Generally speaking, all priesthood is mediatorial. It is the representation of the weak and infirmed before God. In order to gain an understanding of the priesthood of Christ, what it is and what it does, and for whom it represents and benefits, there are several Scriptures we should consider first. We will find that biblical priesthood has two characteristics:
- Priesthood has a given order
- Each order of priesthood has a distinctive function of service
If we gain clarity from Scripture on these two points, it will help us to put away preconceived thoughts and perceptions, which so often are our own and have no basis in God’s testimony.
Psalm 110:4 (NKJV)
“The Lord has sworn
And will not relent,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
Christ’s priesthood is the order of Melchizedek. This is confirmed in the book of Hebrews.
Hebrews 5:5–10 (NKJV)
5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: “You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
6 As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”
7 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, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,”
The other priesthood that is significant in Scripture is the Levitical priesthood, and more specifically the order of Aaron (Heb. 7:11). This is the priesthood that came with the giving of the law, and therefore is associated with the Jewish religion. Among the Levi, the house of Aaron performed the tabernacle services. However, the service of this particular house came to an end with the sins of Eli and his sons (1 Sam. 2:22–36). David sets up Zadok to be priest (2 Sam. 15:27). He and the prophet Nathan anointed Solomon king. When Solomon built the temple, its service was performed by the house of Zadok (1 Kings 2:35). The tabernacle had passed, and now there would be a permanent structure for worship and the practice of Judaism. This corresponds to the change of houses in the Levitical service during David’s time.
It will be Zadok’s family serving in the temple when Israel is restored in the future millennium (Ez. 44:15). The types and shadows generated from David’s time are interesting to trace out. The millennial priesthood is established by Solomon, who is a type of Jesus Christ, son of David sitting on David’s throne, reigning in peace as king over all Israel. Solomon’s temple is the shadow of the future millennial temple, which will also be built by the son of David.
We have identified the two existing orders of priesthood – the Melchizedek and Levitical. Now let’s identify the function of each. Just as the two orders are distinct from each other, we will find that their service is as well. For the Melchizedek service we go back to when Abraham first met him.
Genesis 14:18–20 (NKJV)
18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said:
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
And he gave him a tithe of all.”
The service or function of the Melchizedek order does not involve sacrifices, death, or the sprinkling of blood – it is not service for the ongoing sins or defilement of the people. It does not involve the continuous intercession being made because of weakness and infirmity and temptation. Rather, the Melchizedek service is only for blessings, after the defeat of all enemies. It is a priesthood whose service is for joy and rejoicing in physical blessings and provisions – he brought out bread and wine. Melchizedek represents the God Most High in the blessing of Abraham. The Most High is known as the Possessor of heaven and earth.
Hebrews 7:1–3 (NKJV)
“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, 2 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,” 3 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.”
Melchizedek is a royal priest – king of Salem (peace). His name also translates as king of righteousness. He has no known genealogy. He has, as it seems, no beginning or end. He is like the Son of God, having a continuing priesthood without interruption. Here, all is used as a type pointing to Jesus Christ. But we need to be more specific than this. As a type, Melchizedek points to Jesus Christ as a royal priest sitting on the throne of David, bringing physical blessings to Israel after the defeat of all their enemies. In this story, Abraham is a type of Israel. The Most High God defeats all Israel’s enemies. After, His representative on earth brings out abundant blessings for Israel. Righteousness and peace will be the two main characteristics of Christ’s millennial reign. And it will not be until then that the Most High will be known as the Possessor of the heavens and earth. Everything from the passage in Genesis, all the types and shadows, point to the Jews saved and restored at the beginning of the future millennium. And the function of this order of priesthood is millennial and for Israel’s prosperity and blessing on the earth.
Does this tell us anything about what Jesus is doing now? It does tell us how He became a priest. God has called Him as a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:5–10). God has sworn it by an oath (Heb. 7:20–21). Jesus is in fact a priest according to this eternal order. But He certainly isn’t functioning today according to the service of the Melchizedek order. He isn’t on the earth restoring Israel in physical blessings; we aren’t in the time of the millennium, and we haven’t seen the defeat of all Israel’s enemies.
During this present time Jesus is High Priest only for the Christian believer. The book of Hebrews speaks of this ministry.
“We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle…” (Heb. 8:1–2).
