When we were in Israel, we went to the Temple Institute where work is proceeding on preparations for the building of the Third Temple. We saw the solid gold candlestick among other things that are prepared for use when the Temple is rebuilt. We also saw the priestly garments that are being prepared for the high priest. The prophet Jeremiah tells us about a day in which a new covenant will be instituted in place of the old one broken by the sin and rebellion of Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
We know that this new covenant was instituted upon the birth, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant according to Hebrews 2:17:
Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. NLT
When the covenant changes, there must also be a change of priesthood.
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood–and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood–why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 7:11-17
So, if there is a change in the priesthood to accommodate the change from one covenant of salvation to another, shouldn’t there be some type of “passing of the torch” or changing of the guard? Wouldn’t that make things much easier if we could see the transition take place between the Aaronic priesthood to the Messianic priesthood?
Who was high priest at the time of Jesus’ death?
Caiaphas, a corrupt priest who plotted the murder of Jesus. He could not have participated in any type of godly transition of authority. Remember the prophecy Malachi spoke before the close of the Old Testament canon:
Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 4:4-5
Before the coming of the Lord, there will be sent “Elijah” who will fulfill the requirements and stipulations of the Law of Moses. He will be instrumental in the “turning” of the tide.
The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13
Let’s take a look at John the Baptist again.
John’s father was a Levite, a priest of the division of Abijah who was a descendant of Aaron (1 Chronicles 24:10). John’s mother, Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. He was the only priest in history whose birth was announced by an angel in the Holy Place during the priestly ministry, making direct reference to the prophecy of Malachi and saying that John would fulfill it.
What was the ministry of the high priest?
To cleanse the people of their sins.
What was John doing in the waters of the Jordan River? Baptizing the people for the cleansing of their sins.
John fulfilled all Mosaic requirements for the high priesthood. He was a man who lived a godly lifestyle – unlike the wicked Caiaphas. It was John who was the true representation of the Aaronic priesthood. So now, get this picture:
In John 3, we see Jesus coming to John the Baptist at the Jordan River to be baptized by him. Jesus said to John:
“Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
The two priests, standing in the waters of the Jordan River – the place of endings and beginnings; the two priesthoods, the priesthood of the old and the priesthood of the new.
As the two priesthoods stand face to face, the old bears witness to the new. John bears witness to Jesus’ priesthood and ministry and declares it greater than his own.
The torch is passed. The changing of the guard is complete.