sin, accomplished by a process involving blood and pain, taking effect on the eighth day of life—metaphorical of the eternal state.
And what gave James, Peter, and Paul (the participants in the Acts 15 manifesto—only one of which, you’ll notice, was among the twelve original disciples) the authority to declare this to be so? It was the principle of binding and loosing of which Christ had spoken—the same principle that had been prophetically instituted in the Law of Leprosy, giving any priest the authority to declare an Israelite free of the disease, or still infected as the case may be. So basically, the believer’s authority applies to legislative or interpretative matters—not to the core truths laid out in God’s word. It was the foundation of the apostolic discipline we see mentioned in scripture (e.g., Acts 5:1-11, I Corinthians 5:1-8).
Needless to say, this authority must be used with caution and reverence. There is a fine line between exercising one’s God-given authority as a believer/priest and making up rules on the fly—that is, inventing a manmade religion. “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power, and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:30-31) Why do the people “love to have it so”? It’s because we fallen humans tend to cling to our sin like toddlers with their blankies. If we can obtain absolution from other fallen humans, we invariably see this as a license to sin, paid for with alms or penance. But God says, “You are forgiven. Go and sin no more.” And that’s an uncomfortable place to be if we have no intention or desire to repent and “sin no more.”
As Jeremiah noted, the question that must be resolved is by whose power one is ruling or judging. Yes, we believers have authority, but it is not really our own. It is derived from the ultimate authority, God’s. And since the resurrection, this has been exercised by Christ alone. “[The risen] Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) “Teaching” and “making disciples” imply exercising Christ’s authority in His physical absence.
That being said, mankind is still under the paradigm of free will. We cannot force people to become disciples of Christ in this world or to observe His commandments if they don’t want to. Only after they choose to receive God’s grace are we authorized to “judge” them (that is, to help them separate right from wrong according to the standard of scripture). As Paul pointed out, it’s not our job to judge the world, only our own family: “What have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside [the Church]? But those who are outside God judges.” (I Corinthians 5:12-13) We are to invite those outside to submit to Christ’s authority, of course, but we cannot compel them, even though it’s a matter of life and death. Choice belongs to each individual, so judging outsiders for their bad behavior is pointless: doing good works (or not doing bad deeds) never saved anyone. Only after one comes to faith do performing good works and abstaining from evil mean anything at all.
But Christ also spoke of a future time when His apostles would have an expanded role in the judgment of their fellow man. “You are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30) “My kingdom,” the thousand-year period of time in which the glorified Yahshua will reign personally upon the earth, is specifically said to belong to the disciples as well. While we (disciples in general) are not to judge unbelievers in this present age, we will in the next. What will have changed? Obviously, the original disciples are all deceased. So they will “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” not in their mortal bodies, but will rather be raised from the dead, having been given bodies (like Christ’s) that are no long subject to death and corruption. (See I Corinthians 15:35-58, etc.)
In fact, this event will happen all at once to every believer who ever lived up until that time, alive or dead. It is commonly called the rapture (from the Latin translation of the Greek word harpazo, meaning “caught up,” used in I Thessalonians 4:17). This blessed hope is demeaned by some as being “too easy,” “too good to be true,” because they feel Christians should have to suffer for their faith to prove their devotion. But avoiding the wrath to come is merely a byproduct of the rapture. Its primary function is the transformation of the saints from their present state of bodily decay or mortal vulnerability into beings of immortal incorruption.
These immortal souls (who will accompany the Messiah-King as He returns to Earth at His second coming—see Revelation 19:14) will henceforth be incapable of sin. And it is this one quality that will make us worthy to function as priests and judges in the Kingdom age. Paul writes, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” Just as we are qualified to judge matters only among believers in this world, but not outsiders, neither are they competent to judge us. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” (I Corinthians 6:1-3) The only way this could be true is for the risen immortal saints to have been rendered sinless—in fact as well as in the reckoning of God.
