Jesus is coming again. We know this; it’s promised over and over again in the scripture. We hold on to this promise, letting it contextualize our lives now and give us hope for the future.
That’s not where the story ends, though. There’s still more after Jesus’s second coming. Satan will be locked away, the faithful believers will rise from the dead, and they’ll live and reign with Christ for 1,000 years. This is the time we’re looking forward to now as we celebrate Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). And there’s still more to the story after that–when the rest of the dead will live again and God will dwell among people here on earth.
One of the things God reveals about the time after Jesus’s return is that we’ll be filling certain roles. Those who believe in, covenant with, and faithfully follow God now are told they’ll play a role in this future. We’ll either still be alive or we’ll be raised from the dead and welcomed into His family. And in that time, we’ll be priests. In fact, in many ways, we’re priests right now.
Serving in God’s Kingdom
In Revelation, John opens by saying that Jesus “has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father” (Rev. 1: 6, NET). This is echoed again in a song “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders” sing to the Lamb before God’s throne.
“You are worthy to take the scrollRevelation 5:9-10, NET
and to open its seals
because you were killed,
and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God
persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Something happened at the cross which changed us and our role in the story. We’re not wandering around on our own anymore; we’re purchased for a specific appointment. God the Father and Jesus Christ choose and work with people from every location and background who are all destined to be part of a kingdom; His kingdom. If we’re part of this group, then we’ll be priests. We’ll even reign with Him, though that role is more about serving people than ruling over them (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:10-12).
I don’t know about you, but I find that an intimidating thought. Rule? As a priest? Me?!? There’s got to be some mistake. But we also know God chooses the sorts of people that don’t seem obvious; those who are unqualified by human standards and/or who realize the qualifications they have don’t mean much (Jer. 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 1:18-31). He wants rulers and priests who are humble; who realize they’re here to serve and help people toward a closer relationship with God.
A Kingdom of Priests
Usually when we talk about priesthood in the Bible, we’re talking about the Levitical priesthood or Jesus’s priesthood “in the order of Melchizedek,” which superseded the Levitical priests. Yet while the Levites were set apart as priests who served in the temple, the whole nation of Israel was described as priestly.
Moses went up to God, and Yahweh called to him out of the mountain, saying, “This is what you shall tell the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”Exodus 19:3-6, WEB
The whole nation wasn’t allowed to serve in God’s tabernacle or temple (that role was just for the Levites), but they were still called priests. God intended for the whole nation to be holy, acting as priests in many ways. Here’s what the NET translators have to say about this phrase:
“This kingdom of God will be composed of a priestly people. All the Israelites would be living wholly in God’s service and enjoying the right of access to him. And, as priests, they would have the duty of representing God to the nations, following what they perceived to be the duties of priests—proclaiming God’s word, interceding for people, and making provision for people to find God through atonement.”NET note on Ex. 19:6
In his One Year Worship the King Devotional, Chris Tiegreen puts it this way: Israel “was destined to be a priest between the world and its redeemer God” (Sept. 30 devotional). Ideally, the people joined to God in a covenant should fill a mediating, teaching, and worshipping role. They’ll be serving God faithfully and helping others who wanted to know God learn about Him.
Our Priestly Role, Now and Tomorrow
Those of us in covenant with God today are part of modern “Israel” in a spiritual sense (Rom. 9-11). We’re grafted into the people of God and heirs with Jesus to the covenants. As part of that relationship with God, we’re part of His temple–His spiritual house. Jesus is the High Priest, but we have roles to play as well.
So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and precious in God’s sight, you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it says in scripture, “Look, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and whoever believes in him will never be put to shame.” So you who believe see his value, but for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy.1 Peter 2:4-10, NET (italics/bold in original to mark OT quotes)
Here, Peter says that we’re “a holy priesthood” today, just as Israel was chosen as “a royal priesthood” as part of the first covenant. As priests, we’re supposed to “offer spiritual sacrifices,” obey the word of God, and “proclaim the virtues of” God the Father and Jesus Christ. We get the chance to model service, worship, and faithfulness to the world. We also hold a role that involves teaching and showing people the way. This is a role we’ll hold in the future as well, in the time Isaiah looks forward to when he writes, “your teachers won’t be hidden any more, but your eyes will see your teachers; and when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way. Walk in it'” (Is. 30:20-21, WEB).
In his letter to Rome, Paul said that Jesus called him to “serve the gospel of God like a priest” (Rom. 15:16, NET). Before his conversion, Paul was an influential and knowledgeable religious leader but he wasn’t a Levite (Phil. 3:5). He wasn’t part of the priesthood in his physical lineage, but Jesus Christ called him into a priest-like service. Jesus is doing the same for us today. We’re called into God’s temple as part of His temple for a specific purpose. We’re here to serve, to worship, and to teach. We are starting to fill this priestly role today and we’ll come into it fully after Jesus’s return.
Featured image by Matt Vasquez from Lightstock
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