Do We Need a Priesthood?
THERE is no doubt that people need help. Sickness takes a dreadful toll. Crime constitutes an ever-increasing menace. Immorality causes loathsome diseases as well as all kinds of calamity and violence. Many people are despondent, without hope, not knowing what to do.—Luke 21:25, 26.
Priests number in the thousands today, representing various religious organizations. There are priests of the different branches of the Catholic Church, Episcopal priests, also Buddhist, Shinto and other non-Christian priests. Have they alleviated the suffering and halted the tide of crime, immorality, sickness and death?
Many of these priests, especially among Christendom’s religions, say No, and they are leaving the priesthood for something that they feel is more effective or satisfying. Each one of us can view the world situation and answer for himself as to whether the world’s priests have really benefited the people.
What is a priest supposed to do? Can he be expected to eliminate all these bad conditions among mankind? No earthly priest can do that, but, if he is the right kind of priest, he can help to keep the people he serves in good standing with God. He can aid them to make over their lives and personalities to be peaceful, respectable, right-living persons. He can help them to eliminate from their lives many of the causes of distress that mankind in general suffer. He can give them hope and direct them in a purposeful way of life.
We cannot really see, by looking at the priests of the world’s religions, what a priest of God should be. But if we look at the priesthood that God himself set up over Israel in ancient times, we find that they were really helpful to the people. They interceded before God in the people’s behalf. They instructed the people in the right way to live. They safeguarded the people’s health to a great extent. This they did by seeing to the morality and even the physical cleanliness of the people.—Lev. chaps. 11-15.
Someone may say, ‘But are not these things the job of government?’ Partly so, but there are things that no government can do by itself. That is one reason why the godless Communistic form of government can never bring peace and happiness to its subjects. Ancient Israel had good government, a God-established government, and God’s laws were enforced when good kings ruled. Nevertheless, God also provided a priesthood for them. Why?
If there were no sins against the living God, there would be no need for a priest. The perfect man Adam in Eden needed no priest, for he was created sinless by Jehovah God. (Gen. 2:7, 8; Eccl. 7:29) But all of us today have inherited sinfulness because Adam deliberately sinned, and we are his offspring. We have ‘fallen short of the glory of God,’ which men should reflect. (Rom. 3:23) Sin is also transgression against God’s law. (1 John 3:4) A priest is therefore necessary, in order that he may offer a sacrifice that will atone for or cover that sin and also to help the erring one to be restored to a right course, and to favor with God.—Heb. 5:1.
In Israel the high priest was the primary figure in the priesthood. He was the one who made atonement for the entire nation once a year, on atonement day. (Lev. chap. 16) He was the one who petitioned God in behalf of the nation, and questions of national importance were presented to God by the high priest. The answer was given by God by means of the sacred lots, the Urim and the Thummim (meaning “lights,” that is, “the light” and “perfections,” that is, “the perfection”). He was also the chief instructor in the law of God.—Ex. 28:30; Num. 27:21; Neh. 7:65.
While the high priest of ancient Israel was of great help to the people, he himself was not perfect or sinless. Of him, the Bible says, at Hebrews 5:1-3: “For 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. He is able to deal moderately with the ignorant and erring ones since he also is surrounded with his own weakness, and on its account he is obliged to make offerings for sins as much for himself as for the people.”
A BETTER PRIESTHOOD
Hence, the high priests that served Israel over the years needed help themselves. But God has arranged for a priesthood that will do things in both a spiritual and a physical sense that no priesthood has yet been able to do. The Bible says that these priests will have an unbroken period of one thousand years to restore mankind to perfection. Of this priestly body, we read: “They will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” (Rev. 20:6) From whom will God form this priestly body, and what benefits will such a priesthood bring?
As was the case in ancient Israel, the one with whom we are mainly concerned is the great High Priest, with whom the others serve as underpriests, carrying out his commands and administering the valuable benefits of his sacrifice. How was he chosen, and what qualifications did he have to meet to be worthy of this exalted office, and to prove trustworthy toward mankind?
This High Priest is none other than Jesus Christ. He is called the “last Adam” because he can bring forth “children” from the sinful human race by cleansing and regenerating them, giving them life on the basis of his sacrifice. He was born into a race of sinners, but he himself was without sin and, unlike other priests, needed no priest to help him. This was because he had a virgin birth through Mary and his life was directly from God. He remained sinless right down to the time of his sacrificial death.—1 Cor. 15:45-47; Heb. 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:21-24.
