“This is the law of the temple: The whole area surrounding the mountaintop is most holy. Behold, this is the law of the Temple (Ezekiel 43:12)
If I were to give superhero epithets to Bible characters, I would call Peter “Pentecost Man,” because I think his apostolic ministry is defined by the power of Pentecost. Although the writer to the Hebrews introduces us to the concept of Jesus being a “priest forever under the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 7:17), it is Peter, “Pentecost Man,” who has the most to say to us about our priestly ministry as disciples of Christ. If Jesus, our great High Priest, is a “priest forever under the order of Melchizedek,” then our priestly ministry is under the same order, because as disciples we follow after the pattern of the Master.
We are probably familiar with the main principles of our order. Melchizedek was at once “priest of the most high God, and King Salem” (Heb 7:1): a priest-king, a role that did not exist in the ordinances of Old Covenant Israel where the priesthood was strictly separated from rulership. Jesus, of course, is at once the High Priest whose sacrifice satisfied once and for all every requirement of the Law, and He is King of Kings, seated on high over the entire universe. Jesus “The ruler over the kings of the earth… has made us kings and priests to His God and Father” (Rev. 1: 5-6), so we too are, as 1 Peter 2:9 confirms, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” But over and above the ministry of Melchizedek was his immortality. Hebrews 7:3 tells us that he was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God.”
Like Jesus, Melchizedek was incorruptible. We too, have been “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Pe 1:23). “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of Truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruiits of His creatures.” (James 1:18) We have an “inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away.” (1 Pe 1:4). We, too, are incorruptible. We have been chosen to bear incorruptible fruit – “fruit that endures.” (John 15:16) Born of incorruptible seed, sown and brought forth by God; destined for an incorruptible eternity, and chosen to bear incorruptible fruit: what is the condition of the fruit tree?
Pentecost Man said this: “as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pe 1: 15-16). We are priests of the order of Melchizedek. Our priestly service is to minister to the Lord in the Temple, and to minister to the people from out of our time in the temple, revealing Jesus to those who don’t know Him. “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. (Ezekiel 44:23) We cannot teach “the difference between the holy and the common” unless we live by it ourselves. The law that governs the Temple in which we serve is holiness.
The devil has worked hard over the centuries at belittling the notion of holiness. Phrases like “holy huddle,” “holier than thou,” etc besmirch the word with negative connotations, and the popular idea of the “holy man” living a life of asceticism halfway up a mountain somewhere can make the state of holiness seem somehow inaccessible. But if that which has been brought forth from incorruptible seed is to bear incorruptible fruit it has to remain true to its incorruptible nature: in other words it has to be holy. To be holy as He who called us is holy isn’t just an exhortation to sort out our wayward behaviour; it is a reminder of our true nature as new creations that carry the DNA of the incorruptible seed from which we have been “brought forth.”
If we wonder what this holiness looks like, we need search no further than the template Jesus gave us in His teachings, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. We are no longer of the world, but as those of incorruptible stock living in it we have to guard against the corruption of the world affecting us. Therefore we forgive so that we are not corrupted by hatred and bitterness. We remain meek so that we are not corrupted by pride. We are merciful so that we are not corrupted by vengeance. We love so that we are not corrupted by hatred. We give so that we are not corrupted by covetousness. We trust God so that we are not corrupted by fear and anxiety. We “abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul” (I Peter 2:11). To keep strong in all of these and many other principles of everyday holiness we sustain ourselves on the “living bread”, the Word of God, and not the “bread which perishes” that the world would give us. And like Peter, we have to be “Pentecost people,” because without the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit none of this is possible.
We don’t know what is ahead, but we do know that the Church is moving into a new season. For many of us, the time of lockdown has been like a time of consecration; of preparation before entering the Land where the goodness of God will be poured out in an unprecedented move of the Holy Spirit. But first comes Jericho, where the commander of the Lord’s army says to us: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Joshua 5:15)
I believe we stand on the brink of a deeper fulfilment of our role as priests of the order of Melchizedek. It’s time to take seriously the law of the Temple.