Revelation 1:5b-6 says, “To the one who loves us and set us free from our sins by his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Revelation 5:10 says, “And you have made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign upon the earth.”
At several points, Revelation points to a priesthood for the people of God that begins now. The nature of that priesthood is not well-developed, but John gives some indications about what God desires from his priests in the present time. Like their future, their present should be devoted to service to God. The primary component of their service to God is obedience to his commandments.
It will be helpful to begin with a few of Revelation’s pointers to the idea that God’s people are already his priests. According to Revelation 1:6 and 5:10, the Lamb is responsible for establishing a people for God who are both his “kingdom” and his “priests.” There is no indication that this kingdom or priesthood is limited to the future. His purchase of people for God is related to the cross (1:5; 5:9). Presumably, then, the people of the Lamb become God’s priests when they receive the benefits of his blood, that is, his sacrificial death. The timing for the sealing of the servants of God provides support for this point, because the sealing of Revelation 7:3 takes place after the death of the Lamb, but before the 21 plagues, from which the seal protects God’s people. The sealing takes place after the death of the Lamb, because the people of the Lamb are the ones who have been purchased with his blood in order to become his priests (5:9-10). They are the 144,000 servants of God who receive his seal in Revelation 7:3. The seal on their foreheads is the names of God and the Lamb (14:1; 22:4). The 21 plagues begin with the plagues of the seven seals. The plagues of the first four seals are unique in the midst of the 21 plagues, because they appear to begin shortly after the exaltation of Jesus and continue until the time right before Jesus comes back (Hoskins, Revelation, 138-42). If so, then the sealing of Revelation 7:3 belongs to the past and the present rather than to the future. The people of God already carry a seal upon their foreheads, which marks them as God’s priests and protects them from his plagues.
Due to the blood of the Lamb, the people of God are already his holy ones and his priests prior to their entry into the New Jerusalem (Rev 5:10; 13:7; 17:6). Yet their current holiness is incomplete, as the seven letters to the seven churches show (Rev 2-3). In my next post, we will look briefly at the Sardis letter, since it appears to relate to the priestly nature of God’s people in the present time.
These paragraphs represent an edited excerpt from an essay that I wrote and published:
Paul Hoskins, “Priesthood in the Book of Revelation.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 22 (2018): 101-17.
For further information about the verses referenced above, see Paul Hoskins, The Book of Revelation: A Theological and Exegetical Commentary.