Does it sound a bit presumptuous to say I know what God has always wanted to offer His people? Perhaps, but bear with me!
When He led His people out of Pharoah’s brickyards to freedom, He told Moses what His end game was.
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel. (Ex 19:5-6)
If God’s people obeyed, they would become a kingdom of priests. But what do we find very shortly later?
“So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall attend to their priesthood; but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine, because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the Lord.” (Num 3:10-13)
Here God tells us that a priestly caste wasn’t His plan for an obedient, “special treasure” people. His “special treasure” plan revolved around a family structure, not a class structure. The firstborn of every family would serve Him in the Temple. But rather than an entire kingdom full of priests, God now inaugurates a priestly caste. What gives? What happened to the nation of priests?
Two things that I can see.
First, the people’s reaction at Sinai. On the Lord’s instruction, Moses had them consecrate themselves then brought them to the foot of the mountain.
Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Ex 20:18-19)
In Deuteronomy 5, Moses gives another perspective on this incident. As they heard the Ten Commandments proclaimed, the people withdrew all the way to their tents, and cowered there! (Deut 5:30) They sent a delegation to beg Moses to be their intermediary. Even though the Lord had invited them to the base of the mountain, they found they couldn’t stand before Him and preferred to get His word filtered through someone else.
And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.” (Ex 24:7)
With the covenant agreed to, the Lord called Moses up Sinai for forty days of advanced training. During which He laid out a detailed vision for the Tabernacle.
And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it. (Ex 25:8-9)
The specifications for the Tabernacle go on for chapters. The gold, the silver, the bronze, the precious gems. The fine linen in regal colors. The animal skins. The golden vessels, the priestly garments, the detailed rituals for sanctification and atonement. The altars and the laver and the curtains and the courts. All of it has a single purpose. “That I may dwell among them.”
Implements crafted for Temple worship,
“That I may dwell among them.”
The sages note that the phrase, “that I may dwell in their midst” could be translated as “that I may dwell within them,” suggesting that the point of the Tabernacle was to bring God within the hearts of his people…. The “material” required to make this place was ultimately the heart, expressed in free-will offerings given to God….
And then came the Sin of the Golden Calf. After God’s people witnessed His glory as He redeemed them from Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut 4:34). After He guided them through the desert via cloud and fire. After He descended on Mount Sinai in smoke and fire and the ground quaked at the sound of Him. These people, the redeemed of the Lord! They’d signed up to the whole deal, including the very first commandment:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image… (Ex 20:2-4)
After all this! How could things have gone so far south, so fast? What were they thinking?
But every time I start to get flabbergasted over that, the Lord gently reminds me… They are me. Okay, I may not have witnessed the pillar of fire or tasted the manna in the wilderness, but I have something they didn’t–God’s law written on my heart (Jer 31:33). And in spite of His daily miracles in my own life, I have betrayed Him often and deeply. What was I thinking?
Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side—come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. (Ex 32:25-26)
The Levites gained the privilege of becoming dedicated to the Temple service through their faithfulness–after the entire body lost that privilege by showing itself unfaithful.
From here on, there was a tragic schism.
“…for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned… (Ex 33:3-4)
While it seems the people’s repentance at this point was sincere, Moses had to meet with the Lord “outside the camp, far from the camp.” (Ex 33:7) The Lord couldn’t dwell in the midst of a people soiled with idolatry. Until the climax of the book of Exodus, which occurs when the priestly system is inaugurated the Lord visibly inhabits the new Tabernacle.
Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Ex 40:34)
The Lord was no longer “outside the camp,” but–in all His power and majesty and shekinah glory–dwelling in the very center of it.
Exodus 25:8 beautifully rendered
above a synagogue entrance in Budapest
Fast-forward to the appointed time when the Lord sends His Messiah to “reconcile all things to Himself” (Col 1:20), to rip the Temple veil in two (Matt 27:51), to enter within and become our great High Priest forever (Heb 6:20) so we can “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). In other words, we get direct access. We can walk right up to the mercy seat within the heavenly Holy of Holies, something that under the Mosaic Covenant only the High Priest could do–and that only one day each year, on Yom Kippur.
Of course there are many, many repercussions of this–so many that “I suppose even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” about them (John 21:25). But Peter gives us one.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Pet 2:9-10)
In a clear reference to Ex 19, the Lord tells us, through Peter, that He has opened up a second bid to create that kingdom of priests He had offered under Moses.
