By Dr. Josh Wilson
On Friday, March 13th, President Trump took to Twitter to declare Sunday, March 15th, as a National Day of Prayer, asking that the citizens of this nation call upon God for protection and strength in times like these where we are dealing with the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For us who are followers of the only living and true God, this was and still is an opportunity for us to fulfill our role as Priests to and for all the nations of the earth. So what exactly does that mean and how do we do it?
To begin, the Bible makes it clear time and again that the people of God also function as the priests of God. This concept is communicated early in the Old Testament in Exodus 19:6 where God says to the Israelites, “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Later in the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah writes in 61:5-6, “Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God.” This same concept is then communicated again in the New Testament. Twice in 1 Peter 2, the apostle writes that believers are a priesthood, holy and royal. Thrice in the book of the Revelation (1:6; 5:10; 20:6) believers are said to be a kingdom and priests to God who reign over the earth with Christ. Thus, we, the people of God, are priests of the God Most High.
According to the Old Testament, however, those who functioned as priests had to possess certain traits in order to even serve in that role. First, they had to be a Hebrew male. Second, they had to be from the tribe of Levi. Third, they had to be in good physical condition. Last, if they were seeking the office of High Priest, they had to be a descendant of Aaron, the first High Priest. How then do we, who for the most part do not possess any of these traits, qualify as priests of God? The simple, yet profoundly deep, explanation of how we are even qualified to be priests is that we are in union with Christ.
According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ is our High Priest, but not as a descendant of Aaron. Instead, Jesus was made a High Priest by God after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:5-10), which means that His priesthood is greater than any other Hebrew who ever held this office as a descendant of Aaron (Heb 7). Christ’s priesthood is greater not only with respect to His order, but also with respect to His work. His one-time sacrifice of Himself satisfied God’s divine justice and reconciled us to God once and for all (Heb 7:27; 10:12-14). Furthermore, because of His immortality He is always making intercession for us at the right hand of the Father (Heb 7:23-25).
Believers then, being united to Christ, partake of all His blessings (e.g. Eph 1:3) and participate in all of His works (c.f. Gen 3:15 with Rom 16:20). This is a deep mystery and one in which volumes more could be written. However, for the purpose of this article, let us simply understand that our union with Christ qualifies us to be priests of God. So how then do we fulfill our role as priests?
Briefly examining the office of the priesthood in the Old Testament helps us to understand how to fulfill our role as priests. One of the great responsibilities of the priests in the Old Testament was to come before God in the tabernacle on behalf of and for the benefit of the people. This responsibility was communicated symbolically through the shoulder and breast pieces that were worn upon the priestly ephod (see Exod 28:6-29). These two pieces, worn by the High Priest, had the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on them. Thus, the High Priest would come before God bearing upon himself the names of the people, making sacrifices and prayers to God for their sake.
Exodus 28:12 12 And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance.
Exodus 28:29 So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.
However, not only would the priests come before God on behalf of the people, they would also minister to the people on behalf of God. They would do so by pronouncing God’s blessings upon them and by giving them knowledge and instruction from God through the Law.
Numbers 6:22-27 22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 24 The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Malachi 2:7 7 For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
In this way the priests functioned as mediators, coming on behalf of the people before God and coming on behalf of God to the people. It is not surprising then that Christ, the Great High Priest, is called the only true mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5) because He is both God and man in one person forever. However, let us not forget that because we are in union with Christ, we too partake in His mediating work, and so we, too, function as priestly mediators between man and God.
Thus, in one sense, God has made us His priests, through Jesus Christ, for the benefit of all the nations of the earth (see again Isa 61:5-6) so that we might bring the nations before God and bring God to the nations. Since we are priests representing the nations before God, God instructs His people in Jeremiah 29:7 to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Since we are priests representing God to the nations, Paul says of God’s people in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Since, therefore we are priests of God, highly favored by Him through our union with Christ, let us fulfill our role as priests by approaching the Throne of Grace on behalf of the nations. Let us intercede for those who are sick. Let us intercede for the heads of state who are dealing with this crisis. Let us intercede for the people in our communities such as our healthcare workers, our first responders, our workers who are continuing to provide essential goods and services (truck drivers, grocery store workers, garbage collectors, etc.). Let us intercede on behalf of those who will not be able to work for the next couple of weeks. Let us lift up to God the economic impact that people all over this world are going to be dealing with in the aftermath. Let us ask God that in His mercy He would bring an end to these times. Let us also ask God that in His grace, He would save those who are living separated from Christ and under His condemnation.
And let us also fulfill our role as priests by going before all the nations of the earth on behalf of God (see again 2 Cor 5:20). God in His mercy uses times such as these to remind people of their frailty, that they are but dust, and so He turns the attentions of their hearts to things eternal. With the Law in hand, let us call them to repent of their wickedness and rebellion to God. Through the power and proclamation of the Gospel, let us call them to surrender to the reign and rule of Christ. Let us hold forth to them Christ as the only object of faith and the only perfect savior and refuge in times like these.
Christians, many of you will have much time on your hands in the days ahead. I want to exhort you to make the best use of it because the days are evil. Do so by fulfilling your role as priests of the God Most High.
Josh Wilson is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Park Hills, MO and is a professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University and Old Testament at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is a part of the leadership team for Founders Midwest and has been a speaker at the Founders Midwest Conference. If you would like more information about Founders Midwest and the annual conference, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.