From Exodus until the time of the Lord Jesus on earth, no other tribe could function as priests except the tribe of Levi. They could not offer sacrifices to God. Their sacrifices had to be made through the priests. They could not even come to God to confess their sins; they had to confess them through the priests. They could not separate themselves from the world because they had no authority to touch the anointing oil. The priests alone could anoint and sanctify a person. All the spiritual services had to be carried out by the priests on their behalf.
One special characteristic about the Israelites in the Old Testament was that God was far away from them. Not everyone could contact Him. In the Old Testament we find the evolution of the priesthood, which I call an intermediary class. Man could not go to God directly. God’s people had to go through the priests before they could draw near to God. They could not commune with God directly. God came to man through the priests, and man also went to God through the priests. Between God and man, there was a mediatorial class. Man could not come directly to God, and God could not come directly to man. Between God and man there was a mediatorial class.
This class was not found in God’s original design. God’s original intention was to approach His people directly and for them to come to Him directly. But now there were three parties. The people had to come to God through the priests, and God had to approach His people through the priests. God and man could no longer commune with each other directly. All contact became indirect.
For about fifteen hundred years, from the time of Moses to the time of Christ, God’s people were unable to come directly to God. Only one household was qualified to be the priests. A man had to belong to this household to come to God. If he drew near to God directly, he would die. During that period, the ministry of the priests became a very powerful ministry. Man could not come to God directly; he needed the intercession of the priests. How noble and great the priestly ministry was! There was no way for man to come to God without the priests. But with the coming of the New Testament age, we find salvation and redemption reaching all men. Now we hear the word: "You yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5).
In 1 Peter 2:4-7 Peter tells us that Christ is the foundation of the church. He was the stone rejected by the builders who has now become the head of the corner. We have become the living stones and are joined and built up to become a spiritual house. We also have become a holy priesthood to God. It is as if a voice from heaven burst forth announcing, "All who are saved are now God’s priests. All the living stones, those who are part of the spiritual house, are now priests of God."
Right then a promise which had been set aside for fifteen hundred years was recovered by God. What the Israelites lost has been recovered by the church. The universal priesthood was lost to Israel. In the New Testament age, it is as if a voice from heaven bursts forth with the promise that the universal priesthood is with us once more. All the saved ones are called to be priests.
(New Believers Series: Priesthood, The #23, Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)