Not the Jewish tabernacle on the earth, which only amounted to copies of what was real and true. The believer’s High priest is in the heavens. All our Christian associations are with a Christ in the heavens and in glory. They are not with a Christ on the earth or in the flesh.
His present-day service is not for Israel at all. During the Christian dispensation God does not acknowledge the Jews as His people (Hos. 1:9). Israel has been set aside and made desolate (Matt. 23:37–39). The kingdom of God was taken from them (Matt. 21:43). They have been in this state for some time.
What is He doing as High Priest for the Christian believer?
- He ever lives to make intercession for us, thereby securing our salvation to the very end (Heb. 7:25). As our High Priest, He constantly washes our feet, removing the defilement we accumulate from walking around in this world (John 13:3–5)
- He is able to aid us who are tempted, seeing He Himself suffered, being tempted (Heb. 2:17–18)
- He is a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15)
- Through Him we boldly come to the throne of grace in time of need (Heb. 4:16)
- As our High Priest He became the Forerunner for us entering into the holiest place in the heavens, behind the veil and into the Presence, making our Christian hopes of following Him sure and steadfast, into the heavens and into the very presence of God (Heb. 6:19–20)
- Jesus deals on our behalf in the realities of Christianity, not in the copies and shadows of Judaism (Heb. 8:1–5, 9:11–12, 9:24)
- Having such a High Priest, we have the privilege and advantage of drawing near and close to God even now when on the earth (Heb. 10:19–23)
This service is the function of the Levitical order. There is His constant and ongoing intercession for our existing weaknesses and temptations. It is His intercession that maintains our communion and fellowship with God as Christians – the nearness of our walk with Him. It is His priesthood involved in keeping all believers at all times secure in their salvation. His presence at God’s right hand, as our High Priest, gives us confidence and boldness to approach God at any time.
How can Jesus function like a Levitical priest? If He was on the earth He couldn’t do so, for there are priests according to the law for earthly priesthood, and He isn’t from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 7:11–14, 8:1–5). But He isn’t on the earth, is He? No, He is higher than the heavens (Heb. 7:25–26, 9:23–24). And He appears in the presence of God for us, that is, for all true Christians, all believers. He can function this way because He is not on the earth but in the heavens, representing those who have a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1).
The general picture concerning priesthood and the three dispensations is the following.
- The Jewish dispensation: Israel was given the law and the Levitical priesthood. By character, this was always an earthly priesthood serving an earthly tabernacle, which was constructed as a copy of what Moses saw to be true in heaven. The efficacy of its service was severely limited. The sacrifices had to be repeated daily and yearly for the sins of both the people and the priests. A further limitation was the continuous turn-over, as the priests grew old and died. In the Jewish dispensation, everything associated with the Levitical priesthood was a shadow. Therefore, because of these limitations, the conscience of the worshiper could never be perfected (Heb. 9:9–10, 10:1–4).
- The Christian dispensation: Jesus Christ, in heaven above and seated at the right hand of God, is High Priest for all Christians. His order of priesthood is Melchizedekian. During the Christian dispensation His service for believers is Levitical in its function – He continually intercedes for believers, washing all defilement away from them as they walk/sojourn in the world. This maintains their fellowship and communion with God. His service as Priest is based on His previous work as a sacrifice offered up to God, a once-and-for-all sacrifice never to be repeated, eternal in its efficacy and limitless in its value. Because the church being formed on the earth is a heavenly body, His work as Priest has to take place in the heavens. He could not operate in Levitical service on the earth, seeing He is of the tribe of Judah. But He has no restriction in the heavens.
- The Millennial dispensation: There will be two distinct orders of priesthood existing in Israel during the millennium. When the Jews are restored in the land, they will again have a temple in Jerusalem and a Levitical priesthood. They will have a new covenant from Jehovah where the law is written on their hearts and minds. This priesthood will maintain the nation’s standing before God with sacrifices and ordinances, etc. Distinct from this will be Jesus Christ, present in Jerusalem as Israel’s Melchizedek priest, a royal priest, bringing blessings down from above as the representative of the Most High God. Both orders will serve on the earth according to their own distinct function – Levitical for maintaining the spiritual position of Israel before God and Melchizedekian for their physical blessings and prosperity.
The location of the priesthood in the three dispensations also tells a significant story. Both the Jewish and millennial dispensations have priesthood located and operating on the earth. The Christian dispensation has a priesthood located and operating in heaven.