And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to
Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who
has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God." (Vayikra/Leviticus
Maybe I am an exception, but growing up as a young person in Jewish
communities in the Canadian city of Montreal, I didn't know that priests
were part of our religion. I knew there was something distinct about
Jewish people with the last name "Cohen" (which is the Hebrew
word for "priest"); that they had certain restrictions that
didn't apply to our people in general. But priests, as in sacrificing
animals, offering incense, etc., really? I thought that was only for
prehistoric tribes and only in the movies-no insult intended toward
Jewish or pagan priests-I was ignorant.
The existence of the Jewish priesthood should come as no surprise to
regular synagogue attendees where the Torah (Books of Moses) is read
weekly or to any regular Bible reader. For the priestly activity is
central to biblical Judaism. God gave the priesthood an essential aspect
of the Sinai covenant to, in many ways, maintain the life of the nation.
Not only did they perform sacrifices and other rituals, they also made
various crucial health and safety decisions and acted as judges and
teachers. But the essence of their role was that they represented the
people before God and were God's instruments of bestowing blessing upon
Biblically speaking, do we have priests today? In Judaism, since the
destruction of the Temple, the Jewish priesthood lost most of its
functionality. Jewish priests retain a special role in synagogue
services, and some continue to follow God's commands with regard to
their unique marriage regulations (see Vayikra/Leviticus 21:7) and their
not being in the proximity of the dead (see Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1).
However, their teaching and decision-making roles have been taken over
by the rabbis. This is similar to many in Christian traditions, where
the ministers or pastors are the main teachers and spiritual leaders. In
fact some Christian ministers carry the title "priest." With
the exception of some Christian traditions, these leaders would not see
their roles as priestly, especially in the Torah sense, since offering
sacrifices is not part of their job descriptions. However, they all
mirror the ancient Jewish priesthood far more than they might care to
admit, since in almost every case, they possess special status within
their communities-that special status being their relationship to God.
The ancient Jewish priesthood did for the people what they could not
do for themselves. The rest of the community could not approach God.
Sacrifices were given by the people to the priests to offer on their
behalf. While neither in Judaism nor Christianity are literal sacrifices
being offered today, rabbis and ministers don't merely function as
leaders and teachers, but as the people's representatives before God and
God's representatives to the people, as priests in other words.
But under the New Covenant there is no special priestly class. Those
who have been made right with God by trusting in the Messiah Yeshua are
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies
of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once
you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not
received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
In Yeshua there is no unique priestly class. Because of the Messiah's
sacrifice and his resurrection, all who trust in him are authentic
representatives of God. This doesn't mean that ministers don't have
special roles within their communities; they do. But no one follower of
Yeshua is closer to God than anyone else. Yeshua resolved our alienation
from God. He broke down the barriers that the ancient Jewish priesthood
illustrated for us. Now all believers may approach God freely. All
believers can be conduits of his blessings to others. We all can pray
for one another.
So do we have priests today? We sure do. If you truly know God
through the Messiah, you are a priest...really!
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