Christians as God’s People in Continuing Exile

Part 2 of a series on the Application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian Living and Approaching Culture Today. Part 1 Here.
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The Arch of Titus commemorating the sacking of the Second Temple.

The Theology of Continuing Exile
“In the exile the Hebrews become a stateless minority in the context of a massive empire, first under the Persians, then under the Hellenistic rule after Alexander, and finally under the Romans into the Common Era with Christianity.” N. T. Wright, most notably among others, has argued that the first century Jews saw their existence under the rule of the Roman Empire as a continuation of the ongoing exile. Israelites in this time believed they were still living under divine punishment as they awaited the fulfillment of the promises of Isaiah 40-66. “In the common second-temple perception of its own period of history, most Jews of this period, it seems, would have answered the question ‘where are we?’ in language which, reduced to its simplest form, meant: we are still in exile. They believed that, in all the senses which mattered, Israel’s exile was still in progress.” Daniel L. Smith-Christopher stakes a similar claim saying, “In later biblical thought, consciousness of being a ‘certain people scattered and separated among the peoples is also evident in metaphors for Israel as the ‘righteous remnant’     [. . .] that suggest a minority consciousness.” “Part of the myth of Persian benevolence is the idea of an end to the exile in 539. But all that ended was Neo-Babylonian hegemony, to be replaced by that of the Persians. Ezra would point out, in his public prayer, that the Jewish people were ‘slaves in our own land’ under the Persians (Neh 9:36).” Smith-Christopher continues, “Post-exilic Hebrew writings like Daniel, would go so far as to reinterpret Jeremiah’s predicted ’70 years’ into 490 years—effectively implying that the people were still in exile in the Persian and Hellenistic periods.” What is clear is that even after the return of the Jews from Babylon, Israel remained captive to foreigners and never regained status as an independent nation-state. While Israelites returned to Jerusalem, they remained exiles under the slavery of oppressive foreign empires.

N. T. Wright suggests that worse than foreign oppression, “Israel’s god had not returned to Zion. [. . .] Israel clung to the promises that one day the Shekinah, the glorious presence of her god, would return at last.” For four-hundred years, between the time of the building of the second temple, and the coming of John the Baptist, the Israelites did not hear an inspired word from the Lord. What is indicated is that “the exile is not yet really over. This perception of Israel’s present condition was shared by writers across the board in second-temple Judaism. The exile, then, was not concluded at the Jews return to Jerusalem, nor was it completed in the work of Ezra and Nehemiah. Rather than seeing the restoration of a national past, the enslaved Jewish people were forced to form a new sociological existence with no political stronghold, instead becoming a purely religious community with an ethno-centric identity. During the 400 years of silence, the estrangement from Yahweh was felt by the Jews, and recorded when the author of 2 Maccabees wrote, “Gather together our scattered people. [. . .] Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses promised” (2 Maccabees 1:27-29).

When Jesus came announcing the forgiveness of sin and the coming of the kingdom of God, it is evident that the Jews identified Him as their political savior from exile. But rather than restore national Israel, Christ came to begin the rescue of the exiles from their estrangement from God. Christ releases the shackles of sin, beginning God’s people’s—the “elect exiles in the dispersion” (1 Pet 1:1) —sojourn to the “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). In this context, the exile of the Israelites to Babylon receives its proper recognition as the first pivot point in God’s redefinition of the geopolitical identity of His people. This shift finds its fulfillment in the great commission when Christ commands His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28: 19). There is now no difference between Jew and gentile (Gal 3:28).

The Great Commission

New Creation is the true Promised Land
“We have a natural affection for our native country; it strangely draws our minds; [. . .] and therefore if providence remove us to some other country, we must resolve to live easy there, to bring our mind to our condition, when our condition is not in everything to our mind. If the earth be the Lord’s, then, wherever a child of God goes, he does not go off his Father’s ground.” As N. T. Wright explains, it is not as if Israelites were a national people and Christians are a non-territorial people. The strip of land in the Middle East is not God’s true Promised Land. Israel was a sign post marking God’s claim on the whole world. The children of Abraham, the seed who would inherit the land, are the people who are found in the Messiah (Gal 3:29). Creation will have its own Exodus, and in Christ, the people of God will inherit the true Promised Land—renewed creation itself. The Spirit is the down payment on that inheritance. “In the midst of the nations, Israel will be a sign that it is possible to be a nation whose key characteristic is trust in the world’s invisible Maker—to use the biblical word, a culture defined by faith.” In Romans 2:17-24 the Apostle Paul says that Israel was given for the salvation of the world, but under the Law, Israel completely failed in performing its salvific role—to be the light of the nations (Isa 49:6). Paul, referencing Isaiah 52, says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of [Israel].” “So God’s response to the ultimate cultural problem—a world full of mutually antagonistic nations entrenched in the self-provision and self-justification seen in Babel—is a fully cultural solution.” In Babylon, God takes Israel out from under the wicker basket and says, “Now let your light shine before men.”

