“You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.’”—1 PET. 2:9.
1. Why is “the Lord’s evening meal” also called the Memorial, and what is its purpose?
DURING the evening of Nisan 14 in the year 33 C.E., Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles observed the Jewish Passover for the last time. After dismissing the traitorous Judas Iscariot, Jesus introduced a different observance, later called “the Lord’s evening meal.” (1 Cor. 11:20) Jesus twice said: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” This event is also known as the Memorial, a memorial of Christ with emphasis on his death. (1 Cor. 11:24, 25) In obedience to this command, Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide observe the Memorial annually. In 2012, Nisan 14 of the Bible calendar begins at sundown, Thursday, April 5.
2. What did Jesus say about the emblems he used?
2 The disciple Luke sums up in two verses what Jesus did and said on that occasion: “He took a loaf, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, saying: ‘This means my body which is to be given in your behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.’ Also, the cup in the same way after they had the evening meal, he saying: ‘This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf.’” (Luke 22:19, 20) How would the apostles have understood these words?
3. How would the apostles have understood the meaning of the emblems?
3 As Jews, the apostles were well-acquainted with animal sacrifices that priests offered to God at the temple in Jerusalem. Such offerings were made to gain Jehovah’s favor, and many served as a token covering for sin. (Lev. 1:4; 22:17-29) So the apostles could understand that when Jesus said that his body and blood were ‘to be given and to be poured out in their behalf,’ he meant that he was to give his own perfect life as a sacrifice. It would be a sacrifice of far greater worth than that of animals.
4. What did Jesus mean when he said: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood”?
4 What about Jesus’ words “this cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood”? The apostles knew the prophecy about the new covenant, recorded at Jeremiah 31:31-33. (Read.) Jesus’ words indicated that he was now introducing that new covenant, which would replace the Law covenant that Jehovah had established with Israel through Moses. Were the two covenants related?
5. What prospects did the Law covenant offer Israel?
5 Yes, their purposes were closely linked. When introducing the Law covenant, Jehovah told the nation: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me. And you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:5, 6) What would these words have meant to the Israelites?
THE PROMISE OF A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD
6. Of what promise was the Law covenant a further development?
6 The Israelites understood the term “covenant,” for Jehovah had concluded such solemn agreements with their forefathers Noah and Abraham. (Gen. 6:18; 9:8-17; 15:18; 17:1-9) As part of his covenant with Abraham, Jehovah had promised: “By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Gen. 22:18) The Law covenant was a further development of this promise. On the basis of it, Israel could become Jehovah’s “special property out of all other peoples.” For what purpose? To ‘become to Jehovah a kingdom of priests.’
7. What was meant by the expression “a kingdom of priests”?
7 The Israelites were familiar with kings and priests, but Melchizedek was the only man of the past who had held both offices at the same time with Jehovah’s approval. (Gen. 14:18) Jehovah now offered to the nation the opportunity of producing “a kingdom of priests.” As inspired writings later indicated, this meant the opportunity to furnish a royal priesthood, kings who would also be priests.—1 Pet. 2:9.
8. What services do divinely appointed priests provide?
8 A king, of course, rules. But what does a priest do? Hebrews 5:1 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.” So a priest appointed by Jehovah represents sinful people before God by means of prescribed offerings, pleading with Him on their behalf. Conversely, a priest also represents Jehovah before people, instructing them in divine law. (Lev. 10:8-11; Mal. 2:7) In these ways, a divinely appointed priest works to reconcile people to God.
9. (a) On what condition could Israel realize the promise of providing “a kingdom of priests”? (b) Why did Jehovah establish a priesthood within Israel? (c) What prevented Israel from furnishing “a kingdom of priests” under the Law covenant?
9 The Law covenant thus offered to Israel the opportunity to produce a royal priesthood that would benefit “all other peoples.” This awesome prospect came with a condition, though: “If you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant.” Could the Israelites ‘strictly obey Jehovah’s voice’? Yes, to a certain degree. Could they do so perfectly? No. (Rom. 3:19, 20) For that reason, Jehovah established in the meantime a priesthood within Israel, separate from any kingship, to offer animal sacrifices for sins that the Israelites would inevitably commit. (Lev. 4:1–6:7) These sins included those of the priests themselves. (Heb. 5:1-3; 8:3) Jehovah accepted such sacrifices, but they could not fully compensate for the sins of the offerers. The priesthood under the Law covenant could not fully reconcile even sincere Israelites to God. The apostle Paul put it this way: “It is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take sins away.” (Heb. 10:1-4) Because of their violating the Law, the Israelites actually came under a curse. (Gal. 3:10) They could hardly serve the world as a royal priesthood in such a condition.
10. What purpose did the Law covenant serve?
10 Was Jehovah’s promise that they could furnish “a kingdom of priests” therefore an empty one? Not at all. If they sincerely tried to obey, they would have this opportunity—but not under the Law. Why not? (Read Galatians 3:19-25.) For those who faithfully endeavored to observe it, the Law had the effect of preserving pure worship. It made the Jews aware of their transgressions and of the need for a sacrifice greater than their high priest could offer. It was a tutor that would lead them to the Christ, or Messiah, titles that mean “Anointed One.” However, when the Messiah arrived, he would introduce the new covenant foretold by Jeremiah. Those who accepted the Christ were invited to become party to the new covenant and would actually become “a kingdom of priests.” Let us see how.
