The Priesthood of the Jews - Part 2

Posted in: 2011
By Tom L. Ballinger
May 23, 2011 - 10:04:01 AM

Plainer Words Online
Tom L. Ballinger

May 11, 2011

Plainer Words since 1968


Part 2

The Jewish priesthood was instituted upon Moses having received the Law. Aaron was the first “anointed” High Priest. The high priesthood of Israel was to be hereditary and was to be inherited by the descendants of Aaron, who were of the tribe of Levi. We have already pointed out some of their functions; attending to the things of God, offering gifts and sacrifices, and acting as the mediator between Israel and God.


When the priests were not in actual Temple Service, neither the priests, nor even the High Priest, wore a distinctive dress. God’s way is never man’s way. His special servants, to wit, the priests, were NOT TO WEAR SPECIAL PRIESTLY GARB when they were not conducting Temple Service. But, man’s way for man’s priests is different—they are to wear their priestly garb when in a public setting. This sets them apart from other men. It gives them a sense of authority as being specially chosen by God. The public is always aware of the difference—the priests are not ordinary men!

But, God’s Priesthood dressed in the special attire when in the Sanctuary. The priests were required to wear the following official dress: Linen breeches, i.e., short trousers (Exodus 28:42), reaching only from the loins to the thighs, and made of fine twisted linen (V. 39:28); a long coat with sleeves, made of finely woven linen (V. 27); a sash of fine twisted linen woven of the same colors as were in the veil hung before the Holy Place     V. 29); and a cap of linen, probably resembling, in shape, the inverted calyx of a flower. They had nothing on their feet, as they were not allowed to tread the Sanctuary without having their feet bare (see Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15).  The High Priest had a special garb other than that of the regular priests.


Another priestly function was to teach the children of Israel the Word of God. The Lord spoke to Aaron in Leviticus 10:11 and said to him, “… ye may teach the children of Israel ALL THE STATUTES which the LORD hath spoken unto them BY THE HAND OF MOSES.” The phrase, “by the hand of Moses,” simply means that which Moses had written, i.e., the written Word of God. It was to be taught to the people of Israel by the priests.

“They [the priests] shall TEACH Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar” (Deuteronomy 33:10).

The Law was given to Moses about 1500 A.D. About 560 years later, during the reign of King Asa, the prophet Azariah spoke the Word of the LORD to him, saying, “Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law” (2  Chronicles 15:3). The great priestly function of teaching the Word of God had been neglected “for a long season.” As was usually the case with priests, they preferred ritual instead of teaching the Word. In such a short period of time, the priestly office deteriorated to the extent that there was no teaching priest in Israel.

It appears that the priesthood remained fairly faithful from Moses to Solomon. Under David and Solomon, the priesthood seemed to have reached its zenith. From that point on, it was all downhill. In less than six-hundred years, the priesthood had departed from teaching the Law. Consequently, the prophet Azariah said:

“Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law” (2 Chronicles 15:3).

The forsaking of the teaching of the Word of God indicates being without the true God and without the Word of God. An application of this truth could be made, today, regarding the Christian churches whose pastors do not TEACH the Word of God. However, we will allow the reader to make the application.

By Divine command, the Book of Moses was to be copied and published every seven years. However, during Israel’s checkered history, both Israel and Judah were plagued with bad, or evil kings. Consequently, this command was not, always, carried out. Every now and then, a good king reigned for awhile and with that reign, there was, usually, a better priesthood.

Josiah began to reign as king about 640 B.C. Second Chronicles 34 states that he reigned
for 31 years. His reign began when he was 8 years old, and by the time he was 16, “ …he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images” (2 Chronicles 34:3). In Josiah’s 18th year as king, after he had purged the land of Baal worship, and the Temple of its idols, he set about to repair the House of the LORD. While digging through the rubble as the Temple was being restored, Hilkiah, the High Priest, found the Word of God.

“And when they [the priests] brought out the money that was brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the LORD given by Moses. And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan”  (2 Chronicles 34:14-15).

Without a doubt, THE BOOK GIVEN BY MOSES was the Book of the Law, written by Moses himself; in plainer words, the original copy of the Law. The priests, evidently, had thought the Word was lost, and it was there, all along. It had simply been neglected by the priests. Even as it [the Bible] is today, modern-day “priests,” or those who ought to be teaching the Word of God, are, in many cases, NEGLECTING  it so they can build a church instead of building-up people in the faith.

Second Chronicles 35 indicates the Passover had not even been kept, for years, until Josiah heard the Word. In fact, “And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 35:18).

After the death of Josiah, the successors ruled with a disregard of the Word. Consequently, the Temple was destroyed, and the People were led away into Babylonian captivity.

Israel’s history, as recorded in the Bible, shows that there were a few periods in which there was “revival.” But, it is clear that the farther away from the time of revealed truth, such as the Law, the more it becomes neglected. The two examples, listed, teaches us that 757 years after Moses received the Law, and the Aaronic priesthood was instituted, it is recorded in 2 Chronicles 15:3 that “ …FOR A LONG  SEASON  ISRAEL  HATH BEEN  WITHOUT  THE  TRUE GOD, AND WITHOUT A TEACHING PRIEST, AND WITHOUT LAW.” (A present-day application could be made as the neglect of the Word in America is sowing to the wind, and it is reaping a “whirlwind”). A brief “revival” occurred which was short-lived. Two-hundred years later, we read
2 Chronicles 34 and see that even the Temple was polluted with images and idols, and the priesthood had been performing the rites of Baal worship. At age 16, Josiah, the king, desired to know the “God of David his father” (V. 3). This led to the purging of the Temple. The High Priest, Hilkiah, was astounded to find within the Temple, itself, the BOOK OF THE LAW OF THE LORD GIVEN BY MOSES. This is quite a commentary on the Priestly Order. Those who were supposed to teach the Scriptures to the children of Israel neglected this Divine charge to the extent that they thought The Book did not exist, anymore!


In New Testament times, the High Priest was the chief civil and ecclesiastical dignitary among the Jews. He was the chairman of the Sanhedrin and head of the political relations with the Roman government. We do not really know to what extent he participated in the Temple ceremonies at the time of Christ. Probably, he alone entered the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement and offered the daily offerings during that week. Whatever part he performed in the work was at his own pleasure. Josephus said he took part in and officiated at the Sabbath, the New Moon, and yearly festivals. According to Leviticus 6:12, he was to perform the burnt offering, daily, on the altar.  Josephus said the High Priest did not always do it in person but was required to defray the expense of it.

Luke 3:2 states that Annas and Caiaphas were the High Priests. There are different views on why there were two High Priests at the time of Christ. Perhaps, it was the fact that the Roman government allowed the ruler of Israel to appoint High Priests for the Jews at his pleasure. Dean Farrar writes that Herod “thrust into the high priesthood creatures of his own, of Egyptian and Babylonian in origin.” Herod, also, interfered with the Sanhedrin to whom the High Priest was answerable. Thus, there can be no doubt that the assembly which condemned the Lord Jesus Christ was of a hybrid nature.

The two High Priests, Caiaphas and Annas, were the chief conspirators against the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, Caiaphas, who was president of the council, deliberately advised them to put Jesus Christ to death, to save the nation (John 11:49-51). He was. also, the chairman of the council which tried and condemned Jesus Christ.

“And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end. Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?” (Matthew 26:57-68).

We further note the following in Mark 15:1-3:  “And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And He answering said unto him, Thou sayest it. And the chief priests accused Him of many things: but he answered nothing.”

It is very revealing what part the High Priest played in the crucifixion of the Lord. Keep in mind that it was the High Priest who was to mediate between the Israelites and God. But, it was the High Priest who stood before Pilate and accused God, manifest in the flesh, of many unlawful acts. Pilate knew the Chief Priests had delivered Jesus to him because they were envious of His great following and felt their position was in jeopardy if Jesus was, indeed, the Christ (Mark 15:10). The Bible gives a clear picture of what the Priesthood had degenerated into. We read the fact that the Chief Priests stirred up the people to insist that Pilate release the murderer, Barabbas, instead of their rightful King and Savior—the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Now at that feast he [Pilate] released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?  For he knew that the chief priests had delivered Him for envy. But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them” (Mark 15:6-11).

The result of the “ministry” of the Chief Priests was that the people were moved when Pilate asked them what should he do with Jesus? Then, “they cried out CRUCIFY HIM” (Mark 15:14).  It is certainly an understatement to say that the Chief Priests added insult to injury. But, this, they did while He was on the Cross, dying for their sins. “Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save (Mark 15:31).


After the Chief Priests bribed the guard to state that “His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept,” they were very grieved at the Apostles. The Apostles preached the resurrection of the One which the Chief Priests claimed had been stolen away.

“And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD” (Acts 4:1-2).

The Apostles were arrested and examined by “… their rulers, and elders, and scribes, And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the High Priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem” (Acts 4:5-6). The Apostles were commanded, from henceforth, not to speak to anyone in the Name of “Jesus.” Then, they were released.

However, the Apostles continued to preach in the Name of “Jesus” in the Temple. This filled the High Priest and his associates with anger.

“Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison” (Acts 5:17-18).

The apostles’ miraculous escape from prison during the night, when the Angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, caused great perplexity to the Sadducees. It was due, largely, to the wisdom of Camaliel, a Pharisee, that the apostles, having been brought again before the Sanhedrin, were released (Acts 5:19-40). However, their release was not without a sound beating (Acts 5:40).

There can be no doubt that, at this time, the office of the High Priest carried with it
a great deal of influence. This can be seen by looking at Acts 9:1-2 where jurisdiction of the High Priest is recognized as far away as the synagogues in Damascus.

“And Saul, ... went unto the HIGH PRIEST,  And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way [followers of Christ], whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2).

It is good to note, however, that in Acts 6:7, we read that the Word of God increased, “and a great company of priests were obedient to the faith.”

In Acts 23, Paul is brought before the council and is accused of reviling the High Priest. This time, the High Priest was Ananias, and he commanded the accusers to smite Paul on the mouth because he had said, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1).

After Paul was escorted out of Jerusalem to Ceasarea for his own safety, Ananias and a company of accusers went down to inform the governor of Paul’s “crimes.” Even after two years in prison, the Apostle Paul was still harassed by the High Priest. When Festus took over the province, the High Priest appeared before him, desiring that Paul be brought to Jerusalem. The plan of the High Priest was to have men ambush and kill Paul (Acts 25:1-3). And, so went the priesthood during “The Acts of the Apostles.”

A few words from “Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible” will serve to emphasize the utter degradation into which the priesthood had come, shortly before the destruction of the Temple by Titus in A.D. 70. “In the scenes of the last tragedy of the Jewish history the order [of the Priesthood] passes away without honour, ‘dying as a fool dieth’. The High Priesthood is given to the lowest and vilest of adherents of the frenzied Zealots. Other priests appear as deserting to the enemy. Priests report to their conquerors the terrible utterance, ‘Let us depart’, on the last Pentecost ever celebrated in the Temple. It is a priest who fills up the degradation of his order by dwelling on the fall of his country with a cold-blooded satisfaction and finding, in Titus, the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The destruction of Jerusalem deprived the order at one blow of all but an honorary distinction.”

The historic Priesthood of Israel came to its end at Acts 28. It ended in shame, degradation, disgrace, and infamy. The Promise, in prophecy, made to the children of Israel will be fulfilled during the coming Pre-Millennial Kingdom of God.

“And ye [Israel] shall be unto Me a Kingdom of Priests, and an Holy Nation. These are the words which thou [Moses] shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:6).

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