The High Priesthood of All Believers

Aaron in his Glorious GarmentsA friend – Hellie Brunt – told me just the other day that she believes God spoke to her recently through the imagery of Aaron’s bejewelled garments (Exodus 28). She was praying and saw herself decorated in jewels. Shortly after that a friend (let’s call him Bob) came up to her and told her he saw her decorated in jewels. A few days later she went to a meeting where there was a focus on God giving his people precious stones (see Isa 54:11-12). Hellie thinks this is all confirmation of her calling. She has just down-shifted from a full-time to a part-time job with a large local church to work part-time as a consultant speaker and trainer with churches across the UK. After many years in a dynamic church surrounded by gifted people she has much to give away.

A battle cry of the Reformation in the 16th century was the belief that all God’s people are called to be priests, not just the ordained clergy: ‘the priesthood of all believers’. At the dawn of Christianity divine power that had been located in special people, at special places and special times was now thrown open to all God’s people through Jesus (any time, anywhere).

But the belief in a ‘priesthood of all believers’ can easily become a belief in the priesthood of no believers, as if (priestly) mediation is itself a bad thing. And actually the New Testament makes the more radical claim that in Jesus there is a high priesthood of all believers. In the Bible there are priests and there is a high priest. The high priest alone wears the glorious, jewell-encrusted garments initially given to Aaron: the ephod, robe, breast piece and distinctive turban , or ‘diadem’ (Wis 18:24; Philo On Flight 111), with the name of God written on the front, over the forehead (Exod 28:36; Philo Vit. Mos. 2:114-115; Josephus Ant. 3:178, J.W. 5:235).

In the book of revelation Jesus appears as the high priest: in the opening vision he appears among the lampstands dressed with a golden sash just like the one the high priest wears in the sanctuary (where there are lamp stands) (1:12-13) and he has diadems and the name of God (19:12) just like the high priest. And all Jesus’ followers have the name of God on their foreheads (14:1; 22:4): they are all high priests.

Consider Bob’s role in Hellie’s experience of God’s voice. God speaks directly to Hellie and he confirms his word through Bob. So Bob is a mediator of God’s revelation to Hellie. Bob’s role is priestly. The high priest was appointed to function as a prophet. In particular, the stones of his glorious garments were part of the ‘breast piece of judgement’ (Exod 28:15-30) containing the mysterious Urim and Thummim. We don’t know exactly how these worked, but they were placed over Aaron’s heart (Exod 28:29-30) and through them God spoke to his people (see Num 27:21 ). Many Jewish texts from the time of Jesus show that these objects expressed the high priest’s calling to come into God’s presence so that he could then return to the people with revelation. In one instance, for example, in the late 2nd century B.C. the high priest (John Hyrcanus) was in the sanctuary when he heard God tell him that his sons had just won a great victory in battle. And it turned out that they had (Josephus Ant. 13:13:282-83).

This is one reason why it says in John 11:51 that it was as high priest that Caiaphas prophesied the need for Jesus to die for the whole nation. To be a high priest was to be a prophet.

In the last 50 years (or more) the Church globally has been stirred up by a rediscovery of the Spirit. Some, including those who claim to be champions of the 16th century Reformation and of the theologies of its heroes, Luther and Calvin, have resisted the successive waves of God’s Spirit. But in practice, without a high priesthood of all believers – a prophetic priesthood in the Spirit, there is really no priesthood of any believers, at all. If we believe in the (high) priesthood of all believers, this is because we believe we are all called to be mediators (to hear God’s voice for one another), because we all have the spirit (the Spirit) of the one mediator, Jesus Christ.

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