The Purpose of the Priesthood
The priesthood that God established in ancient Israel typified some exquisitely beautiful and profound truths for New Testament Christians.

The moral and civil laws God gave to ancient Israel contain rich beauty and wonderful modern relevance—but are terribly misunderstood and overlooked by most people, even “Bible believers.” That is perhaps doubly true of God’s religious law—the laws He gave to govern the life of worship by His people. People tend to view these as even less relevant than the moral and civil laws—yet in some ways, their beauty is even more extraordinary!

When you start looking into these laws, one thing becomes immediately apparent: God is remarkably detailed and precise about how He is to be worshiped. In Exodus, the Ten Commandments and the civil law take up four chapters (Exodus 20-23). These include the moral laws, laws expounding on the Ten Commandments and detailing penalties for their infraction, laws regarding slavery, workman’s compensation, treatment of animals, property damage and restitution, treatment of foreigners, economic laws, judicial laws, agricultural laws, the holy days, health laws, laws of warfare and so on. These laws fill approximately 122 verses. At that point in Exodus, the Old Covenant is sealed. Then God gives the religious regulations—which take up 6½ chapters. These laws are about offerings, the construction of the sanctuary and its furnishings, the setting apart of the priesthood, how priests are to be clothed, the sacrificial laws, and more.These laws fill 236 verses—almost twice as many!

It is easy for us to dismiss these ritual-related laws, but God says all Scripture is for our benefit (2 Timothy 3:16). These physical details are types of heavenly things. God issued them in order to teach us!

Notice what Hebrews 8:1-2 say about the “true tabernacle.” The earthly tabernacle in ancient Israel wasn’t the true tabernacle—it was a physical representation of a spiritual reality. God took the spiritual reality and gave us a counterpart on the physical level that we could understand. Read how this truth is reinforced in verse 5. The tabernacle and everything associated with it was designed by God. He ordained that it be supervised and regulated so it represented the spiritual as much as possible. It is one of the extraordinary glimpses the Bible gives us of the worship taking place within God’s heavenly throne room!

Besides raising a tabernacle to represent His throne room, God also established the priesthood. The priesthood was a specific type of an incredibly beautiful spiritual reality about the God Family!

The High Priest

The priesthood had a hierarchy. God’s Church today has essentially the same hierarchy. At the top was the high priest. Under him were the Levitical priests. Under them were the Levites who were not priests but were servants for the service of the sanctuary. They themselves also had servants, some of whom weren’t Levites and some who weren’t even Israelites.

Note, the real subject of the first couple of verses in Hebrews 8 is the high priest. That office pointed toward a spiritual Being: a High Priest sitting at the right hand of a heavenly throne—a Minister of the true sanctuary. Why did God ordain a physical high priest in Israel? To teach us about Jesus Christ!

Read Hebrews 3:1-2. The job of the high priest in ancient Israel pointed to the role of Jesus Christ. Christ was called and appointed by God. The same was true of the high priest anciently—and of all of God’s spiritual offices. There was no vote; it was God’s decision.

Notice Hebrews 5:1, 4-5. Just like God put Christ in that office, so He specifically installed these physical men. The same is true in the Church today: God chose Mr. Armstrong as the physical head of His Church in the Philadelphia era. God put Mr. Flurry in his office today. God puts all of His ministers in their offices.

God established the role of the high priest to typify and teach us about Jesus Christ’s role in our lives. The high priest in ancient Israel was a type of Christ—right there in the camp. He had charge of the sanctuary and altar, offered sacrifices, lit the lamps of the tabernacle, burned incense, and placed shewbread on the table each Sabbath. He also had charge of the treasury, officiated on the Day of Atonement, served as a judge of the people, and designated subordinate priests for duty. He officiated in consecrations of Levites and officiated at the anointing of a ruler.

Study the duties of that ancient office, and you will gain insight into Christ! For example, Hebrews 9 shows that when the high priest went into the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement and made intercession on behalf of the people of Israel, he represented Christ going before the throne of the Father to make intercession for us. Christ taught us to pray to the Father “in his name” (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23). He actually comes into the Father’s presence on our behalf—and the Father accepts our sincere offerings by His merits.

God embedded a beautiful reality in establishing the role of the ancient high priest, a type of Jesus Christ.

But notice, this man was the highest ranking among a whole group of priests! What spiritual reality did they represent?

