The book of Leviticus is the manual for knowing how we can remain in fellowship with God. God has come down and the glory of the Lord has filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40). Now that God is among his people, directions must be given for how the people can dwell with him without being consumed because of their lack of holiness. The first seven chapters describe the necessity for sacrifices to be able to remain in fellowship with God. Sacrifices are needed to deal with our sins. You can go online and read or listen to the lessons I did on these sacrifices that God prescribed and see how Jesus and his sacrifice is the fulfillment of those sacrifices.
The next important teaching that God communicates to the people is that they need a priesthood to act on their behalf. Since God is holy, we need someone who can go to God on our behalf to offer the sacrifices for us. God, in his love and grace, makes provisions for the people to have a priesthood that would come from Aaron, the brother of Moses. Leviticus 6:8 is the first time that the Lord commands Moses to speak to the priests and give them directions. As we noted in the last lesson, “Holiness By Grace,” we observed that most of the book is given as commands to the people of Israel, not the priests or Leviticus specifically (cf. Leviticus 1:1-2; 27:34). This section will show us why a priesthood is so important for the people.
Continual Fire (6:8-13)
The first directions given to the priests is regarding the burnt offering. Notice in Leviticus 6:8-13 the repeated emphasis on one particular aspect. “The fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it” (6:9). Look at verse 12. “The fire on the alter shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out.” Look at verse 13. “Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.”
For the fire to burn continually means that the priests were continually working. Why was this so important? The fire was continually burning so that the people would continually see that atonement is always available. No one should come to the sanctuary and find the fire out or the priests unavailable. The priests were always ready and always working to keep the fire going so that sacrifices could be made at any time and forgiveness could be received at any time. The priests were always working so that others could always approach God. What a picture God wanted to communicate to the people! God wanted the people to always see that there is access to forgiveness. You can always come to God. You can always be forgiven. You can always come to the Lord. The fire is always burning. God is always there. God stands ready to forgive. To communicate this picture even further, you will notice in Leviticus 9:24 that God lit the fire on the altar. God is the one who initiates this way for forgiveness and atonement. The priests will maintain this fire, but God is the one who opened the way for forgiveness.
But such a blessing also declares a sad reality. We need a perpetual offering to God, don’t we? We need the fire ready at any moment so that sacrifices can be made and sins be forgiven. There is not a safe hour where we can turn the fire off. God stands ready by his grace to forgive and we need that constant access because of our sinfulness.
We are seeing the amazing blessing of God. God desires fellowship with his people and provides priests as mediators to make fellowship possible. The priests assist the worshippers for finding forgiveness. The sacrifices the priests made were the means by which God could remain with his people, dwelling with them.
Jesus, Our High Priest
The book of Hebrews goes to great lengths to emphasize that Jesus is our high priest.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11–14 ESV)
Notice that the priests that we have studied must stand daily in service, repeatedly offering the same sacrifices, which ultimately could not take away sins. Jesus is appointed by God as our great high priest (Hebrews 5:5-10). But Christ’s priesthood is superior because he does not have to stand daily making sacrifices repeatedly. Jesus made one sacrifice for all time and now has sat down. His work is done for this was the perfect sacrifice we needed that did take away sins. The cross stands historically before our eyes, like the fire on the altar in the tabernacle, showing that atonement is always available and God is ready to forgive sins.
Priests From The People Consecrated For Service (8:1-36)
One of the blessings of the priesthood is that they came from their own people. The sons of Aaron were able to represent the people because they understood the people. They understood the problem of sin and temptations. There would be no shame coming to the priest with your animal for sacrifice because the priest himself needed to offer sacrifices for his own sins too. Because of their own sins and living among the people, these priests needed to be declared holy. This is what Leviticus 8 is teaching. We cannot just say that Aaron and his sons are priests. They must go through an ordination ceremony so that they can be sanctified to serve the holy God. Not any person can serve as high priest. He must be chosen by God and consecrated for service.
The writer of Hebrews also seizes on this concept concerning Jesus as our high priest. Listen to how the writer of Hebrews pictures Jesus as our high priest.
17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17–18 ESV)
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 4:14–5:10 ESV)
Notice that the writer of Hebrews emphasizes how high priests are able to relate to the worshippers because they themselves have weaknesses (Hebrews 5:1-2). But this does not mean that we cannot approach Jesus. This is the reason that Jesus was made like us (Hebrews 2:17-18). Jesus experienced temptations and suffering and therefore opens the door to us to come to him without fear or shame because he understands. Jesus can be the perfect Lamb of God who does not need to offer sacrifices for his own sins, yet still be the sympathetic high priest who we turn to because he understands our weaknesses and failures. He is our understanding, compassionate high priest.
A Priesthood Today
The New Testament story concerning the priesthood does not end there. We are missing a big part of the picture if we end at this point. Notice in Leviticus 6-8 that Aaron is not the only priest. All who belonged to Aaron as his children were also priests for the Lord and worked in the tabernacle. Conferring the priesthood on Aaron meant that his lineage would also belong to the priesthood. In the same way, the scriptures tell us that as believers joined to the family of God in Christ, we are also part of Jesus’ priesthood. Listen to the scriptures that tell us we are priests of God.
First, Isaiah prophesied that God’s covenant people would be priests when Christ comes.
But you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. (Isaiah 61:6 ESV)
The apostle John writes to Christians and tells them that they are priests of God.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5–6 ESV)
The apostle Peter also declared that we are priests.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5 ESV)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)
We have been given the important purpose of acting as priests before God like the priests in the days of the tabernacle. Peter states our purpose as a chosen race, holy nation, and royal priesthood. We are to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We are telling the world about the great high priest who has made atonement for our sins, drawing the world in to worship the Lord. We show people the cross so that they will know that atonement remains available to all who will come to Jesus.