As the people of God, the elitist Israelites never fully grasped their identity in this calling. Between the exile and the time of Christ the Israelites are constantly faced with the question: If God has created the world for Israel, why does Israel continue to suffer? The answer is that the world is not merely given for Israel, but that Israel was also given for the world. “In terms of the first level of covenant purpose, the call of Israel has as its fundamental objective in the rescue and restoration of the entire creation.” The exile became the first step toward Israel receiving a more realistic view of herself. Israel is not “true humanity,” ordered to establish dominion over the subhuman nations. God’s people are given a priestly calling for salvation of the nations. The exile paves the way toward Yahweh’s people’s understanding of God’s plan for the world.

Because Israel was unfaithful to her commission, keeping God’s message of salvation to themselves, God resolved to send His Son, to be born an Israelite, and faithfully fulfill the Israel vocation. In this lineage, Christians are the continuation of Spiritual Israel, qualified in Christ to carry forward the New Covenant message of salvation to the world. Christ’s work has been passed to the continuation of Israel (Spiritual Israel, the church), by Christ’s sending the Spirit of God to dwell within believers.

God’s covenant purpose, according to Wright, has first to do with “the divine intention to remake and restore whole world through Israel,” and “second, with his intention to remake and restore Israel herself.” The greatest prophecies for the return from exile strongly affirm God’s commitment to restore Israel. In Ezekiel 36, Yahweh says, “I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness. [. . .] Then you shall live in the land I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Israel understands then that sin has caused her exile, and the exile cannot be finished until her sin is forgiven. To this end, Christ entered the world. To the surprise of the Jewish people, Jesus did not free the Israelite captives from empirical oppression, but instead frees the faithful from the captivity of sin. Jesus did not end the physical exile of the Jews, but inaugurated a New Exodus. Leading followers through the waters of baptism, the Greater Moses now marches the enslaved out of captivity and into new life, inaugurating the new journey toward the new and restored kingdom of promise. The kingdom/exilic existence of spiritual Israel hinges at Jeremiah 29. The Babylonian exile results in the replacement of God’s national people with God’s faithful exiles. The Lord’s people will not again be a gathered kingdom people until the consummation of the kingdom of heaven.

Part 3: A More Christian Approach to Post-Christian Culture

 

* References are cited in the print format available for download above.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

Christianity is Not a Western Religion

Matthew 28:19  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In conversations with non-believers I have repeatedly heard the argument that Christianity is a “Western” religion that ignores the history and culture of the rest of the world. This argument is odd to me as all reports indicate that, while portions of Europe and North America are in a post-Christian decline, Christianity in other parts of the world is growing at rates not seen since Early Christianity (AD. 30 – 325). For that reason I have gathered a few statistics here to encourage my brothers and sisters as we live on mission for Jesus:

There are more Christians in Africa today than there are PEOPLE in the USA.
The number of African Christians increased by 3500% in the 20th century and is projected to double by 2050
Today there are more churches in China than churches in the USA
71 Million people in India claim Christianity, making it the 8th largest Christian nation in the world
Protestant Christians in Vietnam have grown by approximately 600% over the last decade
By the year 2040 China will have the highest Christian population of any country in the world
By the year 2050, only one-fifth of the world’s Christians will be non-Hispanic whites.

Despite the rhetoric of the growing American anti-faith movement, Christians will not need to compromise their beliefs to remain in touch with the future world. It is actually new European and American post-Christian philosophy that will be minority thinking on the global level. Further, those who claim that Christianity ignores the history of other cultures also assume that Christians in these other cultures ignore their own history…or ignore factors that should keep them from reconciling Christianity to their history. It should also be noted that Christians in several of the cultures above are worshiping Christ despite great social pressure and persecution.  Finally, what is most apparent is that Christianity is not merely a Western religion, but a global Church of faithful believers consecrated to Christ from all four corners of the world.

*Stats and info from CBN.com, Wikipedia, persecution.org, and Evangelist Dwight Smith, and Operation World/GMI.org

The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 1

Part 1 of 4:  Peace Comes From Trust in God’s Plan

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Phillipians 4:6-7

In Romans 12 Paul exhorts us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices for Christ, and submit wholeheartedly to God’s will. When we are fully committed to that task, we should no longer find ourselves wanting.  I know from experience submitting fully to Christ is easier said than done.  Hopefully, I can shed some light on how trusting in God’s plan for our lives, aligning the desires of our hearts with God’s will, and having absolute faith in the LORD can bring about true peace, contentment, and rest for our souls.

