The Old Covenant Priesthood

“[Moses] poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. And Moses brought Aaron’s sons and clothed them with coats and tied sashes around their waists and bound caps on them, as the Lord commanded Moses” (vv. 12–13).

- Leviticus 8

What is our fundamental need if we are to enjoy a right relationship to our Creator? That question can be answered in multiple ways. We need the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (Rom. 3:21–26). We need to believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). We need the Holy Spirit to regenerate us (John 3:1–8).

Perhaps more fundamental than any of these answers is that we must have a mediator in order to be rightly related to God. It is through the mediation of Christ that our sins are forgiven and we receive His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). The one mediator between God and men is the “man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). The Holy Spirit who regenerates us is also the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9). Thus, we find salvation in and through the mediatorial work of Christ.

In this new covenant era, we have the benefit of knowing who the Mediator is with clarity. Under the old covenant, however, the people of God knew the identity of the Mediator only in types and shadows. The chief type or foreshadowing figure of the final mediator was the old covenant priest, particularly the high priest of Israel.

Many Old Testament passages describe the work of the old covenant priesthood. In today’s passage, for example, we see that the priests were set apart for service through the anointing of oil, through the sacrifice of animals, and even by receiving special clothing (Lev. 8). This setting apart was necessary, for only the priests could enter the inner parts of the tabernacle in order to offer the sacrifices that would cover the sin of the people (Num. 3:5–10). The old covenant priests stood between the presence of God in His sanctuary and the ordinary Israelites, bearing the blood of the sacrifices and atoning for the people’s sin so that they would not be destroyed. The high priest in particular served this mediatorial role. Only he could enter the holiest portion of the tabernacle and temple—the Holy of Holies—and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16).

Having the priests as old covenant mediators was a great benefit to the people, for the priests enabled the people to worship the Lord without being put to death. However, the old covenant priesthood was not the ideal. Individual Israelites could not enter the holiest places of the sanctuary and enjoy the fullness of God’s holy presence. And because they were not priests, their service could not be set apart unto the Lord in a special way like the priests’ service.

Coram Deo

Today we have no earthly priests to stand between us and the Lord. That does not mean the instructions for the old covenant priesthood are of no value to us, however. These instructions help us understand the work of Christ and our need for Him to mediate between God and us. We should therefore study the old covenant revelation in order to better understand the work of Christ.

Passages for Further Study

Numbers 18
Deuteronomy 17:8–13
Ezekiel 44:15–31
Hebrews 9:1–10

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