People Preparing for Exile…
Christian faithfulness has taken on various shapes throughout the many chapters of history. In one sense, Christian faithfulness is a monolith—its immovable, unchanging, etc. Being a faithful Christian will look essentially the same in every culture and era of history to some extent, yet there have been, and will continue to be, differing challenges to the gospel in every generation. The gospel doesn't change, but how we live it and apply it will change from generation to generation.
Christians are 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 continuously 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 while at other times, we will find ourselves as the outcast and the discarded.
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 found in Him alone, and 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 this is opposed to the City of God."
In the Old Testament, the southern kingdom of Judah was exiled to actual Babylon around 608bc, and the prophet Jeremiah had the pastoral task of preparing the Jews for their 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; they were being sent into a foreign land.
"God sent them there."
The tribulation of losing their homeland, suffering the loss of their place, their culture, and their heritage, being taken to a foreign land…all of it was from the hand of God. Their exile was divine judgment. They were sent away as a consequence of their sin against 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, is what the text tells us. No doubt the people grumbled and complained. Some of them complained and may have even declared their political and cultural opposition against Babylon on issues like Babylonian houses, foreign gardens, or intermarriage.
But contrary to how they may have felt about life in exile, 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 those issues 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 and they should get comfortable.
But He also 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, we should see that 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 with hope 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 rise up against them. In fact, Babylon would be present in every generation of the Church. The city of man that hates the things of God would always, throughout all of time on the earth, be opposing the Church of the Lord Jesus.
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?
The Church is in Babylon.
On this side of heaven, the Church is always in Babylon.
And many problems arise when we forget that But the American Church has forgotten ... for decades and generations, we have forgotten! We are in a Babylon. Not the historical Babylon, but a Babylon-type of place. We live in the city of man, awaiting our eternal home in the city of God.
One of the dangers constantly facing the Church is this: Forgetting we live in the Babylonian city of man.
When we forget where we live, we easily begin treating our earthly residence like it is our heavenly home. There were Jews who, during the course of their exile, forgot about Judah, Jerusalem, and their way of life in Israel. They forgot about Yahweh and His Word. They got so comfortable in Babylon that they forgot they didn't belong there and that God was coming again to restore them.
We too easily form death grips on our earthly rights, and personal freedoms. We’re tempted to fight over the wrong things, and to fight at the wrong times. We're even tempted to fight the wrong people!
God told the Jews to seek the good of their new city, not to become consumed with protesting it. But, He also told them not to become consumed in it!
I think if we are honest, many Christians have forgotten that America is not Heaven. And while America is a wonderful nation, and living here is a wonderful privilege, the rights granted to us under this way of life are not our eternal hope. As much as I love our country, we must also acknowledge that many suffer here while many flourish.
The Church must see, just as Judah was, 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, Church, 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). And Peter tells us plaining that we are exiles in this land while we await heaven (1 Pt. 1).
People are still sinning and rebelling against God. People are living sin-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.
We are citizens of our heavenly Kingdom living as exiles and sojourners in this world. Our loyalties are in heaven, our hope is in heaven.