Every Bible student knows that in the days of Christ’s ministry, the high priesthood fluctuated between Annas and Caiaphas. At this late stage in the Aaronic order, the high priest was a Roman appointee. It is doubtful that these political appointees who were in and out of office with every whim of the Romans was truly God’s high priest.
If these men were not the true High Priest from God’s perspective, who was? Was John the Baptist the last high priest of the Aaronic order? Let’s look at the evidence.
John was a descendent of Aaron from both his mother and his father’s side. The Gospel of Luke makes a special point of this fact. “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.” (Luke 1:5) This odd little fact nestled in Luke’s gospel is trying to tell us something.
John did not use wine. This is often conjectured that this was because John was a Nazarite. However, the other qualifications for being a Nazarite (not cutting the hair and not being defiled by a dead person) are never mentioned in the passages concerning John. The abstinence from wine on the other hand was also a command of the high priest. “And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations.” (Lev. 10:8,9)
One of John’s missions was to “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” (Mk 1:3) This could have many different interpretations. Consider, though, that the preparation could be for the new priesthood, the order of Melchizadek.
The prophecy of Malachi has three references in it to a messenger. The first instance is referring to the state of the priesthood. “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” (Mal. 2:7) The second reference is to John and the “messenger of the covenant”, Jesus. “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant.” (Mal. 3:1) It makes sense that this word in all three instances refers to a priest instead of one, John, being the odd man out.
If we have correctly assessed John’s role as the last high priest of the Aaronic order, John’s father, Zacharias, would have also been a high priest. Perhaps this is why God chose Zacharias by lot to perform the act of offering on the altar of incense. This duty was supposed to be performed by the high priest. “And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.” (Ex. 30:7,8) Furthermore, is it simply ironic or a clear Bible echo that Aaron’s wife was also named Elisabeth. “And Aaron took him Elisheba [Hebrew form of Elisabeth], daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon, to wife.” (Ex. 6:23)
It makes sense for the true high priest of God to baptize Jesus. The scene of Jesus’ baptism would be a transition in priesthoods. “And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” (Ex. 40:12,13)
If what we have conjectured is true, it puts an entirely new perspective on John’s statement “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) His priesthood was decreasing while the priesthood of the order of Melchizadek was increasing.