Brothers, we are not exiles. At least not in the way commonly taught.
Many Christians think that the Bible teaches that New Covenant Christians are spiritual exiles on the earth. This refrain is constantly repeated within Christian circles, usually anytime politics is brought up in any relation to Christianity. In reality, the Bible teaches the opposite.
Christians need to understand the difference between someone who is literally an exile (such as a Babylonian exile) and someone who is metaphorically or spiritually an exile.
The word exile is used to refer to New Covenant saints a total of three times. All three times are contained in one epistle (1st Peter). The word is used to refer to actual physical exiles of the Babylonian exile who never moved back to Jerusalem. Not spiritual or eschatological exiles.
Note the following New Testament use of the word “exile” in the book of Hebrews. It is used to contrast Old Covenant believers (Abraham etc.) as exiles in a far off land, from New Covenant believers as citizens who have already arrived in the New Covenant!
“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. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, THEY desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a CITY.” Hebrews 11:13-16
If you follow the line of argument from the author of Hebrews, you then see the contrast in the following chapter as new Covenant Christians are compared to Old Covenant Christians:
“BUT YOU have come to Mount Zion and to the CITY of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a NEW COVENANT, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”Hebrews 12:22-24
Taken together, Hebrews 11 and 12 make clear that the eschatological exiles are those who have not received the inheritance that Abraham and the saints of the Old Testament were looking forward to. It also makes clear that New Testament saints are no longer eschatological exiles but citizens.
So when 1st Peter opens up his letter by saying:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”
He cannot be referring to eschatological exiles, that would contradict the author of Hebrews. What actually would make sense (if we are not reading in our faulty presuppositions) is that he is simply referring to the literal exiles in the dispersion.
He repeats usage of the world exile in verse 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 – 1 Peter 1:17
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. – 1 Peter 2:11
We know from Hebrews 12 that New Testament believers are not eschatological exiles. And again, given that Peter was writing to actual physical exiles we need not assume Peter is consigning the church to exile status (a biblical category of judgement).
Spiritually speaking, we are “being built together” into a dwelling place for God. As Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the prophets foretold, and as the New Testament writers confirm, the New Covenant is the realization of God’s Holy prescence being poured out among us so that he might dwell with his people in his Holy City, the New Jerusalem.
Ephesians 2 makes clear that we in the New Covenant are not strangers or aliens from the homeland that exiled Old Covenant saints looked forward to, but rather citizens:
So then you are NO LONGER STRANGERS AND ALIENS, but you are fellow CITIZENS with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.Ephesians 2:19-22
It may be appropriate to think of ourselves as being strangers and exiles to “worldliness” or “fleshliness”, but not in some “this world is not my home I’m just a passin through” sense. To the contrary, we seek the Hebrews 13:14 “coming city” which refers to the Mt. Zion of the Kingdom of God (seek first the kingdom) which has been established but for which we also pray “thy kingdom come” as we seek heavenly will to be done on the earth more and more.
Christ prayed not that we would be taken out of the world, but that we would be protected from the evil one. We are representatives of heaven, and we will inherit the earth.
We are to be the light that scatters the darkness. We are to be leaven that works through the whole lump. We are to be salt that preserves the good. To grow from a mustard seed to a giant Cedar. A stone that becomes a great mountain. That is the nature of the Kingdom. One where we pray and act towards having what is done in heaven be done on earth. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to heavenize the earth to a redeemed Eden.
The heavenly kingdom which has rightful authority over the earth has already been established when Christ inherited all authority over heaven and earth at his ascension.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. – Matthew 28:18
We are heavenly citizens on the earth and heaven is coming here to be united with earth. At the same time, we await it’s consummation – so there is an already/not yet and a progressive aspect to the unfolding of history.
The great commission calls us to disciple the nations, to teach them Christ’s commands. It is more than just personal evangelism. We are participating in the work of heavenizing the earth. The church isn’t exiles in Babylon, we’re Joshua in Canaan.
The kingdom isn’t about defending a few outposts around the world. It’s an invading army looting and destroying the defunct kingdom of Satan with the Gospel of the person, work and kingdom of the Messiah Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Brothers, we are not exiles.