15 “But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me. And they shall stand before me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord God. 16 They shall enter my sanctuary, and they shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge. 17 When they enter the gates of the inner court, they shall wear linen garments. They shall have nothing of wool on them, while they minister at the gates of the inner court, and within. 18 They shall have linen turbans on their heads, and linen undergarments around their waists. They shall not bind themselves with anything that causes sweat. 19 And when they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers. And they shall put on other garments, lest they transmit holiness to the people with their garments. 20 They shall not shave their heads or let their locks grow long; they shall surely trim the hair of their heads. 21 No priest shall drink wine when he enters the inner court. 22 They shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman, but only virgins of the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest. 23 They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean. 24 In a dispute, they shall act as judges, and they shall judge it according to my judgments. They shall keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts, and they shall keep my Sabbaths holy. 25 They shall not defile themselves by going near to a dead person. However, for father or mother, for son or daughter, for brother or unmarried sister they may defile themselves. 26 After he has become clean, they shall count seven days for him. 27 And on the day that he goes into the Holy Place, into the inner court, to minister in the Holy Place, he shall offer his sin offering, declares the Lord God.
28 “This shall be their inheritance: I am their inheritance: and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession. 29 They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering, and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. 30 And the first of all the firstfruits of all kinds, and every offering of all kinds from all your offerings, shall belong to the priests. You shall also give to the priests the first of your dough, that a blessing may rest on your house. 31 The priests shall not eat of anything, whether bird or beast, that has died of itself or is torn by wild animals. – Ezekiel 44:15-31 ESV
Ezekiel has been informed that not all of the descendants of the Levitical priesthood will be allowed to serve in the same capacity within the Millennial Temple. Some will be restricted in terms of their daily tasks and responsibilities because of the sins of their fathers.
“…the men of the tribe of Levi who abandoned me when Israel strayed away from me to worship idols must bear the consequences of their unfaithfulness. They may still be Temple guards and gatekeepers, and they may slaughter the animals brought for burnt offerings and be present to help the people.” – Ezekiel 44:10-11 NLT
The ancestors of these future Millennial priests were guilty of having led the people of Israel astray. Rather than modeling holiness and encouraging faithfulness among the people, they had set the precedence for apostasy.
“…they encouraged my people to worship idols, causing Israel to fall into deep sin.” – Ezekiel 44:12 NLT
As a result of the role these men played in Israel’s spiritual decline, their descendants would face punishment from God.
“They may not approach me to minister as priests. They may not touch any of my holy things or the holy offerings, for they must bear the shame of all the detestable sins they have committed.” – Ezekiel 4:13 NLT
This news must have concerned Ezekiel. How would the sacrificial system function without priests? What good was a rebuilt temple without qualified men to serve within its walls? Ezekiel would have known that only the descendants of Levi could fill this role, so hearing God’s plans to exclude them from service would have been disconcerting. For the new temple to function properly, the descendants of Levi were absolutely necessary. So, God quickly informed Ezekiel that there was nothing to worry about.
“…the Levitical priests of the family of Zadok continued to minister faithfully in the Temple when Israel abandoned me for idols. These men will serve as my ministers. They will stand in my presence and offer the fat and blood of the sacrifices, says the Sovereign Lord. They alone will enter my sanctuary and approach my table to serve me. They will fulfill all my requirements.” – Ezekiel 44:15-16 NLT
Zadok was a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel. Zadok served during the reign of King David and was the one who anointed the head of Solomon, formerly setting him apart as David’s successor for the contested throne of Israel. God describes the family of Zadok as having been faithful to their calling. They took their roles seriously, serving as dedicated ministers in the temple and as committed servants to the kingdom. And for this, they would be rewarded by God.
In chapter 40, verse 46, God revealed to Ezekiel that a special room on the south side of the temple sanctuary was reserved for the descendants of Zadok.
“The room beside the south inner gate is for the priests in charge of the altar—the descendants of Zadok—for they alone of all the Levites may approach the Lord to minister to him.” – Ezekiel 40:46 NLT
This faithful remnant of the Levitical priesthood would find themselves serving as God’s personal ministers within the new Millennial Temple. In this passage, God reminds Ezekiel that these holy priests who served in the future temple would have the same job descriptions and responsibilities that they had in the old one. But God emphasizes their need for holiness. Repeatedly, God states, “they shall…”
“they shall keep my charge” – vs 16
“they shall wear linen garments” – vs 17
“they shall not bind themselves with anything that causes sweat” – vs 18
“they shall not shave their heads or let their locks grow long” – vs 20
“they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman” – vs 22
Each of these commands is tied to the issue of holiness. These men, as priests, were to remain consecrated to God at all times. Their behavior was to reflect their set-apart status as God’s chosen servants. Everything they did was to model holiness before the people. And, not only that, they were to teach the people the importance of holiness.
“They will teach my people the difference between what is holy and what is common, what is ceremonially clean and unclean.” – Ezekiel 44:23 NLT
One of the most significant roles they were to play was that of an instructor. Their very lives were to be a living example of what it means to live set apart to God. By keeping God’s regulations concerning the sacrifices, they would be showing the people what a set-apart life looks like. There was to be no cutting of corners, no concessions or compromises concerning God’s laws. As priests, they were responsible for the spiritual integrity of the people of God.
And along with providing instruction in holiness, they were to act as judges, resolving disagreements among the people based on the regulations handed down by God. God’s laws concerning defilement and impurity will still be in play, even in the Millennial Kingdom. With Christ serving as the righteous King of Israel, holiness will be of higher priority than ever before. And God makes it clear that all the rules and restrictions concerning the Levitical priesthood will remain as they were in the Old Testament. His laws and decrees are eternally holy and do not change.
Even now, during the church age, God demands holiness among His chosen people. At the present time, there is no temple, no sacrificial system, and no functioning Levitical priesthood. But according to the apostle Peter, there is a remnant of priests who are charged with serving God and instructing others about the difference between the holy and the common.
“for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9 NLT
We are priests in the kingdom of God and we have a responsibility to model a life of holiness to the world. We are to teach others the difference between the holy and the ordinary, and there should be a clear and irrefutable difference. Our lives should not blend in with the world around us. We should be distinctive in more than just name or religious affiliation. We should not have to TELL someone we are Christians. It should be evident in the way we live our lives, and Peter describes the kind of life we are to live.
So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 NLT
They say the best lessons are caught, not taught. The most effective form of teaching is still modeling. It is in the way we live our lives that we convey the true difference between that which is holy and that which is common or ordinary. When we live as if we have been set apart by God for His use, we model holiness. When we live for His glory and not our own, we display holiness. When we put His will ahead of our own, we exude holiness. When we seek the good of His kingdom instead of our own, we demonstrate holiness. When we love others more than we love ourselves, we reveal what it means to be truly holy.
People were attracted to the distinctiveness of Jesus. The book of Acts records the explosive growth of the early church, and it was directly tied to the distinctiveness of the apostles and the unusual way in which they lived their lives. Holiness is attractive when modeled correctly and lived out sincerely. As priests of God, we are here to teach the difference between the holy way of life and the ways of this world. We are to be different, distinct, and set apart – holy unto the Lord.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.