The first priest was Adam. His role as priest was to care for his bride, tend his garden and when the time came to make the sacrifice.
When the test came, Adam was supposed to speak out for his bride and protect her. The dragon/serpent Satan would very likely have tried to kill him. But Adam had a great weapon, right there; the Tree of Life. Only Adam sinned instead and the rest salvation history.
While Adam lost grace and the garden, he didn’t lose his bride or his priesthood. But now that he couldn’t sacrifice himself, he had to sacrifice something very important. Cain and Abel understood this and were to bring their priestly sacrifices to the altar. Adam, as their father-priest would have taught them.
Rabbinic tradition has it that the sacrifices Cain and Able brought to God (in Genesis) were to meet God’s approval for claiming a bride. Cain blew it big time.
God did not remove the priesthood from the father’s and first born sons. Instead Seth became a new father and a new firstborn son (priestly-wise speaking).
The epitome of the priesthood is Melchizedek – a name meaning King of Righteousness. He brings bread and wine as the priestly sacrifice when he meets with Abraham (who is also a priest remember).
The priesthood remained with father’s and first born son’s until the Golden Calf incident in the desert. After everything God had done for Israel, enough was enough. This time He did remove the priesthood.
He gave it to the Levites. The men of Levi received the priesthood as they had not worshipped the golden calf. That priesthood was to be temporary, but it was in place to care for Israel in the Promised Land.
The first non-Levite priest to be ordained afer that was King David who was of the tribe of Judah.
You may remember that King Saul could have been ordained but he made a vital error. He decided he had the right to the priesthood without God’s permission. All he had to do was await the arrival of Samuel who, under God’s guidance, was to anoint Saul, but he went ahead and made the sacrifice without Samuel or God and lost his throne as a result. No one, not even a king, has a “right” to the priesthood. God calls and He puts in place a system to ensure men are tested and anointed. In over-riding the authority Samuel had, Saul was over-riding God.
David received his priesthood legitimately and was allowed therefore to make the sacrifices. In his priesthood David brought the Arc of the Covenant home to Jerusalem.
Then Solomon the son of David, also of the tribe of Judah was made a priest-king after his father. God reminded everyone of His Promise to send a Saviour and made it clear to David that the Saviour would be of his household.
So we find the role of priest is expanded from Father-first born son, sacrificing for the bride and children; to a king.
Meanwhile the priesthood remains in the tribe of Levi.
Fast forward to St. John the Baptist. Here we find the First Born son of the High Priest. John is a Levite. He begins his work at the River Jordan when he is 30 years old. That is the age when a man of the tribe of Levi could be made a priest.
John is the last Old Covenant prophet, but he also symbolises the end of the Levitical priesthood.
Jesus comes to the Jordan six months later when He has reached the age of 30 – the age of priesthood – and John baptises Him.
Jesus is the New Adam. He must tend the garden and as the Bridegroom, He must make the sacrifice for His bride, and will have a Tree of Life to help Him.
Jesus chooses 12 men to be apostles (sent out) and overseer’s (bishops) of His church. We do know that St. John was a Levite, but the tribes of the other men are not mentioned. (We know that only Judah and Benjamin returned after the exile in great numbers so the fact that Anna the prophetess is of Ashur is mentioned as a sign of the redemption of all Israel, not just a couple of tribes).
The role of the apostles was to take on Jesus’ priesthood. He is the eternal High Priest but they are all priests forever of the order of Melchizedek. They are to be Bridegrooms and fathers and they are to make the eternal Sacrifice for the bride. His Bride, the Church.
The priesthood of Melchizedek is about making the Perpetual Sacrifice. It is about passing on the Sacraments, the gifts Christ has given His church. It is NOT about power or politics. It’s about being a father and a bridegroom to Christ’s Church, His Body.
Want to get a deeper grip of this? Try Prof Kreeft’s lecture. Brilliant stuff.
Happy Feast of Christ the King.