Priestly Robes

How important is what you wear? Do clothes make the man? In Exodus 28:15-30, and the rest of the chapter, God gives detailed instructions as to what the high priest is to wear.

Aaron’s robes identified him as high priest. His attire set him apart. The garments of the high priest showed that he was not just an Israelite among his fellow countrymen. He was functioning on their behalf as he entered the presence of God in the tabernacle. The other priests also had priestly garments, but God’s instructions to Moses focus on what the high priest was to wear. This was not a volunteer or self-appointed position. Rather, God called them and set them apart to their office (Exodus 29 has some of those details). The priest represented the people before God. “These garments showed that those who wore them were not ordinary Israelites, but Israelites who had been ‘set apart’ from the rest of the people (v. 1) to serve as priests.” (W. H. Grispen, Exodus, p. 263).

Aaron’s garments protected him as he entered God’s holy presence. Aaron’s robes not only set him off from the Israelites, but were a reminder to the Lord that Aaron was in his presence, not just as an ordinary Israelite, but in his office as high priest. A gold plate on his turban proclaimed, “Holy to the Lord.” Wearing the garment with the bells on the hem was important enough that Aaron’s life depended on it. The bells reminded him of the seriousness of what he was doing. And they served, in a sense, to remind God that this was not just a sinful man in his holy tabernacle, this was the high priest, set apart for his work of intercession. “The robe was then the garment that reminded both the high priest and (humanly speaking) the Lord of the glory, the exaltedness, and the sacredness of the office. . . . The bells drew attention to his sacred garments, the pomegranates reminded the high priest of the commandments (cf. also Num. 15:37-41), which he was to keep as well. As to the fulfillment of the high priestly office, we must note that as our High Priest Christ pleased the Lord both in His person and in His office.” (W. H. Grispen, Exodus, p. 271).

Aaron bore the names of the tribes of God’s people as he came before God. Onyx stones engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel were attached to the shoulders of his robe. The square breastpiece underlined that work of the priest. This piece of fabric was square (unlike somewhat similar items found among other nations) cloth, doubled, and with 12 stones attached. Translations of the stones vary, understandably, but the point is clear. The tribes are precious, and each has its name engraved on its stone. When the priest goes about his work in the tabernacle, he is not a private person—he represents his people before God. He provides atoning sacrifices for them. And he prays for them. The mysterious Urim and Thummin were placed in this piece of his clothing, over his heart. Somehow God used these items to reveal his will to the people, to enable them to make decisions. The priests represented the people to God, and the high priest above all did this. His garments made that clear. But the work, even of the high priest, was anticipatory. It looked to something better.

Your greater High Priest is set apart for his work. Jesus is set apart by his death and resurrection. In Revelation 1, John hears a voice, and turning, sees a magnificent person. Jesus Christ, looking not as he did when he summoned John from his fishing nets at the beginning of his public ministry, but Jesus Christ as the exalted Lord, is speaking to his faithful apostle. He is standing among seven lampstands, representing the seven churches who will be specifically addressed in the following chapters. Though much of the imagery is based on Daniel 7 and focuses on the kingly office of the Savior, his presence among the lampstands and in the heavenly temple of the visions reminds you that he is the priest. Jesus identifies himself as the one who died and is alive. It is not just a magnificent wardrobe that sets him apart. He has done more than offer animal sacrifices that point ahead. He has come into the world as the Lamb of God, as the High Priest. He offered himself on the cross, and he rose again! See him in his magnificent triumph!

Jesus is your Priest. He is the One to whom Aaron’s work pointed. He is King, but also High Priest. “Although the clothing of [Revelation 1] v 13 could also resemble kingly attire, its use here evokes the image of a priest because of the clear temple atmosphere of the ‘lampstands’ and the angels coming out of the heavenly temple, who wear the same clothing in 15:5-8. The ambiguity may be deliberate: perhaps both a king and a priest are in mind. . . . Christ’s sovereign oversight of the churches presupposes his constant presence among them.” (G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, p. 209). As Prophet he will speak words of warning to some of the seven churches. As Prophet he will reveal the working out of God’s plan for his people. As King he provides assurance to a suffering church, reminding believers that, despite their outward circumstances, they are not abandoned. You need that reassurance today. And as Priest, he assures those who trust in him that his work is sufficient, their sins are covered, they are provided with white garments.

Rejoice that your priest represents you before his Father. Remember the precious stones on Aaron’s breastpiece? This High Priest does more than bring a mysterious symbolic jewel studded article into God’s presence. In a real sense he brings you with him as he enters the presence of his Father. You can come boldly into God’s presence. You have the assurance that you have died, and your life is hidden with God in Christ. You live with him.

Your High Priest has done far more than dress himself in ornate, symbolic robes. He died and rose to draw you to himself. You died and live with him. Take hope!

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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