Summary: Did Jesus intend the office of Priest to be included in the New Testament Church? If not, why not?
“Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while He was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave You this authority?’
“Jesus replied, ‘I will also ask you one question. If you answer Me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism - where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?’
“They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin” - we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’
“So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’“
As we approach the season where we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah we will be doing much reading from the Gospels.
Let’s look again at verse Matthew 21:23a
“Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while He was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him.”
These two groups the “chief priests” and “the elders” are mentioned at least 23 times in the Gospel accounts and the book of Acts.
We kind of just skim over them as the “Jewish leaders” but it’s important for one very big reason that we will hopefully get to very soon.
First we’ve got the Levites. Priests from the time of Moses were to come from the line of Levi. The Levitical Priests however were not the ones who offered sacrifices or incense before the altar. Some of their jobs were to transport the Tabernacle before the Temple was built whenever the nation moved from one location to another. They also performed daily routines around the Tabernacle and then the Temple. And, they led worship!
The Aaronites or those who were descended from Aaron were the priests who were allowed to offer sacrifices and incense to the Lord.
The High Priest would be selected from the Aaronites. At the time of Moses the high priest would be assigned the title and duties for their entire life. Some of the more famous ones were Aaron himself, Eli, Uzzi and Hilkiah.
At the time of Christ this had actually been changed to a mostly political appointment. The High Priest would be appointed by the Roman governor and would serve in that position for a year.
This group of Aaronites were considered to be the Chief Priests at the time of Christ.
So, who were the “elders”?
The elders mostly consisted of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes and Rabbis.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were groups who were polarized by differing beliefs.
Scribes were people who copied the Hebrew Scriptures by hand from one scroll to another. Because of this they new the Scriptures very well and were often considered to be religious lawyers. Another reason why they were considered to be religious lawyers is because they had invented many “laws” to supplement the Laws of Moses and were familiar with them as well.
Scribes could be Pharisees but many were not.
Some new translations render scribes as “teachers of the law”
Rabbi’s seemed to be less political than the Pharisees and Sadducees.
They were also teachers not just of the law but of the prophets as well.
Elders would likely include the Levitical priests as well when they are all lumped together.
Why is this important? Well, it’s always good to know something about the groups you read about in the Bible unless they are followers of false gods and then caution must be used.
In an even more interesting point, priests are never mentioned in connection with the makeup of the church. Not once are there any references to priests in the hierarchy or function of the church.
“So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up …
“Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
If Christ Himself gave to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors and teachers, why didn’t He give us priests?