Effective and Defective Priests
Issue No. 230
Leviticus 21:17 says that no descendants of Aaron that had defects were allowed to minister to God in His sanctuary. This was, of course, one of the provisions of the Old Covenant, which was applied to those with physical defects. But when we look at the law through the eyes of Christ and apply it in a New Covenant manner, the law takes on an internal application.
The law will always be interpreted according to the covenant that defines a person’s relationship with God. The Old Covenant focuses upon externals as symbolic of heart matters; the New Covenant focuses upon the heart and subordinates the externals to their proper place as types and shadows of the real.
The external forms demanded by the Old Covenant to fulfill the law were meant to teach spiritual things. The problem was that, as time passed, the forms came to be thought of as God’s top priority and as ends in themselves. The prophets complained about this continually, saying in Isaiah 29:13,
13 Then the Lord said, Because this people draw near with their words, and honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of traditions learned by rote.
Jesus too identified the problem, saying in Mark 7:6-9,
6 … Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. 7 But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. 8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. 9 He was also saying to them, You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.
The religious leadership did not know the mind of God, yet they were trying to interpret the law that He had given. They were over-focused upon external forms as well, and thus had their priorities all wrong.
For example, the law said to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. The traditions of men interpreted this to mean that they could only walk 2,000 cubits on the Sabbath (“a Sabbath days’ journey,” it was called—Acts 1:12). Their traditions also made them think Jesus was breaking the Sabbath law by healing people on that day. Was it really unlawful to do good on the Sabbath by healing someone who had been bound by infirmity? (Mark 3:4)
The rabbis had also ruled that if a person threw his walking stick ahead of him, he was allowed to go pick it up without counting those cubits toward the Sabbath days’ journey. Was God really so petty as to care if a person threw his stick ahead of him or simply walked more than 2,000 cubits on that day?
They thought God was a legalist, that He cared more about the letter of the law than its spirit and intent. So the law became a bondage to them, because it became an end in itself that had to be served scrupulously.
Jesus came along and set us free, not from the law, but from man’s misuse of it, called “the traditions of men.”
Tracing the Problem to Sinai
This problem is traceable to Mount Sinai, when the people refused to hear the spoken word at the time God gave the Ten Commandments. They wanted Moses to hear and for him to tell them later what God had said (Ex. 20:19). And so Moses received the law written externally on tables of stone, which the people could read. But it was not written on their hearts, nor would it be except by the action of the Holy Spirit.
And so at that first Pentecost at Sinai the law was given, but not the Holy Spirit. Only a few, then, were able to hear the Word and to have the law written on their hearts. But the nation itself was disqualified until Pentecost in Acts 2 brought the Holy Spirit to all men generally. And so Heb. 8:10 tells us about the New Covenant, “I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts.”
The fulfillment of Pentecost occurred when the 120 drew near to God in the upper room, in direct contrast to the Sinai Pentecost when the people ran away. This gave the New Covenant the power to write the law upon the hearts of the people and not merely on tables of stone. It was the same law, but in a different form. It was largely the same wording, but with very different application.
The Melchizedek Priesthood
In the days of Moses and Aaron, God established a type of priesthood which was dependent upon being descended from Aaron in a physical way. No one else qualified as a priest. More than that, mere genealogy was not enough, for those priests had to be without physical defect as well.
But there was an older order of priesthood that actually took precedence over that of Levi. Hebrews 7:9 tells us that because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and Levi was “in the loins of his father,” this shows that Levi was subordinate to Melchizedek. Further, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, not the other way around, because “the lesser is blessed by the greater” (Heb. 7:7).
So the Old Testament itself shows which priesthood is lesser and which is greater. When Levi was given the priesthood, they were given a calling which God foreknew would not last forever. That priesthood was the Executor of God’s Testament (“will”). But when they misused their position and misinterpreted the will, this responsibility reverted to the greater and older order of priests—that of Melchizedek—to whom it was given in the beginning.
Those who teach today that God is now replacing Melchizedek with the old Levitical order of Jews named Cohen (“priest” in Hebrew) simply do not understand the mind of Christ. They get this idea by misunderstanding Ezekiel 44.
In this chapter we find two kinds of priests: idolatrous priests (sons of Eli) and obedient priests (sons of Zadok). In the Old Testament, of course, both dynasties of priests of necessity were descended from Aaron. But this is not how we are to apply this prophecy in our day, for in the bigger picture, this is a story of how Levi was replaced by Melchizedek. The sons of Zadok, of course, represent the Order of Melchi-zedek, after which Order Zadok is named.
The Idolatrous House of Eli
The Ark of the Covenant had first rested in Shiloh from the days of Joshua to the time of Eli, the high priest. But Eli’s sons were “sons of Belial,” (1 Sam. 2:12), because they were wicked and corrupt.
So God removed the Ark from that place, using the Philistines as His army. The Ark never returned to Shiloh, but decades later, after the reigns of Saul and David, Solomon built a Temple in Jerusalem and placed the Ark there.
Meanwhile, however, an unknown prophet had told Eli that God would cut him off and raise up a new priesthood from a different dynasty, or family. This prophecy was finally fulfilled in the days of Solomon, when he replaced Abiathar with Zadok (1 Kings 2:27).
So whereas Eli’s dynasty from Phinehas provided the high priests in Shiloh, Zadok’s dynasty provided the high priests for the Temple in Jerusalem. This replacement came by the hand of Solomon, “Prince of Peace,” and it was a prophetic type of the greater replacement that was yet to come under Jesus Christ, the true Prince of Peace.
This time, however, the change was not to be merely a reshuffling within the families of Levi. It was to replace Levi himself with Melchizedek foreshadowed by Zadok.
With this in mind, we come to Ezekiel 44, where the prophet speaks of the end times, using Old Testament terminology. He speaks of the idolatrous priests without naming them. But when he contrasts them with the sons of Zadok (44:15), it is clear that he is referring to the replacement of Eli with Zadok. The sons of Eli were the idolatrous priests in this prophecy. Ezekiel 44:10-13 says,
10 But the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray from Me after their idols, shall bear the punishment for their iniquity . . . 13 And they shall not come near to Me to serve as a priest to Me, nor come near to any of My holy things, to the things that are most holy; but they shall bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed.
So these idolatrous priests are said to be limited to the “outer court” to minister to men only (44:14) and are not allowed into the Sanctuary to minister to God Himself.
Only the sons of Zadok, Ezekiel says, will be allowed to enter the Sanctuary to minister to God.
Now, there are two ways that this may be interpreted. Those who assume that the Jews are Israelites and are the inheritors of the earthly promises have taught that the Jews (at least the “meek” Jews) will inherit the earth, while the Christians will be given a heavenly inheritance. This was the teaching of early Dispensationalism, which sought to reconcile supposed biblical contradictions by creating two separate inheritances to be given to two separate peoples, i.e., “Jews and Gentiles.”
Dispensationalism thus retains the dividing wall in the temple of God, which, according to Eph. 2:14, was broken down and abolished in Christ to create “one new man.”
Obviously, I do not hold to that interpretation, for it does violence to the spirit of the New Testament.
The second interpretation, which I believe to be valid, is that Ezekiel 44 shows two levels of fulfillment: first, the replacement of Levi with Melchizedek in the time of Christ; and secondly, the end-time application, the replacement of the Pentecostal priesthood by the Tabernacles priesthood (overcomers).
Since we have already shown that Zadok represents the Melchizedek Order, with Jesus Christ as its High Priest, we do not need to belabor that view. We must instead focus upon the second (end-time) application.
Pentecost: The Battleground for Priesthood
Even as the Passover Age (OT) had two distinct dynasties of priests (Phinehas and Zadok), so also does the Pentecostal Age (NT). Even as the first OT dynasty of Phinehas corrupted itself and became disqualified in the sight of God, so also do we find its New Testament counterpart in the Church under the anointing of Pentecost.
The Church under Pentecost replaced the old order of priests in the Old Jerusalem when the true priesthood was transferred to its new location—the New Jerusalem.
But the corruption of the Church became comparable to the corruption of the priesthood of Eli in Shiloh. For this reason, the Church under Pentecost has received the same sentence that the prophet gave to Eli himself.
Eli’s ancestor, Phinehas, had been given a promise in Num. 25:13 that his dynasty would have an “everlasting priesthood.” But “everlasting” is from the Hebrew word olam, which does not mean time without end. It simply means “to an obscurity.” In other words, the end is unknown; it is not unending.
The proof of this is in the fact that when the prophet of God came to Eli to prophesy an end to the dynasty of Phinehas, he brought up this point, saying in 1 Sam. 2:30,
30 Therefore the Lord God of Israel declares, “I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever [olam]; but now the Lord declares, Far be it from Me—for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed.
If the Hebrew word olam really meant “everlasting” or “forever,” then God would have been breaking His promise to Phinehas here. But the word does NOT mean unending time. In the days of Phinehas, God gave his dynasty an unknown amount of time. But the prophet in Samuel’s day shed some light on it, and Solomon’s actions concluded the matter.
When Abiathar was replaced by Zadok, that unknown time became fully known. And it was NOT “everlasting.”
So also is it in the New Testament. I have no doubt that the Church under Pentecost was given an “everlasting priesthood” in the same sense as the promise to Phinehas. The New Testament assumes that Christian believers would aspire to be overcomers and would attain that final priesthood in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6).
Yet it was also known and prophesied by Jesus (Luke 12:48; John 5:28, 29) and by Paul (1 Cor. 3:15) that the Church itself would receive some sort of judgment for its disobedience and oppression at the time of the general resurrection of the dead at the Great White Throne.
