'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
God declared His purpose in salvation after bringing the sons of Israel out of Egypt. God did this just prior to giving them the Mosaic covenant. The purpose of salvation does not change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. The New is a continuation of the Old. God declared that He was making a people for Himself to be His own possession. He was making a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
The nation of Israel is foundational in this purpose. Gentiles in the New Covenant are grafted into this same purpose. The use of this language - a kingdom of priests, a holy nation - is used by the Apostles John, Peter, and Paul in addition to the author of Hebrews.
A Conditional Covenant
God told Moses that the condition for enjoying the covenantal blessing was their obedience. God said they would be His own possession among all the peoples if they obeyed His voice and kept His covenant.
The New Covenant is likewise conditional. However, it is not conditioned on our obedience. It is conditioned on the obedience of Jesus.
Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law and accomplished the will of the Father. The Old Covenant required the obedience of the people to enjoy God's presence and fellowship. Because of what Christ has accomplished the people of the New Covenant are able to enjoy the blessing of fellowship with God based on the righteousness and obedience of another, Jesus the Christ.
Priests of God
Many people have different views of what it means to be a priest. In Exodus 19 God declared a defining characteristic of priests that is helpful for understanding His meaning in making a kingdom of priests for His own possession.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, "Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, or else the LORD will break out against them." (Exodus 19:21-22)
Whatever duties a priest may have, the essential characteristic of a priest is one who comes near to the Lord.
Throughout the Old Covenant there was a line of priests that were allowed to come closer to God than others. The High Priest was able to come closest. Before all of these regulations were given, God declared that His purpose was to create a kingdom of priests for His own possession.
The Old Covenant was temporary. It was the shadow of the substance that was to come in Christ (Colossians 2:17). Because of Christ's perfect obedience and His ministry as our High Priest, He has opened wide the door for all who are in Him to draw near to God in His name. This is fulfilled in the New and everlasting covenant.
Throughout the Old Covenant the veil remained in the tabernacle and the Temple to make sure no one came too close. Likewise, in Exodus 19 Moses was told to create a border which no one, even the priests, could go past. When Christ died on the cross, the veil was torn down from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38).
God was demonstrating that Christ had succeeded in His earthly ministry. The veil was torn from top to bottom demonstrating God's activity. It was not the work of man that would allow us to enter into God's presence. It was God's work through His Son, the Messiah.
Jesus died to fulfill the Law and open the door for salvation to the ends of the earth. God is working through the church to graft a people from all the families of the earth into His kingdom as priests. Those who experience the joy of salvation are blessed with the ability to fellowship with the living God through Jesus, His Son. We are priests to God because of the High Priestly ministry of Jesus.
God gets a holy people as His own possession.
Understanding the New in Light of the Old
Christianity isn't about going to heaven when you die. Heaven is just a continuation of the blessing of knowing God. It doesn't start or end at death. The New Covenant promise of eternal life is similar to the promise in the Old Covenant. The redeemed get to know God, live in His presence, and proclaim His glory.
When God made the nation of Israel He made them a nation holy unto Himself. He dwelt in their midst. In the New Covenant, the dwelling place of God is not in a temple or tabernacle made by human hands. God now dwells in the temple of His people, the church.
The blessing of knowing God and being known by Him is a present tense possession. The blessing will continue into eternity for those who are redeemed in this life.
Each of the New Testament authors who speak of this awesome privilege call Christians to take hold of these promises and live as holy people now. We are called to draw near to God now, not just in the future. We are called to live in God's presence now and to continue into heaven. Jesus made it clear that eternal life begins at salvation, in this life.
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)John speaks of the purpose of Jesus in salvation.
and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood-- and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6, bold added)Paul speaks of God's purpose of redemption in Christ, opening the door to all peoples.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14, bold added)Paul prayed with the reality that believers are God's possession, His inheritance. Paul had on his mind what God gets out of our salvation. We belong to God. He redeems us so we will be His to the praise of His glory.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14, bold added)Peter likewise writes to the Gentile churches Paul had planted using this terminology. He urges the redeemed to not only know God and be known by Him, but to proclaim the excellencies of God in the world.
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:9-10, bold added)
ConclusionWe have been redeemed for a purpose. That purpose is to be a kingdom of priests to our God. This means that we are called to live in His holy presence and draw near to Him. We belong to God because He has redeemed us with the blood of our Savior. He belongs to us because He has freely given Himself to us.
This is the direction and purpose of salvation. It will finally be accomplished in the end when the redeemed are gathered in from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people and the enemies of God are cast into the Lake of Fire.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4)While we wait for God to accomplish His purposes, let us draw near to Him through Christ. Let us enjoy the presence of God on a daily basis. Let us live as His holy people, proclaiming His excellence and glory for calling us out of darkness into His marvelous light.