I must admit, the very idea of being asked to “judge” others in the future, whether people or angels, makes me blush, for I know all too well that I’m not worthy (in my present mortal, sinful state) to “call the kettle black” (as the saying goes). But it has nothing to do with my qualifications, and everything to do with being part of a new priesthood, the spiritual offspring of a new High Priest of a whole new order of priests—that of Melchizedek. The priesthood Yahweh instituted in theocratic Israel (that of Aaron and his sons) was, as it turns out, symbolic (or prophetic) of a greater priesthood to come—qualified by virtue of their relationship with the risen Yahshua in His role as the ultimate High Priest to minister before the very throne of God.
In a moment, we’ll review some New Testament scriptures in which believers in Christ are overtly designated “priests” in the kingdom of God. But Yahshua pointed out that even in the Tanakh, we were given hints of this amazing turn of events—if only we had been astute enough to catch what was being said: “Now it happened on the Sabbath that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. And some of the Pharisees said to them, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?...’” The Pharisees were playing fast and loose with the Torah here, as usual. The precept (in Deuteronomy 23:25) had said you could walk through somebody else’s grain field and pluck heads of wheat with your hand, but you couldn’t use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain—in other words, you couldn’t harvest what didn’t belong to you, but you could get yourself a snack for the road. So far, no problem. But then the Pharisees declared that by rubbing the heads to remove the husks so they could eat the raw grain, the disciples had done “work” on the Sabbath—they had engaged in a small-scale milling operation. The Pharisees, adding to the Torah (see Deuteronomy 4:2), were willing to see a poor man starve in order to prop up their errant and unmerciful interpretation of the Law.
Yahshua’s response, however, cut right to the heart of their real agenda, which was to undermine the credentials of the Messiah. “But Jesus answering them said, ‘Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?’ And He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’” (Luke 6:1-5) David’s reputation was unassailable, like that of Moses. All agreed that the Messiah would be “the Son of David” in every conceivable meaning of the phrase—his direct descendant, a warrior, a king, Yahweh’s favorite human, and a man after God’s own heart. But here (see I Samuel 21:6), David took upon himself the role of High Priest, and assigned his men as priests (for all intents and purposes), for priests were the only ones authorized to eat the bread of the presence.
David was never condemned for doing this. He assured Ahimelech the High Priest that he and his men had not been ceremonially defiled, and the bread (having been removed from the Holy Place by the priest) was in effect common. Ahimelech agreed, and allowed the previous week’s twelve loaves to be eaten by David and his soldiers in their time of need. But in doing so, David and his men had de facto been designated “priests,” for “Every Sabbath he [Aaron] shall set it in order before Yahweh continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, by a perpetual statute.” (Leviticus 24:8-9) Yahshua’s point was that Yahweh alone had the authority to declare someone a “priest,” and He had (in this case) authorized David to act in the High Priest’s stead—setting a precedent for the “Son of David.”
The concluding statement, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath,” was a corollary to this principle of the divine assignment of roles. If Yahweh could assign to David the role of priest, He could also assign to “the Son of Man” the role of being “Lord of the Sabbath.” This is nothing short of a claim to divinity—a declaration of Yahshua’s authority as the promised Messiah, wielding the very scepter of God. It was so audacious, it left the Pharisees standing on their tongues.
Furthermore, if any human could be truthfully said to be “Lord of the Sabbath,” it would have to be the High Priest. So at the very least, Yahshua was announcing that the role of High Priest was His to perform—He would decide what constituted “working” and what would not. But this brought up a logistical problem: Yahshua was indeed the “son of David,” by both the lineage of His mother and the heritage of His adoptive father, Joseph. He was born to be a king—to be the King. But that meant that He wasn’t a descendant of Aaron, nor was He of the tribe of Levi. How could a man be both priest and king?
The answer is revealed in God’s instructions to Zechariah the prophet: “Take the silver and gold, make an elaborate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua [the same name as Yahshua] the son of Jehozadak [meaning: “Yahweh is righteous”], the high priest. Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts, saying: ‘Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! [That is, a descendant of David. See Jeremiah 33:15.] From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of Yahweh. Yes, He shall build the temple of Yahweh. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne. So He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’ (Zechariah 6:11-13) Priests don’t sit on thrones—kings do. Yahweh was telling the prophet (and us) that the Messiah (Yahshua) would be both priest and king.
