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he repentant Israelite who had gone through the gate of the tabernacle with his sacrifice and reached the bronze altar had proceeded as far as he dare go along the path of approach to God. Beyond that it was the responsibility of priests to go on his behalf and carry out spiritual tasks in the Holy Place. This they did as representatives for all the people. To them alone was the high privilege of the calling of God to serve him more closely than the congregation of Israel or even then the specially appointed Levites could.
The universal definition of a priest is:
"an authorized minister of a deity who, on behalf of a community, officiates at the altar and in other rites, acting as a mediator between the deity and man."
The Biblical definition of a priest is:
"A chosen officer or prince with the capacity to draw near to God and minister. He alone is responsible for offering the divinely appointed sacrifices to God, for executing the different procedures and ceremonies relating to the worship of God, and for being a representative between God and man."
A priest is one who makes the sacrifices, performs the rituals and acts as mediator between man and God. This means that he is responsible for offering the divinely appointed sacrifices to God, for executing the different procedures and ceremonies relating to the worship of God, and for being a representative between God and man.
As we have seen, the Levites were chosen as those who would specially serve God, and it was from the Levites that the priests were chosen. They originated in one family, that of Aaron and his four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. But due to the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the priestly succession came through Eleazar and Ithamar whose descendants provided the hereditary priests in Israel.
Their duties fell under three main headings. (Service, Teaching, and Prayer)
- The first was to minister in the sanctuary, which at this time was the tabernacle, but when Israel became a settled nation it would be the temple.
- Secondly, priests were responsible for teaching the people the law of God, and
- Thirdly, when God's will was sought for the nation, it was the priests who prayed for guidance.
Something of the importance of the priest in Old Testament worship may be judged from the fact that the Hebrew word for priest 'kohen' occurs almost 800 times. It is interesting that the verb kahan (from the same root as kohen) is used in the Old Testament of a bridegroom decking himself with ornaments. (See Girdlestones)
Priests wore distinctive clothing whenever they were in attendance at the altar or entered the Holy Place. Their clothing had to be clean and pure before they could approach God.
Christ Our Priest
The priests of Israel were but dim shadows of the one Great Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. A few brief passages give us an understanding of the perfection found in the priestly character of Christ:
(1) Christ as Priest is appointed and chosen by God
Heb 5:5 "So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: "You are My Son, today I have begotten You."
(2) He is consecrated with an oath
Heb 7:20-22 And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: "The Lord has sworn and will not relent, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek' "), by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.
(3) He is sinless
Heb 7:26 For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens;
(4) His priesthood is unchangeable
Heb 7:23-24 Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.
(5) His offering is perfect and final
Heb 9:25-28 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another--He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
(6) He Intercedes continually
Heb 7:24-25 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
(7) He is the only mediator
1 Tim 2:5 "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus"