How is the Church’s priesthood like that exercised by Melchizedek or by believing Israelites? Melchizedek’s functional role joined together kingship and priesthood—his was the first royal priesthood (Genesis 14:18). An echo of Melchizedek’s priesthood occurs when God appoints Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Of course, Jesus Christ’s own priesthood consists of the same royal priesthood (Zechariah 6:12–13; Hebrews 5:6, 10). As we shall see, the Christian believer’s priesthood also belongs to the same classification according to 1 Peter 2:1–12.
A Holy People
The apostle Peter quotes directly from the Old Testament to point to the similarities between the people of God in Israel and the people of God in the Church. But, the similarity does not equate with identity. First of all, just as with believing Israel, the Church’s members must be holy:
. . . like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (1 Peter 1:15–16 NASB, citing Leviticus 19:2)
Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophetic announcement concerning Messiah as the chief cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4–8; Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 118:22). Christians, therefore, must also be “living stones” whom He builds up into “a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Note carefully that we come to Jesus “the living stone” (1 Peter 2:4), not to Jerusalem, not to the Temple, not to Judaism. We are not believing Israel. But, as the people of God we must be holy just as He required believing Israel to be holy. We offer spiritual sacrifices, not physical sacrifices—no goats, bulls, or lambs. We are different and our offerings are different.
A Royal Priesthood
Secondly, just like Israel, we have been appointed as a royal priesthood. Peter, using the language of Exodus 19:5–6, as well as Deuteronomy 10:15 and Isaiah 43:20–21 and 61:6 (and other Old Testament texts, presents the Church’s members as
A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you might proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
God had chosen and appointed believing Israel as royal priests (like Melchizedek) to serve Him and to testify of His holiness and mercy to the nations. Like the apostle Paul, the Lord Jesus sends us
to open their [Jews’ and Gentiles’] eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me [Jesus]. (Acts 26:18)
Israel failed in their proclamation to the nations. Isaiah, speaking about the Servant of Yahweh, reveals that “Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand” (Isaiah 52:15).
In other words, believing Israelites should have proclaimed the excellencies and mercy of the Lord to the Gentiles and should have exhibited the same characteristics as their Messiah—a holy king-priest. But, they did not do so. They were disobedient. Their similarity to Melchizedek did not make them identical to Melchizedek, nor a replacement for Melchizedek—he was a Gentile and they were not. Their similarity to Messiah did not make them identical to Messiah—they were not the Servant of Yahweh in Isaiah 53, nor could they ever be—they were not the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Our similarity to Israel does not make us identical to Israel, nor their replacement. Nor are we identical to Melchizedek or to Messiah—nor their replacement. The Church is like Melchizedek—a Gentile, a believer, a king-priest. The Church is like Messiah—exhibiting His communicable attributes and serving as king-priests. And, the Church is like Israel—required to be the Lord’s people living as a holy, royal priesthood. Being like Israel does not make us a replacement for Israel, nor does it make us identical to Israel.
A Precious Possession
In the third place, the Church exists as God’s own possession (1 Peter 2:9; compare Exodus 19:5). Peter employs the Greek noun peripoiēsis for “own possession” (the ancient Greek Septuagint uses a different word to translate Exodus 19:5). In Acts 20:28 Paul uses the related verb peripoieō for the concept “purchased.” Thus, those who are God’s “own possession” consist of those whom Jesus “purchased” by His blood. The Hebrew word in Exodus 19:5 is segullah, which means “personal property” (the Hebrew word also occurs in Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psalm 135:4; and Malachi 3:17—always with reference to all believing Israel). Those whom God saves become His personal possession. Before the existence of Israel God had such people who belonged to Him—for example, Abel, Noah, Shem, Melchizedek, and Abraham. Next, believing Israelites were His possession.
Now, Christians have become God’s own possession through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. The common salvation results in a common relationship—being the people of God. However, that does not mean that Abel = Noah = Shem = Melchizedek = Abraham = Israel = the Church. All alike are God’s blood-bought possessions, but they are not identical nor replacements of the others before them.
Let’s consider the fact that the Levites also belonged to the Lord:
14 Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine. 15 Then after that the Levites may go in to serve the tent of meeting. But you shall cleanse them and present them as a wave offering; 16 for they are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel. I have taken them for Myself instead of every first issue of the womb, the firstborn of all the sons of Israel. 17 For every firstborn among the sons of Israel is Mine, among the men and among the animals; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for Myself. 18 But I have taken the Levites instead of every firstborn among the sons of Israel. (Numbers 8:14–18, emphasis added)
The Levites did not fulfill the declaration of Exodus 19:5–6, because that text specified the nation, not just the Levitical priests. The Levitical priests were not a royal priesthood—they were not king-priests like the priesthood of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 5:10; 6:20; 7:11–17). They were not the Lord’s segullah. God appointed all believing Israelites as Melchizedekian king-priests, a different priesthood than that of the Levites. That royal priesthood comprises a special possession of higher standing than Levitical priests. That is true of Christ and it is also true of all Christians.
When Peter likens Christians to Israelite believers, he is not making the two identical or even identifying the Church as the replacement of Israel—thereby doing away with any future literal fulfillment of covenant promises to Israel. Instead, he is merely pointing to the fact that all true believers from Adam to the Church fulfill the same role as king-priests. All true believers in any period of time have been, are, and will be co-participants in God’s kingdom and redemption programs. We are similar, but not identical. We each have our own role and participate differently in the progressive development of both programs, while at the same time equally reflecting the communicable attributes of our heavenly Father.