Revelations from the Word

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He was serving as priest before God

by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf

"There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest [hiereus] named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving [hierateuo] as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood [hierateia], his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense" (Luke 1:5-10).

The Greek verb hierateuo means 'to be responsible for the priestly function', 'to be a priest'. So Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem at the time of the birth of Jesus. The principal function [hierateia] of the priests [cohen in Hebrew, hiereus in Greek] was to be the mediator between God and His people:

  • to offer burnt offerings and thank offerings (Leviticus 1 and 2),

  • to offer sacrifices of atonement and guilt offerings for the forgiveness of sins (Leviticus 3 to 5),

  • to offer burnt incense (Numbers 16:40),

  • to teach the Torah (Law) (2 Chronicles 15:3).

They were part of the three classes (with the prophets and the kings) who received the anointing of the Holy Spirit to carry out their function well.

This office of the first Covenant was a shadow of heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5) which would show itself clearly with the coming of Jesus. The one who would make, at the same time, the sacrifice and the Priest perfect, who would take away the sin of the world once for all (Hebrews 7:23-28). By his blood he renewed the Covenant with the people of God. He was thus made High Priest over the House of God (Hebrews 10:21). So by Him we have free access before God for the forgiveness of our sins, so that we are saved.

In this renewed Covenant, we make up a kingdom of priests [hiereus] (Revelation 1:6; 5:10) called a royal priesthood [hierateuma] (1 Peter 2:5,9). In the first Covenant only the tribe of Levi had the function of priest and high priest. In the renewed Covenant Jesus Christ is the only High Priest and all those who are saved are priests. In effect we are saved to serve [latreuo] God (Luke 1:74). The Greek verb latreuo means 'to worship God', 'to adore'. 'To serve God' then means 'to be a priest for God'.

Our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We worship God [latreuo] then in our spirit (Romans 1:9) by the Holy Spirit (Philippians 3:3). For that we have in us an altar which allows us to make offerings to God through Jesus Christ our High Priest (Hebrews 13:15). We have then the responsibility to obtain forgiveness for our sins, to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, to offer the incense of our praise and adoration through Him. Only Jesus Christ is the intermediary between God and us, and no one other is able to fulfil this function in our place.