THE NEW COVENANT PRODUCES A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD
11. How did Jesus become the foundation of a royal priesthood?
11 In 29 C.E., the Messiah arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. At about 30 years of age, he presented himself to do Jehovah’s special will for him, symbolizing this by water baptism. Jehovah acknowledged him as “my Son, the beloved,” anointing him, not with oil, but with holy spirit. (Matt. 3:13-17; Acts 10:38) That anointing commissioned him as High Priest for believing ones of the entire human family and as their future King. (Heb. 1:8, 9; 5:5, 6) He would be the foundation of a truly royal priesthood.
12. What did Jesus’ sacrifice make possible?
12 As High Priest, what sacrifice could Jesus offer that would completely cover the inherited sin of believing ones? As he indicated when instituting the Memorial of his death, his own perfect human life was the sacrifice. (Read Hebrews 9:11, 12.) From the time of his baptism in 29 C.E., Jesus as High Priest submitted to tests and training until the time of his actual death. (Heb. 4:15; 5:7-10) After he was resurrected, he ascended to heaven and presented the value of his sacrifice to Jehovah himself. (Heb. 9:24) Thereafter, Jesus could plead with Jehovah on behalf of those exercising faith in his sacrifice and assist them to serve God with everlasting life in view. (Heb. 7:25) His sacrifice also served to validate the new covenant.—Heb. 8:6; 9:15.
13. What were the prospects of those invited to be in the new covenant?
13 Those invited to be in the new covenant were also to be anointed with holy spirit. (2 Cor. 1:21) Faithful Jews and then Gentiles were included. (Eph. 3:5, 6) What were the prospects of those in the new covenant? They would receive true forgiveness of their sins. Jehovah had promised: “I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.” (Jer. 31:34) With their sins legally canceled, they would be in a position to become “a kingdom of priests.” Addressing anointed Christians, Peter wrote: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9) Peter here quotes Jehovah’s words to Israel when introducing the Law and applies them to Christians in the new covenant.—Ex. 19:5, 6.
A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD BRINGS BENEFITS TO ALL MANKIND
14. Where would the royal priesthood serve?
14 Where would those in the new covenant serve? On earth, where, as a group, they would serve as a priesthood, representing Jehovah to people by ‘declaring abroad his excellencies’ and providing spiritual food. (Matt. 24:45; 1 Pet. 2:4, 5) After their death and resurrection, they would serve with Christ in heaven as both kings and priests, fully carrying out the functions of both offices. (Luke 22:29; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; Rev. 1:6) Confirming this, the apostle John saw in vision a number of spirit creatures near Jehovah’s throne in heaven. In “a new song” addressed to “the Lamb,” they sing: “With your blood you bought persons for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.” (Rev. 5:8-10) In a later vision, John says of these rulers: “They will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” (Rev. 20:6) Together with Christ, they make up a royal priesthood to benefit all mankind.
15, 16. What benefits will the royal priesthood bring to mankind?
15 What benefits will the 144,000 bring to those on earth? Revelation chapter 21 portrays them as a heavenly city, New Jerusalem, called “the Lamb’s wife.” (Rev. 21:9) Verses 2 to 4 state: “I saw also the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.’” What wonderful blessings! The elimination of death will remove the principal cause of tears, mourning, outcry, and pain. It will mean lifting faithful humans to perfection, completely reconciling them to God.
16 Further describing the blessings this royal priesthood will bring, Revelation 22:1, 2 states: “He showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of [New Jerusalem’s] broad way. And on this side of the river and on that side there were trees of life producing twelve crops of fruit, yielding their fruits each month. And the leaves of the trees were for the curing of the nations.” With these symbolic provisions, “the nations,” or family groups of mankind, will be completely cured of the imperfection inherited from Adam. Truly, ‘the former things will have passed away.’
THE ROYAL PRIESTHOOD COMPLETES ITS WORK
17. What will the royal priesthood eventually accomplish?
17 By the end of 1,000 years of beneficial service, the royal priesthood will have elevated its earthly subjects to human perfection. As High Priest and King, Christ will then present the completely restored human family to Jehovah. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:22-26.) The royal priesthood will have fully accomplished its purpose.
18. After the royal priesthood has accomplished its work, how will Jehovah use Christ’s associates?
18 Thereafter, how will Jehovah use these highly privileged associates of Christ? According to Revelation 22:5, “they will rule as kings forever and ever.” Over whom? The Bible does not say. But the quality of life that they possess and their experience in helping a world of imperfect people will equip them to hold a regal position in Jehovah’s purposes forever.
19. Of what will those present at the Memorial be reminded?
19 When we gather to observe the Memorial of Jesus’ death on Thursday, April 5, 2012, these Bible teachings will be on our minds. The small remnant of anointed Christians still on earth will partake of the emblems of unleavened bread and red wine, signifying their being party to the new covenant. These symbols of Christ’s sacrifice will remind them of their awesome privileges and responsibilities in God’s eternal purpose. May all of us attend with profound appreciation for Jehovah God’s provision of a royal priesthood to benefit all mankind.
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The royal priesthood will bring eternal benefits to mankind