The priesthood of all believers is the teaching within the Protestant Reformation, particularly in Lutheranism, where all believers have direct access to God and do not need to go through a priest. Jesus is our high priest, and Jesus said to go directly to him (Matthew 11:28).
A priest is someone who stands between God and people and ministers to God on behalf of people. In the Old Testament, priests were a class of men who dealt with sacrificial offerings on behalf of people who made offerings to God to cleanse their sins. The first priests were Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar (Exodus 28:1). They were supposed to be free of physical deformities (Lev. 21:17-23) and were held to strict cleanliness and marriage laws (Lev. 21:10-15).
The priesthood was temporary. It pointed to the ultimate Jesus, who is a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:20). Furthermore, with the death of Christ, the old covenant system is abrogated and replaced by the new covenant (Hebrews 8:13; 9:15-16). Therefore, we no longer need a priestly class that offers sacrifices on our behalf – as is done in the Roman Catholic Church.
New Testament and the priesthood of all believers
The word priest is never used in the New Testament of any office bearer like elder, bishop, or deacon. Paul says he ministers “as a priest the gospel of God,” (Romans 15:16). But this is because he was ministering to people in his sacred duty of apostleship. He was not acting as a priest who would offer sacrifices of Christians to God. Nevertheless, the word priest is used of Jesus.
- “Therefore, He [Jesus] had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people,” (Hebrews 2:17).
- “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession,” (Hebrews 3:1).
- “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession,” (Hebrews 4:14).
- “where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” (Hebrews 6:20).
It is because of Jesus and his priesthood there can then be priesthood of all believers. Again, this means that we can go directly to God through Christ and we can present the sacrifice of Christ to unbelievers so that they might be cleansed by faith in Christ. It is in this sense of us presenting the sacrifice of Christ unbelievers that we exercise the priesthood of all believers.
Christians are Priests
- “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone, and he who believes in him will not be disappointed,” (1 Peter 2:5–6).
- “But you are ‘A chosen race’, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession,’ so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Peter 2:9).
The Christians’ priesthood means that all who Christ redeems are in the service of Christ and minister to unbelievers as well as each other the truth of the gospel of Christ just as Paul did (Romans 15:16). It also means we can go directly to Jesus, our high priest, after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20; 7:25).
In the Old Testament, the only one who could enter into the holy of holies past the veil in the temple was the high priest. But the writer of Hebrews says we can enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus.
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water,” (Hebrews 10:19–22).
We Christians can go directly to God through the one mediator of Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). He is our sacrifice and our high priest. Because of him, we have access to the holy Temple. However, since the priesthood of all believers means that we are all priests (1 Pet. 2:5-9), we do offer sacrifices to God.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship,” (Romans 12:1).
Paul is talking about being in the servants of God as God’s holy temple since God indwells us (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We are to live our lives in holy service to him as priests to our Lord and Savior Jesus.
To him be the glory and honor forever.