In the daily life of Israel, few people would have been more recognizable than the priests. The priests had a special bloodline, wore special robes, and administered all of the sacrifices brought forward by all the people. Even more recognizable would have been the High Priest, whose robe was lavish and ornate (even by priestly standards) and who had the terrifying privilege of entering into the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement. I don’t know if the people of Israel would have been tempted to obsess over celebrities like we do today, but if they were, they wouldn’t celebrate actors or athletes—they would celebrate priests.
The role of an Israelite priest was fairly easy to understand. Their job was to stand between a holy God and a sinful people, offering sacrifices to cleanse and restore what sin had tainted. No other person in Israel would have provided the people with a clearer understanding of who God is and who they were in comparison to Him. Every man, woman, and child would have understood a few foundational truths by observing the priests—God is holy, we are sinful, and blood must be shed for the forgiveness of sins.
God had been instilling these truths in the hearts of His people from the very beginning. And today, we have the privilege of knowing what they couldn’t have possibly known. God wasn’t instilling these truths merely to teach His people good theology—He was instilling these truths because Jesus was the plan from the very beginning.
We see shadows of things to come in the priests of the Old Testament. Just as they stood between God and the people, mediating His presence, so Jesus stood in the gap between God and man. Unlike the priests, however, Jesus work was effectual—He succeeded in providing the full, complete, and permanent reconciliation the earthly priests could have never hoped to accomplish.
We don’t only see shadows of Jesus in the priests themselves, either. We also clearly see these shadows in their sacrifices. For every sin, blood was shed. Every Israelite’s mind would have been filled with memories of the countless animals they had to watch die for their sins to be cleansed. These animal sacrifices prefigure the ultimate shedding of blood on the cross. As the author of Hebrews would say, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 1:4), but Jesus’ blood has infinitely greater power to bring perfect cleansing for all to whom it is applied.
In the priesthood of the Old Testament, we see some of the clearest shadows of Christ. In the midst of the daily rituals of cleansing, atonement, and sacrifice, God’s people received only a small taste of what God would one day accomplish. Now, as we read the Old Testament with the perfect clarity of hindsight, we can praise God for all that He has accomplished for us through the perfect priesthood of Jesus!
All the best,