Life in Christ & the Motif of Priesthood in Our Character and Function from 1 Peter 1-2:10
In 1 Peter 2:4, we find that we are made into living stones, from and by him who is a living stone – the living stone, Jesus Christ. This transition from the previous imperative section (1:13-2:3) now leads into an indicative section that affirms God’s gracious work in Christ. From this we see that all of Peters commands to Christians are rooted in and dependent upon God’s grace. We are not alive for no good reason, but for a very specific purpose. When we are made alive to God and dead to sin, God’s purpose is for us is to be a “holy priesthood” (2:5,9). Just as they are living stones, as a spiritual house, God is thus building believers so that they are now a spiritual house and a holy priesthood (2:5). As God’s priests who are animated by the Holy Spirit, they are enabled to offer sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The “spiritual house” alludes back to the temple, which is often called a “house” in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Sam 7:13; 1 King 3; Matt 21:13; John 2:16-17). It is a “spiritual” house specifically because it is animated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit – both communally and its individual members. Henceforth, Peter indentifies the church as God’s new temple here. Since the physical temple of the Old Testament pointed forward to and anticipated God’s new temple, the old is thus now superfluous and unnecessary, for the new temple has arrived through Christ in the church.
Like the Old Testament priests, the New Testament Christians as the “holy priesthood” share a number of characteristics. First, the priesthood is a privilege of the elect (Ex 28:1; John 15:16); second, priests are cleansed of sins (Lev 8:6-36; Titus 2:14); third, priests are clothed for service (1 Pet 5:5; Ex 28:42); fourth, they are anointed for service (Lev 8:12, 30; 1 John 2:20, 27); fifth, they are prepared for service (Lev 8:33; Gal 1:16); sixth, priests are ordained to obedience (1 Pet 2:4; Lev 10:1ff); seventh, they are to honor God’s word (1 Pet 1:2); eighth, they are to walk with God (Mal 2:6; Gal 5:16,25); ninth, they are to impact sinners (Mal 2:6; Gal 6:1); and last but not least, priests are to be messengers of God (Mal 2:7; Matt 28:19, 20).
In this manner, those who have been united with Christ by faith in regeneration are both the temple and the priests that minister in that temple. Such may seem contradictory at first, but since Peter does not call believers the literal, physical temple and priests but a spiritual one, this should not cause too much theological insecurities. As the faithful in Christ, we are God’s dwelling place by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17) and his new priesthood.
Sacrifices can only be acceptable to God through Christ, who is our Mediator. For our sacrifices and offerings can never be acceptable to God due to our radically inability (total depravity) in and of ourselves. Christ was the High Priest who was the only one able to offer a sacrifice that was perfectly acceptable God – once for all – the sacrifice of Jesus himself on the cross in our place for our sins. Spiritual sacrifices entail God-honoring works done because of Christ under the direction of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Word of God. While the Levitical sacrifices of the Old Testament cultus is certainly no longer necessary, Peter’s call to “spiritual sacrifices” entail sacrifices offered by virtue of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Such spiritual sacrifices generally include offering the strength of one’s body to God (Rom 12:1, 2); praising God (Heb 13:15; 1 Pet 2:9); doing good (Heb 13:16); sharing one’s resources (Heb 13:16); bringing people to Christ (Rom 15:16); sacrificing one’s desires for the good of others (Eph 5:2); as well as praying (Rev 8:3). Specifically, Peter affirms to us in 2:9 that the purpose of this new people of God is to proclaim his praises and wonders. All these things considered, Peter spoke generally and comprehensively of all that the believers do by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The concept of royal or kingly priesthood from 1 Peter 2:9 finds its root in Exodus 19:6. Israel temporarily forfeited this privilege because of its apostasy and because its wicked leaders executed the Messiah. At the present time, the church is a royal priesthood united with the royal priest, Jesus Christ. A royal priesthood is not only a priesthood that belongs to and serves the king, but is also a priesthood that exercises rulership and kingly reign. This will ultimately be fulfilled in Christ’s future kingdom (1 Cor 6:1-4; Rev 5:10; 20:6). Both Israel as a whole and the church of Jesus Christ are identified as a “royal priesthood” (cf. Rev 1:6) – a priesthood that is corporate in nature yet with individuals who serve priestly functions.
The reference here in 2:9 harkens back to the offering of spiritual sacrifices in 2:4. Peter commends that this royal priesthood is to proclaim – that is, to tell forth, to tell something not otherwise known – namely, the praises (Isa 43:7), excellencies, virtues and eminent qualities of Jesus Christ who has redeemed, ransomed and delivered us from darkness into his marvelous light (cf. Acts 26:18; Eph 5:8; Col 1:13). This is certainly a description of the Petrine audience’s conversion, utilizing language from Genesis 1:3-5. What did the Son of God do, except the greatest and most excellent and praiseworthy thing ever accomplished by a man: he called us out of darkness into his marvelous light; he redeemed us from being enslaved to our flesh, to its sinful desires and temptations, and through his atoning sacrifice on the cross Jesus has thus freed us from that very darkness and brought us into the light of righteousness (2 Cor 4:6). Having said this, we must understand the calling of God that effects conversion as effectual (effectual calling) – the Word of God that creates light is the very Word that effectively creates faith. Since the phrase “as you come to him” can be seen as conversion, so also we see God’s work in the past in calling (“called”) his people as effective – for those whom God calls he also justifies. (Rom 8:30).