Check out these words of Yeshua from His last meal with His disciples:
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:20-23)
If you’re a believer, you’ve got full access–a backstage pass into the amazing fellowship between the Father and the Son! And when the world sees us living in that kind of vibrant fellowship with God and with each other, the world will have to see that Jesus is real. That’s very cool stuff!
And yet we find that, somewhere around Constantine (320 A.D. or so), the priestly class is back. In spite of everything Yeshua did to redeem us to direct access to the Father.
If you’re a Protestant, you will no doubt respond that you don’t worship under any priest. But I’m struck by this bit of data I ran across recently (and forgive me for repeating it from last week–that’s how struck I am!):
A recent LifeWay Research study found that only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending are reading their Bibles occasionally—maybe once or twice a month, if at all. In fact, 18 percent of attenders say they never read the Bible. – Ed Stetzer, Dumb and Dumber: How Biblical Illiteracy Is Killing Our Nation
Such Christians aren’t looking for the Holy Spirit to “teach them all things” (John 14:26). They’re looking for the guy at the podium up front to teach them all things. Like the crowd at Sinai, who preferred to hear God’s word filtered through someone else.
Now that Yeshua has given His life to restore us to full access by His “new and living way” (Heb 10:19-22), what keeps us from shaking the rafters of heaven to pursue our divine birthright to seek God’s presence for ourselves?
Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve known many humble full-time ministers of the gospel, and I praise God for gifted men and women willing to dedicate their lives to its progress! I don’t mean such servants any disrespect at all. Here’s what I’m talking about. While Protestant and evangelical churches may not have priests per se, I’ve also heard of many cases of pastors assigning themselves a level of authority that makes them effectively God’s primary channel to their flock. If you aren’t sitting under that man’s teaching on a Sunday morning, then you’ve somehow removed yourself from proper “covering.” As if that man is the head of his flock–which is Christ (Col 1:18)–rather than its shepherd. And you can’t deny that celebrity pastors–many of whom are clearly false teachers–benefit materially from our culture’s adoration of celebrity everything.
“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.” – Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate and Chairman of World Vision-U.S.
Let me ask you this. Would you feel comfortable taking communion with a group of believing brothers and sisters, with no pastor present? Or do you perhaps have an almost unconscious belief that the Lord’s Supper is only “valid” if a person with the right credentials leads it? If so, then you’re endowing such people with priestly authority. (I’m challenging myself with that question, too, brothers and sisters!)
But isn’t it Biblical to sit under a pastor’s authority? This opens up a big topic, but please consider the following. The word “pastor” only appears once in most Bible translations. (“…and He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service…” Eph 4:11-12). The same Greek word, ποιμήν poimen, shows up a number of times where it is translated “shepherd,” often specifically referencing Christ. And please note that the purpose of all these categories of gifted people within the congregation is to equip the congregation to do ministry–not to do the most visible work of ministry themselves, while the cameras roll!
If the Lord had intended to set up a human pastor as the mandatory authority structure for a Christian fellowship, I think He might have been a little more explicit about it.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25-27)
Celebrity pastors with their jets and mansions have a little different notion of servant leadership than Yeshua did!
So here’s the point I’m trying to make. Under the Mosaic covenant, access to the Tabernacle was exclusive to a priestly caste and Tabernacle rituals were administered by a divinely appointed Levitical hierarchy. But even under Moses, that wasn’t God’s design for an obedient, “special treasure” people. That pattern was adopted because of sin. And yet, it has reappeared under the New Covenant, and we can’t seem to quite shake it.
“Apparently, we desperately want someone else to take responsibility for our relationship with God.” – Richard Jacobson, Unchurching: Christianity without Churchianity (This one’s a really thought-provoking read, by the way.)
When I think about the Tabernacle story, I always come back to this. The Tabernacle is such a glorious picture of Yeshua’s work in our hearts!
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth…. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [or fully declared] Him. (John 1:14,17,18)
The word for “dwelt” is σκηνόω, skēnoō, which is the verb form of σκηνος, skēnos, a tent or tabernacle!
The word for “became” in John’s passage is in the middle voice, which makes it reflexive. So the Word was both the acted upon and the actor. Both the entity that became flesh and the Creator that caused it to become.
So according to John 1:14, in Yeshua the Word—the full, intimate and powerful expression of the Godhead—generated itself into flesh and “tabernacle’d” among us!
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)
Now that God the Holy Spirit has set up His tabernacle in our hearts, why would we entrust our spiritual growth to any mere human?
If you’ve never picked up your “all access pass,” if you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:23, 6:23), please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)
The decision that saves you is that simple!
Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.