If you truly believe in the God of the Bible, whose character traits are clearly and unequivocally outlined on nearly every page, then you know everything on this earth, good and bad, happens by God’s will. Everything you are receiving today is by God’s provision.  We are called to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

From our vantage point, life doesn’t always make sense.  Sometimes life doesn’t seem at all fair.  However, our present home is not heaven.  We are inhabitants of a fallen world that is the result of our sin.  There is no promise that this life will be easy.  It is certain that at times it will be hard.  The only real promise resulting from sin is that all people will someday die.  But, for His glory, God seeks to bring His children back to perfect fellowship with Him.  To do this, God works all things together, good and bad, to achieve His ultimate plan – the redemption of His people.  Our knowledge of His plan, and exposure to the details contained within, are limited.  From our vantage point it sometimes appears to be a mess, but by faith we must trust in the plan of our creator.

I have heard a couple of analogies that help provide perspective…

If you look at the back of a watch you will see many parts…cogs, sprockets, springs, levers, etc.  From the back of the watch it looks like a complicated jumble.  It is hard to follow how these pieces work together.  The watch is a relatively simple device in relation to the complexity of our universe.  Countless pieces work together in perfect unison each day to allow for our existence.  Does our lack of comprehension of the inner-workings of the watch indicate the watch is not working?  Of course not.  When you turn the watch over and look at its face, you can see there are two hands there working together in harmony, keeping perfect time.

Tapestry backside

A man was looking to buy a tapestry, and came across a massive one that appeared to him to be a complete disaster.  He stood puzzled as he examined it.  It was tufted and knotted, had colors that didn’t belong together, and  appeared to have a pattern that seemed indiscernible.  The salesman came to the man, and said, “It’s really beautiful isn’t it?”  The man said, “I’m sorry.  It looks like a mess to me.”  The salesman chuckled and turned the tapestry around 180 degrees revealing a most beautiful image – a true work of art.  The man was astonished and equally embarrassed.  He had been judging the backside of this tapestry.   All of the mess on the back came together perfectly on the front, and he was immediately aware of how little he knew about what was involved in the creator’s design.

You see from our vantage point, in this single isolated point in our lives, we do not see the big picture.  We are on the backside of the watch, or the backside of the tapestry, judging one single piece of a very large puzzle.  God’s plan becomes much clearer and much more amazing when we step back and view it from a proper perspective.  Like a stained glass window, the many broken pieces of our lives may actually be coming together to reveal a beautiful image.  Sometimes we just have to step back and take in the big picture.

Additionally we can see much of the glory of God’s providence by taking a 30,000 foot view of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and holding it against World History.  This is a wonderful investment of time, and changed my entire perspective on life.  I find it terribly hard to imagine anyone with an open heart would not marvel at the glory of God’s majesty in the unfolding of His story throughout history. When we know God’s promises we can truly witness that everything is working just as He planned.  We can see history is coming together just as He predestined it. The history of the world is unfolding just as it was prophesied, just as it was written, and we see that we can trust His Word as Truth.  God is working a masterpiece for His glory.  Trust in His plan. This is integral in finding the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Read Part 2 Here

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

Nonbelief is Not a Failure to Believe in God, but in Depravity – Just a Thought

The more I talk about Christ with others the more I’m made acutely aware that our society’s hang up with faith is not at all a failure to believe in God. Nearly all people acknowledge, or are at least open to, the existence of God. Where our culture stumbles is in believing in personal depravity. We can all recognize that we have fallen far short of perfection, that we sometimes make poor choices, and that we sometimes hurt others. But we refuse (and adamantly do not want) to believe that these imperfect and hurtful actions are sins, that they are wicked, and that place us in rebellion to God. By failing to believe that our own wicked decisions and actions have placed us at odds with our creator, we can see no need for salvation, and no necessity for a Savior.

The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 4

Part 4 of 4: Peace Comes from true FAITH

Habakkuk 3:18 When all is lost, and all is hopeless, I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places.

The deer hops with a graceful ease along the mountaintops, with elegance, high above the toils and struggles of the earth below.  So too shall we rise above the endless turmoil, navigating rocky times with graceful elegance, when we place our trust in the LORD, and rest on the hope assured by faith in Christ Jesus.

Hope comes from true faith in the promises of the LORD.  Peace comes from the confidence spawned in eternal hope.  If you’re reading this blog you probably already have some measure of belief in God.  The question we should be asking ourselves is:  when we are truly honest, do we have the kind of faith that can bring peace to our souls – the kind of peace that comes from believing beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God in Heaven who has us in the palm of His hand?  Each post in this four part series hinges on the genuine belief that God is the real, sovereign, all powerful Heavenly keeper of the promises of the Bible.  In the moments when we doubt that God is any of those things, our peace can quickly become unhinged.

