July 18, 2023
When Jim and I were appointed as missionaries by the IMB, we went to the Missionary Learning Center in Virginia for orientation. We were young excited and about our life ahead in East Asia. Then one day, a speaker talked about foreignness, being different from people in our host country. He said the fact is even when we return to the US for furloughs or visits we will never truly be at home again. That wasn’t a particularly comforting thought, but I tried to imagine what that might feel like. As time went on, I realized the speaker was spot on – returning missionaries tend to feel out of step even within their own family. But as we think about it, his words apply not only to missionaries but to all Christians. We are exiles and pilgrims. We live in a multicultural world. There is religious pluralism, and the non-religious here in the US. The religious nones – N-O-N-E-S make up a growing segment of our society. Even here we are decidedly different from many people or cultures that we encounter.
Exiles – Definition and Examples
The term exiles refers to people who have been banished or made to live in a place other than home. In the biblical context, it is often associated with groups such as Israel to Babylon, or Jesus, Mary and Joseph who fled to Egypt, John on the Isle of Patmos.
Exiles, Priests, Holy Nation
Today, we will look at 1 Peter, written to dispersed Christians, the pilgrims of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Peter calls them the elect exiles.
In the letter, Peter references the identities of the exiles – a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. Peter provides encouragement to exiles and helps them understand their identity in Christ and instructs them on how to live as exiles in non-Christian contexts. When he designates them as a royal priesthood, and a holy nation they are encouraged to proclaim Christ, to spread the good news.
Exiles Yet Faithful and Joyful
In 1:3-9. Peter began by encouraging the exiles, reminding them of their salvation and the living hope they possess. He acknowledges their trials and affirms the genuineness of their faith as if tested by fire. Despite persecutions or trials, they face, and the challenges faced among unfamiliar customs and culture, they still held to their faith. He didn’t want them to abandon faith when difficulties arose
He acknowledges that many of them had never physically seen Jesus as he had, yet they believed. He wrote, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls,” 1 Pet 1:8.
In difficulty, they experienced joy. The phrase ‘inexpressible joy’ is not used like this elsewhere in the Word. Hiebert says that “Their joy was no ordinary, earth-born joy.” I really love this because Peter is describing believers’ quality of life in far-flung places. The believers were never, ever located beyond joy and that joy was a big joy, too big to express. In this we can see that though exiles they are faithful and joyful.
Sometimes we don’t know the magnitude of joy in the Lord, or how it feels until in situations where that joy becomes perhaps the one discernable and enormous positive reality among a battery of unpleasant realities? And in those moments of despair, the Lord’s joy is starkly profound – over and above the hurt, the sorrow, the trials.
When Jim and I were detained for weeks by China’s national security police we had an uncanny peace and a joy in the Lord that was not really explainable, not expressible as Peter puts it.
When exiles we should be faithful. When IN exile we can find joy.
Exiles Called to Holiness
Looking further in 1:10 – 2:8, Peter mentions key ideas and realities for the exiles. He reminds them that they have received the gift of salvation promised by the prophets. In this Peter draws attention to the spiritual lineage of the exiles, connecting them to the chosen people of the past who also experienced exile. As elect and chosen individuals, they have a responsibility to live obedient and holy lives, He urges them to put away their old ways and live holy lives demonstrating how they are different than the non-believing communities in which they live. Holy living could show others what it meant to be God’s chosen people. The Message puts it this way:
“So, roll up your sleeves, get your head in the game . . . Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing . . . As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “’I am holy; you be holy.’”
Peter is telling them don’t live sloppily out there in the far reaches of the earth – but live in light of the marvelous grace they have received. God is holy so they must be separated/exiled from the ways of the world. Their ethical living was faith in action. Their transformed lives bore witness to a living hope in the cultures in which they lived
The more we are like God the more holiness increases. The more we are like God, the more we will feel like exiles.
