A Heavenly Priesthood—God’s Provision for Life Seekers
“The Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in besides of a better hope did, through which we are drawing near to God.”—Heb. 7:19.
1. With the failure of Israel to become Jehovah’s “holy nation” of priests, what questions arose?
THE nation of Israel failed to obey the voice of Jehovah their God and to keep his covenant, and were rejected from being his kingdom of priests when their rejection of his own Son, the Messiah, brought to its limit his patient endurance of their faithlessness. Were all mankind to be once more plunged into fearsome darkness, cut off from communication with their Creator, the Source of life? How clear to God-fearing persons it had now become that man’s urgent need was a priesthood that would remain faithful and endure forever, so that obedient men might attain, not only communication with God, but also eventual realization of the hope of drawing close to him in the happy and cloudless association that perfect Adam once enjoyed! But how could this come about? It would necessitate some provision for lifting men out from under the disability of sin. From the purely human viewpoint such a possibility was remote.
2. How do we know that God had made provision to meet man’s need?
2 Happily Jehovah had made just such a provision and, additionally, had given in his written Word strong assurances of it. This means of access to his favor and life was perfectly and accurately depicted by the functioning of the Aaronic priesthood in Israel, for the apostle Paul wrote: “Which men [Aaronic priests] are rendering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.”—Heb. 8:5.
3. At the outset, what should we understand about the significance of all the typical details?
3 In order the better to grasp all the wonderful features of this generous provision by Jehovah, we must at the outset understand that it is a matter of heavenly, spiritual, invisible things. For centuries godless men have proceeded upon the assumption that they can attain to genuine peace and success by their own unaided efforts and schemes. They have ignored entirely the principle expressed in God’s law to Israel: “Not by bread alone does man live but by every expression of Jehovah’s mouth does man live.” (Deut. 8:3) Those who would gain life, therefore, must hear, understand and apply in their lives the expressions of Jehovah that are available to us in his written Word. Let us, then, with all reverence consider the marvelous way in which Jehovah has used material things to teach us deep, spiritual truths about which we could in no other way get to know.
THE HIGH PRIEST
4. What do we learn to be the realities pointed to by the high priest, the blood of sacrificial victims, and the tent?
4 Identifying some of the realities pointed to by the typical shadows, the apostle Paul wrote under inspiration: “However, when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained everlasting deliverance for us. For 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.” Christ, therefore, is identified as the head of a heavenly priesthood, while his entry into God’s presence in heaven with the merit of his perfect sacrifice was what was foreshadowed by the entry of Israel’s high priest into the Most Holy compartment of the typical tent bearing the blood of unblemished animals. This being clearly seen, there is opened up to our understanding the true meaning of a host of typical shadows.—Heb. 9:11, 12, 24.
5. How does the apostle Paul describe the advantages of Christ’s priesthood over that of Aaron?
5 Christ Jesus did not inherit the priesthood of the tribe of Levi, for he did not even belong to that tribe according to fleshly birth. He had been born of a virgin daughter of the tribe of Judah. His is a priesthood that is much more effectual in bringing humans nearer to God. How much more effectual? Listen to how Paul the apostle answers: “This hope we have as an anchor to the soul, both sure and firm, and it enters in within the curtain, where a forerunner has entered in our behalf, Jesus, who has become a high priest according to the manner of Melchizedek forever.” “In being fatherless, motherless, without genealogy, having neither a beginning of days nor an end of life, but having been made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.” “Consequently he is able also to save completely those who are approaching God through him, because he is always alive to plead for them.” “We have such a high priest as this, and he has sat down at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens, a public servant of the holy place and of the true tent, which Jehovah put up, and not man.”—Heb. 6:19, 20; 7:3, 25; 8:1, 2.
6. How effectual is this new priesthood granted to Christ Jesus?
6 From these texts we should note that Jesus was without any predecessor in office, for it was an entirely new priesthood that God was granting him, one taking over all the vital functions of previous priests and priesthoods, one that would endure forever and that would be adequate to meet all the apparently insurmountable obstacles that divide sinful man from his pure and righteous Creator. Also, we learn that the tent erected under Moses’ supervision is but a shadow of the “true tent” or invisible, heavenly arrangement provided by Jehovah himself so that repentant humans might come back into harmony with him and gain peace and life.
BODY OF UNDERPRIESTS
7. Why should we expect that Christ would have a body of underpriests, and does the apostle Paul indicate this to be the case?
