Reading: Leviticus 8; 1 Peter 2:3-5,9-10.
While it may have become a commonplace with us, nevertheless it is important to remember that the church has taken the place of Israel in this dispensation, and that all the purposes for which Israel was chosen have passed to the church in a spiritual way. That means that Israel's history is spiritually repeated and reproduced in the true church. That sums up the numerous things that are said as to the spiritual steps and experiences which are illustrated in the life of Israel.
Peter, in his letters, does not write for the Jews in an old dispensation sense while he is writing to the Jews of the dispersion, but he writes to them now as in the church, not as apart from it. You will notice that in so doing he takes up Jewish elements, and carries them into the church. His first letter especially is full of these Jewish elements.
You begin the first letter and see something of this: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect who are sojourners of the dispersion... according to the foreknowledge of God the Father". Now that is a Jewish element carried over to the church. Paul uses almost identical language in the letter to the Ephesians concerning the church. "In sanctification of the Spirit" - "were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea". The cloud was the great type of the Spirit separating the people unto God before and behind "unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" - you are taken back to Exodus 12 by that fragment, "grace to you and peace be multiplied". You can see very distinctive Jewish elements carried into the church. So, in the second chapter, in the verses referred to above, there are Jewish elements of a later date, perhaps of the temple time: "Ye also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). Every sentence is a Jewish sentence, but now carried over into the spiritual realm of the church. Then in 1 Peter 2:9 even fuller is the language: "An elect race (the church is an elect race) a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession", all those fragments are Old Testament fragments in relation to Israel, now here applied to the church.
The definition which sets forth Israel's vocation in the most perfect way is this fragment, "a holy priesthood", or, "a royal priesthood". We need not stay with the reason for the change or the meaning of the change of term, other than perhaps to point out that it represents a movement from Aaron to Melchizedek, both of which priesthoods are brought out clearly and fully in the letter to the Hebrews. In the first place it is the Aaronic priesthood, the key to which is holiness, as we see in Leviticus 8. Later the priesthood of Melchizedek is brought in, and the predominating element is kingship. Melchizedek was priest of the Most High God, king of Salem, king of peace. So you have the whole of the royal priesthood gathered up spiritually into the Lord Jesus, and then into the church as taking its character from this High Priest.
The point for special emphasis is that the supreme conception of Israel's vocation is found in the word "priesthood", holy and royal priesthood. Priesthood was the central feature of Israel's national life, and because this was so, it made it possible for Israel to stand in the midst of the nations in the capacity of a corporate priesthood. Israel was God's priest to the world, and that is the vocation of the church. That supreme function of Israel has passed to the church in a spiritual way, to be God's corporate priest in the midst of the nations.
In order to appreciate that we need to note some of the characteristics of priesthood.
1) The first characteristic of priesthood was and is the fact that the whole sin and righteousness question has been fully and finally dealt with and settled. Priesthood stands, not to accomplish something, but upon an accomplished fact. The consecration of the priests as in Leviticus 8 came about by reason of what had taken place on the altar. Chapter 8 follows chapter 7. In chapter 7 we see all the sacrifices basic to the consecration of the priesthood, and then they are carried on, the altar is in view, and the sacrifice, and the blood of the altar are carried forward for the priesthood, so that the priesthood stands in something already accomplished. It is something not to be accomplished, but applied. The first feature of priesthood is that the sin and righteousness question - the supreme question with God, on the one hand the putting away of sin, on the other hand the providing of righteousness - have been dealt with in a full way and are settled. Sin has been atoned for and remitted, and then righteousness has been provided to God's satisfaction. Priesthood functions on the basis that that is all conclusive.
It is a proclamation to all men of all nations who are in any way exercised about sin and righteousness. Sin - that thing which separates from God by positive domination and righteousness - that which brings to God in positive acceptance and fellowship. Wherever men may be found concerned with such matters priesthood has a proclamation to make, that this is a settled matter with God, there is a ground upon which the whole of that double question is answered. That is priestly ministry, to dwell in that assurance, and to have that note of positive declaration to the world, to the nations.
Thus, in the first place, Israel is God's corporate priest, to proclaim the settlement of the sin and righteousness question on the ground of atonement by precious blood.
2) In the second place priesthood is characterised by the fact that a relationship of peace and communion with God is established. What is that basis of peace with God, of communion, of fellowship? There is only one basis, and that is God Himself having found perfect satisfaction.
