when he said priesthood, he wasn’t singling out leaders…
Most of us know the passage Peter wrote about how we’re a royal priesthood and holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). He said we’re a household where Christ is the Chief Cornerstone–the point of alignment for the whole building. Those who align with him are living stones that God builds into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). But those who don’t align will stumble over Christ. We’ve seen a lot of stumbling going on lately, and we could expound extraordinaire, but right now lets talk about the stones that do align.
Holy nation is easy enough to reason out–God set apart his followers as a world-wide, spiritual kingdom made holy by Jesus’ sacrifice. But what does royal priesthood mean? Peter wasn’t talking only to leaders of churches who call their ministers priests. Of course God ordains church leaders for important purposes, and we should honor them as such. But when Peter said you (you, the readers) are a royal priesthood–i.e., the holy priesthood for God’s spiritual house–he wasn’t separating the minsters from everyone else. He included everyone in the body of Christ. We’re all priests.
So how do we serve as priests?
peter’s royal priesthood
First of all, Peter didn’t invent the phrase royal priesthood and holy nation. His Jewish readers would have known that he quoted Moses, where God expressed his passion for relationship with his people. And though there’s pressure nowadays to reduce long quotes for modern readers who like things in short spurts, it wouldn’t do justice to this beautiful passage, so it’s worth it to write it out:
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant [of everlasting love], then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.Exodus 19:4-5a, LEB
at first God invited all his people into direct fellowship…
Moses ended up serving the Israelites as a mediator between them and God, but at first God had invited all the people as a kingdom of priests to communicate with him directly. Remember God’s presence descending on Mt. Sinai with lightning, thunder, shaking and loud trumpets? Well, God planned for the people to come up to the mountain in person, so they could hear him themselves. Yes, he told Moses to put up boundaries to keep them safe from getting too close, but in God’s desire for relationship, he made provisions for them to approach him personally (Exodus 19:16-25).
but the people were terrified…
They rejected God’s invitation. They said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Exodus 20:19).
Of course, God already knew they weren’t ready to encounter him directly. He said he was testing them (Exodus 20:20). God made it clear that on his part the invitation was open. The test helped them realize they needed a mediator because of their own fear, not for the lack of God’s desire.
all Christ’s followers are priests before God
In its simplest meaning, the priests’ job is to stand as mediators between God and man. They represent people to God and God to the people. Yes, Yahweh called the one Tribe of Levi as official priests to carry out the sacrifices and temple duties, like he calls leaders today to serve his body. But the Lord ultimately wanted to raise up a kingdom of priests, or as Peter put it, a royal priesthood. That means God has personal interaction with each one.
Now in the New Covenant, we no longer need a human mediator. Christ serves as the High Priest in his own household. God himself is our Mediator. By taking our punishment for sin upon himself, he removed the hindrance of sin which opened the way for us go to the mountain without fear–to interact with him directly through his Spirit (Hebrews 12:18-24).
So how do we act like a kingdom of priests, living stones built into his spiritual household for a holy priesthood? It’s really very simple: As priests under Christ, we represent others to God through prayer and intercession; and we represent God’s love and truth to them. We show them God’s passionate desire for relationship so they can also be living stones in his household of joy, peace and holiness.
Priesthood means we rise above our own self-oriented rights or pleasures. As living stones we align ourselves to the Cornerstone. We intentionally seek the Spirit’s direction in sharing God’s care to those we encounter in our everyday lives, whether in family, work, ministry, recreation, church, etc. We bring them to Christ in prayer, and invite them into God’s presence of forgiving mercy and truth.
Take some prayer time to consider how your life aligns with the Cornerstone as a member of his royal priesthood and holy nation.
Your comments, questions or insights are welcome! Please feel free to respond below.
*Note that all Scripture quotations are from the LEB, Lexham English Bible.