(1 Pet. 1:1-2 ESV) Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
(1 Pet. 1:17-19 ESV) 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
(1 Pet. 2:11-12 ESV) 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
“Exiles”? From where?
The word translated “exile” refers to a resident alien — someone who lives away from home temporarily. It was often used of ambassadors and emissaries.
The phrase “sojourners and exiles” is taken from the LXX regarding Abraham’s purchase of a burial plot in Canaan–
(Gen. 23:4 ESV) “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”
And this passage also backs —
(Heb. 11:12-13 ESV) 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
So part of Peter’s thought is to compare us with Abraham, a follower of God who gave up his home to live in the wilderness. He literally had no citizenship on earth. He served no king but God. At times, he allied himself with a king or temporarily lived under a king’s protection, but clearly he served God above all men.
The other image captured in the word is the Babylonian exile of Judah or the Southern Kingdom. Due to their idolatry, God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to defeat Judah, destroy the Temple, and carry the remaining Jews into Babylonian Captivity. About 70 years later, some Jews returned to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem, but the majority of the Jews remained in Babylon.
The addressees are “strangers” because of (not despite) being chosen. Their divine election is a sociological as well as theological fact, for it has sundered them from their social world and made them like strangers or temporary residents in their respective cities and provinces.
J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Word BC 49; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 6.
The OT prophets made countless prophecies about what things would be like at the end of the Exile — including the outpouring of the Spirit, the coming of the Messiah, and the establishment of the Kingdom. Had you asked a Jew whether the Exile was continuing during Jesus’ day, they’d insist that it was. After all, the prophecies had not yet come true. In fact, they were under Roman rule — and the majority of Jews lived outside of Judea.
This was all prophesied in the Torah, especially in Lev 26 and Deu 30, with more details coming from the prophets, especially Daniel.
But, of course, Pentecost brought the outpouring the Spirit, the announcement of the Kingdom, and submission to Jesus as Messiah. And God restored those in Israel who repented by believing in Jesus. Hence, in one sense, the Exile ended.
But in another sense, the Exile only began to end. Before the Exile could fully end, God’s will would have to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus would have to return and defeat all his enemies, even death. Until then, the Kingdom would have come, but only in part. The fullness of the Kingdom is for later. And until the Kingdom arrives in its fullness, God’s children remain, in some sense, still in Exile.
Exile in what sense? Well,
- God’s children are dispersed among the nations and will not be gathered to the new Jerusalem until Jesus returns.
- God’s children live subject to earthly rulers, principalities, and powers — under the thumb of this or that Babylon — until Jesus defeats all rulers, principalities, and powers.
- The Spirit has been received by God’s children, but the Spirit is only a deposit or down payment compared to the blessings the Spirit will give in the next age.
- Jesus is on the throne of heaven, but Satan is only chained, not destroyed in the Lake of Fire. Rather, there is a war going on between the forces of Satan and of God. The victory is assured, and yet the war must still be fought.
As people in exile, Christians must submit to whatever laws are in force where they live — so far as they can without violating the will of God. But their ultimate loyalty and source of protection is God, not their local king or president or government.
Christians therefore do not imagine that they will ever be out of exile before Jesus returns. Until then, we must keep ourselves both engaged with the world and separate from the world. We live in this continuous tension. And we know the tension won’t be resolved with the next election, the next law, the next movement, the next whatever. We’ll be in exile until Jesus returns.
But since we’re in exile, many of the OT exile passages have wisdom for us — if we read thoughtfully. For example,
(Jer. 29:4-7 ESV) 4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
We don’t become hermits and monastics, wearing white robes and climbing mountains in hopes of meeting Jesus as he descends. We live our lives. But neither do we become like the pagans and live for the moment and for ourselves. Rather, we concern ourselves with the future — of our own families and also of our own communities. And so we invest ourselves in our cities — even though we live in pagan cities among pagans.
That is, to borrow from the cliche, if our church were to close its doors, the neighbors not only would miss us, they’d mourn our loss — because God’s people should be known for seeking the welfare of their cities.
Contrast this with the “gospel” taught by many megachurches. They believe in evangelism (good). They believe in worship (good). And they believe in getting bigger (good if done the right way). But they don’t believe in sacrificing for the sake of their communities. Their arrival isn’t celebrated, because they take resources from other churches in town, giving little in return except a big building with big meetings, starving pre-existing ministries of volunteers and donations, ministries on which the needy depend. But they sure have great bands.
I mean, large churches achieve huge economies of scale — a good thing — which frees human volunteers and dollars to invest in their communities. But far too many megachurches invest those dollars in picking low-hanging, white, middle-class converts from other churches rather than meeting the desperate needs of the weak and needy in their own towns.
So they’re more like Target and Wal-Mart than God’s people living in exile and seeking the welfare of the cities in which they live in captivity.
(Deut. 10:17-19 ESV) 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
And we are sojourners today. Therefore, we must care for the sojourner.