7 When we think of a high priest we think of him as the chief one of a body of priests. Thus Aaron was head over the body of priests and the helpers of the tribe of Levi. It will be recalled that the males of the entire tribe of Levi were claimed by Jehovah as his own special possession in the place and stead of the firstborn sons of all the families of Israel who had been spared from death on passover night. They were set apart from the other tribes to care for all the services of the typical tent. Thus we are led to expect that the Greater Aaron, Christ Jesus, would have associated with him a holy brotherhood of underpriests who would be selected from among men, and who would serve under him in the work of making the approach and worship of the people acceptable to God. Agreeable to this expectation, the apostle Paul wrote: “Consequently, holy brothers, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the apostle and high priest whom we confess—Jesus.” “He [God] saved us and called us with a holy calling, not by reason of our works, but by reason of his own purpose and undeserved kindness.”—Heb. 3:1; 2 Tim. 1:9.
8. How are we to understand what the tent pictures?
8 That the “true tent” depicts something invisible in the heavens is suggested by the fact that from the gate of the courtyard of Moses’ tent of meeting the people of Israel could see only what went on outside the tent. Everything inside the tent was unseen to them, and was always kept hidden from their sight whether the nation was encamped or they were on the march. Then, too, if we relate the wilderness tent to the later temple of Solomon’s construction, and which was built on much the same lines, though with more endurable materials, we can begin to grasp the full significance of those typical places of worship. Jesus Christ went into this “true tent” before the temple of “living stones” was begun at Pentecost of 33 C.E., as mentioned by the apostle Paul: “Certainly, therefore, you are no longer strangers and alien residents, but you are fellow citizens of the holy ones and are members of the household of God, and you have been built up upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, while Christ Jesus himself is the foundation cornerstone. In union with him the whole building, being harmoniously joined together, is growing into a holy temple for Jehovah. In union with him you, too, are being built up together into a place for God to inhabit by spirit.” The use of the expression “growing into a holy temple” indicates that this heavenly sanctuary is no sudden development, but takes considerable time to complete.—Eph. 2:19-22.
9. What facts as to the Most Holy are very fitting?
9 Paul addressed these words to first-century Christians, to his fellow proclaimers of God’s kingdom. Thus it becomes clear to us that specially called and selected ones from among humankind are awakened to the expectation of becoming spirit, heavenly creatures and forming a holy priesthood under Christ. Note also that God is to inhabit this temple of “living stones.” (1 Pet. 2:4, 5) However, in the case of the ancient lifeless material temple, the Most Holy compartment of the tent in the desert prefigured the heavenly place of God’s presence, for it contained the ark of the testimony with its golden cover surmounted by two cherubs with outstretched wings screening what would seem to be a throne-seat. Jehovah himself declared to Moses: “I will present myself to you there and speak with you from above the cover, from between the two cherubs that are upon the ark of the testimony, even all that I shall command you for the sons of Israel.” The great High Priest and his priesthood will hear and relay to all obedient ones the voice of Jehovah, the source of all power, authority and instruction.—Ex. 25:22.
10. What is represented by the curtain in front of the Most Holy, and how does this further confirm our understanding of the meaning of that inner compartment of the tent?
10 Our attention next shifts to the anterior compartment of the tent. It is divided from the Most Holy by a beautiful linen curtain embroidered with cherubs, as is the entire inside lining of the tent. The identification of this symbolic curtain, given under inspiration, supplies the clue to our understanding of the significance of the outer compartment. The apostle Paul says: “Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness for the way of entry into the holy place [heaven itself] by the blood of Jesus, which he inaugurated for us as a new and living way through the curtain, that is, his flesh.” (Heb. 10:19, 20) Seeing that the curtain represented Jesus’ flesh, it follows that his willingly dying as a perfect, sacrificial victim opened the way for his reentry into the glorious presence of his Father by his resurrection as a mighty spirit creature. And the apostle here clearly indicates that through the sacrifice of Jesus’ fleshly body and his blood others will eventually follow him into the heavens after concluding their earthly course in faithfulness till death, being “made alive in the spirit” like their High Priest.—1 Pet. 3:18.
