The Christian Priesthood
At the time of the writing of his first epistle, Peter was an old man far removed both by time and distance from the early scenes of his experiences with the Master. He sits in a room away in the city of Babylon, and dictates his letter to Silvanus.
It is probable that in thought he was standing beyond the influence of Jerusalem, under the shadow of the shrine to the idol Pan in the city of Caesarea Philippi, listening to those questions: “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? … Whom do ye say that I am?” And those never to be forgotten words probably rung again with joy in his ears and heart: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood (My bodily appearance) hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven. Thou art Peter (Petros, a stone), and upon this rock (Petra, a rock: thy confession of Me) I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:13-18).
There is no doubt about it, our Lord Jesus Christ, as Son of Man and Son of God, claimed to be the one and only foundation of the Christian Church. Peter well understood His meannig, so he writes a detailed description of the operations going on during this present dispensation in the raising of this mighty spiritual building or temple, the Church of the Living God (1 Pet. 2:4-9).
Among all these details may be noticed the foundation of the temple, its superstructure, and the priesthood that functions within it.
The Foundation of the Temple
In this connection there are two expressions used regarding our Lord Jesus Christ. First, He is the Corner Stone (1 Pet. 2:6). In Ephesians 2:20 we have another description of the foundation of the Christian Church, its chronological foundation. In the order of time, the New Testament apostles and prophets were first in the Church. They formed its chronological foundation, and the one Key Stone which united all the others was Jesus Christ Himself; He was the Chief Corner Stone.
Second, He is also the Cornice Stone (1 Pet. 2:7). Peter says, “The same is made the Head of the Corner.” As the cornice appears near the top of the building and forms, as a crown, its chief ornament, even so Christ is the Head, the Top, or the Cornice Stone of the Corner. He is therefore the Foundation Stone of prominence and the Top Stone of Pre-eminence, the Alpha and the Omega for all the history of the Church, and the Beginning and the Ending of all Church doctrine.
The Superstructure of the Temple
Our consideration directs our attention first to the material which went into this superstructure.
Its quality: The material is stated to be that of living stones. These stones, like the stones of Solomon’s magnificent temple, were taken from nature’s quarry, from nature’s connections and surroundings, and brought to Christ, “To whom coming, as unto a Living Stone.” They thus became living stones, for to these dead ones, life was imparted by the Living Stone. They were quickened out of death into life.
Its appearance: “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious.” Just before this statement, we read concerning Christ that He is a stone, elect, precious. Oh, how precious Christ is! What beauty is to be seen in Him! Well might the bride in the Song of Solomon say, “Yea, He is altogether lovely.”
Another rendering of this statement reads, “Unto you therefore which believe in this preciousness.” Christ has imparted to the believer His own beauty. The beauty of the Lord our God is upon us. In Christ we have life and in Christ we have a beauty not our own, and as such we are living stones in the great invisible building, the universal Church.
In second place our attention is directed to the progress. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house.” Living stones, taken by the power of the Gospel, are being constantly built into this spiritual temple, which will finally be composed of every believer from Pentecost to the rapture of the Church.
There are two distinct views of this spiritual building here. The first one, that at which we have been looking, presents to us the building in construction during the present age. To complete the picture, and to develop the teaching before us, the Holy Spirit adds one or two touches which present the temple as if fininished, ready for a priesthood to function within its precincts. For example, Christ is the Corner Stone of the foundation and also the Top Stone of the Corner.
Of course, we understand that part of the Church is in Heaven and part on earth; it, therefore, will not be seen in its entirety until both of these groups are united in the power and glory of resurrection.
The inferred picture of a complete building suggests to us that it is in this great universal Church, this mighty spiritual building, that the priesthood of all believers is to function.
The Priesthood in the Temple
There are two aspects in the Christian priesthood: “Ye … are … an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (ver. 5). “Ye are … a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (ver. 9). From these two Scriptures we learn that believers are an holy priesthood and also a royal priesthood. They are holy priests in consecration and character and royal priests in dignity and glory.
With these two aspects of the Christian priesthood, we have two distinct functions; the holy priesthood is for one purpose, the royal for another.
The holy priesthood: The functions of this aspect of the Christian priesthood are to offer up spiritual sacrifices, aceptable to God by Jesus Christ. The picture here is that of a temple in which the Christian is a priest offering up sacrifices of praise upon an altar, the Lord Jesus (Heb. 13:10). The spiritual sacrifice, like the burnt offering, is entirely for God. It is the act of worship which is acceptable to Him. We have an altar, even the Lord Jesus, and it is by or through Him that our worship ascends to God. Every believer is an holy priest to worship before the Lord.
The royal priesthood: The function of this aspect of the priesthood of all believers is to “shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.”
The verb “to shew forth” indicates a public declaration; it means to tell forth. The word “praises” might better be rendered excellencies or virtues; they refer to the personal excellent qualities of Him who called out of darkness into His marvellous light, that is God through Christ. The Christian is viewed as a royal priest to bear testimony to the personal virtues and excellencies of God manifest in Christ Jesus.
The functions of the Christian priesthood are to worship and to witness. It is very easy to understand that God here speaks of every member of His Church. He calls them an elect race, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a purchased people.
One of the mysteries of Christendom is how a certain few men of each succeeding generation arrogate themselves these functions which are, in the truest scriptural sense, the privileges of every believer in Christ; and how a certain class of men can assume to themselves the position and title of priest to the exclusion of others in the Body of Christ.
There is no distinction of class in the Christian priesthood. Christendom does make a distinction of class, and divides the people into clergy and laity. From whence does this distinction come? By what final and infallible authority is it made? The truth of the matter is that every genuinely saved soul can claim membership in the divine clergy, lot, or selection. The scriptural view of God’s clergy (See Ephesians 1:11 where “clereos” is the root of the word rendered “inheritance”) is not exclusive, but all comprehensive, embracing every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is no mention in the New Testament of the class distinction which has crept into Christendom, save it be inferred in that wonderful book of symbols, The Revelation. In Revelation 2:6, the Lord commends the church at Ephesus by saying, “Thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” Does this name refer to some early sect that sought to sow error among the early churches? A search of the annals of Church history fails to reveal the existence of any such separate sect. The word itself gives its own interpretation. “Nikao” means to get the upper hand, and “Laos,” the laity or the people. The word singles out those who assume ascendency over the people, the clergy in contrast to the laity. The Lord says, concerning this distinction among His people, “Which thing I hate.”
While it is unscriptural to make any distinction of class among the saints, we must bear in mind that there is a distinction of gift among saints. Ephesians 4:8-1a states, “When He (the Lord Jesus) ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men… . He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” All have not the same gift, in this matter there is a distinction. On the authority of Scripture it is asserted that these distinctive gifts were to be used by the Christian priesthood to show forth His divine excellencies without the assumption to any distinctive class.
Thank God for every gathering of Christians where all are ready to worship as holy priests, where all are ready to witness as royal priests! Yes, thank God for Christians who meet without class distinction, and who allow the distinctive gifts from the Risen Head of the Chruch to function!
In many villages, towns, and cities all over the world there are such gatherings, saints meeting according to the New Testament principles which govern Church character, behaviour, and administration. In these gatherings the saints gather upon the ground of the sacrifice of Christ, around His blessed presence, owning His supreme Lordship, and claiming His promise: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
S. O. M.