Peter wrote to “exiles scattered throughout” five Roman provinces who lived on a piece of land that served as a land bridge between Europe and Asia as is known to us today as Turkey. They were Jewish communities who had been displaced from their homeland of Israel and were referred to as the diaspora (lit., “scattered”). The Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans all had a part in dispersing the Jewish people over the centuries. More to the point, God had a hand in the matter as well (Deuteronomy 28:25 and other texts).
Life as an exile meant living away from home—you were not where you really wanted to be. Moreover, where you lived wasn’t your home and you were treated like it. Exiles usually had less rights and privileges than natives. There were outsiders with strange ways and often viewed with suspicion. As a result of this they lived with a consciousness of not fully belonging. There was always a longing and a looking for something more.
In short, they were blessed.
They were blessed because this world is not our home if we belong to Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20 that “our citizenship is in heaven” (note the present tense). Those who were forced to live nationally as exiles had a leg up on understanding what it meant to live spiritually as exiles. It wasn’t as hard for them as it for us to understand the transitory nature of this life. It wasn’t as hard for them as it for us to enjoy all things fully but to nevertheless live with a loose attachment to them. These things are difficult for us and my guess is the younger you are, the more challenging it is. Experience and years help us to absorb the reality that life here is fleeting and that we should live with the eternal in mind.
But they were facing something more—something that went beyond what they experienced as exiles and had to do with how they were treated due to them being followers of Jesus. 1 Peter is replete with references to disciples being harassed because of their faith. He uses a wide range of words in speaking of their situation. Descriptors include suffering (7 x’s), insult (3 x’s), slander (2 x’s), and threat (2 x’s), while trials, abuse, harsh, pain and maliciously are sprinkled in as well. What was the exact nature of their harassment? They suffered at the hands of Jewish people who viewed them as apostates and from Gentiles who viewed them as atheists (people who didn’t worship the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods) and who behaved strangely (2:11,15, 4:4 and 3:15-16).
I think there is a lot to learn from 1 Peter. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that our culture has moved farther and farther away from Christian ideals regarding the sanctity of life, gender and gender roles, marriage and sexual norms. Pornography and gambling, once existing only the shadows of society, have moved to front and center through their presence on the internet. Few people in movies, music or television know how to express themselves without cursing. People used to pray at schools, ballgames and other public occasions. Businesses were closed on Sunday and nothing was scheduled on Wednesday night because that was a church night. All of that is gone and it doesn’t look like it’s coming back anytime soon.
One of the results of all of this should be that disciples are more aware they are exiles in this world. But the truth is, we haven’t always handled society’s slide backwards very well. Instead of doubling down on our efforts to love, serve and reach out to people with the good news of Jesus, we’ve often stood on the sidelines and got into shouting matches with them. We’ve demanded redeemed behavior out of unredeemed people and yelled “persecution” whenever they disagreed with us. Peter has a lot of helpful things to tell us in regard to how to live in a sometimes hostile, harassing world.
Living as exiles—we have a lot to learn!