Our peace is God's satisfaction; our fellowship with God is God's satisfaction. It is that God is satisfied, that God is in a position where He can and does ask for no more. That is a tremendous thing for such as He is, to be able to say that His standard of infinite holiness and exactness on all spiritual and moral matters is satisfied to the last point, and He wants no more. If you and I could only get within the compass of that, where God says, "I want no more, I am satisfied, you need not try, you need not strain, you need not worry for a moment, I am perfectly satisfied!" If we could come into the spiritual realisation of that, there is peace within, peace with God. The questions of communion with God are all answered. We need not stand any longer outside, wondering whether perhaps we dare approach. He says, "Come with boldness; I am satisfied - you do not need to provide anything, you do not need to do anything to get accepted - I am content". Then there is peace, communion. He has made peace by the blood of His Cross, and we are made nigh by the blood of Jesus.
We who were aforetime no people are now the people of God. We who had not obtained mercy have now obtained mercy. We who were afar off are made nigh. Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, and the church is supposed to be standing in the enjoyment of that, not for itself, but as a priestly ministry to all men, to proclaim those facts. How far short we have come of our ministry, because we are not always found on this ground ourselves! That is a feature of priesthood.
3) Thirdly, the knowledge of the Lord is made available to men. There is a knowledge of the Lord which men may have and men should have. The proclamation to men is, "Know the Lord". Men say, "How can we know Him?" Have not men through all the ages, by every means, been seeking to know God, and have failed? The priests' lips are to be able to proclaim the knowledge of the Lord, to bring men to know the Lord. There is a knowledge of the Lord which is available. Israel stood in that priestly capacity as a people who knew the Lord, and could say to all, "We know the Lord, and the Lord is knowable to all men". That is priestly ministry. You will see that this is not intellectual knowledge, not theoretical knowledge, not book knowledge. This is inward spiritual knowledge in the church.
These things are features of priesthood, and you are able to see at once the meaning of what we have just said that Israel was called to be a priest to the nations, and the church has taken over that vocation in a spiritual sense, because Israel failed and has been set aside. Of course, the church is entrusted with something infinitely greater than Israel ever had, the range of its ministry is far greater than was Israel's, the power and value of its ministry is much more. "Ye are a holy priesthood".
These things, of course, must and will challenge our own hearts. We are challenged in the light of our calling, our vocation, the very object for which God has chosen us. Are we really able to stand before men and with perfect confidence, with all the certainty, with the assurance that the fact demands, proclaim to men that sin and righteousness are answered questions, settled problems? God has finished it all in the work of His Son. The relationship with Himself in peace and communion can now be fully enjoyed without any uncertainty, any risk, and there is available to men a blessed personal, inward, and ever-growing knowledge of the Lord. If the church had lived up to that calling, rationalism would never have had a chance in the church, for rationalism is contradictory to that position: speculative as to the knowledge of God. Many other things which are there, which are positive contradictions to this, ritualism and all such things, would never have stood a chance if the church had stood true to its spiritual calling. Nevertheless, the Lord is seeking a priestly company in the midst of His people, so that all questions and doubts will be wiped out, a perfect assurance of faith will be brought about, and through whom the knowledge of Himself in a living way shall increase.
There was one more factor in priesthood which constituted its virtue and dynamic, which gave it its power and its energy, and that was the anointing.
That priesthood functioned by reason of the anointing. It was to this that the Lord Jesus referred when in one of His resurrection appearances to His disciples it says He breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit; whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted". Do you notice the significance of putting those two things together? "Receive ye the Holy Spirit." That anointing constitutes you an active Body, the church, to declare on certain grounds the remission of sins, and, on the other hand, to declare that, those grounds being refused, there is no remission of sins. It puts the church in a position of great authority. Of course, the church of Rome has taken that up in an entirely false sense, nevertheless they have the truth as to the principle.
The church has the right on certain grounds (and the ground is not just the personal confession, but the ground of the blood of Jesus Christ) to declare the forgiveness of sins if that ground is taken. It is the note of authority, in the energy of the anointing. On the other hand, it is to say to men, "Unless you come on to God's ground there is no forgiveness for you; you are shut out from forgiveness until you come onto God's ground, which is the blood of Jesus Christ". That authority is the result of the anointing. It is not just words and formalities, it is the power of the Spirit of God, and when that declaration is made in the power of the Spirit, the penitent sinner who has come to God's ground not only hears the declaration but feels the deliverance. If a man under the anointing of the Spirit, in the realisation that a penitent person has come onto God's ground, says, "My brother, your sins are forgiven in the Name of Jesus", that person not only hears the declaration but has the assurance! It is not the declaration that brings the assurance, but the Holy Spirit behind the declaration. Another may be made to tremble by the Holy Spirit in hearing, "You, refusing God's ground of forgiveness, have no forgiveness, your sins are bound upon you to judgement!" Oh, that there could be more of that anointed function among men!
