You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The Church arose within the context of 1st-century Judaism; but as the book of Acts relates, the rejection of the gospel by most Jews and their leadership led to division and the inclusion of Gentiles. The book of Hebrews lays out the radical discontinuity between traditional Judaism and the Christian faith: the author shows how the New Covenant provides a better covenant, a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a better cleansing, a better inheritance, a better rest, better promises. The clearly implied question to Jewish believers in danger of reverting to Judaism in response to persecution is this: Why would you ever go back to such an antiquated, outmoded and unsatisfying system? The writer explicitly calls the old system “obsolete” (8:13).
The writer of Hebrews and other New Testament authors, especially Paul, insist that the Old Covenant has been fulfilled and superseded by a system that is superior in every way. That being the case, one would think that the vocabulary of the Old Covenant’s sacrificial system would be likewise supplanted and replaced, along with the rest of its trappings. Curiously, that is not the case. There are many references in the New Testament where the writers clearly employ Old Covenant sacrificial language in talking about New Covenant truths. The point is, though, that these terms are now invested with new meanings, often a more internalized significance that speaks to the new nature of relating to God. Hence, in 1 Peter 2:5 we are told that believers are “a holy priesthood” who are “to offer spiritual [not physical] sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
For the Law. . . can never. . . make perfect those who draw near [proserchomenous]. . . And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near [proserchōmetha] with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:1, 21-22)
But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. (Philippians 2:17)
While they were ministering [leitourgountōn; used of the ministry of priests in the Old Testament] to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)
I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma and acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:18)
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living [not dead] and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship [latreian]. (Romans 12:1)
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. (2 Timothy 4:6)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”(Hebrews 13:15-16)
Likewise, the book of Hebrews makes it clear that the priesthood has not been done away with completely; rather there is now only one Priest (Hebrews 8:1), one who is of a different order (Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:15,17), who made one perfect sacrifice for all and for all time (Hebrews 9:25-28; 10:10,12) and who abides forever (7:23-25).
Also, the concept of temple is redefined as denoting, variously, Christ (John 2:19-22), the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22), and individual believers (1 Corinthians 6:19).
So we see that the fulfillment of the Old Covenant system in Christ, the reality behind the shadow (8:5; 10:1), infuses the vocabulary of the former system with rich new meanings.
b. 1 Peter 2:9 Proclaiming His Excellencies
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Here Peter again uses terms originally applied to the nation of Israel in describing the new people of God. This new type of “race,” “priesthood,” “nation” and “people” has corporately as its purpose to “proclaim the excellencies” of the One who redeemed them. This is another example of the ubiquitous Revelation and Response pattern in Scripture (see Worship Notes 1.5): God has taken the initiative to reveal His excellencies in His gracious work of calling them out of darkness into light; and their appropriate response is to gratefully proclaim those excellencies He has revealed. God redeems us so that we can reflect back to Him (and others) His glory and His grace.
c. Jude 24-25 Doxology
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
It is appropriate that the epistles of the New Testament (at least in our Western ordering, and with the exception of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 1–3) culminate in this marvelous expression of praise in response to God for His astounding work on behalf of the world, as the epistles so richly expound.