God’s priesthood—both anciently and today—contains a tremendous, inspiring vision. It actually points us to God’s master plan.

A Holy Priesthood

Look at God’s instructions to Israel in Exodus 19:5-6. God wanted to make Israel into “a kingdom of priests.” Think on this: The role that the priests fulfilled in relation to the rest of the Israelites actually typified the role God wanted the whole nation to fulfill in relation to the rest of the nations!

Essentially, that job was to link the people to God. The priest’s mission was to bring people close to God. On one hand, the priest pointed the people to God. And on the other, the priest was like a representative of the people, appearing in God’s presence on their behalf. His basic function was to bridge the gap between the people and God in order to build the relationship between them. (The priests were all from the family of Levi, whose name means joined. The Levitical priests joined the people to God.) That’s the basic role Christ fulfills as High Priest. That’s the role the high priest and the rest of the priests in Israel fulfilled for the rest of the Israelites. And that’s the role God wanted the whole nation to fulfill for all the other nations!

Now, read the Apostle Peter’s statement to God’s New Testament believers in 1 Peter 2:5. This is what we are; this is our calling as God’s firstfruits: The first-century chief apostle calls us a “holy priesthood.”We are priests! Part of a holy priesthood! This picture needs to be vivid in our minds. We need to know what that means!

Continue reading in verse 9. How well do you understand what it means to be a priest? Peter, an expert in the Old Testament, linked our job as God’s firstfruits with the priests that served in the tabernacle and the temple in ancient Israel. The priesthood pointed to the role of the firstfruits in God’s eternal Family! They were a type of the firstfruits in God’s master plan. So their job teaches us about our job as God’s royal priesthood today.

God wanted Israel to be a “kingdom of priests” to the rest of the nations. But Israel was merely a forerunner of the New Testament Church and the function we will fulfill toward the rest of humanity! The priestly function God intended for the nation—and which played out in type within the tabernacle priesthood—points directly to the job God has for us!

“But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God …” (Isaiah 61:6). Three times in the book of Revelation John calls us God’s priests—and two of those times he says we are priests already! That is going to be our job forever—and God says that He has already put us into it. As God sees it, we hold that office even today. Not just the ministers, but the whole Church of God’s firstfruits!

The ancient Israelite priesthood contained this awesome vision. It was similar to the Church today, where the ministry serves an important, practical administrative function to ensure God’s government operates within the Church. But ministers also typify the role that the whole Church will be stepping into relative to the rest of the world.

All One Family

One aspect of how God established His priesthood anciently is particularly beautiful, encouraging and inspiring: that is, the priesthood was all one family.

In a previous article, we looked at how God sanctified all the firstborn of the Israelites for His purpose. Notice God’s instructions in Numbers 3:11-12. When the Israelites made and worshiped the golden calf, the Levites distinguished themselves by obeying God when the great majority went way off track (Exodus 32). So God used them, rather than the firstborn, for the sanctuary service. They came to represent the firstborn of all 12 tribes, the priestly dignity of the whole nation of Israel. God chose this particular tribe to be the priests for a nation of priests. There is an inspiring reason why God substituted the firstborn with the Levites, as we will see.

Read Numbers 8:14-18. The general tribe of the Levites represented that third tier in the priestly hierarchy. All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. Most of the Levites were what you might call temple servants. They assisted the actual priests, who were the sons of one particular Levite: Aaron.

“Not just everybody could be a priest. No one else could ‘join’ the priesthood. Only those chosen by God—the descendants of Aaron in the tribe of Levi” (Good News, January 1982). The same is true of God’s priests—His firstfruits—today (1 Corinthians 12:18).

Review the different jobs Levites and priests had in Numbers 18:3 and 6. The priests had their own work, the Levites had theirs (in service to the priests), and neither was to do the work of the other. You could liken the Levites to deacons; they wereresponsible for certain physical details. These Levites provided a valuable, important service to the priesthood. Despite the difference in jobs, all of the individuals involved with the service of the sanctuary, on any level, came from the family of Levi.

Think about the priesthood and temple servants in Israel being literally all one family. The nation of Israel was a type of the Church—a holy nation, called out of the world, to help God bring other nations into His Family. Here, even within the nation, is another, more intimate iteration of this picture of God’s master plan.

