People Preparing for Exile…
Christian faithfulness has meant various things throughout the many chapters of history. In one sense, Christian faithfulness is a monolith — immovable, unchanging, etc. Being a faithful Christian will look essentially the same in every culture, in every era of history.
And yet, there have been, and will continue to be, differing challenges to the gospel in every generation.
Christians will be called upon to stand firm for the Truth of God’s Word in various ways:
Different topics will be emphasized in the culture.
The battle lines will be drawn and redrawn.
Different doctrines will come under fire.
And the status and privilege of Christians in the larger culture will ebb and flow. Sometimes, high and mighty. Other times, outcast and discarded to the side.
The reality is, we follow a King Whose Kingdom is not of this world…and He told us that. He told us saying things like, ““If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”
He told us that true life is only in Him, and also that following Him would put us at odds with the world. But, for some reason, the modern church is acting surprised by this reality…
Confused in Babylon
Throughout the Bible, Babylon is referenced as the city of the wicked; the city of man as opposed to the City of God. In the Old Testament, the southern kingdom of Judah was exiled to the actual Babylon around 608bc. The prophet Jeremiah had the task of preparing the people for this time in exile. In one of his more famous passages, Jeremiah 29:4-14, listen to what he says…
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 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. 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. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD. For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
Due to the hardness of the peoples' hearts against the Lord, Judah was being sent into exile, by the hand of God; into a foreign land.
"God sent them there."
The tribulation of losing their homeland, suffering the loss of place, culture, and heritage, and then being taken to a foreign land…all of it was from the hand of God. This was to be a time of correction for the people of Israel. They were to understand the consequence of their sin against their Holy God. But notice also what God says to them in their tribulation…
Build houses and live there.
Plant gardens and eat the produce.
Let your sons and daughters intermarry.
Multiply and increase the number of people.
Seek the welfare of the city, Babylon.
This was not going to be a short period. 70 years, in fact, the text tells us. No doubt the people grumbled and complained. Some of them may have even declared their stand against Babylon on the issues of Babylonian houses, foreign gardens, or intermarriage.
But contrary to how they may have felt about life, God tells them to seek the good of the foreign city to which He was sending them. Because, if they sought the good of the city, they would also share in that goodness.
But, how could they do that? How could they engage in all of these activities knowing that they had been stripped of their homeland, their rights, their identity, and their way of life? Well, God had spoken to that as well. He told them they would be there for an extended period of time. 70 years. Some Jews would be born, live, and die in Babylon with no connection to the Holy Land of Israel. Life would be hard; they should get comfortable.
He told them that after 70 years He would restore them. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (v. 11). While many often quote this verse, it has a very specific meaning...a meaning that would help many today. The verse was meant to stiffen the backbone and harden the resolve of the Jews so they could endure their tribulation. 70 years is a long time from a human perspective, but not from God’s perspective. How could they confidently go about life in a place where they didn’t fit in and didn’t want to be? They had a promise from God that He would ultimately redeem them.
Babylon on Repeat
In the letter of Revelation, John warns the Churches of Asia that the great city of man, Babylon, would also be rising up against them. The city of man that so hates the things of God would always, throughout all of time on the earth, be opposing the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, not only do we see the historical Babylon rising up to conquer Judah in the Old Testament, that great city becomes an example for how the Church is going to relate to the world until King Jesus returns and sets things straight.
From the time of Jeremiah, Babylon has been on repeat…
Are we in Babylon Today?
Yes. The Church is in Babylon.
The Church is always in Babylon.
But, problems arise when we forget that. And the American Church has forgotten that for several decades and generations of Church goers. We are in a Babylon. Not the historical Babylon, but a Babylon-type of place. We live in the city of man, not yet in the city of God.
One of the dangers constantly facing the Church is this: Forgetting we live in the city of man.
When we forget where we live, we easily begin treating our earthly residence like it is our heavenly home. We hold too tightly to earthly rights, and personal freedoms. We’re tempted to fight over the wrong things, and to fight at the wrong times. God told the Jews to seek the good of the city, not to become consumed with protesting it.
I think if we are honest, many of us have forgotten that America is not heaven. While America is a wonderful nation, and living here is a wonderful privilege, the rights granted to us under the American way of life are not eternal and they are not where our true flourishing is found. As much as I love our country, I also see that there are multitudes suffering and doing poorly under this way of life.
The Church must see, as Judah was called to see on her way into exile, that our hope is not found anywhere around here, but in heaven alone.
Judah was given this promise, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)
And the Church is given a similar promise, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
So, until that time, we must see that this world is not our home, AND it is not our kingdom. Satan is still the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2).
People are still sinning and rebelling against God. People are living broken, unrepentant lives. People are hating the gospel and preferring the darkness for their deeds are evil (John 3:19).
And our job remains the same. Our job is not falling in love with the world, but to love the world by proclaiming the truth of Christ crucified and raised while living upright and obedient lives, expectantly looking to heaven for our coming redemption.