So the ultimate High Priest would reign as King. But how could this be, if the priests had to come from the line of Aaron? The writer to the Hebrews provides the solution for us: different lineage—different priestly order. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” This “behind the veil” requirement was met, you’ll recall, at Yahshua’s crucifixion, when the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. But what in the world is the “order of Melchizedek”? “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated ‘king of righteousness,’ and then also king of Salem, meaning ‘king of peace,’ without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.” (Hebrews 6:19-20, 7:1-3) Like Joshua the son of Jehozadak, he was presented as both priest and king.
Melchizedek is a mysterious figure we first meet in Genesis 14. The writer to the Hebrews isn’t extrapolating (or hallucinating) here; he is merely explaining what David wrote a thousand years previously about his “Lord,” whom Yahweh directed to “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” He said, “Yahweh has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:1, 4) This passage was quoted in Hebrews 5, where the author went on to identify this “eternal priest” as Yahshua, “who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek,’ of whom we have much to say.” (Hebrews 5:7-11)
So in chapter 7, the writer goes on to explain the significance of Melchizedek. “Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him….”
Without actually saying so, the writer seems to be making the case that Melchizedek was a theophany—an anthropomorphic manifestation of Yahweh walking among men for a specific purpose. If not, he was at least one of the most enigmatic and provocative human symbols God ever recruited. The idea is that because Abraham paid tithes to him, the priestly order of Melchizedek outranks that of Aaron—who followed Abraham by half a millennium.
Remember, he was writing to the Hebrews, to whom the Law of Moses was recognized as the eternal and unassailable Word of God. It was an uphill battle explaining to them what you and I now know: that the Torah was entirely symbolic—pointing as it did toward the advent and mission of the Messiah, Yahshua. That is, although Israel was required to rehearse the Torah’s precepts throughout their generations, those rules weren’t an end unto themselves, but were “merely” a picture or preview of what Yahweh achieved at Golgotha in the spring of 33 AD. They were proof positive that God had designed the means of our redemption long before Yahshua was born into the human race.
“Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?” As Peter pointed out during the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), nobody had ever been able to perfectly keep the Law, demonstrating convincingly that flawless performance was not the pathway to redemption. “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.” We’ll come back to this, for it opens a whole new can of worms. “For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood….” But remember, Jacob’s deathbed blessing had identified Judah as Israel’s tribe of kings.
“And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek….’” That’s the second time he quoted David’s bombshell revelation. Note that the comparison of Yahshua to Melchizedek could not have been made if Christ had not risen from the dead. “Forever” requires endless life, and Yahshua had flatly declared that “as the Father (whose self-revealed name means “I Am”) has life in Himself, so also He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.” (See John 5:26.) He proved that on Resurrection Day.
“For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:4-19) He isn’t referring to the whole Torah here, but only the establishment of the Levitical Priesthood, something that was never designed to outlast theocratic Israel. (When it is reestablished during the Millennial Kingdom, it will still be “weak and unprofitable,” but with “Perfection”—the “better hope”—sitting at last on the throne, it will no longer matter.)
As Yahshua taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled….” Note that He didn’t say “till somebody manages to figure out how to keep it all.” That isn’t about to happen. There are two “untils” here: the Law will stand (1) until heaven and earth pass away—that is, not “forever” (technically) but only as long as God’s plan remains incomplete. Remember, He is on record as planning to rebuild the universe to accommodate our new spiritual paradigm when the time is right. And (2) until all is fulfilled. This one is almost a fait accompli already: most of the Torah was fulfilled when He rose from the dead. But a few prophetic details, like the three final holy convocations (a.k.a. “feasts of Yahweh”) are yet to be accomplished.