Those who performed services for the tabernacle—and later for the temple—were a type of God’s New Testament Church. So God calling out these firstborn among the families of Israel gives us a picture of God calling out His people from among the families of the Earth. That in itself is quite a beautiful picture! The priesthood is acting on behalf of all peoples—and in a sense, every family has a representative serving God directly at the sanctuary. God made sure that symbol remained by commanding that every family bring their firstborn to be dedicated at the sanctuary (e.g., Numbers 18:15). They belonged to God.

Even though that symbol remained, physically God substituted those firstborns with the people from the tribe of Levi. So now, you have a different picture: a priestly family! The tabernacle wasn’t tended to by a bunch of unrelated individuals from different families. It was a single family—everyone related to each other! This is even more extraordinary! Think about how true to life it is for us in God’s Church today. It’s true that God calls us out of this world “one of a city, two of a family,” but once He places us in the body, we are part of a single priestly family! God typified His Spirit-begotten, New Testament king-priests in embryo with a literal family of sanctuary servants. And Jesus Christ is the High Priest—the “firstborn among many brothers” all serving together in God’s priesthood.

The Priest’s Anointing

When you look at the laws detailing the duties of the ancient priests, their garments and their conduct, you realize that all of them have deep meaning for us, those called out first to lead the rest of the people to God. Study the high priest, and you learn about Jesus Christ—but you also learn about what it means to be a priest. Study His role and the roles of the other priests, and you pick up details about the role that you as a firstfruit are preparing to step into.

Read 1 Peter 2:5 again to see what it tells you about the priests’ job. The priests offered physical sacrifices, but that was only a type of what we offer today. We offer spiritual sacrifices, which are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ! How much do you know about those sacrifices? How much does Peter’s statement affect your day-to-day life? This is, after all, your calling and profession!

Let’s first note a few relevant details from the anointing of a priest. Read God’s instructions in Exodus 40:12-15. Notice the last part: “[T]heir anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood”! Everlasting means forever, evermore, perpetual, without end. The ordination of these priests pointed to something eternal! And what we have to understand is, the baptized members of God’s Church have received this anointing today! We too have been anointed to serve God forever— through eternity—as part of this everlasting priesthood. This is a tremendous priestly calling God has put us into.

Consider 1 John 2:20. The Revised Standard Version reads: “But you have been anointed by the Holy One ….” Mr. Flurry wrote in The Last Hour, “Do you have God’s Holy Spirit? If you do, you’ve been anointed by the Holy One! … The Anchor Bible explains the Old Testament counterpart to this anointing: ‘the description by Josephus of the mixing of oils and perfumes into a “sweet-smelling chrisma” for the anointing of priests.’”

John is saying that we have received this priestly anointing! When you were baptized and had hands laid on you, God anointed you with the real priestly oil—His Holy Spirit! “Anointing was the characteristic ceremony of consecrating to an office, and of furnishing the candidate with the power necessary for its administration. It is used of priests …. Those who were so consecrated were regarded as thereby endued with the Holy Spirit, and with divine gifts” (International Critical Commentary). That is what that anointing was all about: It pointed to God giving His New Testament king-priests the Holy Spirit.

“If you are one of God’s people, that is talking about you!” Mr. Flurry wrote. “God’s Philadelphians have been anointed to do God’s Work. This world is falling apart, and God needs a righteous government to take its place soon. That is why God anointed His Philadelphians—the firstfruits truly are going to rule this world!” (The Last Hour).

When you understand that truth, studying the details of the priesthood ordination ceremony for Aaron and his sons becomes very moving. Exodus 29 spells out the laws in detail, and there are a lot more particulars in all the chapters up through Exodus 40. Then, Leviticus 8 and 9 describe the actual ceremony—and you can see that they followed every last detail exactly as God commanded. Two whole chapters describe the sanctification of the priests! All these details help us deeply grasp the beauty and majesty of our priestly calling. These laws that God gave all point directly to us.


Studying what God demanded so these men could minister before Him provides you a better idea of the reality of what it takes for a sinful human being to enter God’s holy presence and to work in God’s service—to dwell together with God!

