In Leviticus, the ones serving at the altar and approaching near with the blood of offerings were the priests.
The priests had a special service regarding the sacrifices of the Law — representing the saints who have the privilege of sacrifice and service during the present time, together with their High Priest, Jesus.
Only the High Priest and the under-priests were to approach the altar for the service of performing the sacrifices and offerings, as we read in Numbers 3:10, “And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest’s office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.”
On the Day of Atonement, according to the 16th chapter of Leviticus, the High Priest is said to have offered the sacrifices. This is explained in the following passages of the Bible:
Leviticus 16:1-3, 17: “And the Lord spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the Lord, and died; 2 And the Lord said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat. 3 Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering.”
17 And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
Hebrews 9:7 (NLT): “But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.”
The ark of the covenant was especially sacred. Levites were not allowed to see the ark. Thus Numbers 4:5 says it was to be covered by priests for moving, before the Levites accessed it.
Who Could Become a Priest?
The first High Priest of Israel was Aaron and the first under-priests were Aaron’s sons. We read about this in Exodus 28:1:
“And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.“
God chose Aaron as His mouthpiece (Exodus 4:16). In the Book of Hebrews, the Apostle Paul explains to us that “no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron“ (Hebrews 5:4).
In the generations after Aaron, the sons and grandsons and great grandsons (etc.) of Aaron, were qualified to become High Priests (as long as they were not otherwise impaired). They did not have to be sons of the then current High Priest.
The High Priests could only come from the Israelite — Levitical — Kohathitical — Amramic and Aaronic line, thus, they could only come from Aaron’s descendants (see Exodus 6:16-18).
In Ezra 7:1-5 there is an abbreviated list of the High Priests and in 1 Chronicles 6:4-14 there is a more complete list up to the captivity.
Here is a chart listing the names of the High Priests (in the two ascending rows to the left of the chart) descending from Eleazar and Ithamar, based on the recorded information by Ezra in 1 Chronicles chapter 6 — that is, until the deportation of Jehozadak when the Lord sent Judah and Jerusalem into exile to Babylon by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.
(Note: There are also other names from the Levitical line listed in the chart below, yet these others were not priests.)
Why was Jesus — our “Melchizedek” priest & “King of Righteousness” (Hebrew 7:1–3) — not born through the Levitical Tribe, but rather through the Tribe of Judah?
Jesus was born through the tribe of Judah, because Judah received the chain of genealogy that went from Reuben (disqualified) to Simeon (disqualified) to Levi (disqualified) to Judah.
Jesus by coming through Judah, was in the line of descent of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah as a genealogically clear line. Had Jesus come from Levi, one might suppose that he was a successor priest, and that the Levitical priesthood was intended to continue — which it was not.
(But Aaron married Eli-sheba, of Judah, and Jesus’ mother was from Judah — and her cousin Elizabeth, which is Greek for Eli-sheba, was evidently of Judah like Mary, but married Zachariah, a priest and thus from Levi — so at the beginning the two tribes were united in this way, and at the ending point when John (Levite) and Jesus (Judahite) came, the two tribes were united in this way.)
Here is a chart showing Jesus’ Geneology:
The Function of the Priests
“16And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, with the oversight of the whole tabernacle and all that is in it, of the sanctuary and its vessels” (Numbers 4:16).
Here is a brief summary of the priests’ functions, which included:
- Primarily offering sacrifices on the altar for sins. This included the sprinkling of blood and burning portions of sacrifices (Leviticus 17:6, Hebrews 5:1).
- Ministering in the Lord’s name (Deuteronomy 18:5; 21;5).
- Teaching the people the Law and all that God required; being used as mouthpieces through which God spoke to Israel (Leviticus 10:11, 2 Chronicles 15:3).
- Looking after the fire of the brazen altar (in the Court) and the burning incense on the hot coals on the incense altar in the Holy of the Tabernacle.
- Overseeing the duties of the sanctuary performed by the Levites (Numbers 3:32).
- Blessing the people in the name of God (Deuteronomy 10:8; 21:5, Numbers 6:22-27).
- Resolving arguments / deciding all cases of dispute and assault — be the ‘mediators’ between 2 parties of Israelites in any dispute (Deuteronomy 21:5, Hebrews 5:2).
- Covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles when the camp is to move (Numbers 4:5-15).
- Carrying the ark of the covenant (Joshua 3:3, 13; 4:18).
Some of the differences between the High Priest and the under-priests (who originally were composed of Aaron’s sons) include:
The high priest:
– Was the spiritual leader of the people of Israel;
– Wore different clothing compared to the other priests. e.g. the breast plate was only worn by the high priest (Exodus 28:29)
– Wore/had access to the Urim and the Thummim (Exodus 28:30).
