A Royal Priesthood
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9,10, NAS).
The Scriptures reveal that the work of the kingdom will be done through a
spiritual priesthood. To illustrate the function of this priesthood, God used several Old Testament types. The most frequent is found in Israel’s priesthood, which served in the tabernacle and later in the temple. This
priesthood has been covered in a previous article and will not be detailed here. However, other aspects of the spiritual priesthood provide additional lessons.
Little is known about Melchizedek. He is simply described as a king of Salem and a priest of the Most High God. He met Abram and his men after they delivered Lot from captivity, giving them bread and wine. Melchizedek then blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the Most High God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all” (Genesis 14:19-20).
His interaction and blessing of Abram imply a connection between the antitypical priesthood and the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. In fact, Jesus and the church are collectively described as the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:29). So, it will be through the work of this great spiritual priesthood that the Abrahamic promise will become a reality.
The Psalmist foretold of the work of Jesus and the Church as this great priesthood. He also reveals that God swore an oath to develop this priesthood on which the Abrahamic promises were based. “The LORD has sworn and will not repent, thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalms 110:4). The Apostle Paul confirmed the identity of
the antitypical Melchizedek: “But son though he was, he had to prove the meaning of obedience through all that he suffered. Then, when he had been proved the perfect son, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who should obey him, being designated by God Himself as high priest ‘after the order of Melchizedek’” (Hebrews 5:8, Phillips).
Greater than the Aaronic Priesthood
Here, Paul draws the picture of a priesthood greater than that which served under the Law. “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Hebrews 7:11-13). This new priesthood could accomplish something the old could not. It could bring about perfection in the subjects it served.
He continues to explain why this is true. “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:26,27). Unlike the imperfect offerings provided under the Law, Jesus’ offering was perfect and never needed to be repeated. As the apostle explained, this better offering provided a “better hope” by which we could “draw nigh to God” (Hebrews 7:19). He proceeds to explain that as head of the Melchizedek priesthood, Jesus would administer a “better covenant” because he now sat at the right hand of God and would be the great Mediator of that better covenant (Hebrews 8:1,6). The antitypical Melchizedek priesthood provides a better sacrifice, a perfect mediator and this makes a better covenant than could be given under the Law. The perfection of this arrangement results in a grander hope of eternal life for all mankind.
Priest and King
Melchizedek had a unique role in being both a priest of God and a king. But why will the antitypical priesthood also have the position of king? The reason may be illustrated in the book of Ezra. There we find two individuals working together to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel is a Babylonian name meaning “born in Babylon.” He was appointed by Cyrus as governor of Judah and commissioned to rebuild the temple. Though not actually a king, he wielded authority as king, acting on behalf of Cyrus, ruler of the Persian Empire
(see Ezra 3:2-3, 8).
When the foundation of the temple was finally laid there was great rejoicing. But there was also opposition from the people of the land. Their offer to assist in the building disguised their real motive. Their letters and false accusations to Cyrus convinced him to order
the building stopped.
This opposition was prophesied by the prophet Zechariah revealing that Joshua the high priest would be the special target of Satan. “And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the LORD said unto Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’ Now Joshua [the high priest] was clothed with filthy garments and stood before the angel” (Zechariah 3:1-3).
When Satan stood to “resist” Joshua, the word can also be translated as “accuse” (H7853). It describes a tactic used by Satan, as he is later called “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10). Satan’s specific accusations against Joshua may have related to the filthy garments he wore. But God defended him, saying, “’Take away the filthy garments from him.” And unto him [Joshua] he said, ‘behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment’ “ (Zechariah 3:3, 4).
Joshua’s filthy garments represent his personal sins. The adversary often whispers to those who want to serve God that their sinfulness makes them unworthy to serve such a holy being. He uses the same approach against any who hope to be part of the royal priesthood, suggesting they can never live up to God’s standards, so why even try. But God knows our condition and has provided for it. Just as Joshua was given clean garments, prospective members of the royal priesthood are given a “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). It can be overwhelming to consider being part of this priesthood. But God knows our frame (Psalms 103:14) and has made the necessary provisions for fallen members of the race to be part of a perfect priesthood (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).
Under normal circumstances, Israel would have perished in the fiery experiences of captivity, or at best, been assimilated. However, God
preserved them and was now in the process of re-establishing their priesthood. The royal priesthood being formed in the Gospel Age
has gone through fiery persecution and is likewise “a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2). But that fire has worked to develop a
merciful and sympathetic group of individuals that will minister as priests of God. When any face the accusation that they are unworthy of
serving God, the proper response is to appreciate that it is the merit of Christ that makes one worthy.
Holiness to the Lord
Joshua, then, fittingly represents the priestly aspect of the Christ. The Prophet Zechariah said, “Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So, they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments” (Zechariah 3:5). This indicates that the garments he was provided were garments of the high priest. To the mitre was attached a golden plate with the in scription, “Holiness to the LORD” (see Exodus 28:36-39). This defined his role as one
devoted to bringing honor to God in all he did.