The first few verses of Leviticus 8 talk about specific offerings that were made: a bullock and two rams, and a basket of a few different types of unleavened bread. Then, read what happened in verse 6. “They had to be clean to be consecrated to God, just as we must be cleansed by the waters of baptism” (Good News, January 1982). Here was a picture of your baptism. Those who bear the vessels of the Lord must be clean (Isaiah 52:11). During the ordination, these men were washed all over—just like you were at baptism. There was also a basin (laver) at the sanctuary where they had to wash their hands and feet every time they went in to minister in the sanctuary (Exodus 30:18-20). Thus God showed the need for holiness in His presence.

This washing pictured the cleansing power of God’s living water, His Holy Spirit. Several aspects of the tabernacle service required this washing—cleaning something that was unclean—so it would be of a holy standard.

You and I had that initial washing that occurs at baptism, and we also must undergo continual washing every day, just like these priests. Human beings have sin. That means that if God is to be able to live in us, He must continually wash us—disinfect us—cleanse us of spiritual contagions. Christ said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me” (John 13:8; Revised Standard Version).

We need clean minds, clean thoughts, clean bodies, clean lives (e.g., 2 Corinthians 7:1). We wash every day by studying the Bible—the washing of water by the Word (Ephesians 5:26). We allow the living water of the Holy Spirit to come into our minds (John 7:38). We set our minds on the things of God and cleanse our thoughts of worldliness. This is a daily, continual process!

The amazing thing is, in this New Testament dispensation—with Christ serving as our High Priest—we can actually enter the holy of holies! God actually wants us to enter the holiest daily, with boldness! “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest [the holy of holies] by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).The fact that we have this access confirms the fact that we are priests of God. But note: This access requires not only our being covered by the blood of Christ, but also our hearts and bodies “washed with pure water” just like the priests did anciently.

‘For Glory and for Beauty’

Once the priests were washed, they were dressed in special priestly garments (Leviticus 8:7-9).

Read the law God gave concerning these garments in Exodus 28. God pays particular attention to how ornate and special the high priest’s garments were. All these details have rich significance: the priestly turban; the robe, a seamless garment, like what Jesus wore; the breastplate with precious stones representing the 12 tribes; the ephod (tunic) with straps that had large onyx stones on the shoulders, showing that the priest represented the tribes of Israel before God as he interceded for them. All the priests had special garments, but God really drew special attention to one man in that highest office within the priesthood, just as He does today.

Notice the fabric God commanded to be used in verse 39. Revelation 19:8 and other scriptures show that fine linen represents God’s righteousness—keeping God’s commandments. “Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness …” (Psalm 132:9; other passages that equate fine clothing with law keeping include Revelation 3:4-5, 18; 7:14; Isaiah 52:1). God’s priests were clothed in law keeping! This stunning, high-quality coat they wore symbolized righteousness. The priests had to put off their own garments and put on these specially made priestly garments—just as we have to put on God’s righteousness today.

Read God’s wonderful description of the purpose of these garments in Exodus 28:40. What an expression: “for glory and for beauty.” That describes exactly what keeping God’s law does in our lives. God’s priests dress in lawkeeping and righteousness for glory and for beauty! Several scriptures use the expression “the beauty of holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalm 29:2; 96:9). All the Israelites wore attractive blue ribbons in the fringes of their garments as an elegant ornament that symbolized God’s law in their lives (Numbers 15:38-39). The righteousness of God has a beautiful, attractive quality.

But the clothing of righteousness isn’t just an ornament—it is a necessity in order to cover our nakedness! See that truth verified in Exodus 28:42-43. We need the righteousness of Godto cover our nakedness. When we put on that fine linen, it is for glory and for beauty!

These tabernacle ceremonies continually reminded the Israelites of the holy standard God demanded—every day. Read the beautiful imagery in Isaiah 61:10. In the same way that we must put on the armor of God each day (Ephesians 6:13), we need to put on these holy, priestly robes of righteousness , the garments of salvation. Only then can we perform our daily priestly duties, our spiritual sacrifices. Isaiah 61:10 likens those robes of righteousness with wedding attire—which is exactly what God does in Revelation 19:7-8.

Read Leviticus 8 and 9 to see just how wonderful and inspiring this priestly ceremony was. The whole nation would have been uplifted to see God honoring these men. This was a beautiful ceremony to witness, and it is likely that soon we will participate in some special ceremony that will really elevate us in the eyes of the whole world.

What is the priesthood all about? It’s about building that family relationship that God wants with all people. This is what our job is going to be when we are made priests over the whole Earth.