– Offered sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, and on this day, was allowed to enter the Most Holy of the Tabernacle. The under-priests (i.e. Aaron’s sons) could not enter the Most Holy compartment of the Tabernacle, regardless if it was the Day of Atonement or not, unless for the sole purpose of covering the ark of the testimony when the camp was to move (Leviticus 16, Hebrews 9:7, Leviticus 10:1-5, Numbers 4:5). In Leviticus 10, evidently Nadab and Abihu died in front of the sanctuary, where these non-priests could retrieve the bodies. Had they entered the holiest place, their bodies would have been behind the veil, beyond which only the High Priest had authority to enter.
The Antitypical Priesthood
The Priesthood, one body under one chief or High Priest, was typical of the “little flock” (Luke 12:32) which, with its “head” and “High Priest,” Jesus, will constitute a royal priesthood in glory (1 Corinthians 11:3, Colossians 1:18, Hebrews 3:1, 4:14). Members of this priesthood, after the present time of sacrificing, will be kings and priests unto God, and reign over earth for a thousand years (Revelation 5:10, 20:6). But before the under-priests (the members of the Body of Christ) will be united to their “head” and begin their reign as the “Bride of Christ,” the 144,000, they must “suffer with him,” sharing in the antitypical sacrifices in order to be glorified together with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12, Romans 8:17).
Those who qualify (at the point of death) as members of the Bride of Christ, shall receive the highest reward due to their sacrifice unto death, suffering for Christ’s sake (2 Timothy 2:12).
“They shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).
These are the 144,000 described in Revelation 7:4, who shall sit with Christ in his throne (Revelation 3:21).
The Apostle Peter addresses these sanctified ones (represented by the Aaronic priests), as “an holy priesthood … acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
About the spirit-begotten of the present time, Pastor Charles T. Russell wrote, “They are all ministers (servants) of the truth, though not all preachers and Doctors of Divinity: and each must do his share at self-sacrifice ere he will be accounted worthy to be a joint-heir with Christ” (Tabernacle Shadows, page 27).
It is the Bride class that will inherit immortality and live in the Divine Realm reigning with Jesus, as they are the ones described in Revelation 14:4, “which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.”
- Few In Number
Jesus once addressed his followers (representative of the entire Gospel Age) as a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). This term “little flock” refers to the Bride of Christ class from the “called out” ones — that is, “the few” chosen from the “many” consecrated and spiritually begotten of the Gospel Age (Matthew 22:14). The 144,000 members of this Bride class, make their “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) revealed at the final verdict of judgment, that is, at one’s death, which is the point of time in the flesh, until one is to be “faithful until” (Revelation 2:10).
In Numbers 4:46–48, the number of Levites (in this context, representative of all the spirit begotten of the Gospel Age) prepared for service, was similarly few, 8580, compared to the population of Israelites as a whole (representative here, of the world of mankind). When we consider the priests inaugurated to serve at the time the Tabernacle was established, the number is remarkably few, five persons in all — Aaron and four sons (Exodus 28:1). Two of those priests were subsequently lost to the priesthood — Nadab and Abihu — evidently through intoxication (Leviticus 10:1, 2, 9). It is a lesson to us how careful we should be to avoid the intoxicating spirit of this world, lest we fall away from our privileges in Christ.
As those called of God to become priests who draw the world back to God, these have special privileges now.
Only the “Priestly” called-out class of this Gospel Age can see the glorious beauties of God’s Divine Plan. Others may know of them only as they hear them described — they have never seen the hidden light and beauty; never eaten of the “bread of presence;” never offered acceptable incense at the “golden altar.” To enjoy these privileges we must pass beyond the “door” of the “Holy,” through an entire (full) consecration to God, displayed even in the smallest intricacies of conduct — such as in one’s gentleness, tone of voice, modesty in clothing attire; not focusing on outward beauty such as (in the case of women) through the use of make-up or wearing of jewelry or expensive clothing or the braiding of hair as is explained by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:9.
Rather, let us desire to add “shine” to the inner character — the New Creation — by developing the fruits of the spirit to resemble the character of Christ. We still have this privilege presently, but soon it will draw to a close (Luke 13:25).
The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1–34)
The Day of Atonement type reflects Jesus and His Church during the Gospel Age (Leviticus 23:27–28). The Day of Atonement is also known as Yom Kippur and was the most solemn holy day of all the Israelite feasts and festivals, occurring once a year on the tenth day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. On that day, the High Priest performed elaborate rituals to atone for the sins of Israel — that is, present a sin offering for himself (Aaron) and his “house” (Aaron’s sons), and present a sin offering for the “people” (the Israelites).