Jesus Christ had a prehuman existence as Jehovah’s only-begotten Son, having been involved in the creating of all other things. (John 1:3; Col. 1:15, 16) His Father Jehovah God transferred his life to the womb of Mary, in this way having him born as a human. God thus “prepared a body” for him. This gave him something to sacrifice—a perfect human life, just as Adam had possessed, but which he forfeited by sin. (Heb. 10:5; 8:3) Therefore, when he sacrificed his life, this value could purchase the offspring of Adam. When he, as High Priest, offered a sacrifice for sin, it was not an animal substitute, but was his own human life. That is why his offering had to be made only once.—Heb. 7:26, 27.
“ACCORDING TO THE MANNER OF MELCHIZEDEK”
But Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe, and of the family of Aaron, through whose line the priesthood ran. How, then, could he be a priest? Did he appoint himself? No, he could not do that. This is explained in Hebrews 5:4-6: “Also, a man takes this honor, not of his own accord, but only when he is called by God, just as Aaron also was. So too the Christ did not glorify himself by becoming a high priest, but was glorified by him who spoke with reference to him: ‘You are my son; I, today, I have become your father.’ Just as he says also in another place: ‘You are a priest forever according to the manner of Melchizedek.’”
By resurrecting Jesus Christ from the dead, Almighty God fulfilled those words quoted from Psalm 2:7 as written by David. Thus God became an everlasting Father to the resurrected Jesus Christ, and this one, being raised incorruptible, became the everlasting Son of his heavenly Life-Giver, Jehovah God. Being now an incorruptible Son, he could be made a “priest forever” needing no successor, and thus he could be a priest “according to the manner of Melchizedek!”—Acts 13:33-37; Ps. 110:4.
Christ, being resurrected, rewarded with incorruptible life in the heavens, could now do something no other priest had ever been able to do, namely, appear in the very presence of God. This he had to do in order to pay God the price for purchase of the human race—namely, the value of his human life, which he had willingly laid down in its perfection.—Heb. 9:24; 4:14; 1 Cor. 7:23.
There is only a brief account of Melchizedek in the Bible. He was not a Hebrew, an Israelite or a Levite. God’s servant, “Abram the Hebrew,” met him while on his way back from warfare in which Abram had rescued his nephew Lot from marauders. The event occurred between the years 1943 and 1933 B.C.E., long before the nation of Israel with its priesthood was formed. The account reads:
“Then the king of Sodom went out to meet [Abram] after he returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, to the Low Plain of Shaveh, that is, the king’s Low Plain. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine, and he was priest of the Most High God. Then he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, Producer of heaven and earth; and blessed be the Most High God, who has delivered your oppressors into your hand!’ At that Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”—Gen. 14:17-20.
The Bible does not give the genealogy of Melchizedek nor does it record his death. This was undoubtedly for the purpose of foreshadowing the fact that Jesus Christ, God’s great King and High Priest, received his priesthood, not by fleshly line of descent, as did the Aaronic priests, but by direct appointment from Jehovah. Furthermore, Christ lives forever and has no successors. Therefore, Christ is High Priest, not by succession from Melchizedek, but his priesthood is only in a “manner” like that of that king-priest of Salem.—Heb. 7:1-3, 15-17.
WHAT CHRIST’S PRIESTHOOD MEANS TO US
Consequently, in our High Priest Jesus Christ we have perfection. We, all being imperfect, sinful humans, need a perfect High Priest. This is what is explained at Hebrews 7:11-14: “If, then, perfection were really through the Levitical priesthood, (for with it as a feature the people were given the Law,) what further need would there be for another priest to arise according to the manner of Melchizedek and not said to be according to the manner of Aaron? For since the priesthood is being changed, there comes to be of necessity a change also of the law. For the man respecting whom these things are said has been a member of another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is quite plain that our Lord has sprung up out of Judah.”
This perfect High Priest can bring perfection to his underpriests. The writer of the book of Hebrews goes on to say: “For the Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in besides of a better hope did, through which we are drawing near to God.” Jesus is then spoken of as becoming “the one given in pledge of a better covenant.” This is the new covenant, by which the body of the priesthood with him can attain perfection.—Heb. 7:19-22.
What does this mean for the great majority of people on earth, and for those that have died? It means the opportunity for human perfection. Jesus, owning the human race, counts each life as precious, so much so that he sacrificed his human life to buy them. Accordingly, he will lovingly and carefully deal with these lives, destroying only the individuals who refuse to accept his priestly services and obey God’s principles in love of God and fellowman, and love of what is right. We need not worry that he cannot see us through to perfection during his thousand-year rule, for “he is able also to save completely [to perfection] those who are approaching God through him, because he is always alive to plead for them.”—Heb. 7:25.
Do you desire life on earth in full perfection of health and with everlasting life before you? Then you will want to learn more about this priesthood and how we can approach God through his High Priest. This will be discussed in following issues of The Watchtower.