A New Priesthood Begins
WHEN the word “priest” strikes your attention, what comes into your mind’s eye? Do you see a man in the robes of his office administering the sacraments? Do you see the descendants of Aaron serving in ancient times at the temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem? Or, do you envision, perhaps, a Buddhist or Hindu priest carrying on his duties in the temple of his religion? Are any or all of these men priests of the true God? Furthermore, the Bible speaks of a new priesthood. Would it be, as some of the religions of Christendom claim, that the Jewish priesthood of Aaron and his descendants was the old priesthood and was superseded by the priesthood of the various faiths of Christendom, for example, the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church with their head the pope, who is known as the Pontifex Maximus?
HEAD OF THE NEW PRIESTHOOD
First of all, it must be said that Jesus Christ is the Chief Priest of the Most High God. His priesthood superseded the Aaronic priesthood but he did not obtain his priesthood through descent from them, nor was his priesthood an extension or continuation of the Aaronic priesthood. It was new. King David had said by inspiration: “The utterance of Jehovah to my Lord is: ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.’ Jehovah has sworn (and he will feel no regret): ‘You are a priest to time indefinite according to the manner of Melchizedek!’” (Ps. 110:1, 4) Jesus was born in the tribe of Judah and the family line of David; so he had no descent from the tribe of Levi as did the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, who entered into the Most Holy of the temple on earth because they were men of flesh, blood and bones.
After Nisan 16, 33 C.E., Jesus, resurrected in the spirit, was no longer a man of flesh and blood; he was rewarded by his Father for his faithfulness with an immortal spiritual organism. After his resurrection he made various appearances to his disciples by miraculously materializing a body, but at the end of forty days he ascended to his Father in heaven, and there in the presence of Jehovah the Almighty God he presented the value of his sacrifice as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29; 4:23, 24; Acts 1:1-11) This fact proves that he did not take back his sacrificed humanity. (Heb. 9:23-26) So the statement he made on earth that shocked some of those who for a time followed him came to be true: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and, for a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (John 6:51) For this reason Jesus could not be enjoying his earthly or fleshly body in heaven, for he forever left it in sacrifice in behalf of sinful, dying mankind. Now in heaven, he was installed as the Great High Priest according to the manner of Melchizedek, forever.—Heb. 7:17, 26-28.
JESUS NO PONTIFEX MAXIMUS
Neither the high priests Annas and Caiaphas were pontiffs, nor was John the Baptist, the son of priest Zechariah. They were each a cohén (Hebrew), or a hiereús (Greek), or a sacérdos (Latin Vulgate Bible). (Luke 1:5; 3:2) No, in Jesus’ time, Tiberius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus of the pagan Babylonish religion that Rome practiced.*
Jesus was certainly no Pontifex Maximus. Jehovah in his oath that showed that Jesus would not be a Levitical or Aaronic priest did not say that he would be a priest like the pagan Pontifex Maximus of Rome. David, who wrote his prophecy before he died in 1037 B.C.E., said these words about 300 years before Rome was founded and long before its king Numa Pompilius established the college of Pontiffs. As a matter of fact, it was the Jewish priests who acted contrary to their own office of cohén (priest) when they cried, “We have no king but Caesar,” accepting the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was Pontifex Maximus of pagan religion; even worse, they rejected Jehovah’s real King and High Priest. On Pentecost day, 33 C.E., the apostle Peter applied David’s prophecy to the resurrected Jesus and said: “Actually David did not ascend to the heavens, but he himself says [Psalm 110], ‘Jehovah said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.”’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know for a certainty that God made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you impaled.”—Acts 2:34-36; John 19:15.
On ascending into heaven Jesus appeared before Jehovah God in the arrangement God had set up in the heavens for atonement for the sins of mankind. (Heb. 8:1, 2) There he presented the value of his blood in behalf of the life of the world of mankind. God therefore gave him, as mankind’s Repurchaser, full control over the life of mankind and also over Sheol (or Hades), which is the common grave where the dead billions of mankind lie. Sheol is the Hebrew word and hades is the Greek word that in many places in the Douay Version and King James Version of the Bible are translated by the English word hell. Will those in Sheol or Hades ever get out? What priesthood has the means to free them? Certainly not the Jewish priesthood of the line of Aaron, who had no sacrifice valuable enough to redeem mankind. (Ps. 49:7-9) And even more certainly not the pagan Pontifex Maximus of Rome nor his successors the popes of Rome with their priesthood, but only Jesus Christ in the heavenly Zion, the great priest “according to the manner of Melchizedek,” not like the Roman Pontifex Maximus.