An interesting connection between the offices of priest and king is shown by the Prophet Haggai, a contemporary of that period. “In that day, saith the LORD of Hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of Hosts” (Haggai 2:23). Zerubbabel would be made “as a signet.” A signet was a signature ring used by kings to seal letters with their own special mark. This is the same word (H2368) used to describe the engraving of the golden plate worn by the high priest. It was “like the engraving of a signet” (Exodus 28:36).
This links the work of Joshua and Zerubbabel. The function of both offices is intended to display the holiness of God. This explains how God’s laws, administered by the kingly office of Christ, will be characterized by righteous and noble principles. When the priest wore the inscription “Holiness to the Lord” on his forehead he, too, was proclaiming that his
role in religious training would reflect God’s holiness. Every doctrinal and moral teaching of Christ will contain the purity and sanctity of our Creator. Both offices will work towards the same goal. By extolling the holiness of God, the excellent principles by which He lives will be honored and taught to their human subjects by this wonderful reigning class.
This idea of a signet is also conveyed on a personal level in the Church. Representing the holiness of God to others will have a profound effect on each individual. This is described by the Apostle Paul. “Who hath also sealed us and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1:22). Under the influence of God’s spirit, each member is made holy and pure. This character imprint is God’s seal, His guarantee that those so marked will be part of the antitypical priest and king. Only by being so imprinted can any be prepared to serve.
In the vision of Zechariah, God also said, “Hear now, O Joshua the High Priest … I will bring forth my servant the Branch” (Zechariah 3:8). Joshua undoubtedly understood this Branch to be Zerubbabel. Restoring the
worship of God in the completed temple was a work that Joshua could not accomplish alone. Zerubbabel brought with him the authority of Cyrus. With this higher authority the work was guaranteed. There were now two individuals selected to rebuild the temple. This passage symbolically alludes to Jesus, who is also described as the branch which comes from the
line of David (Isaiah 11:1). He is referred to in similar terms as the root and offspring of David (Revelation 22:16).
This dual authority pictured in Joshua and Zerubbabel is described in Zechariah 4. There the prophet was given a vision of a large golden lampstand with seven lamps and seven pipes emanating from a central bowl. But this lampstand had a peculiar feature. Two olive trees fed oil directly into the main bowl. The vision was meant to encourage Zerubbabel to finish the work of rebuilding the temple after a long delay. “This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of Hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it’“ (Zechariah 4:6,7). Zerubbabel would be guided by the spirit of God. A great mountain would be no obstacle to this God-given task.
But the vision was meant to convey a larger lesson. A Gospel Age connection to Zechariah’s vision is provided in the Book of Revelation (see Revelation 11:1-13). There, two olive trees are shown to feed two candlesticks and are described as God’s two witnesses, understood
to mean the Old and New Testaments. They would prophesy 42 months clothed in sackcloth, a symbol of mourning. The word of God is described as mourning because during the 42 months of papacy’s reign, truth was cast to
the ground (see Daniel 8:12). For 1,260 years there was great opposition to the building of a spiritual temple. This restraint of truth limited the work of the holy Spirit. But, in the end, the two witnesses “ascended to heaven” (verse 12), a fitting description that after 1799 AD, the authority of the Bible would be reinstated. This ascendancy will finally accomplish the work of completing the spiritual temple. And so, the prospect of completing the work of the Gospel Age is similar to the purpose of the vision given to Zerubbabel.
With the encouragement of Zechariah and the older prophet Haggai, the work which had stopped for many years was finally resumed. “And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel … governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua … the High Priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (Haggai 1:14).
Zechariah 6 provides another vision confirming the work of Zerubbabel and Joshua in their unique relationship. “The word of the LORD also came to me saying, ‘Take an offering from the exiles … where they have arrived from Babylon. And take silver and gold, make an ornate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD.” Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices’” (Zechariah 6:9-13 NAS).
A very unusual event is being described. A high priest is being given a kingly crown and a governor is made a priest on his throne. This was previously an unthinkable concept in Israel because priests did not sit on thrones and rulers did not serve as priests. This typical event once again illustrates that Joshua and Zerubbabel (the Branch) both represent the Messiah and depict the dual role of Christ.
Why a Priest and a King?
The function of a priest is to bring harmony between God and man by providing atoning sacrifices and instructing others how to serve God acceptably. He will have accomplished the work of providing atoning sacrifices and prepared the way for other acceptable offerings, as shown in the tabernacle sacrifices. This vital role will include the church, whose experiences in this life will have taught her, through firsthand experience, the lessons that will be shared with mankind.
A king, however, is generally involved in civil matters of state including defense when necessary and execution of the law. Each of these roles has a fulfillment in Christ. The work of reconciliation requires both sacrificing, accomplished during the Gospel Age, and mediation, the work of the Millennial reign. But in addition, the civil responsibilities of kingship will be important. There will be laws that govern the orderly operation of society. Logistics and planning will be done with great skill and efficiency. A governmental structure will be put in place that will meet the needs of every individual. No one will be excluded who wants to share in the blessings. Every citizen will come to appreciate that man’s past attempts to govern themselves was woefully inadequate when compared to a government overseen by heaven and administered by godly servants. Our efforts to understand the complexities in governing the world are meager at best. But we trust that our all-wise God will create a society dedicated to holiness with the help of the Christ, both a priest and a king.