The Levites are not mentioned in Leviticus 16. Aaron and his sons were covered by the first sin offering, and the remainder of the Israelites were covered by the second sin offering, including the Levites other than the priests. As of Leviticus 16, the Levites (other than only Aaron and his sons) had not yet been given any special status. For their status was transferred to the Levites from the firstborn in the second year of Israel in the wilderness, whereas the first Day of Atonement occurred during the autumn of the first year of Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 1:1, 3:12).
The Day of Atonement was the only day of the year when the High Priest would enter the Most Holy of the Tabernacle to complete the sin offering ordinance.
Specific animals were sacrificed.
We are told of this in Leviticus 16:6, 11 & 33:
“6 And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house.
11 And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself:
33 And he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary [the Most Holy area of the Tabernacle], and he shall make an atonement for the Tabernacle of the congregation [the Holy area of the Tabernacle], and for the altar [the golden altar in the Holy], and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation [for the world].”
Two animals were sacrificed for the ATONEMENT DAY sin offering: (a) a bullock and (b) a goat.
- (a) The Bullock
The bullock (on this specific day) represents our Lord Jesus as a man — as expressed in the Scriptures, “a body hast thou prepared me” (Hebrews 10:5).
Our Lord’s sacrifice took place at the beginning of his ministry and was finished at its close. Under the Law, it was only from the age of thirty, when Jesus could begin the sin offering sacrifice, and thus at thirty, Jesus came to John at the river Jordan to be baptised (Luke 3:23). It was here that Jesus presented himself in sacrifice to God, at the earliest possible time. It was at Jordan that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy (in Psalm 40:7) saying, “Lo, I have come, as in the volume of the Book it is written of me, to do thy will, O God. Thy law is written in my heart.”
Our Lord Jesus came to “taketh away the first that he may establish the second” (Hebrews 10:9); to set aside the typical for the “better sacrifices.”
From the moment of his consecration at baptism he was reckonedly dead and, at the same time, begotten of the holy Spirit. He was reckonedly alive as a new creature, an embryo spirit-being, during the three and a half years, the flesh being consumed and the new nature growing strong in the Lord, developing in harmony with the Divine will (R 4436).
Although the offering up of our Lord Jesus’ life was instantaneous (consecrating himself in a moment to give up all, even life itself, in the Father’s service), it is the presentation of his body to the trials and difficulties of life (i.e. his actual giving of time, influence, strength and vitality), that continued throughout the three and a half years of his ministry, ending at Calvary, on the cross.
Jesus was the sin offering for “his house.” Jesus’ “house” is composed of the High Calling spirit begotten members consecrated to God during the current Gospel Age — those who have been running the race of the high calling during the Gospel Age, striving to present themselves as “living” sacrifices “holy, acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1).
It is only ONE house since there is only ONE high calling to be of the Bride of Christ — and this Bride class will be completed when the last “feet” members shall have passed beyond the “vail” at death of the flesh just before “the four winds” are let loose, signalling the beginning of Armageddon.
The “house” of Aaron — are the priests, Aaron’s sons (not the tribe from which Aaron descended), just as the “house of David” meant David’s descendants, not his tribe.
Leviticus 16:6 says that the bullock was to make atonement for the Priest “himself:”
“And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house.”
How then can we understand that Jesus required making atonement for “himself” if Jesus was without sin? (2 Corinthians 5:21)
We have the same question in Exodus 30:19, “For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat” (that is, at the laver). “His sons,” the priests, wash — representing that we wash from our sins. But why does Aaron wash, if he represents Jesus? The answer to this question is that Aaron washes in order to be a fitting picture of the sinless Jesus. This then, also answers the question why Aaron is atoned for — in order to be a picture of the sinless Jesus.
Let us now explain this, using the picture in Leviticus chapter eight (about the consecration of the priesthood). Leviticus 8:14 says, “And he brought the bullock for the sin offering: and Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the head of the bullock for the sin offering.”
Here Aaron was consecrated and also his sons were consecrated. Since Aaron here represents Jesus, and his sons represent the priests (spirit begotten, consecrated of the Gospel Age) it is clear that here Aaron as a picture does not include the Church, for they are separately represented in the sons of Aaron. And yet, Aaron had to be atoned for (Leviticus 8:14), and he had to be “washed” (Leviticus 8:6). These are symbols of cleansing, yet Jesus did not need cleansing. Here is Br. Charles Russell’s comment on this in Tabernacle Shadows, page 29. “Being but a sinful man, like others, Aaron had to be washed in order fitly to represent the purity of the antitype, Jesus, who knew no sin.”