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Peter, Paul, and James did not run afoul of this at the Jerusalem Council (when they declared that gentile Christians didn’t need to be circumcised), for the Law had been given to Israel alone to serve as a witness to the rest of us. Remember: Moses was told 283 times to give instructions specifically to the Children of Israel. God never told him to give any instruction to the gentiles. “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20) Nobody was ever more outwardly righteous, more circumspect about keeping the minutiae of the Mosaic Law, than these people were. And yet, the spirit of the Torah, the big picture (like “love your neighbor as you do yourself”), completely eluded them.
And let us not forget that pregnant statement back in Hebrews 7:12: “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.” Is the law imperfect or incomplete? No. “The law [torah] of Yahweh is perfect, converting the soul. The testimony of Yahweh is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of Yahweh are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of Yahweh is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Psalm 19:7-8) The problem is, as we read in Hebrews 7:19, “The law made nothing perfect.” That is, although the Torah itself is flawless, we flawed humans are incapable of performing its precepts to perfection. If we could and did (one might presume) we would have no need of saving grace. But as Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way, and Yahweh has laid on Him [Yahshua] the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) David concurs: “Yahweh looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside. They have together become corrupt. There is none who does good, no, not one.” (Psalm 14:2-3) Or as Paul put it, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
So to sum up, the Torah is perfect, and Yahshua says it will remain in force for the duration. But it isn’t capable of saving us, because we can’t keep it. (And frankly, it was never intended to save us through our compliance. But it did show us how Yahweh would redeem us and reconcile us to Himself—in parabolic terms, anyway.) Furthermore, the office of its chief administrator, the High Priest of the Aaronic order (being a fallen mortal himself) has perished, only to be replaced by the High Priest of an everlasting order—Yahshua, High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.
Thus the writer to the Hebrews continues: “And inasmuch as He [i.e., Yahshua] was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: ‘Yahweh has sworn and will not relent, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’), by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant….” What he’s saying here is that Yahweh never swore (or even intended) that the Aaronic priesthood was to be eternal, even though the Torah was supposed to be practiced “throughout Israel’s generations.” But He did make such an oath concerning His Messiah, the “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (quoted here for the third time—telling us that this is really important). This in effect makes Yahshua a “surety (that is, a guarantee) of a better covenant,” for Yahshua, unlike the High Priests of Israel, will never die.
This new covenant is the “change of the law” of which the writer spoke back in verse 12. It is simply the shift from the temporary to the permanent, from the shadow to the reality that casts it, or from the Torah’s preview to Christ’s finished work. The fulcrum upon which this paradigm shifts is the advent and passion of Yahweh’s Messiah—prior to this, people looked forward in faith to the completion of God’s plan; afterward, we looked back on the historical events, receiving in faith the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice to atone for our sins. Both covenants (though actually, they’re the same thing, only viewed from different directions) require faith on the part of the believer, and both of them achieve our redemption through the mechanism of grace, not works.
The writer explains, “Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them….” The Aaronic High Priest entered the Most Holy Place once a year (on the Day of Atonement) to intercede for the Children of Israel, and he offered incense (symbolic of prayer) on the altar of incense morning and night. But Yahshua, having fulfilled every shred of the symbolism presented by the Torah’s Levitical prophecy, now sits at the “right hand of the Father,” interceding for us in Person, constantly and forever. Like the man said, “this is better.”
“For such a High Priest was fitting for us [that is, He is exactly what we needed], who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens, who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath [Psalm 110:4 again], which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.” (Hebrews 7:20-28) The Law, then, like the Aaronic priesthood, is only “obsolete” now in the way the English alphabet became “obsolete” to William Shakespeare, or musical notation became “obsolete” to Johann Sebastian Bach. That is, having served its purpose, it became the underlying foundation of Yahweh’s greatest masterpiece. The Torah is not in itself the sonnet or the concerto, but it is the alphabet or scale that makes it accessible and comprehensible. The Masterpiece is Christ, and Him crucified.
