LESSON 2: I am from a Priestly Line
You’re a chip off the old block. You’re the spitting image of your mother. You’re just like your father.
Often we take part of our sense of who we are based on the family we come from. Whether we like it or not. I am the daughter of a minister. Being known that way caused more than a bit of rebellion on my part during my teenage years. I wanted to be my own woman, not take on a label given me by someone else.
Ultimately, being raised in a Christian home showed up in who I became as a woman—a woman who loves Father God, follows His Son, Jesus and tries to be led by the Holy Spirit. I’m grateful for my upbringing.
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron (Luke 1:5).
What difference did it make that Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron? Aaron was Moses’ older brother from the tribe of Levi, one of the 12 tribes descended from Israel’s 12 sons. Abijah was Aaron’s son.
When God took the Jewish people out of Egypt and gave them the Promised Land, He divided the land by specific family tribes. No land however, was given to the tribe of Levi when they crossed the Jordan. Instead, they were given something more valuable—the responsibility for all that is holy. The Lord the God of Israel Himself is their inheritance (Deuteronomy 18:2).
Specifically, God gave the Levite men the job of taking care of everything to do with the movable Tabernacle (and later the permanent Temple). Some Levites were responsible for maintaining the Temple’s physical structure. Others were responsible for such duties as singing during services, serving as guards or being teachers. Within the tribe of Levi, however, only the descendants of Aaron inherited the specific family honor of being priests.
Thus, just as land ownership and inheritance was specified by family, God specified the job of priesthood—entering into His presence and communing with Him—to one specific set of people. One family line (Aaron’s) within one tribe of families (Levi’s) had been chosen by God to mediate (intercede, stand up for, plead for, be an intermediary) between God and His people. Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah were from that priestly lineage of Aaron.
What is the difference between the priests and the High Priest? In the physical structure of the Temple, there was an outer court, called the Court of the Gentiles where non-Jews were allowed. Beyond that were inner courts where the Jews could worship. Beyond that was a veil into the Holy Place where only the priestly division was allowed to enter. Within
that Holy Place stood the golden lampstands, incense altar and bread table. Priests regularly spent time in this Holy Place lighting the lampstands, burning incense and placing the 12 loaves of bread before God.
Inside the Holy Place though was another veil separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, sometimes called the Holy of Holies. In the Most Holy Place the Jews kept the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark contained Moses’ stone tablets upon which God had written the Ten Commandments. It also contained Aaron’s staff that had budded and some of the manna God had given to the Jews in the desert. More importantly, the Ark represented the presence of God.
Because of the holiness of God, not every person was allowed into His presence. If anyone touched the Ark of the Covenant, for example they would instantly die (as Uzzah did in 2 Samuel 6:2-7). When the Ark was moved it was covered by three layers of cloth so no one could look at it and everyone but the priests was required to stay 1,000 feet away from it (Numbers 4:5-20 and Joshua 3:4).
But God did allow one group of people; specifically one group of men from the priestly line of Levi, to enter His presence within the Most Holy Place. One time each year, on the Jewish Day of Atonement, one priest from the family of Aaron from the tribe of Levi was selected as High Priest. That High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place to ask forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish people. Only the High Priest could approach God on the people’s behalf.
Why would Elizabeth care? Luke tells us that Elizabeth (like her husband Zechariah through Aaron’s son Abijah) was a descendant of Aaron. Elizabeth wasn’t just someone who loved God. She had been raised as a woman who felt especially honored by God. Although as a woman, Elizabeth would not have been allowed to be a priest, she recognized that God had selected her family out of all the other Jewish tribes, to be the ones He allowed to approach Him and speak to Him on behalf of His children.
If God hadn’t given Elizabeth’s son John the Baptist the specific calling as prophet for Jesus’ coming ministry, John one day might also have been chosen as High Priest. Elizabeth, as a Jewish woman, gained much of her sense of worth through her children. She would have delighted, knowing that her son might one day personally enter into God’s presence as a priest. Isn’t that what all godly mothers desire for their children?
What does the priestly line mean to us? I’m not personally descended from Aaron. I don’t have a drop of Jewish blood in me at all. But I recognize that Elizabeth gave birth to one of the very last people in the Jewish priestly line who God allowed to mediate on behalf of us regular folks. Fortunately, Jesus took over the job of High Priest forever.
For this reason he (Jesus) had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17, explanation added).
Once Jesus died, was resurrected and returned to heaven, He became our High Priest. (See Hebrews 2:17, 4:14-15, 5:6; 6:20; 7:11-15 and Hebrews 7:23. Jesus as High Priest was also prophesized in the Old Testament in Zechariah 6:13 and Psalms 110:4). Jesus alone mediates on our behalf now. He alone provided the sacrifice that paid for our forgiveness. He alone stands for us before God the Father. With Jesus, every day is a Day of Atonement. And because, Jesus—my High Priest—has adopted me into His family (Ephesians 1:5), I too am now spiritually of the priestly line along with the rest of God’s children.
As children of the Most High, we are Father God’s daughters and sisters of Jesus, our High Priest. God has adopted us into the priestly line. He has even given us the family name: Christian. Do we recognize the honor of being part of His family? Do we accept it with humility?
If Elizabeth were here she would say this was her story. She valued her heritage, knowing she was from the priestly line of Aaron. It was an honor to have that lineage; an honor given to her family directly by God.
When we understand the truth that the human lineage of high priests through Aaron ended with Jesus’ resurrection and recognize our adopted lineage into Jesus’ divine priesthood, we know how God might see His women of faith. We can respond:
I am like Elizabeth.
For Thought and Discussion
- How would you like not being able to approach God personally but having to go through a human High Priest like the Jews of Jesus’ day?
- What might Elizabeth have thought about her role in raising the man who helped put an end to the Jewish people’s need for a High Priest?
- Do you feel comfortable going to Jesus in all areas of your life? Why or why not? Which area is most difficult for you?
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for your amazing plan. Thank you Jesus, that there was always a plan for people to be able to come to you through the priestly line. Thank you for doing away with that human mediation, Jesus so we can now come into your presence personally. Amen.