The Bible’s Viewpoint
Do We Really Need Priests?
“GIVE thanks for the gift of the Priesthood,” said John Paul II in his annual letter to priests on “Holy Thursday,” 1992. Not only Catholics but others too have become painfully aware of their errors. They have felt the need for someone acceptable to God to tell them God’s will, to offer Him a sacrifice, and to intercede before God for them. Such a person is called a priest. Do we really need a priest to help us gain forgiveness from God?
The idea of priests and sacrifices did not originate with men but originated with God. If there were no sins against God, there would be no need for priests. In Eden, the perfect man Adam needed no priest. He was created sinless.—Genesis 2:7, 8; Ecclesiastes 7:29.
Who Were the First Priests?
All of us today have inherited sinfulness because Adam deliberately sinned and we are his offspring. (Romans 3:23) Abel, son of the first man, Adam, recognized this. The Bible says of him: “By faith Abel offered God a sacrifice.” (Hebrews 11:4) Although Abel and other ancient men of faith—such as Noah, Abraham, and Job—were not called priests, they did offer sacrifices to God on behalf of themselves or their families. For example, the Bible says of Job and his sons: “[Job] offered up burnt sacrifices according to the number of all of them; for, said Job, ‘maybe my sons have sinned.’” (Job 1:5) How, though, did priests and sacrifices become common to so many cultures?
Consider the events surrounding the ancient patriarch Noah. Noah and his family were the only humans to survive the global Deluge. As they stepped onto an earth washed clean, Noah constructed an altar and offered up sacrifices in appreciation for Jehovah’s mercy and protective hand. Since all nations are descendants of Noah, they no doubt followed his pattern and in due course developed a variety of traditions relating to intercessors and sacrifices for sins.—Genesis 10:32.
More than a century later, a rebellion against God erupted in the city of Babel. God confused people’s language and they scattered. (Genesis 11:1-9) Some priests, now promoting twisted and debased beliefs, developed horrible rites in the lands to which they were dispersed. Nevertheless, God saw the need to teach his worshipers about their need for a true priesthood with a high priest, underpriests, and sacrifices acceptable to him.
Why God Appointed Priests
In time Jehovah gave the nation of Israel priests who performed two basic functions. First, they represented God before the people as judges and instructors of God’s Law. (Deuteronomy 17:8, 9; Malachi 2:7) Second, they represented the people before God by offering sacrifices to him on behalf of the people. Paul’s letter to the Hebrew Christians explains: “Every high priest taken from among men is appointed in behalf of men over the things pertaining to God, that he may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. . . . A man takes this honor, not of his own accord, but only when he is called by God.”—Hebrews 5:1, 4.
Paul goes on to explain that Israel’s priesthood was not God’s final way to reconcile people to Himself. The priests’ duties were symbols pointing to better things, “heavenly things.” (Hebrews 8:5) Once those heavenly things arrived, the symbols were no longer needed. To illustrate: You might hang on to an advertisement for a product you desperately need, but would you not discard it once you procured that product?
Long before the nation of Israel came into existence, God purposed a priesthood that would serve for the blessing of, not just Israel, but all mankind. At first, Israel was privileged with the opportunity to supply the members of that priesthood. When the nation was formed, Jehovah told Israel: “If you will strictly obey my voice . . . , you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5, 6; compare Genesis 22:18.) Sadly, the nation rarely obeyed God’s voice. Thus, Jesus told the priests and Pharisees: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.” Who are now to serve as priests for the blessing of mankind?—Matthew 21:43.
What Priesthood Do Christians Need?
Because we have inherited sin from Adam, salvation to everlasting life is only possible by means of the perfect sacrifice provided by Jesus. (1 John 2:2) Jesus himself intercedes for us as High Priest, just as was prefigured in Israel’s priesthood. Hebrews 9:24 says: “Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” Thus, the surpassing excellence of Christ’s high priesthood makes obsolete the need for human priests as intercessors. Yet, the services of underpriests are still necessary. In what way?
Priests must “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) As to the type of offerings these are, Paul wrote: “Let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips.” (Hebrews 13:15) Therefore, those who will make up the royal priesthood, while yet on earth, represent God before men as his Witnesses, not as intercessors. Later, in heaven with Jesus Christ, they represent men before God, administering the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice and bringing about the healing of all infirmities.—Compare Mark 2:9-12.
While all believers should bear witness, only a relative few will serve in the heavenly “kingdom of priests.” Jesus said: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32; Revelation 14:1) These will be resurrected to heaven and “will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—Revelation 20:6.
God has arranged for these heavenly priests to do things in both a spiritual and a physical sense that no priesthood has yet been able to do. Soon, as they apply the benefit of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, they will be able to share in restoring all believing mankind to human perfection. Then, Isaiah 33:24 will have a wonderful fulfillment. It says: “No resident will say: ‘I am sick.’ The people that are dwelling in the land will be those pardoned for their error.”
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
“Benediction of the Wheat at Artois” 1857, by Jules Breton: France / Giraudon/Art Resource, N.Y.