This is precisely the picture painted by the writer to the Hebrews a few chapters later: at the advent of Christ, the covenant God had made with mankind through such men as Abraham, Moses, and David would receive an upgrade—it would come to fruition; its purpose would be revealed. “‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says Yahweh: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more….’” He’s quoting Jeremiah 31:33-34. What was once theoretical and temporary—the remission of sins by faith in the efficacy of the animal sacrifices God had mandated through Moses—would through the passion of Yahshua become demonstrable and permanent. We could at last know that our transgressions were covered by God’s love, because the reality casting the shadow of Torah Law had accomplished His mission. You might say, the “shadow” that the Law represented disappeared because the sun (i.e., the Son) was now standing directly overhead. The real “Lamb of God” had (to quote John the Baptist) “taken away the sin of the world.” All we had to do was receive the gift.
So the writer to the Hebrews points out the stunning ramification: “Now where there is remission of these [sins and lawless deeds], there is no longer an offering for sin….” That is, once God had offered up Himself as a sacrifice, fulfilling the Torah’s prophecies, no subsequent sacrifices, penance, alms, or good works would be necessary—or even possible—to reconcile us to Him, even temporarily. What could be done had been done. It was finished. Henceforth it was up to us to choose whether to receive and accept Yahweh’s gift, or reject it. The whole of God’s Word implores us to choose wisely.
“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water….” The “Holiest” (i.e., the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies) was the room in the tabernacle/temple where Yahweh’s presence was said to dwell between the cherubim atop the Mercy Seat. As a result of Yahshua’s sacrifice, the veil blocking entrance to this place was torn apart—symbolically, direct access to Almighty God had been provided. The ripped veil, then, becomes a metaphor for the body of Christ, torn, bruised, and afflicted for us: it is through Him alone that access to Yahweh is possible. Our belief in—our reliance upon—the efficacy of His sacrifice is what consecrates us, providing the “remission of sins.” Basically, since we sinful men cannot stand in Yahweh’s presence and live, Christ renders us sinless (if we choose to be) by applying His own innocence to our lives. It boggles the mind.
Once we have chosen to gratefully receive this awesome gift, what is our proper response? “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:16-25) Having gotten past the erroneous “salvation by good works” mindset, we are instructed to answer the gift of God with a three-part “thank-You note” of sorts.
(1) We are to be steadfast in our testimony and witness, not only concerning what Christ has already done for us, but also the “confession of our hope.” That is, we must realize and communicate that our faith in Yahweh’s promise of eternal life is based not on our wishful thinking, of fuzzy and unfounded dreams of “pie in the sky when you die,” but on His unshakable faithfulness, His proven character, His unwavering love. If He said it, it will come to pass, if it has not already. Elsewhere on this website is a 1,700 page, four-volume book on Bible prophecy I’ve entitled The End of the Beginning. The point of the title is that virtually everything we know—whether through history or divine revelation—is only the beginning. And 98% of yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy concerns “the end” of this beginning. But we are also given glimpses of a glory yet to come—everlasting life in a spiritual realm we are not really equipped to comprehend. This “blessed hope,” though inadequately understood, is based on Yahweh’s promises—and He has never broken His promises.
(2) Our second “thank-You note” to God consists of being considerate of our fellow believers—not only as recipients of our “love and good works,” but also as part of a matrix of mutual encouragement. We are to help each other carry out the mandate of the book of I John: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-11)
(3) And how can we effectively love one another if we don’t habitually meet with one another for fellowship, prayer, worship, and study? We’ve all heard the pious objections: “I’m perfectly able to meet God on my own in a natural setting; or, the church is full of hypocrites and holier-than-thou do-gooders; or, the preacher gets things wrong sometime—I prefer to study on my own; or, they don’t meet on the right day of the week—the real Sabbath is Saturday, not Sunday.” Ironically, all of these things may be true to some extent, and yet, we’re commanded to “assemble ourselves together.” The form our gatherings take is of little import, as long as God is honored. But the reason we’re given for doing so is that we should “exhort one another,” to encourage, support, and move each other toward greater godliness. Don’t complain that “those people have nothing to teach me.” If that’s the case (which I doubt), then you should be teaching them—and you can’t do that if you never see them. Face it: no man is an island. We all need each other, and we all have something to contribute.
