When God instituted the Levitical Priesthood, under the Law of Moses, He told Moses, “bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar (Exodus 28:1; ESV).” He added a little later, “And the priesthood shall be theirs as a lasting ordinance. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:9b).”
Thereafter, in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, when God issued commands for His priests, He frequently did so using the formula, “Aaron and his sons.” For example, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering (Leviticus 6:9a),” and “The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast shall be for Aaron and his sons (Leviticus 7:31; ESV).”
This Priesthood, established in the days of Moses and Aaron was not meant to be limited to only one or two generations. Aaron died, and his four sons all died, but the priesthood continued, as God intended it should. This is why God said the priesthood would be theirs as a “lasting ordinance.” While the word translated “lasting,” does not exactly mean eternal, it does signify that which lasts for an extended period of time. Specifically, the Levitical Priesthood lasted from the days of Moses until the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Levitical family records, in AD 70. This was a period of roughly 1500 years.
The word, “sons,” therefore, in the various passages is not referring exclusively to Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, but is inclusive of all the descendants of Aaron, generation following generation.
What then of the commands, such as those concerning the sacrifices (cf. Leviticus 1-7), proscribing the manner in which Aaron and his sons were to conduct themselves? When God told Moses to command Aaron and his sons concerning the burnt offering, the sin offering, the peace offering and such, or when God commanded them concerning the ordinances of the tabernacle, was God intending for only two generations to follow the commands, or did He not rather intend for every subsequent generation to obey the commands in the same way? That is, if a hundred or a thousand years later, one of Aarons many descendants were to say to himself, ‘the command was for the sons, but I am a great, great, great, great, grandson, many times removed from Aaron himself and thus the command does not apply to me and I can do as I please’ – such a priest would be greatly mistaken. God’s law was not binding upon a single generation, or even two, but was meant to be followed until its end.
We are not under the Law of Moses. It has come to an end, and the Levitical priesthood with it. It has been replaced by a new priesthood, with Jesus as our High Priest forever (cf. Hebrews 3:1, 4:14, 7:11-28, etc.). Yet there is in the phrase, “Aaron and his sons,” a reminder to us today concerning the manner of God’s Law, whether it be under the Old Covenant of Moses or the New Covenant of Christ. Just as God intended each of Aaron’s descendants to obey the same commands, generation after generation, so too in the Gospel of Christ God gives us ordinances which are meant to govern until the whole of the Covenant comes to fruition.
Thus the inspired writer can say, “this is my rule in all the churches (1 Corinthians 7:17),” or have a prayer and a desire which is intended for “all the saints (Ephesians 3:18).” All the churches and all the saints is not exclusive to a certain time or place but is inclusive of all the times and places. The commands and promises of Christ were not for a select group, but were for all men, “even as many as the Lord our God will call (cf. Acts 2:39b).”
The church today, being a kingdom of priests to God (cf. Revelation 1:6; 1 Peter 2:9), cannot simply elect to say, ‘this command was for the apostles, and those to whom the apostles spoke, but we are many generations removed and thus the command does not apply to us.’ Such a statement today would be greatly mistaken, for as with the sons of Aaron, so with us, God’s Law is lasting, and is meant to be followed until its end. Whether it be the command to “repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38),” or the command to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” it is as binding on us today as it was on those who first heard it, and we depart from the command at our own peril (cf. 2 John vs. 9).
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.