So it is clear from this that the Church under Pentecost was to have the same kind of problem that occurred in that first priesthood of Phinehas. Not all Christians are overcomers. Pentecost is a leavened feast (Lev. 23:17). Pentecost is the great time of testing in the wilderness to see who is qualified to inherit the Kingdom.
This of necessity means that there are two types of Christian believers—citizens and rulers in the Kingdom. Or, to put it in priesthood terms, the overcomer priests who will rule in the Tabernacles Age to come, will be given new garments (spiritual bodies), by which they may minister to God in heaven in their “linen garments,” as Ezekiel 44:17 prophesies.
Ezekiel 44:19 says these will also have the power to minister to men on earth, but to do so they must put on “other garments” (i.e., “wool,” representing a physical body). They will have the same authority in both realms that Jesus had after His resurrection, when He was able to visit with His disciples on earth and then disappear to return to the sanctuary in heaven (Luke 24:31). The corrupted Pentecostal priesthood of Phinehas-Eli will be limited to minister to men in the outer court only.
The Spirit of Antichrist
Let me say also that I am not merely pointing to the Church in Rome as if they are the only problem. I tell you that God has His people everywhere. Rome is not the real problem, although it certainly has its share of lawlessness.
The problem, however, is more pervasive than that, for the spirit of antichrist is everywhere and can be found in the heart of man in every denomination and in men outside denominationalist churches.
The spirit of antichrist is the spirit of usurpation, which rules in the place of God as if the person were given a license to do as he pleased with what is entrusted to him.
It is that spirit which says, “I can do as I please, because God has given me the authority to rule the inheritance that God has given me.” The spirit of antichrist does not recognize God’s ownership which stands above man’s authority over his little inheritance.
The spirit of antichrist prevailed with the Israelites when they thought they could use their property and their kingdom in Canaan to worship other gods.
The spirit of antichrist prevailed with Saul when he thought that the anointing gave him license to rule Israel according to his own will.
The spirit of antichrist prevailed with Absalom when he usurped the authority of his father, David, thinking he could do a better job as king.
The spirit of antichrist prevailed when the chief priests usurped the throne of the Messiah (Matt. 21:38), for they knew He was the Heir, but did not want to lose their power and source of income.
The spirit of antichrist prevailed when the Popes in Rome claimed the right to overrule the precepts of Christ and the apostles. (See The Seven Churches, ch. 5, where I quote from Pope Boniface’s Unam Sanctum affirming this so-called “right.”)
The spirit of antichrist prevails in other denominations when they put away the law, claim the right to rule by the traditions of men, oppress men with fear and guilt in order to induce them by fraud into giving them more money.
The spirit of antichrist prevails in the heart of every man as individuals when they think or do anything that is contrary to the Holy Spirit’s attempt to write the law in their hearts.
Christ Replaces Antichrist
There is a true and a false “Replacement Theology.” The false declares that the cursed fig tree of Judah has come to life and has replaced the real tribe of Judah—the followers of King Jesus, King of Judah.
The false declares that the Old Covenant is about to replace the New; that the Old Jerusalem has replaced the New as the capital of the Kingdom of God; that the Levitical priesthood is about to replace Melchizedek in the Age to come; that law will replace grace; that sacrifices will be reinstituted, replacing the true Sacrifice of Christ.
Though few Christians would replace Jesus Christ with Antichrist, they have shown that they are willing to give the Kingdom to those who would do so. Most of this false Replacement Theology has risen in recent years in the guise of Messianic Christianity and Christian Zionism.
The true “Replacement Theology” is that which is taught in the Book of Hebrews. It teaches that the New Covenant has replaced the Old; that the Melchizedek Priesthood has replaced the Levitical; that the old form of animal sacrifices has been replaced by the True Sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
I should add also that the Roman Church’s idea of Replacement Theology was faulty and paved the way for an equally false reaction that we see today in Christian Zionism. The Roman Church taught that the Church replaced the Jews as the people of God, when in fact, the Church itself was the CONTINUATION of the tribe of Judah.
What came to be known as “The Church” was the fig tree of Judah after it had been greatly pruned. Those of Judaism who revolted against the King, and who preferred to follow the usurpers, were cut off from the fig tree of Judah, leaving only the believers as the tribe of Judah.
Thus, the Church did not REPLACE Judah. It was Judah from the beginning. The fact that many other branches were grafted into that tree of Judah did not make it any less the tribe of Judah. There were other branches that replaced those individuals who were cut off, but the tree itself was the tribe of Judah.
The Roman Church did not understand this, and so this faulty theology triggered a worse reaction in recent years, where men found an excuse to undo all that the book of Hebrews established. If this continues, it will not be long before we will see articles casting doubt upon the book of Hebrews. We will then be near the point where Judaism, with all of its Old Testament forms, will replace the New Covenant itself. And then the way will be paved for Jesus Christ to be ousted from His rightful position as High Priest and King. May it never be so!