Exiles Built into a Spiritual House
In chapter 2:4-6, Peter also emphasizes that the exiles’ behavior was to be exemplary because they were building a spiritual house. In this sense, their home-building out in the hinterlands was not about establishing a physical home but about being built into a spiritual house. This kind of home-building was an exercise of faith, a spiritual building. They were the very living stones of a spiritual edifice – with Jesus as the cornerstone. Pillar to post, basement to attic they were to be built into a holy people. Exiles dwell in a spiritual home.
Now let’s turn to the identity of priesthood and holy nation. We will see something of a recontextualized place for these roles for the exiles. By living out their faith, they could become witnesses to the Gentiles and bring the message of salvation to Cappadocia, Bithynia for example.
The Royal Priesthood and Holy Nation
1 Peter 2:9 states, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Peter describes the exiles as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. These identities are drawn from the covenant passages in the Old Testament, particularly Exodus 19. This Mosaic covenant was given as the Israelites encamped at Sinai. Moses went up to meet God. God told him to remind the people of Israel how in the face of the Egyptians he bore them up on eagles wings to bring them to himself. Therefore, they should obey his voice and keep the covenant, God said, “You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Note the similarity of the words in Exodus19 and 1 Peter 2:9-10. The Israelites are called “treasured possession” and Peter called the exiles “people for my own possession.” Exodus 19 the Israelites are called a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” and similarly Peter called the exiles “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”
The Priesthood – Two Aspects
The ancient covenant was now a first-century charge interpreted in light of their status in Christ and as the gospel witness of the early church. There are two basic aspects of priesthood that I’ll note in today’s devotion.
So, the exiles inherit the role of the priesthood, which allows them direct access to God without the need for intermediaries. Thus, they enjoyed the comfort and privilege of praying and speaking directly to God.
Another aspect of their priesthood speaks to the function and actions of the priesthood. As with the priests of old, sacrifices had to be offered. The exiles’ spiritual sacrifices were words, actions and attitudes that exhibited holiness. Christ had already paid the blood sacrifice. Their sacrifices reflected their grateful and obedient response to Christ’s sacrifice and to his commands.
Exiles are not silent, they are people of action.
It was their identity – to belong to a different kind of nation. The exiles became a holy nation consecrated as his citizens for his service, and in this ‘nation’, this kingdom, they found a spiritual home. It would be a contrast to, different than the nations and citizenry around them. They may have been exiles but they were royal ones with allegiance to King Jesus.
Exiles are not stateless; they are kingdom citizens.
Verse 9 also says that they will proclaim the excellencies of him who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. They were witnesses, they must use their words to proclaim his excellencies, to share the good news of Jesus Christ. They were a light for the Gentiles as had been prophesied, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”
So, Peter prepared them to behave according to Christ’s commands – to make disciples and to love others as they loved themselves. He instructed them to take on priestly tasks as a holy nation, set apart, noticeably different. There were to proclaim, to tell the gospel story in such a way that others could understand it in the contexts in which they found themselves.
Thus, priesthood is a missional task.
There’s so much to be mined in Peter’s epistles. But to briefly summarize – It’s like the speaker at the Missionary Learning Center communicated – feeling at home in this world is not a given. We are exiles – citizens of a holy nation and a heavenly kingdom. As exiles in a multicultural world, we are distinct from others. So, we too live in contrast to the world. We will face trials and persecution. However, like the exiles, we can find joy in our faith, knowing that our identity lies in Christ. We too are empowered by the Holy Spirit to strive to live a holy life, to proclaim the good news through in both word and deed.
We won’t be completely at home anywhere on earth as Christians, but we will be home one day. This is what Peter must have meant when he told the exiles there was an inheritance kept in heaven for them, revealed in the last times. Another exile, John foretold this future inheritance, our forever home where we are no longer exiles. In Revelation 21 he wrote “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.’”
Hebrews 11 speaks of this better homeland, the city prepared for those who walk and live by faith. We look toward that day. In the meantime, we keep striving to help more people get citizenship in that homeland. It’s the place where we will at last feel completely at home.
 Edmond Hiebert, D, First Peter: An Expositional Commentary (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1984).