ASSOCIATES IN THE NEW PRIESTHOOD
God had promised to Jesus as a further reward for his faithfulness a bride, made up of a number of his followers who would compose his congregation. These were to follow closely in his footsteps and would be underpriests serving with him as the great High Priest—a truly NEW priesthood. The twelve apostles were next to Jesus in the congregational structure of which Jesus was the head, Peter being among these and being one of the underpriests. Peter, being a follower of Jesus Christ, was certainly not the head of the congregation. Peter was not Pontifex Maximus, but a Christian priest serving under the great Melchizedekian high priest, Jesus Christ. Thirty years after the apostle Peter died, the resurrected Jesus said to the apostle John on the penal isle of Patmos: “I am the First and the Last, and the living one; and I became dead, but, look! I am living forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and of Hades [inferni, Latin Vulgate; hell, Dy; AV].” (Rev. 1:17, 18) Jesus had spoken of this same authority when he was a man on earth. He said:
“Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted also to the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to do judging, because Son of man he is. Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” “He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day.”—John 5:26-29; 6:54.
Since Jesus was to be given the “keys of death and of Hades [Rev. 1:18]”, he could authoritatively say to the apostle Peter that even though Peter and the rest of the congregation of believers would go down to death and into Hades or Sheol as they die a sacrificial death like their Master, yet the gates of Hades would not be able to keep shut over the congregation for all time. Why not? Because Jesus, after being resurrected and ascending to the Father, where he presented his life merit in sacrifice for humankind, would be able to do that which no Pontifex Maximus could ever do, that is, use his “keys of death and of Hades” to open the doors and let his congregation out by means of a resurrection from the dead. At the time that Jesus said this he had just asked them whom they believed him to be. Matthew 16:16-19 records for us the ensuing conversation:
ON WHOM IS THE CONGREGATION BUILT?
“In answer Simon Peter said: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ In response Jesus said to him: ‘Happy you are, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in the heavens did. Also, I say to you, You are Peter, and on this rockmass I will build my congregation, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of [what? Hades? No, but of] the kingdom of the heavens, and whatever you may bind on earth will be the thing bound in the heavens, and whatever you may loose on earth will be the thing loosed in the heavens.’”—See also Mark 8:27-30 and Luke 9:18-21.
The above words of Matthew 16:18 form a highly disputed text. Hence, below we print the original Greek text. Then underneath we print the English transliteration of the Greek. Under that we next print the word-for-word English translation of the Greek as given in the book entitled “The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament - the Nestle Greek text with a new Literal English Translation by the Rev. A. Marshall D. Litt,” as printed in 1960 by Samuel Bagster and Sons Limited, London, England.
Κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἰ
Kago de soi lego oti su ei
“And I also to thee say [,] - Thou art
Πέτρος καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω
Petros kai epi tautei tei petrai oikodomeso
Peter, and on this - rock I will build
μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι
mou ten ekklesian kai pulai
of me the church, and [the] gates
ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.
haidou ou katiskhusousin autes.
of hades will not prevail against it.”
It is not difficult to see that there is a difference between Peter (Pétros) and rock (pétrai). The difference is that in the Greek text Pétros is masculine in gender, whereas pétrai is feminine. The same difference is also seen in the Latin Vulgate version. Even the Aramaic (Syriac) version shows the difference in gender by means of a particle that goes with each of these two words Peter and rock.* Notice that Jesus did not say to Peter, ‘You are Peter, and upon YOU I will build my church.’ From the above Greek text it is plain that Jesus was not saying that Peter was the pétra (“rock”) and that on Peter (Pétros) he was building his church or congregation. Jesus was saying that he would build his church or congregation upon himself as the Foundation. Even the apostle Paul identifies Jesus Christ with the Rock, in 1 Corinthians 10:4, which reads: “All drank the same spiritual drink. For they used to drink from the spiritual rock-mass [pétra] that followed them, and that rock-mass [pétra] meant the Christ.”
Jesus certainly took into consideration the prophecies in Isaiah 8:14 and Isa 28:16, with which he was well acquainted. These prophecies state: “He must become as a sacred place; but as a stone to strike against and as a rock over which to stumble to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and as a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” “Therefore this is what the Lord Jehovah has said: ‘Here I am laying as a foundation in Zion a stone, a tried stone, the precious corner of a sure foundation. No one exercising faith will get panicky.’” Was it Peter, then, who would be this “rock over which to stumble to both the houses of Israel”? Is it Peter in whom Christians put their faith for salvation? Assuredly not! but it is Jesus Christ. Paul makes this clear beyond a doubt in his application of the prophecies to Christ, at Romans 9:32, 33 and Ro 10:4: “They stumbled on the ‘stone of stumbling’; as it is written: ‘Look! I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock-mass [pétra] of offense, but he that rests his faith on it will not come to disappointment.’ For Christ is the end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness.”
