This letter from Peter is about the Christian life in exile. Peter addressed his letter to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” (1:1). And Peter ended his letter with a note that “she who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings” (5:13).
From beginning to end, the idea of “exile” is in view. Such is the life of the church, from beginning to end – in exile. The concept of “exile” is always going to be at the heart of the Christian life, until the return of Jesus Christ.
Christians were exiled from Jerusalem very early in the life of the church. A believer named Stephen was stoned to death. And then, “There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1).
To be exiled means to be removed from one’s homeland. And God’s people always have been a people of exile. They have spent many of their days wandering, searching for their home. At one time, it was the Promised Land. We know now the “homeland” is more than that.
The writer of Hebrews said Abraham and Sarah and the others – the oldest forebears of our faith – were people who only greeted the things of the faith from afar. The writer of Hebrews said, “They were strangers and exiles on earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland” (Hebrews 11:13-14).
It is part of our lineage to continue to seek a homeland while living on this earth. This is not our home.
Peter was intent on keeping this idea in the minds of his readers – and in our minds. These “elect exiles” and this one at “Babylon” are stark reminders of who we are, and where we are.
Babylon, of course, is the famous city of exile for the nation of Israel and for the likes of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We remember the trials they endured – the fiery furnace and the den of lions. And we remember what put them there, the pride of Nebuchadnezzar and the selfish ambition of the high officials of the land.
Those high officials saw Daniel praying three times a day, his windows thrown open toward Jerusalem. Daniel was in exile, and all he could do was look in the direction of home. And the high officials told the king, who had forbidden such things: “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king” (Daniel 6:13).
In his letter, Peter likely used the name “Babylon” as a code word for Rome – the new Babylon, the capital city of the persecuting empire, and a picture of the world. It was the place where the great leaders of the faith in the first century would die, from Peter to Paul to the martyrs who would come after of them. There were lions, too, in Rome.
Did you know we still are in exile? We are not yet home. Some say America is a Christian nation, and perhaps at one time it was. But today, it is the postmodern, morally relativistic capital of the world.
America is not a lost cause. A great revival can come. But even so, we are not home. The devil still prowls here, too – like a lion.
And so what are we to do during our exile?
Certainly, we ought to pray – like Daniel – with our eyes on the return of Christ and the new heaven and earth and the eternal life without tears (Revelation 21:4).
We also ought to be alert to the realities of our exile. This is not our homeland. Here, the devil prowls.
And we ought to stick together.
Humble leaders shepherd a humble church. The leaders, as Peter wrote, look forward to the coming of the “chief Shepherd” and an “unfading crown of glory.” The church looks forward to the God of all grace who will come to “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” it.
In either case, we’re looking forward.
And in either case, we’re humble. Leaders lead in all humility. And those who follow do the same. The danger in any flock, and in any family, is separation. On our own, we are vulnerable to predators.
And so, we ought to stick together. We suffer together, and we rejoice together.
One of the things that happened in the great exiles of the Israelites was separation. Those in power made a point to separate God’s people from each other. Those in power knew the best way to get people to abandon their old allegiance to God was to put people on their own islands.
Of course, it didn’t work.
But Peter knew: When we can, we stick together. And if you haven’t noticed, the world is hard at work trying to separate the church. Once the virus passes, it will be something else. In this exile, separation is the threat we face.
And so we clothe ourselves in humility – all of us – and we look for our Messiah.