While much of organised Christianity continues fortifying kingdoms of men, behind the scenes the Holy Spirit has strategically and quietly been preparing a company of believers dedicated solely to the expansion of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Let’s backtrack a little. From the beginning God has desired a human priesthood. Essentially, the first function of a priest is to minister in worship to God (Ex. 40:15) and secondly to represent God to others. Prior to the Fall, Adam and Ishshah (later known as Eve) fulfilled such a priestly role in the Garden. Of all God’s creatures, only the first man and woman were created in the image of God. They were given oversight over God’s creation, thereby becoming His representatives, or mediators. Furthermore, in Genesis 2:15 we learn that God placed Adam in the garden with a specific assignment. Some translations say that assignment was to ‘cultivate’ and to ‘keep’ it, others say ‘care for and maintain’, and yet others translate the phrase as to ‘work’ or ‘tend and watch over’. The key Hebrew words here are abad and shamar. Interestingly, these are the same words used in Numbers 3:8 when God lays out the duties of the Levitical priests in the tabernacle.
They shall also keep (shamar) all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, along with the duties of the sons of Israel to do (abad) the service of the tabernacle.
After the Fall priesthood defaulted to firstborn males until Moses led the combined Hebrew tribes out of Egypt and into the wilderness (Ex. 13:2, 19:24). There God called the whole nation of Israel to be a ‘kingdom of priests’, or literally ’my own special treasure’ among the nations, declaring to Moses:
And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel (Ex. 19:6, NASB).
The Israelites were to be set apart, specifically called as God’s own holy priesthood, under His direct government and unique among the nations. But we know the story – Israel declined the privilege, and the imperfect Levitical priesthood was put in place until the perfect should come (Heb. 7:11). Further on we find Israel displacing God with a human king, so they could be ‘like all the nations'(1 Sam. 8:5, 20).
But God has never abandoned His desire for His own sanctified, set apart, holy priesthood – His own special treasure on this earth. Under the New Covenant each and every believer is invited into this priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9).
And He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father – to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen (Rev. 1:6 NASB)¹
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth (Rev. 5:10 NASB)
Sadly, holding the invitation is not a guarantee of participation, for there is a deep and abiding inner work, a work of separation from the world and its systems, that is the hallmark of this particular priesthood, that not every believer is willing to embrace.
This priesthood is not attained through theological studies, inheritance, tradition, or ambition. It is a priesthood made, or created, by Christ. Holding the title of ‘priest’, ‘reverend’ or ‘pastor’ is not part of the criteria. Nor is being a celebrated apostle or prophet or demonstrating extraordinary spiritual giftings. The Spirit is about to teach us that the greatest calling of any child of God is to His royal Kingdom of priests.
And as with all things pertaining to the Kingdom of God, this Kingdom priesthood is unlike anything the world approves or expects of a priesthood. There is no allegiance among its members to a denomination, an ideology or any human leadership. There is no recognisable uniform. There is no earthly temple, headquarters or gathering place. The members of this priesthood gather no followers to themselves, and seek no place of influence, recognition or reward in this world.
So, who are these Kingdom priests? Good question. Here are some answers, though by no means are these the whole picture, because none of us have the whole picture. That’s what’s so good about the Kingdom, we each need the pieces others hold to complete the picture. God designed it that way.
- They are people who know who they are because their sense of identity is becoming embedded in Christ. Their self-worth is not governed by the ever-changing values of this world or what others think or say about them. They know they are Heaven’s hard-won treasure, just as they know they are entrusted to display Heavenly treasures in this fallen world. They have walked difficult pathways and endured life experiences that have challenged and stripped away every other identity they previously valued higher than that of being a beloved child of God the Father, whether that identity be found in family, church, community, career, success or even failure. The way of the Kingdom is a journey into deeper and deeper dependence on Christ alone to meet every need the human soul might experience. These ones have travelled that journey and will continue to do so.
- They are worshipers, learning that true worship is to live every moment in the presence of God. The New Testament calls on us to present ourselves to God, both as living sacrifices and alive from the dead ( Rom. 12:1; Rom. 6:13). As living sacrifices they have been schooled by the Holy Spirit to be ‘crucified with Christ’, being conformed to His image, choosing to live and walk in the Spirit over carnality. But they also present themselves ‘alive from the dead’. The resurrection power of Christ’s endless Life is not just a theory to these ones but a moment by moment experience of faith and fellowship with the Living Christ. They are moving on from elementary doctrines into a mature, living, fruitful communion with Jesus Christ that transcends this world and allows His endless, dynamic Life to be their living reality in this world (Heb. 6:1). They live and breathe the risen Christ.
- The Kingdom of Heaven is entered through tribulation (Acts 14:22). These ones are acquainted with grief even as their King is acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3). The Hebrew word for grief here, (choliy), is from a root word that can mean weakness, tiredness or sickness. This priestly people are not removed from the struggles and sufferings of their fellow humans but are able to demonstrate empathy, compassion and hope as those who have also struggled, yet through Christ are overcoming. But notice it is ‘acquainted’ with grief, not best friends. They are not overburdened by grief or sorrow for the way of the Kingdom is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
- They are Kingdom minded. These ones are no longer held captive by denomination, tradition, religious culture, Christian nationalism or love of the world. Among them there is no formal hierarchy of titles or office. Their focus is the worship of the King and the advancement of His Heavenly Kingdom on this earth. They are a diverse mixture of nationality, gender, age and skin colour whose citizenship is heavenly, not earthly (Phl. 3:20). United by the Spirit of God, their unity is not built on creed or doctrine, but flows from love for, and faithfulness to, Jesus Christ.
- They are of Melchizedek, not Aaron (Heb. 6:20). Their heartbeat is endless Life, not endless law. They are finding Christ as their Sabbath and are transitioning from faith in dead religious works into God’s rest (Heb. 4:9, 10). Old Covenant codes of conduct have lost their centrality. Righteousness is written on their hearts and fulfilled through living union with Christ in His endless, indestructible Life (Heb. 7:16). And endless Life, the building block of the Kingdom of God, is not just about living forever. It is the tangible energy that powers the Kingdom and all who dwell in the Kingdom. It is God life, the Greek word ‘zoe’, used by Jesus to distinguish between normal human life and resurrection life (John 10:10). It is abundant, full, dynamic resurrection Life of Christ, who is a Priest forever after the order of Melchizadek.
Until next time, my friends, seek first the Kingdom of God.
¹I am aware there is controversy over whether the correct phrasing in these two verses should be ’kingdom of priests’ or ‘kings and priests’. The translation problem is around the Greek words basileia (kingdom) and basileus (kings). I have chosen to go with the NASB translation in this case. However it is clear from the New Testament, and from Rev. 5:10 that this kingdom of priests will indeed reign on the earth, and that they are considered ‘royal” (1 Peter 2:9). Whether this means they have the authority of kings or the King’s authority I will leave up to readers to decide.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2018. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.