WE MUST RECOGNIZE THE NEW PRIESTHOOD
Did Peter think that Jesus meant that the church would be built upon Peter himself? Did Peter think that he was a greater priest than his Master, the great Melchizedekian High Priest of God to whom Peter was only an underpriest? Let us listen to his own words on the matter: “The Lord is kind. Coming to him as to a living stone, rejected, it is true, by men, but chosen, precious, with God, you yourselves also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it is contained in Scripture: ‘Look! I am laying in Zion a stone, chosen, a foundation cornerstone, precious; and no one exercising faith in it will by any means come to disappointment.’ It is to you, therefore, that he is precious, because you are believers; but to those not believing, ‘the identical stone that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock-mass [pétra] of offense.’ These are stumbling because they are disobedient to the word.” (1 Pet. 2:3-8) It is absurd to think that Peter was the foundation upon which the church was built, and we must be very careful that we do not become disobedient to the word by not accepting these words of Peter, for we might stumble to our destruction.
Therefore, as the apostle Paul so effectively argues: “For since the priesthood is being changed, there comes to be of necessity a change also of the law.” (Heb. 7:12) Jesus was the head of a new priesthood, and his followers, composed of the apostles and others whom he has selected during the past nineteen hundred years and who will all together number 144,000 under their one head Christ Jesus, are a new priesthood serving in connection with a new covenant. Through God’s undeserved kindness he has brought about a new system of things, replacing the former Jewish system of things with its imperfect priesthood and animal sacrifices. The new system of things based on Christ’s own sacrifice operates under the new covenant. This sacrifice makes possible the forgiveness of the sins of mankind.
There is, therefore, no need of repeated sacrifices such as the Levitical priesthood of the line of Aaron used to offer at the temple nor a repeated sacrifice of the mass, as is done by Christendom’s priesthood, but the one sacrifice of Christ Jesus has been offered and now it is not a matter of a repeated sacrifice. Rather, his sacrificial work is done and Christ Jesus is installed in the heavenly Zion, laid as a tried stone, the precious cornerstone of a sure foundation, in fulfillment of prophecy of Isaiah 28:16. He was rejected nineteen centuries ago by the earthly Zion, but it is in spiritual Zion, heavenly Zion, that he now resides, and he has a full supply of the bread of life for humankind as a result of his sacrifice, which he is ready to administer. As Paul says at Hebrews 9:28: “So also the Christ was offered once for all time to bear the sins of many; and the second time that he appears it will be apart from sin and to those earnestly looking for him for their salvation.” In 1918 he began to resurrect his faithful congregation to be with him. A few are still on earth with prospects of joining him in the near future. During the thousand-year reign of Christ, his congregation of underpriests will serve with him in the heavens as kings and priests and will have the glorious privilege of administering the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice to faithful humankind on the earth. So it is not to any pontiff or even a Pontifex Maximus, but to the Melchizedekian High Priest Jesus Christ in the heavenly Zion that all persons with faith must come.—Rev. 20:6.
Pontifex Maximus Julius Caesar increased the number of the pontiffs In the college to sixteen. Says The Encyclopædia Britannica, eleventh edition, Volume 22, page 66b, under PONTIFEX: “The name is clearly derived from pons [bridge] and facere [to make] but whether this should be taken as indicating any special connection with the sacred bridge over the Tiber (Pons Sublicius), or what the original meaning may have been, cannot now be determined. The college existed under the monarchy [of Rome], when its members were probably three in number; they may safely be considered as legal advisers of the rex [king] in all matters of religion. Under the republic [of Rome] they emerged into prominence under a pontifex maximus [greatest bridgemaker], who took over the king’s duties as chief administrator of religious law, . . . They all held office for life. The immense authority of the college centered in the pontifex maximus, the other pontifices forming his consilium or advising body. His functions were partly sacrificial or ritualistic, but these were the least important; the real power lay in the administration of the jus divinum [divine right], . . . It is obvious that a priesthood having such functions as these, and holding office for life, must have been a great power in the state, and for the first three centuries of the republic it is possible that the pontifex maximus was in fact the most powerful member. . . . Julius Caesar held it for the last twenty years of his life, and Augustus took it after the death of Lepidus in 12 B.C. after which it became inseparable from the office of the reigning emperor. With the decay of the [Roman] empire the title very naturally fell to the popes, whose functions as administrators of religious law closely resembled those of the ancient Roman priesthood, hence the modern use of ‘pontiff’ and ‘pontifical.’”
The Syriac text has kipha for both “Peter” and “rock,” but “Peter” is preceded by the masculine verbal pronoun (hu) to show that kipha, meaning “Peter,” is masculine, whereas “rock” is preceded by the feminine demonstrative adjective (háde). So this second kipha, meaning “rock,” is feminine. Thus the Syriac version agrees with the original Greek text; and so the argument that, because, in the Aramaic (Syriac) Version, the same word kipha is applied to both Peter and the rock, they mean the same person is proved to be false.—Light on the Four Gospels from the Sinai Palimpsest, by Dr. Agnes Smith Lewis, pages 54, 55, of the 1913 Edition.