 “Temptation is a false promise–a promise that doesn’t deliver.   The sin to be ultimately expelled is our lack of trust, our unbelief.” – Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor and grandson of Billy Graham

The biggest temptation we face in this world is the temptation to doubt the LORD.  Sadly, our lack of peace is the direct biproduct of this very doubt.  Our salvation and protection lies with the LORD, and hope begins to wain when we start questioning wether the LORD truly directs our steps and has His hand on our lives. (Psalm 37:23).  When we have doubts in the LORD, in His existence, in His promises, or in His abilities, the foundation of our reassuarance is fractured.  When our trust in God is diminished, our peace also quickly fades.  This is where the devil slips his foot in the door.  Every person has moments of doubt, and every person has questions.  The Bible does not shy away from questions, but rather invites and  encourages the inquiring mind.  The Bible beckons us to vigorously seek answers within its pages.  “Seek and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7).  The more questions we ask and the more answers we seek, the more answers we will find and the less we will doubt.

Jeremaiah 29:13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

We must take an honest assessment of ourselves.  Do we trust God with every ounce of our being?  Are we truly searching for God with all our hearts?  When we trust that God will be our defender and deliverer we find He is the rock under which we are sheltered when the storms of life come.

Matthew 8:26 And (Jesus) said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

Four times in the gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “O ye of little faith!”  In each reference He goes on to assure us that a strong faith is the remedy for all things.  Jesus tells us that with a proper amount of faith we need not worry about whether we will be provided for and clothed (Matthew 6:30), we need not be fearful of our circumstances (Matthew 8:26), we need not doubt (Matthew 14:31), and we need not worry about whether we will eat (Matthew 16:8).  In Matthew 17:20 Jesus tells His disciples that it is by lack of faith that they fail, but with faith as small as a mustard seed, “nothing will be impossible for you.”  By faith we come to truly trust God’s plan, we align ourselves with God’s will, and we understand how God uses the circumstances of our lives for His glory.  True faith is not just belief but trust.  True faith brings about the peace that surpasses all understanding.

” A little faith will bring your soul to heaven,  a great faith will bring heaven to your soul” – C.H. Spurgeon

God Appoints Political Leaders

There is a raging debate of late over whether or not it is right to pay taxes or submit to political powers that do not support Christian ideologies.  The Bible does fairly well to address this topic directly.

At the time Christ was on earth, Rome ruled the known world from England to India, and the nation of Israel was captive to Rome.  To financially support  the standing army necessary to control the Jews, taxes were 70 to 80% of the annual income of the average Jewish household.  The Jews and Romans definitely did not share the same beliefs or virtues.

The Jews expected their Messiah to be a powerful king who would militarily throw off the oppressive rule of Rome and free the nation of Israel.  But, when asked whether or not his followers should submit to Roman authority and pay taxes to this unjust government, Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”

Why does Jesus say this?  Christians are a people not of this world.  We are people of the kingdom of God.  God’s call is a call for the submission of our hearts to Him, and the denial of the importance of the things of this world.  Christ has tasked us, as His followers, to fight a spiritual battle, through discipleship.  Our faith is not a call to rebel and fight, but a call to unite and spread His Word.  Very little is necessary for us to achieve God’s purpose for our lives (relationship with Him and spreading of His Word).  God is a God of justice and saving grace, and he is our deliverer.  He is working on a grand plan, all of which is laid out in detail from the beginning to the end in the Bible.  We can see His plan coming to fruition as prophecy is continuously fulfilled.  When we are obedient and put our dependence on God, in His time, according to His purpose, He always delivers.  Christ did not lead a Jewish rebellion against Rome, rather, He submitted to their authority and allowed them to crucify Him.  After the crucifixion of Christ, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were driven out from Israel across the world.  But, because of his crucifixion, the sins of God’s elect became atoned.  And because of the wonder of the resurrection, and the dedication (to death) of Christ’s followers, the Christian faith exploded.  Today, the Roman Empire is long gone, but the Kingdom of Christ spans the globe.  Christ’s teaching is incredibly counter-intuitive to our human instincts, but is proven righteous, and God has a plan for our redemption.

Here is what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

The power ordained to all rulers of the world is by God, and is vital for His purpose in His story (the redemption of man from sin and the gathering of His children back to Him, as laid out from Genesis to Revelation).  We must have Faith in God’s plan.

If you enjoyed this post you might also appreciate my article To Christian Exiles in Babylon on the application of Jeremiah’s ‘Letter to the Exiles’ to Christian living and approaching culture today.

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, and theology student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

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