The Levitical priests of ancient Israel were required to be without physical defect and ritually pure before performing their duties. They followed strict guidelines related to physical condition when going before God in their Temple or Tabernacle duties.
Leviticus 21 outlines the requirements for the purity that God required of them. A descendant of Aaron had to be pure, unspotted and without physical defects before he could offer sacrifices or offering to God. These defects included blindness, lameness, a marred face, a limb too long, a broken foot, a broken hand, hunchbacked, dwarfed, a defective eye, eczema, a scab and castration (Leviticus 21:17-23). They can be further categorized into four basic areas: injury, deformity, disease and surgery.
The priest could not go near the veil or approach the altar if he had a defect profaning God's sanctuary. These defects represented the effects of sin! Sin separates man from God (Isaiah 59:1-8).
When the building of the Temple of God in Jerusalem was completed in 515 BC, the priests followed the instruction given by God in Leviticus for purifying themselves. Notice in Ezra 6:20, "For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were ritually clean." Purification came by offering sacrifices as sin offerings and continuing obediently in God's law.
The Royal Priesthood
In the New Testament church, God is calling out of the world a new, spiritual priesthood. The apostle Peter writes, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people" (I Peter 2:9). He promises that we will be kings and priests in His Kingdom (Revelation 5:10).
The responsibilities of ancient Israel's Levitical priesthood and the spiritual royal priesthood of God are similar in that purity is absolutely required. The ritual purity of the Levitical priesthood was accomplished by such physical activities as ritual washing and burnt sacrifices. Israel's priesthood was a shadow of God's spiritual priesthood (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1).
In contrast, the spiritual purity required of God's royal priesthood in preparation for the Kingdom of God is the spiritual cleansing of the mind and attitude. The scribes and Pharisees accused Jesus of not keeping the ritual purification traditions, but His answer struck squarely on the intent of those laws:
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man. (Matthew 15:18-20)
The blood of Christ's sacrifice initially purifies us by washing away our sins at baptism (Hebrews 9). But purification is a continuous process because of the ever-present need to rid our minds of sin. The apostle James was inspired to write in James 1:27, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." Unspotted means "unblemished and unstained from sin."
The purifying of our thoughts by studying God's Word and properly applying it in our lives spiritually heals our minds of the damage sin inflicts. By mentally dwelling on God's way of life, we replace the carnal thoughts with righteous, pure thoughts. Purity is the spiritual cleansing of our mind resulting in complete devotion to God! Carnal thoughts are replaced by God's truth resulting in godly love. The apostle Peter writes to the elect of God: "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart" (I Peter 1:22).
We purify ourselves by obeying the truth. God says that His law is truth (Psalm 119:142), and the entirety of His Word is truth (verse 160). "The words of the LORD are pure words" (Psalm 12:6). If the words of God were not pure, they could not replace impure, carnal thoughts.
To help us in purifying our minds, we have Christ's perfect example of Christian conduct. Christ is the example of truth: "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). We can see in the experiences of His life through four different eyewitness accounts how He reacted to different circumstances and apply them to our situations. The truth purifies.
When Christ returns, God's people will have been purifying themselves by replacing carnal thoughts with the knowledge of God's truth and the hope of His promises to His royal priesthood! We are told by the apostle John that "everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (I John 3:3).
Our loving God and Father has purified us from our former life of sin through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. Without purification, we are separated from God by sin, and it is impossible to receive salvation without growing toward spiritual purity. It is our duty now as God's royal priesthood to prepare ourselves for God's Kingdom by purifying our minds with the words and thoughts of our holy God!