Originally, Adam, Noah, Job, and Abraham were priests of God. They were the ones responsible for offering sacrifices and leading acceptable worship in their local parishes.
Following this dispensation in biblical history, the Aaronic priesthood came into play. Worship in individual households was augmented by corporate worship in the larger assembly. Fathers and mothers were still to train their children every day, but in addition to their familial service, God established a special clergy to lead around the tabernacle. Aaron and his sons were the ordained priests of the Most High God.
However, in 1 Kings, the sons of Aaron broke faith with their Lord. Abiathar and other notable priests preferred to see Adonijah become King David’s successor, and they sided with him. However, the Lord had clearly appointed Solomon to be David’s successor, and only Zadok faithfully backed the Lord’s man. As a result, Abiathar and his sons were demoted. Zadok was promoted to High Priest of Solomon’s Temple, and his children received ongoing blessings as a result of their father’s faithfulness. Several centuries later, when God presented the vision to Ezekiel regarding the rebuilding of his temple, only the sons of Zadok were selected by God to lead in his sacred worship:
Ezekiel 40:44–46 On the outside of the inner gateway there were two chambers in the inner court, one at the side of the north gate facing south, the other at the side of the south gate facing north. And he said to me, “This chamber that faces south is for the priests who have charge of the temple, and the chamber that faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who alone among the sons of Levi may come near to the Lord to minister to him.”
Ezekiel 44:15-16 But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me. And they shall stand before me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord God. They shall enter my sanctuary, and they shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge.
Ezekiel 48:10–11 These shall be the allotments of the holy portion: the priests shall have an allotment measuring 25,000 cubits on the northern side, 10,000 cubits in breadth on the western side, 10,000 in breadth on the eastern side, and 25,000 in length on the southern side, with the sanctuary of the Lord in the midst of it. This shall be for the consecrated priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept my charge, who did not go astray when the people of Israel went astray, as the Levites did.
Now, in this modern dispensation or covenant era, who is charged with leading worship? Who are the God-appointed priests of the twenty-first century? Are they men who are descendants of a certain individual? Are they men who have received holy orders, made vows of celibacy, wear holy garb, and find themselves to be recipients of a long and unbroken tradition? Or are they any man called by the Spirit to be a bishop, elder, minister, shepherd, or presbyter? Much discussion and disagreement can be found on this topic, but Scripture is not slightly ambiguous or mysterious about this matter. As were Aaron and his sons, and as were Zadok and his sons, so are Jesus and his children.
In this present New Covenant era, Jesus is the only High Priest. Perhaps several readings in the book of Hebrews will prove this point:
Hebrews 2:14–17 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
Hebrews 3:1–2 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house.
Hebrews 4:14–5:10 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:19–20 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 9:11–15 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
And along with our Great High Priest, there is a group of individuals set apart for priestly service. However, unlike the Old Covenant of Grace, one does not have to be a Jew from the tribe of Levi. In addition, seminary, holy orders, and ordination councils are not necessary. Clerical collars and sacred robes are completely optional. One does not even have to be male to be qualified. All the true sons and daughters of Jesus are appointed for such a role. Perhaps the words of Saint Peter will carry the day:
1 Peter 2:4–9 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” 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 for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Clearly, according to the New Testament Scriptures, Jesus is the High Priest of his people. He is the one responsible for shepherding the shepherds. He is the one charged with leading fathers, mothers and their children in acceptable worship. He is a monarch, and he is also a minister. Adam, Noah, Job, Abraham, Aaron and Zadok were special, but they were nothing in comparison to the Great High Priest who intercedes from glory. And now, in the New Covenant of Grace, Jesus and all his children are called to be kings, prophets, and priests of the Most High God.
And what are we to think of those who envision a new temple, with renewed bloodily sacrifices, and renewed earthly priests? The author of Hebrews gives us insight on this matter as well:
Hebrews 7:11–8:7 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’ ” This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
The sacred writer of Hebrews was well versed in the Old Covenant of Grace. Most likely he was of Jewish descent, and he was most grateful for the regulated worship formerly prescribed by God. But one thing is abundantly clear from his inspired writings — The Old Covenant of Grace, along with its beautiful buildings, bloody sacrifices, and Levitical priests was an imperfect, shadowy, weak, and ultimately useless relic of the past. It was something to be remembered and respected but never to be repeated, for it had been replaced by Jesus Christ and his better, permanent, and much more excellent ministry.
So what ought we to do? Perhaps we should grab our robes, put on our collars, and priest well for the glory of God. Or, in the words of the New Covenant prophet:
Hebrews 10:19–25 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.