In many ways, Jesus Himself set a pattern for the Reformation. When He began His ministry among the Jews, He came up against a priesthood that had overstepped their role as mediators between God and man. Instead of making it easier for people to know God, the priests invented so many rules that the people came to believe that God was a hard task master. They feared God. They relied on the priests to keep them safe from God’s anger.
Traditions Take the Place of Spirituality
Jesus criticized the priests for their traditions that led the people away from having a relationship with God. He said, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).
Jesus said the priests were also guilty of setting themselves above the people by requiring from them what they would not do themselves. Jesus said, “Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46).
By these requirements, the priests had taught the people that they had to work hard to please God and earn salvation. They did not teach the people that God wanted a relationship with them as He tried to show them when He commanded Moses “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Jesus reminded the people that what God wanted was a place in their hearts. John said of Jesus, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Through Christ, God came and lived with His people.
Equal in Christ
Jesus objected to the high place the priests taken over the people. He said, “…one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren” (Matthew 23:8). He restored a right relationship between God and man, through faith, not faithless works.
Though sin had separated the people from God (Isaiah 59:2), Christ provided access to the very throne room of the Almighty. At the moment of His death on the cross, the thick temple curtain hiding the Most Holy place, God’s throne room, from view was torn by an unseen hand from top to bottom. This showed that the people now had direct access to God through His Son Jesus Christ.
No Need for Mediating Priests
Because of Jesus’ death, priestly mediators with their rules and ceremonies were no longer needed. Peter preached that all believers were made “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) because through faith in Jesus, all Christians now have access to God. Jesus Himself is the Mediator between God and man. “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).
The apostles carried the Gospel to pagan lands where priests were like gods to the people. The apostles taught that salvation was a free gift from their loving heavenly Father. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). The Gospel meant freedom from fear and slavish service to the gods and their fickle, demanding priests.
Sadly, the free gift of grace was lost sight of once more, as paganism mingled with Christianity in the time of Constantine and a Christianized form of pagan priesthood was brought into the Christian church. By the time of the Reformation, this hierarchy of priests was well-established and shamefully corrupt.