A Typical “Kingdom of Priests”
7, 8. To what extent was ancient Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation under the Law covenant?
7 When Jehovah chose Israel as his special nation, he made a covenant with them, saying: “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.” (Exodus 19:5, 6) Israel was Jehovah’s special people on the basis of the Law covenant. How, though, would the promise involving a kingdom of priests and a holy nation be fulfilled?
8 Israel, when faithful, acknowledged Jehovah’s sovereignty and accepted him as their King. (Isaiah 33:22) Thus, they were a kingdom. But, as was later revealed, the promise about “a kingdom” would mean even more than that. Further, when they obeyed Jehovah’s Law, they were clean, separated from the nations around them. They were a holy nation. (Deuteronomy 7:5, 6) Were they a kingdom of priests? Well, in Israel the tribe of Levi was set aside for temple service, and within that tribe there was the Levitical priesthood. When the Mosaic Law was inaugurated, Levite males were taken in exchange for the firstborn of every non-Levite family.* (Exodus 22:29; Numbers 3:11-16, 40-51) Thus, every family in Israel was, as it were, represented in temple service. This was the closest the nation got to being a priesthood. Nevertheless, they represented Jehovah before the nations. Any foreigner who wished to worship the true God had to do so in association with Israel.—2 Chronicles 6:32, 33; Isaiah 60:10.
9. What caused Jehovah to reject the northern kingdom of Israel ‘from serving as a priest to him’?
9 After the death of Solomon, God’s people split into the northern nation of Israel under King Jeroboam and the southern nation of Judah under King Rehoboam. Since the temple, the center of pure worship, was in the territory of Judah, Jeroboam instituted an illegal form of worship by setting up images of calves in his own national territory. Further, “he began to make a house of high places and to make priests from the people in general, who did not happen to be of the sons of Levi.” (1 Kings 12:31) The northern nation sank deeper into false worship when King Ahab allowed his foreign wife, Jezebel, to establish Baal worship in the land. Finally, Jehovah pronounced judgment on the rebellious kingdom. Through Hosea, he said: “My people will certainly be silenced, because there is no knowledge. Because the knowledge is what you yourself have rejected, I shall also reject you from serving as a priest to me.” (Hosea 4:6) Soon after, the Assyrians wiped out the northern kingdom of Israel.
10. How did the southern kingdom of Judah, when faithful, represent Jehovah before the nations?
10 What of the southern nation, Judah? In the days of Hezekiah, Jehovah said to them through Isaiah: “You are my witnesses, . . . even my servant whom I have chosen, . . . the people whom I have formed for myself, that they should recount the praise of me.” (Isaiah 43:10, 21; 44:21) When faithful, the southern kingdom served to proclaim to the nations Jehovah’s glory and to attract righthearted ones to worship him at his temple and be ministered to by the legitimate Levite priesthood.
The Spiritual Nation
15. What resulted when natural Israel refused to accept the Messiah?
15 The Law was designed to keep Israel clean, separate from the nations around them. But it served another purpose. The apostle Paul wrote: “The Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith.” (Galatians 3:24) Unhappily, most Israelites failed to be led to Christ by the Law. (Matthew 23:15; John 1:11) So Jehovah God rejected that nation and caused “the Israel of God” to be born. Moreover, he extended to non-Jews the invitation to become full-fledged citizens in this new Israel. (Galatians 3:28; 6:16) It is on this new nation that Jehovah’s promise at Exodus 19:5, 6 about a royal priesthood has its wonderful, final fulfillment. How?
16, 17. In what sense are anointed Christians on earth “royal”? a “priesthood”?
16 Peter quoted Exodus 19:6 when he wrote to anointed Christians of his day: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.’” (1 Peter 2:9) What does this mean? Are anointed Christians on earth kings? No, their kingship is still future. (1 Corinthians 4:8) Nevertheless, they are “royal” in the sense that they are marked for future royal privileges. Even now they are a nation under a king, Jesus, appointed by the Great Sovereign, Jehovah God. Paul wrote: “[Jehovah] delivered us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.”—Colossians 1:13.
17 Are anointed Christians on earth a priesthood? In a sense, yes. As a congregation, they serve an undisputable priestly function. Peter explained this when he said: “You yourselves . . . are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood.” (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16) Today, the remnant of anointed Christians as a body are “the faithful and discreet slave,” the channel for the distribution of spiritual food. (Matthew 24:45-47) As was the case in ancient Israel, any who wish to worship Jehovah have to do so in association with these anointed Christians.
18. As a priesthood, the anointed Christian congregation on earth has what primary responsibility?
18 Moreover, anointed Christians took over from Israel the privilege of witnessing to Jehovah’s greatness among the nations. The context shows that when Peter called anointed Christians a royal priesthood, he had the preaching work in mind. Indeed, he combined in one quotation Jehovah’s promise at Exodus 19:6 with His words to Israel at Isaiah 43:21 when he said: “You are . . . ‘a royal priesthood, . . . [so] that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) In harmony with this, Paul spoke of the declaration of Jehovah’s excellencies as a temple sacrifice. He wrote: “Through [Jesus] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.”—Hebrews 13:15.
A Heavenly Fulfillment
19. What is the final, grand fulfillment of the promise that Israel would be a kingdom of priests?
19 However, Exodus 19:5, 6 ultimately has a far more glorious fulfillment. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John hears heavenly creatures applying this scripture as they praise the resurrected Jesus: “You were slaughtered and 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.” (Revelation 5:9, 10) In its final sense, then, the royal priesthood is God’s heavenly Kingdom, the ruling authority for which Jesus taught us to pray. (Luke 11:2) All 144,000 anointed Christians who endure faithful to the end will have a part in that Kingdom arrangement. (Revelation 20:4, 6) What a wonderful fulfillment of the promise made so long ago through Moses!