Because so many have taken the word “priest” and applied it to themselves (or to special classes within their religions), we ought to delve into what the word “priest” actually means in Hebrew and Greek.
In Hebrew, the word is kohen, defined by Strong’s as “chief ruler, priest, prince, principal officer; active participle of kahan; literally, one officiating.” Kahan is a verb meaning “to deck [in the sense of donning garments], to do, execute, or minister in the office of a priest…. A primitive root, apparently meaning to mediate in religious services; but used only as denominative from kohen; to officiate as a priest; figuratively, to put on regalia.” Baker and Carpenter note: “These people performed the function of mediators between God and His people.” TWOT adds, “In light of its early secular usage, khn (kohen) might be of ‘serving as a minister….’ Four summaries, pertaining to the time of the United Kingdom, mention both Levitical high priests and, simultaneously, others who occupy a similarly designated office of kohen.”
The Greek word for “priest” is heireus. Thayer defines it as “one who offers sacrifices and in general is busied with sacred rites…. metaphorically, of Christians, because, purified by the blood of Christ and brought into close contact with God, they devote their life to him alone (and to Christ).” Strong’s defines heireus as “a priest, one who offers sacrifice to a god (in Jewish and pagan religions; of Christians, only metaphorically).” It is based on the adjective hieros, meaning holy, sacred, or set apart.
So the Greek and Hebrew concepts of “priesthood” overlap to a great degree, the Greek stressing the sacred nature of the office (e.g., offering sacrifices), while the Hebrew focuses on the symbolic aspects—the donning of special garments, performance of religious rituals, and mediating between God and man. In both languages, the designations are applied broadly: both Yahweh’s service and the execution of pagan rites are performed by people properly designated as “priests.” The key is that direct interaction is implied between the priest and his deity—the term “priest” was used regardless of the whether the “god” was real (Yahweh) or merely assumed to exist (as in the pagan pantheons that sprang up virtually every culture in the ancient world from Babylon forward).
In the godly line (as we have seen), individuals (like Cain and Abel) originally functioned as their own priests; later, men such as Noah, Abraham, Jethro, and perhaps Melchizedek, served as priests for their families or communities. Under Moses, the Levitical Priesthood was established to serve and mediate/intercede for the nation of Israel. But there are hints scattered throughout scripture that lead us to conclude that it was always Yahweh’s intention that individual believers would eventually be able to interact with Him, on some level, as priests.
Even before the Aaronic Priesthood was formally established in Israel, Yahweh said to Israel, “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people, for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6) Thinking of Israel symbolically—as God’s family—we come to understand that this applies not just to the offspring of Jacob, but to all who would someday call Yahweh their God. In our age, this defines us who believe in Yahshua as Messiah and King. God’s “covenant” is ratified by this belief: we are, through the grace of God, counted as having kept it—just as Abraham’s faith was counted unto him as righteousness.
John’s vision of the second coming of Christ includes this description: “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19: 15-16) We usually think of “kings” as government leaders—a.k.a. not us. And since the Armageddon showdown will happen after Yahshua’s return, this is perfectly true—as far as it goes. But factor in John’s introductory dedication to the Revelation: “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-6) At the very least, we (the redeemed to whom John was writing—all of whom will have been raptured long before the second coming) are counted as under-kings (so to speak)—i.e., the “kings” to whom the glorified Yahshua is KING. Our “subjects” (since we’re kings) will be the mortal gentiles who survived the horrors of the Great Tribulation and were subsequently deemed “sheep” (as opposed to goats—see Matthew 25:31-46), as well as their offspring.
This dual king-priest concept is repeated over and over again in scripture. “Now when [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings [or a kingdom] and priests to our God, and we shall reign on the earth.’” (Revelation 5:8-10) It’s a moot point whether it’s “kings” or “a kingdom” (actually, it’s the Greek basileian—a kingdom) because of what follows: “we shall reign.” And the same people seen reigning are also functioning as priests—interceding, mediating, and exercising judgment in Christ’s kingdom.