IN HEAVENLY PLACES
11. What is represented by the anterior compartment of the tent, and how do we come to understand it so?
11 As a concealed place, not to be viewed by nonpriestly worshipers of God, and yet not representing the very presence of God in heaven, we must conclude that that anterior compartment was a shadow of the peculiar position occupied first by Jesus and later his underpriests while yet in the flesh. Having availed themselves of the merit of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, the underpriests have dedicated their lives to Jehovah, and he, in turn, has called them with a heavenly calling. From then on that heavenly call occupies the most treasured place in their thoughts and lives. That they may, even while yet in the flesh on earth, enter into service under the glorified High Priest, Jehovah gives them a new birth by his holy spirit, constituting them his spiritual sons, and commissioning them to perform priestly functions. His holy spirit coming upon them serves as an advance token of the heavenly life that awaits them as a reward. Here is how the apostle Peter puts it: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for according to his great mercy he gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance. It is reserved in the heavens for you, who are being safeguarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last period of time.”—1 Pet. 1:3-5.
12. What distinguishes between those of the priesthood under Christ and others of Jehovah’s worshipers, and what is the actual difference?
12 This “new birth to a living hope” is what distinguishes between the limited number called to be “priests of God and of the Christ” in the heavens and the great crowd of other worshipers of God whose hope it is to live on a cleansed earth when the prayer is completely fulfilled: “Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:10) While these underpriests of Christ still serve in the flesh, they look and act no differently from the great crowd of God’s servants whose hopes are earthly. Nevertheless, in Jehovah’s view they are already in the place of his special protection, and have a view of their spiritual relationship to God and Christ that no others can fully comprehend or share. They know that before they can be finally joined with Christ in the heavens they must loyally finish their service on earth as active proclaimers of God’s name and purpose. For them is the precious promise: “Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.”—Rev. 2:10; 20:6.
13. How do other texts of Scripture describe those called to the heavenly priesthood while they are still in the flesh?
13 Here is how other texts of Scripture describe the position of this priestly company while yet they continue in the flesh: “To you who have been sanctified in union with Christ Jesus, called to be holy ones.” “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in union with Christ.” “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with the Christ, even when we were dead in trespasses—by undeserved kindness you have been saved—and he raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly places in union with Christ Jesus.” With their strong hope of a heavenly inheritance and the deep sense of responsibility that accompanies this close relationship to God and to Christ, it is as though they were already, in anticipation, seated in their places reserved for them in the heavens. How appropriately this was foreshadowed by the embroidered cherubs that surrounded those privileged to enter and serve in the anterior compartment of the typical tent!—1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:3; 2:4-6.
14. (a) The fact that the furnishings of the tent were not visible to the Israilites indicates what? (b) What is represented by the lampstand?
14 The service of the heavenly priesthood while yet they are busy on earth may be discerned by the furnishings of that fore-compartment of the typical tent. Since these are all out of view of Israelites standing at the gate of the courtyard, they must signify things that are spiritually discerned, and about which only the members of the heavenly priesthood can have the fullest appreciation. The lighted seven-branched, golden lampstand depicts the spiritual light that they receive through God’s Word and spirit while serving in their spiritual state yet on earth. Being thus enlightened, they therefore have the commission to be “the light of the world” by reason of holding aloft and publicly proclaiming the enlightenment they have received from God through Christ. As those lamps were fueled by the oil, so the priesthood under Christ are enlightened by Jehovah’s holy spirit, and, being now enlightened themselves by the symbolic lampstand, they are thereby qualified to impart to others the life-giving knowledge of God’s will and purpose. (Ps. 119:105) This understanding of the significance of the oil is borne out by the fact that the great High Priest, Christ Jesus, was anointed, not with oil, but with God’s holy spirit, as we are assured by the apostle Peter: “God anointed him [Jesus] with holy spirit and power.”—Acts 10:38.
15, 16. What is suggested by the showbread upon its table?
15 The gold-plated table for showbread upon which the twelve ring-shaped loaves were laid out in two rows of six each, with frankincense upon each row, comes next to view. Unseen to those outside and yet becoming a means of sustenance to the holy priesthood under Aaron, they picture the Word of God on which the spiritual priesthood must feed, every word coming out of God’s mouth. (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4; Jer. 15:16) Also, we are reminded of the conversation between Jesus and his disciples on one occasion: “He said to them: ‘I have food to eat of which you do not know.’ Therefore the disciples began saying to one another: ‘No one has brought him anything to eat, has he?’ Jesus said to them: ‘My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.’” (John 4:32-34) At that time holy spirit had not come upon those disciples, so they did not understand. Later the spirit-anointed members of his priesthood recognized that the sustaining power for their lives as spiritual sons of God proceeds from feeding on God’s Word and their devotion to the performance of Jehovah’s will for them.
