Aaron and His Sons
The Old Testament contains a number of types of the church, each illustrating various features of the assembly long before it existed in fact and long before it was revealed in doctrine.
Some readers might object that Aaron is a type of the Lord Jesus as High Priest and that the sons of Aaron stand for individual believers today. They would recognise that Christians are priests but not that a collective picture is intended. Such readers might be referred to 1 Peter 2:5: "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ". Few would contend that this verse does not present the church under the figure of the 'spiritual house'. However, if the church is meant by the spiritual house, how can anything but the church be referred to by the 'holy priesthood'?
Based on this scripture, we believe to be on firm ground in arguing that Aaron and his sons are a type of the New Testament priestly family, the church.
Aaron himself, when he is mentioned alone, is a type of the Lord Jesus in his high priestly office; but when Aaron is mentioned in conjunction with his sons then they - Aaron and his sons - provide a picture of the church as priestly family, in their association with Christ.
Considering, then, the church as foreshadowed by the priestly family in the Old Testament, the first feature that comes to mind is that Aaron's family possessed a great privilege. It was forbidden - under penalty of death - for a stranger to 'wait on the priest's office' (see Numbers 3:10.38). When king Uzziah, presumptuously, aspired to this office and tried to burn incense, he was smitten with leprosy. He remained a leper unto the day of his death (see 2 Chronicles 26:18-21).
This privilege had not been earned by Aaron and by his sons. It was conferred on them by pure grace. It is stated explicitly in Hebrews 5:4 that "no one takes the honour to himself but as called by God, even as Aaron also". Hence the privilege of priestly status and service comes by divine appointment.
It is attractive and heart-warming to think of the church today as a company enjoying highest privilege, being able to come near to God in worship. Nobody who does not belong to this company - the church composed of all true believers - has the right to come near to God and bring Him an acceptable sacrifice.
The immediate practical challenge, then, is whether we are conscious of this privilege and whether we make use of it, in personal and collective worship.
Another point to stress is that there is nobody who belongs to the church and who does not have the right to come near to God. What may appear obvious to the Bible student has, sadly, been reversed in Christendom. So-called 'churches' have appointed so-called 'priests' and given them a place of supposed mediation between God and 'ordinary' believers. Once we have considered the consecration of priests, we will see the seriousness of such practices.
The interested reader will find many instructive details relation to the garments and consecration of Aaron and his sons in Exodus 28 and 29. Here, we confine ourselves to drawing attention to some aspects of the garments and of the consecration ceremony that appear to be particularly relevant for the study of church types.
It is striking that about 90% of the long 28th chapter of Exodus deal with Aaron's garments and only few verses are devoted to the garments for Aaron's sons. The beautiful garment or items worn by Aaron exclusively were the following:
- Ephod and its girdle (v.5 ff)
- Breastplate (v.15 ff)
- Robe of the ephod (blue) (v.31 ff)
- Plate of pure gold ('Holiness unto the Lord' - v.36 ff)
In addition, there were a number of relatively simple linen garments that were worn by both Aaron and by his sons:
- Broidered coat (v.39)
- Mitre (v.39)
- Girdle (v.39)
- Breeches (v.42)
If we consider the first class of garments - those that belonged to Aaron only - in detail, we can well understand that they were 'for glory and for beauty' (verse 2). Surprisingly though, at first sight, the same comment is passed on the far simpler items worn by both Aaron and his sons (v.40). And yet, we can understand that there was beauty and meaning in these linen garments.
Firstly, the very fact that they were worn by Aaron as well as by his sons shows us, in type, that just as the priests at the time were associated with the High Priest, so are we associated with the Lord today in our priestly service.
Secondly, the material of linen is known to the Bible student as symbolic for practical purity and righteousness (see Rev 19:8). These features belonged to our true High Priest in perfection (Hebr.1:9 and 7:26 ); and it is an essential pre-requisite for anyone today - and this should be every Christian - who aspires to and is involved in priestly service.
Thirdly, it is explicitly stated that the linen breeches were to cover the flesh 'from the loins even unto the thighs' (verse 42). Carnal activity (=visibility of flesh) and priestly service are incompatible. We should note here in passing that the Lord Jesus had no sinful flesh: 'and in him is no sin' (1 John 3:5). This shows again that Aaron is only a picture of the Lord Jesus when he is mentioned alone, not when he is mentioned together with his sons.
Further, a number of details can be gleaned from the actual ceremony of consecration described in Exodus 29.
Aaron and his sons were washed with water on the day of their consecration (v.4). Only such who have been born again 'of water and of Spirit' (John 3:5) can be part of the priestly family.
Another interesting contrast between Aaron on the one hand and 'Aaron and his sons' on the other hand can be observed from the procedure of anointing them. Aaron was anointed without blood (v.7), but when his sons are brought into the picture (v. 21) we read that blood and oil was sprinkled on Aaron and his sons. The Lord Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit before the work of redemption was completed, but believers today can only be anointed with the Spirit on the basis of the efficacy of the blood of the Lord Jesus.
Further, Aaron and his sons had to identify with the sin offering (v.10-14) and with the burnt offering (v.15-18) by laying their hands on them. This is another prerequisite for priestly service, and it is characteristic for the church: a sin offering was necessary to atone for the sins of those who are now priests, and at the same time they stand before God in the full acceptability of the burnt offering.
The third animal to be given in sacrifice was the ram of consecration which was offered together with the meat offering (v.19-22). The blood of this ram was applied to the ear, the finger, and the foot of Aaron and his sons (v.20). Similarly, those who form the church today have been bought with a price (1.Cor.6) and should present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12).
Parts of the ram, as well as the meat offering, were then put in the hands of Aaron and in the hands of his sons (v.24). This part of the ceremony beautifully illustrates the meaning of consecration (='filling the hands'). These elements were then taken from their hands and burnt on the altar as burnt offering, for a sweet savour before the Lord (v.25). It is hardly possible to think of a more beautiful illustration of the verse in Peter's first epistle, where he says that the church, as a holy priesthood, can "offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1.Peter 2:5).
Finally, we note that Aaron and his sons were to 'eat those things wherewith the atonement was made' (v.33). Dwelling upon the death of the Lord, this is the kind of food that will sustain priests in their service.
Leviticus 16 distinguishes ‘Aaron and his house’ from the ‘people’. Aaron and his house, again, stand for the church. ‘The people’ stands for the people of Israel (as such, not only those alive at the time). The great day of atonement was for both, but their respective sacrifices differ from each other in a striking way.
The sacrifices brought on this special occasion (the great atonement day has been called ‘the moral climax of the book of Leviticus) may be summarised as follows:
For Aaron and his house
For the people
Both hands full
– n/a -
Bearing this in mind, we can draw a number of striking lessons from the differences in the offerings brought for ‘the people’ on the one hand, and for ‘Aaron and his house’ on the other.
- Sin and burnt offering: both, Aaron and his house as well as the people bring a sin offering; and both bring a burnt offering. These are the two great aspects of the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross: it solves the sin problem (sin offering) because the Lord endured the wrath and judgement of God; and it results in a sweet smelling savour ascending to God – showing the full satisfaction of God in respect of the sacrifice and those associated with it.
- One vs. two animals for the sin offering: the people brings two animals as a sin offering, the priestly family brings one. The first goat presented for the people (Israel) is ‘for Jehovah’ and hence speaks of propitiation: God is enabled to (righteously) offer remission of sins on the basis of the work of Christ (whether men accept it or not). The second goat, figuratively, carries the sins of the people into a desert place. This speaks of substitution. The Lord has taken ‘our’ place on the cross (this only applies to those who accept His work (1. Peter 2:24; Mt. 20:28). For Israel , there is a time difference of at least around 2,000 years between the two: propitiation was made when Christ died on the cross. But Israel will only accept that work as being for them in a future day when they will confess their sins and will be restored (Zech 12:10 ). Their feelings at that point in time when it dawns on them that the Christ who was despised and rejected actually suffered for them (!) are beautifully expressed in Isaiah 53. For the church, there is no such time interval. Both blessings, propitiation and substitution, are enjoyed at the present time by those who compose the church.
- Bullock vs. goat: the priestly family brings a bullock, the ‘people’ offers goats. The bullock is an animal of far higher value than goats and therefore indicates that the priestly family, the church, has a higher appreciation of the sacrifice of Christ than Israel will ever have. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit who takes the things of Christ and presents them to believers today is a privilege that is characteristic for the church. No doubt this work of the Holy will result in an enhanced appreciation of Christ’s work. It is not our merit but a special blessing given to believers during the church period.
- The incense: it is only in the case of the priestly family that we read of incense presented. In the church there is (and there should be practically) worship that is brought to God, ascending as a sweet savour. If the bullock, in comparison to the goats, speaks of increased appreciation, the incense speaks of adoration. The Lord Jesus had said “ But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth…” (John 4:23). This ‘hour that cometh and now is’ speaks of the Christian or church period. The Apostle Paul confirms this in Phil. 3:3 where he says that Christians, in contrast to Jews, worship God in the Spirit: “ For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh”. What a blessing it is to live during the time period when God is worshipped in this way.
It says in verse 12 that Aaron had to take ‘his hands full of incense’ when he went into the holy place. The new translation says ‘both hands’, emphasising the amount of incense to be taken into God’s presence. God demands no less than ‘both hands full’ and the priestly family today should be encouraged to approach God with prepared hearts ready to give a full measure of worship to Him.
Conclusion and priestly practice
Is it not attractive to think of the church as of a holy priesthood, such who have 'put on Christ', who are identified with Him in His death (sin and burnt offering), have fellowship with Him (peace offering of consecration), and are anointed for and sustained in their priestly service which, through Christ, is acceptable to God?
What are the practical implications of all this? Is it a mere curiosity for typology specialists? By no means. The type of the church as priestly family should stir us to enjoy our privilege and to practise priestly service. If the church is typified by the priestly family then, surely, each local expression of this church should be characterised by priestly service of worship and intercession, led by the true Aaron.
Many Christians tell us today that free worship in Spirit and in truth is being replaced by performances or by 'church services' led by one or more individuals. Prompted by such changes, some have searched and have asked the Lord to show them Christian gatherings where every brother is free to worship and pray audibly in exercise of priestly privilege, and have told us what a discovery it was when they found such gatherings.
For the others - who have known such liberty for years - let us ask the Lord for renewed appreciation of it and for renewed freshness in the exercise of this priestly service.
Sisters are priests as well. Some have heralded the idea of 'women priests' as a novelty - yet it has long been the privilege of every believer (1 Peter 2:5). However, audible worship, prayer and ministry in the assembly is left to men, other tasks are given to women alone, and yet others to both.