Peter confirms this: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The sacrifices we offer up as Christ’s “priests” are our thanks, our prayers, our confession of faith, and our praises. This “sacrifice of praise” theme is repeated incessantly in the Psalms, and is specifically applied to the followers of Christ in Hebrews 13:15. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (I Peter 2:4-5, 9-10) The “royal priesthood” (i.e., kings and priests) once again ties us to the order of Melchizedek (with Yahweh our King), not that of Aaron.
After he received the vision of the seven seals, John was shown the vast company of Tribulation martyrs who had first been introduced to him under the fifth seal. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen….’”
He didn’t know who they were at first. “Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This description identifies them as those belatedly repentant souls from the church of Laodicea, whom Christ had defined as “overcomers,” who would sit with Him on His throne—participants in His royal power. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.” This defines them as priests. “And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Revelation 7:9-17)
Even today, Christians are the most persecuted people on earth (if only because Jews are too few in number to be an effective target). During the Great Tribulation, faith in Christ will be an automatic death sentence—if they catch you. At the rapture, Christ had kept his promise to the “Philadelphians” to “keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10) The “Laodiceans,” meanwhile, had been faithless, apostate, and lukewarm (even if they looked “religious”) until rapture day—unsaved and unholy. But finally realizing their catastrophic error, they had subsequently “washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb,” and in doing so, marked themselves for death. But it wasn’t God’s wrath that killed them—it was Satan’s last desperate spasm. God, rather, is seen comforting their martyred souls (now separated from their bodies) with the most tender of mercies, sheltering them, providing for them, and wiping away their tears. Truly it is said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
These same Tribulation martyrs are once again in view as the Millennial Kingdom finally begins: “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:6) For the umpteenth time, we see the immortal believers of the Kingdom age—all of them—functioning as both reigning kings (under the King of kings) and as priests of God.
Surprisingly (perhaps) these roles do not cease at the end of the thousand years, but continue into the eternal state. In John’s description of the heavenly city—the New Jerusalem—we are again pictured as “kings and priests.” This scene depicts life in a new heaven and new earth that have replaced the present ones (see Revelation 21:1, Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, II Peter 3:13): “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” Since the “Lamb is the temple,” we who are “in Christ” are by definition priests. “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved [these would be the redeemed born during the kingdom age] shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into [the New Jerusalem]….” These kings, once again, are the raptured saints and their martyred brethren, the immortals who reigned on earth under King Yahshua during the Millennial age. He’s saying that we will make our home in the New Jerusalem.
There is nothing remotely like this in our earthly experience: “Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.” Again, these “nations” are the redeemed Millennial mortals, who (having been transformed into the immortal state at the end of the Millennium) will have unfettered access to the New Jerusalem. “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:22-27) The reason no evil will enter the New Jerusalem is that now (after the Great White Throne judgment) “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15) In other words, the only people left in God’s universe at this point in time are redeemed immortals—who (praise God) are incapable of sinning against Him. Basically, he’s telling us that the sin nature that troubled us during the ages of man will not follow us into the eternal state. It simply won’t exist.
As mind-boggling as this royal revelation is, note that we are also designated as priests. That is, we will, like Christ, function as both kings and priests in the Millennium and beyond. Still speaking of the eternal state in the New Jerusalem, John writes, “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads….” Service to God is the definitive role of priests, and unfettered access to Almighty God is their ultimate prerogative. In our mortal state, we were told, “You cannot see God’s face, for no man can see Yahweh and live!” (Exodus 33:20, I Timothy 6:16, etc.) But as immortals, we cannot die. We will at last know as we are known—being recipients of the greatest privilege imaginable: to look upon the very face of God, undiminished and unmasked.
“There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:3-5) It’s not just life without end. It’s an eternity of blessing, honor, power, service, glory, joy, and intimate, personal interaction with the God we love. In other words, “heaven” is better than anything we can possibly even imagine in this life.
(First published 2019)