The Priesthood

Note: this article is used in more than one place. Therefore, the introduction may be the same as in the parent link. If so, you should skip reading the introduction and move to the next section.


Simultaneously with the work on the Tabernacle, detailed instructions were also given for other aspects of the religious ordinances. For example, the instructions for the priesthood were closely related to the instructions for constructing the Tabernacle and its vessels.

Before giving the Mosaic Law, the head of each family offered sacrifices to God (Gen. 8:20). From what we have observed, Moses had this responsibility. Now this and other duties relating to the Tabernacle ministry were given to the new priesthood office. The high priest will serve as the head of the group, with the other priests assisting him. The priests will represent the people before their God. Later, we shall see that the prophet represents God before the people.

The Order of Aaron

God chose Aaron and his sons, who are of the tribe of Levi, for this revered and honored responsibility. Therefore, God instructs Moses: “Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron’s sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar” (Ex. 28:1, NKJV).

A new order was established that day, which would remain within the family of Aaron for the next thirteen hundred years. Aaron was appointed high priest, and the office was to pass in succession to the oldest son. Later, the entire tribe of Levi was set aside and appointed to serve as caretakers and transporters of the Tabernacle and its holy vessels (Num. 1:48-53, 3:5-39). However, only Aaron and his sons were to serve as priests (Ex. 27:21, 28:43, 29:9).

Since the Levites did not receive land, they were supported by tithes paid by members of the other tribes (Num 18:21, 24, 26). Therefore, God required the full-time service of the Levites. In addition, the priests were supported by a tithe paid by the Levites, by eating portions of the sacrifices and the stale showbread (Ex. 29:31-34Num. 18:8-32).

Like the Tabernacle, the entire priesthood organization or order was an example and shadow of heavenly things. The writer of the book of Hebrews goes into great detail in showing that the order of the priesthood, which was established under Aaron, was a prophetic shadow of what was to come. We must also note that the order of Aaron came to an end and was replaced by a new order at the death of Christ.

Since Aaron’s priesthood was patterned after the model in heaven, it is symbolic of the holiness of God. Much of the symbolism was reflected in the clothes. “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty…And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. So. they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister to Me as priest. They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked” (Ex. 28:2, 4-6, NKJV).

Note that the clothing is made of the same material and colors as those used in the construction of the Tabernacle.

“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest. And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. So they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister to Me as priest” (Ex. 28:1-4, NKJV).

“They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked…And the intricately woven band of the ephod, which is on it, shall be of the same workmanship, made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen” (Ex. 28:5-6, 8, NKJV).

“Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: six of their names on one stone and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth… You shall also make settings of gold, and you shall make two chains of pure gold like braided cords, and fasten the braided chains to the settings” (Ex. 28:9-10, 13-14, NKJV).

The making of the breastplate also was a pattern with the same materials.

“You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it…  You shall make chains for the breastplate at the end, like braided cords of pure gold” (Ex 28:15, 22, NKJV). 

The robe was made with the same materials and colors.

“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue… And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around. And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the Lord and when he comes out, that he may not die” Ex. 31, 33-35, NKJV).

Read Exodus chapter twenty-eight for a complete and very detailed description of these garments.

God placed stringent restrictions upon those who were to serve in the office of the priesthood. Since they were in contact with Holy places and Holy things, those who served in the sanctuary of the Tabernacle must be ceremonially clean and perfect – both in physical appearance and character (Leviticus chapters 21 and 22).

They became defiled by physical contact with any unclean thing. We have already noted that the brass laver was placed in the courtyard of the Tabernacle for ceremonial washing after contact with the animal sacrifices.

The priests were required to take a virgin as a wife. Daughters who became harlots defiled their father, the priest, and the death penalty for the daughters was stoning. A man was considered blemished if he had physical defects such as blindness, deformed body features, skin blemishes, etc.

After God gave instructions regarding the making of Holy garments, in Exodus chapter twenty-nine, He gave the procedures for consecration for service. Each priest was required to go through four ceremonies before he was consecrated and allowed to perform the duties of the office. First, he was brought to the door of the Tabernacle and washed with water. Next, the holy garments were placed on him, and then he was anointed by pouring oil over his head. Lastly, sacrifices were required for the following offerings: sin, burnt, and peace. Leviticus chapter eight provides the details of this service.

The Order of Melchizedek

Aaron was a type of Christ, as was Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20Ps. 110:3). Whereas Aaron and his service were a picture of the atoning work of Christ through His death; Melchizedek was a type of Christ in His resurrection – the role of King-Priest.

After Christ’s resurrection, He, who was of the line of Judah, became the High Priest following the order of Melchizedek. The order of Melchizedek refers to the royal authority and the unending duration of Christ’s high priesthood.

The writer of the book of Hebrews also tells us that Jesus has become our High Priest, whose role was patterned after the priesthood of Melchizedek.  “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning ‘king of peace,’ without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually” (Heb. 7:1-3, NKJV).

I have always been fascinated by the prophecy of David regarding the priesthood as presented in the Psalms. “The Lord has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” Ps. 110:4, NKJV). David is referring to Jesus’ priesthood – bridging the gap between Genesis and Hebrews.  

“Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity, there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar” (Heb. 7:11-13, NKJV).

The writer shows that the Levitical law could never bring salvation; that the payment for sin had to be made by Jesus. Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi but of the tribe of Judah – the Royal lineage.

“For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Heb. 7:14-16, NKJV).

“Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Also, there were many priests because they were prevented by death from continuing. 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” (Heb. 7:22b-25, NKJV).

“Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Heb. 8:1-2, NKJV).

“For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore, it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law, who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ ‘But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises’” (Heb. 8:3-6, NKJV).

The entire Levitical Law served as patterns that Jesus fulfilled on the cross. God the Father put Him in charge of all things – He is our King, High Priest, and Intercessor before God the Father.

After Jesus paid for our sins, He became our High Priest. In the Levitical law, it was the responsibility of the priesthood to represent the people before God.

The Bible says that Satan accuses us before God night and day. “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down” (Rev. 12:10, NKJV).

Every time Satan brings our sins before God, Jesus serves as our intercessor and says, “I paid for those sins on the cross.” Do any of those sins get too large for Jesus to handle? Are they too large for the blood of Jesus to wash away?  Some church groups say that major or mortal sins cannot be forgiven. However, we do not read anywhere in the Bible except once, where sin is too large for Jesus’ blood to cleanse.

The Bible says that there is only one sin that God cannot forgive: the sin of rejecting Him and refusing His offer of forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ. This sin is called “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” This is an unforgivable sin because it means we are saying that the Holy Spirit’s witness about Jesus is a lie (Luke 12:10).

Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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