When I was in college, I studied abroad for a semester, which gave me the opportunity to travel to several countries. Recently, I looked through my old passport, and as I flipped through the pages examining the stamps and visas, I realized that I had visited only one country that was a kingdom. There are still numerous kingdoms throughout the world, but it can still be difficult to grasp what it means that God has made His church to be a kingdom.
Similarly, the position of priests can feel distant or unrelatable for those whose churches do not have priests. The failings, abuses, and scandals surrounding priests through the ages also make it challenging to grasp the significance of the office and purpose to which God has called the church as priests.
In what follows, I want to briefly consider these passages: Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; and Revelation 1:6; 5:9. I hope this will help the church to better grasp its identity and purpose as a kingdom of priests.
Before we reflect on Exodus 19:6, remember that Moses was raised as part of Pharaoh’s royal family in the kingdom of Egypt. He had likely also seen a distinct class of priests serving the gods of Egypt. Kingdom and priest were the milieu of life for Moses. Thus, he understood the identity and responsibilities of those who inherited royal and priestly positions. In Exodus 19:6, when God proclaimed Israel would be a kingdom of priests, these familiar concepts were applied to the whole nation of Israel. The Israelites were delivered out of slavery in Egypt and were made to be a kingdom of priests to serve and worship God.
Israel’s identity as a kingdom of priests finds a greater fulfillment in the church. There are clear parallels between Israel and the church. Israel was delivered by the blood of the Passover lamb. The church is delivered by the blood of Jesus, the final Passover Lamb. Israel was a kingdom of priests, and now the church is a kingdom of priests. But, there is one significant difference. Israel was just one nation, a single people group, but the church is made up of people from every tribe and nation (Rev. 7:9). Next, notice how 1 Peter 2 and Revelation 5 fill out what it means for the church to be a kingdom of priests.
In 1 Peter 2:5, the church is described as “a holy priesthood” with the purpose of offering “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” A few verses later, Peter picks up this idea again, saying, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v. 9). Peter uses language from Exodus 19, Isaiah 43, and other Old Testament passages and applies it to Jewish and gentile Christians.