Similarly, Aaron in Leviticus 16, after making an atonement for himself, was cleansed, in order to be a fitting representation of sinless Jesus. Thus, atonement for Aaron needed to be made because he personally had sin, and also for him to represent the sinless Jesus.
The non-priest Levites are not mentioned in Leviticus chapter eight, nine or sixteen. So they would not be part of the picture needing to have some fulfilment in the antitype. They are simply part of the “people,” part of the “congregation.” In the book of Numbers, we have a different picture. In the opening chapters of that book we have two classes — the Israelites in general, and the Levites as a separate, consecrated class. In that picture (where no priests are mentioned), the Israelites represent believers in Jesus during the Gospel Age, and the Levites represent consecrated believers of the Gospel Age.
Aaron and his sons were atoned for by the bullock, while the “people” were atoned for by the Lord’s goat.
- (b) The Goat
Besides the bullock being sacrificed on the Day of Atonement, there were also two goats presented before the Lord at the entrance of the “Holy” of the Tabernacle.
We read about this in Leviticus 16:8–10,
“8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
9 And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.
10 But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.”
The Lord’s goat represents the Church of the Gospel Age (the spirit begotten and consecrated members of the High Calling).
The scapegoat was a vehicle for showing that the sins of the people were sent away and gone. It is a means of representing the removal of the sins of Israel, as a picture that the sins of the world will be cleansed and gone from the world of mankind, during the Millennium, as a consequence of the antitypical Atonement Day sacrifices of the Gospel Age. “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
The sacrifices of the Day of Atonement represent the Gospel Age.
The removal of sin from Israel represents what the world will appreciate in the Millennial Age soon to commence within a generation when the great High Priest (Jesus) will apply the blood of the antitypical goat on behalf of all the world of mankind — who, by restitution and instruction, will be brought into relationship with God as his people. In due time these will all become “true Israelites indeed” and the Heavenly Father shall become “All in All” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Garments of Glory
After offering the blood of the goat, the High Priest put off his sacrificial garments and put on his garments of glory and beauty, typified by the glorious qualities of Christ’s character and the honorable mission to which he had been anointed as the world’s Prophet, Priest, King, Judge, and Mediator. Thus coming forth he represents our Lord’s Second Advent and assumption of divine glory and power, at which time the Church will be with him as members of his Body, to cooperate in the dispensing of the blessings of the New Covenant to Israel and to all the families of the earth.
As on the Day of Atonement the people of Israel put on sackcloth and ate no pleasant food, but fasted and waited for the High Priest to appear in his garments of glory and beauty, so it has been throughout this Gospel Age. The whole world is under the power of the wicked one (1 John 5:19), overwhelmed in sin and death and corruption.
The Apostle Paul declares, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (Romans 8:22,19) — waiting for the Jesus and the Church (the Bride of Christ composed of 144,000 members) to appear to the world in glory and beauty to serve as their priesthood to bring all humanity back to harmony with God.
If in the type a blessing is portrayed, how much greater will be the blessing in reality!
As in days of old the people could then arise, threw off their sackcloth and fasting and rejoice in their forgiveness, so in the Millennial morning, the world, coming to an appreciation of the great High Priest and the sacrifices of Atonement, will arise from sin and degradation and death and REJOICE in divine favor and in the realization of the many blessings of restitution set before Israel, as declared by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:20).
Pastor Charles Russell: “Tabernacle Shadows,” “The Tabernacle and Its Teachings” — Supplement to Feb. “Zion’s Watch Tower,” Pittsburgh, PA, 1882, Volume 6 — “Studies in the Scriptures,” Reprints of the Watch Tower: R.4427.
Br. Anton Frey: “Notes on the Tabernacle,” pages 362-364; “Wilderness Wanderings.”
Br. David Rice — written content.
Further Suggested Reading
STUDY 1: An Introduction To The Tabernacle And It’s Purpose
STUDY 2: The Pillar of Cloud By Day And The Pillar of Smoke By Night https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2016/09/09/study-2-the-pillar-of-cloud-by-day-and-the-pillar-of-smoke-by-night/
STUDY 3: The Tabernacle Construction: The Holy and The Most Holy https://biblestudentsdaily.com/2016/09/14/study-3-the-tabernacle-construction-the-holy-the-most-holy/
STUDY 4: The Court (“Holy Place”)
STUDY 5: The Camp. The Israelites.
STUDY 6: The Levites
STUDY 8: The Tabernacle Coverings
STUDY 9: The Gate. The Door. The Vail.
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