Hebrews Study #5 – “A Change to the Priesthood”
Under the New Covenant, Everybody’s A Priest!
By Richard Allen – March 13, 2023
Being part Italian, one of my favorite characters on Saturday Night Live (SNL) back in the late 70’s (when it was actually funny) was a comedian named Don Novello. The character he created was that of a sad sack Catholic priest named: Father Guido Sarducci. The comedy was mostly done in good humor, poking fun at the Catholic Church as Father Sarducci did regular segments on the SNL News. Possibly my favorite routine was, when Father Sarducci announced that he was tired of waiting for his promotion to Monsignor, and was forming his own church, which he called: The People’s Catholic Church. He went on to explain that what made his new “People’s Catholic Church” unique was: EVERYBODY’S A POPE!
Father Guido’s comedy routine made the point quite well that the people of God are often shut off from engagement and real intimacy with God by the hierarchy of the Church. Truth is, he’s not wrong. So the question we should be asking is: “Why is this?” What’s the problem with having “human mediators” and a “church hierarchy” represent God to us, and us to God? The answer is almost self-evident: Having human priests and mediators adds another layer of separation, that is, they place another barrier between God and His People! If I were going to give a simple answer for what God really wanted throughout all of the Old Covenant times, as well as now during the New Covenant age, it would be: “He wants our hearts!” God has never longed for “representatives” or “an arms-length relationship” with His Bride, the Church! No doubt, sin had to be judged in order to vindicate a Holy God and remove the sin barrier, but that work was accomplished by Jesus on the cross for the purpose of bringing us back to God: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The “sacrificial priesthood” of human mediators under the Old Covenant had to end in order to open the way for us into full fellowship with a Holy God.
As we’ve learned, the writer of Hebrews tells us that in these “last times” as God is speaking through “a Son,” the priesthood had to drastically change as well (Hebrews 7:12). So, from chapter five through chapter twelve, the Book of Hebrews builds a strong foundation for this change, namely, A New Covenant with a New Priesthood! And that Priesthood would not be based on the old Levitical system with all of its failings, but one based on the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ from the Order of Melchizedek. The change in the Law necessitated a change in the Priesthood. It is here that I need to caution my readers: To once again impose a “mediating priesthood” to minister salvation to God’s people, puts the people back under the Law:
“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” (Hebrews 7:11-14).
“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” (Hebrews 7:18-19).
When Jesus, our High Priest, finished His priestly work, He sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 1:2) and began a new human priesthood of redeemed believers, not limited to a special family or lineage. This New Priesthood was for all believers – regardless of gender, race or economic standing! To borrow the phrase from Father Sarducci, now, among the faithful followers of Jesus Christ: EVERYBODY’S A PRIEST! As our passage above tells us, the old priestly functions from Aaron and the Levitical priesthood were temporary, incomplete and weak, because the law could make nothing perfect! The change in the Priesthood to Jesus and his “better sacrifice” was the change to an effective priesthood with complete salvation, that is – HE FINISHED THE WORK OF REDEMPTION ONCE FOR ALL!
In Chapter 13 we hear how this “new priesthood” will function – not by the taking of a life to offer a blood sacrifice, but:
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:10-16).
The great Reformer, Martin Luther, was himself convinced that God had called “all His people” to be priests. How ironic that the man some have claimed to be the first Pope, that is the Universal Pappa, or Father of the Church – the Apostle Peter – said nothing of his Papacy, but rather tells all his readers that they are themselves all a “royal priesthood:”
“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” (I Peter 2:9-10).
Writing in his book, “The Theology of Martin Luther,” Paul Althaus explains Luther’s view of the priesthood of all believers in this way:
“In church history, the priesthood of believers became an important point for Martin Luther in his theology. Often today, one of the common critiques of the priesthood of believers is, that it makes the Christian individualistic. Writing in his, The Theology of Martin Luther, Paul Althaus argues that for Luther the “priesthood of all believers” emphasizes the congregational life. ‘The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community.’ Just as Peter says, Christians are being built together as a spiritual house. Believers minister to one another. Althaus says ‘We stand before God, pray for others, intercede with and sacrifice ourselves to God and proclaim the word to one another.’ ” https://www.placefortruth.org/blog/luthers-theology-priesthood-believers
At this point, some may be saying: “Hey, didn’t you tell us that the earthly priesthood has been done away, we don’t need a mediator or representative any longer to offer sacrifices of blood.” Yes, these have all ended by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross, and to that we all should say AMEN. Several blogs ago, I cautioned that I need to be careful. While we should understand that human mediators and sacrifices of atonement (like the Old Testament Levitical system) HAVE BEEN DONE AWAY FOR GOOD, there is now a new priesthood inclusive of all believers. This flows from Jesus’ finished sacrifice equipping us to offer new sacrifices of Praise and Thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15). Paul also tells us that we are to offer up our bodies as a “living sacrifice” – which is itself an oxymoron, but still true:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
Just as the passage in Hebrews 13, this passage from Romans 12 is not directed toward any priest or minister within the church or any member of the “clergy,” no, it’s addressed to ALL BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHRIST. So the question must be asked: “What are those priests who daily offer up sacrifices and go through elaborate rituals in service to God, accomplishing? Has God required these sacrifices of them? Is there any direction in the “authoritative Apostolic words” we have in the Bible? Sadly, the answer is, no. There’s not one word about a New Testament Priesthood back under the law, offering blood sacrifices (real or pretend) like those practiced by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, or even Anglican Priests, zero, zip, nada! This is mixing Law back in with Grace, and adding another layer of separation from the God who loves us. In the end, we end up with something grotesque and an affront to the work of Jesus Christ! It would be like marrying the bride or groom of your dreams, only to find out on your wedding night that you won’t actually have contact with her or him, and that another human surrogate will consummate the marriage and keep you informed about your spouse. Those who are really God’s people desire spiritual intimacy.
Let me close by encouraging all those who question whether there is anything wrong with trusting a human priest to officiate in ritualistic sacrifices. It should be enough that Scripture tells us over and over again that Jesus Christ died once for all – and by His sacrificial death He completely and finally put away sin by sacrificing Himself, so there is no need. But to make sure we understand the false beliefs involved, in following blogs we’ll more fully address the issue of re-crucifying the Lord again – even if it’s done symbolically. Scripture tells us that by doing so, we put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:6). This is not only a wrong understanding of salvation, but to trust in it and not in the finished work of “Christ Alone,” will have eternal consequences!