16 Other rich provisions of Jehovah for the sustenance of his holy priesthood are brought to mind in connection today with this bread. There is the continuous provision of spiritual truth supplied through the columns of this magazine constantly. Christ’s underpriests today are constantly reminded of the great debt of gratitude they owe to the One who gives them all things richly for their enjoyment. (1 Tim. 6:17) Appreciatively they busy themselves about the service of the “true tent” for the benefit of other multitudes of lovers of truth and righteousness.—2 Tim. 4:2.
17. What is the significance of the golden incense altar?
17 The golden incense altar stood immediately in front of the curtain screening the Most Holy from view. This was stationary. But there was a portable “golden censer” that the high priest carried into the Most Holy on the atonement day. Lest he die, the high priest would take incense together with coals of fire and make incense smoke fill the Most Holy before venturing to bring in the blood of the special sacrifices on the annual atonement day. (Heb. 9:1-7) Correspondingly, Jesus’ ministry of three and a half years leading up to his sacrificial death and his resurrection was marked by perfect integrity-keeping amid fiery heat of persecution and by submissive prayer to his Father for strength and direction. (Heb. 5:7) In ancient Israel the underpriests could offer incense on the incense altar in the Holy. (Luke 1:8-10) Likewise, as regards the underpriests of Jesus Christ, all members of his priesthood must pray incessantly if they would receive the needed supply of holy spirit to maintain integrity and gain access to the heavenly courts. Since “the incense means the prayers of the holy ones,” its being upon the golden incense altar would indicate Jehovah’s provision for the united prayers and integrity-keeping on earth of this body of priests under Christ.—Rev. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:17.
18. Since the copper altar is not inside the tent, what should we expect as to its significance? What do we understand it to represent?
18 Just inside the gate of the courtyard stood the copper altar. Since it was visible to those at the gate, we should expect it to stand for something quite tangible. Also, it must be closely identified with the sacrifices offered upon it. Visibly here at our earth Jesus did offer himself willingly as a sacrifice nineteen hundred years ago, and upon the basis of his sacrificial death he began to gather around himself an organization of believers, of those whom he would form into a holy priesthood, in which and through which spiritual sacrifices would be offered up to God, the “sacrifice of praise” and of good works. (1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 13:15, 16) Ancient Aaronic priests did not have anything to do with this symbolic altar on which Christ was offered.—Heb. 13:10-13.
19. How does the apostle Paul explain the copper washbasin in the courtyard?
19 The washing of the priests at the large copper basin located in front of the tent, and within view of the onlookers, points to a provision for the cleansing of the heavenly priesthood, the effects of which should likewise be visible to persons at earth here. Paul describes the process when he writes: “The Christ also loved the congregation [of his underpriests] and delivered up himself for it, that he might sanctify it, cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word, that he might present the congregation to himself in its splendor, not having a spot or a wrinkle or any of such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” The results of this progressive cleansing must become clearly evident in their lives and activities here on earth.—Eph. 5:25-27.
20. Explain the meaning of the courtyard of the tent.
20 That typical courtyard itself represents the state of human perfection in which Jesus offered himself to God as the “one sacrifice for sins perpetually,” like that unblemished bull of the sin offering. (Heb. 10:12) But how could that be, you ask, since the entire tribe of Levi, representing the heavenly priesthood under Christ, were serving inside that holy enclosure? The answer may be noted from what Paul says about God’s dealings with those called to the heavenly priesthood: “But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11) Thus cleansed from Adamic sin by the blood of Christ Jesus and counted righteous, as though perfect humans, the body of spiritual underpriests are awakened to the hope of spiritual sonship and are called upon to lay down their imputed perfect human life in faithful service after the example of their High Priest.
21. Why should the presence on earth of a remnant of the members of the heavenly priesthood be of great encouragement to us today?
21 How gladdened we should all be by the knowledge that we are living at the time when the last few remaining members of that holy priesthood who have not yet completed their earthly course are still here in our midst! Their very presence unites us in strong and courageous unity to face the critical times that have now come upon the earth. As the sanctifying service of the typical priests brought favor and divine direction to Israel, so also we can have the assurance that God is dealing with imperfect creatures here on earth today and that by his priesthood he will eventually provide access to the Source of life for multitudes of repentant ones out of every nation and tribe and people and tongue.
[Diagram on page 370]
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Ground Plan of the Tabernacle
Altar of Incense
Altar of Burnt Offering