The great question of the lack of the consciousness of sin, which is troubling the world today, has its roots very largely in this fact that the church has lost its note of authority. The anointing comes through an instrument. "When He is come He will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement." How? Through a priestly instrument. It is not that the Holy Spirit is coming to spread Himself generally over the world, and bring the consciousness of sin home to men. The Lord demands a priestly vessel, standing in the anointing, to declare remission of sins to those who are upon God's ground of remission; to declare that sin rests unto judgement upon those who refuse God's ground. Such a ministry is necessary to God.
The effect of Israel's presence among the nations in the days when the anointing was functioning was to strike terror into the nations and make them either capitulate to Jehovah or come under judgement in refusing so to do. The issue was clear-cut. The presence of the Lord Jesus in the world had exactly the same effect, that either the sinners came spontaneously, by reason of His presence, and said, "Lord, if I have exacted more than my due I restore fourfold" when the Lord Jesus had said nothing about the exactings of Zacchaeus. On the other hand, where men were convicted of sin and refused God's ground, they went out under condemnation, beginning from the eldest to the youngest. They went out convicted, but they would not yield. They came under condemnation and judgement. His presence effected that. So it ought to be with the church.
This can at most but emphasise and illustrate the basic truth.
Those who comprise the true church are, from God's standpoint,
meant to be a holy priesthood, and a royal priesthood, a
priesthood with this anointed ministry.
Now the one word with which we would close is this. How can anyone or any company of the Lord's people function in a ministry like that under the anointing, if they themselves are not in the assurance of the facts?
The enemy is seeking not just to destroy
us as believers, as Christians. Do not let us get an inflated idea
of our personal importance when the devil assails, as though we
amounted to something; it is something far more than that which is
the objective of the adversary. It is the ministry, the vocation,
that He is after; not the people, but the ministry. It is not you
or me, but it is the result of our standing on this ground, and
what God can make of it.
Find me the man or the woman who stands on this threefold ground of finality in the settlement of the sin and righteousness question before God in Jesus Christ, the establishment, relationship, peace and communion in God's satisfaction, and that personal inward knowledge of the Lord and walk with Him, and you have found the man or the woman who is an object of Satan's venom, not because of their personal consequence, but because of the influence of such a life. He is against the wiping out of the thing which he has brought in: sin. He is against the establishment of righteousness, for he is unrighteous. He is against peace with God, for he is the rebel force in this universe. He is against communion with God. He is against God's satisfaction. He would rob God of all His ground of satisfaction. When Satan hears God say of His work, "It is very good", Satan says, "I will rob You of that testimony", and he puts forth his hand to ruin the thing which is a delight to God. He is against God's satisfaction, because God has hurled him out of his place.
He is against our knowing the Lord in an inward and living way, and so he would undermine and undercut all the values of the atoning work of Christ, the values of His precious blood, all the power and meaning of His Cross, and all His living, heavenly Priesthood for us now. The adversary is against all that.
Thus we shall find it always fraught with conflict to stand on that ground, but if we yield that ground for a moment; if we have a question, a doubt as to our sins being forgiven, as to our standing in the perfect righteousness of Christ before God, as to God's perfect satisfaction passed to us by reason of union with His Son, these things will destroy our ministry - our priesthood is ruined.
That comes out in Israel's later history, in the prophecies of Zechariah: "And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary." Satan is in the place of honour and power when the priesthood is not clean.
We see our calling. It is only the first step in this matter. Apart from all the teaching the Lord wants us to recognise the real spiritual nature of our calling. It is spiritual effectiveness in these connections which constitutes us the people of God, and if this is not true in our case, then there is no justification for our being called the people of God. We are a chosen nation, an elect race, that we should show forth the excellencies of Him. That is why we were chosen, for that, and these are the excellencies. It is about these very things that the apostle cries, with an overflowing heart: "Oh, the depths of the riches". What are they? The marvel of sin once and for all dealt with and set aside, and no longer laid to our charge; the marvel of a righteousness which is not ours, but the very righteousness of God put upon us as a garment through faith; the marvel of perfect peace with God, and a walk in holy fellowship... the marvel of knowing the Lord in our own hearts. These are some of the excellencies of Him, and for that we are elect, chosen, a holy priesthood.
The Lord lift us to the level of His own thought for us.