By Grant Walker
Dear Refugee Royalty,
Seems like a weird way to address followers of Jesus doesn’t it? Well, this is how Peter opens up his letter to Christians. He calls them “Elect Exiles.”
1 Peter 1:1–2 (ESV)
He says he is writing this to those who are elect exiles. This phrase elect exiles is kind of an odd phrase because it is really an oxymoron, right? The words elect and exiles seem to contradict one another. Why even address Christians this way? He could have said, “hey, this is Peter writing to all Christians.” Why does he say, “to those who are elect exiles”? Well, you see, Peter even in his greeting, is teaching us some rich truth that can be enjoyed by looking at this phrase. These truths will provide clarity as to who God is, who we are, and why we experience hardship and suffering.
Look at this phrase “elect exiles.” Let’s start with exiles.
This word exiles could also be translated “strangers”, “foreigners”, “sojourners”, “aliens”, “refugees”, or “pilgrims”. It is a term that refers to a temporary resident in a foreign place. This term has a rich history when referring to the people of God. God’s people, starting back with Abraham, have been referred to as “sojourners”, “foreigners”, and “exiles”.
Hebrews 11:13 (ESV)
Peter also says “exiles of the dispersion”. The dispersion was the term used by Greek-speaking Jews to refer to Jewish people scattered throughout the nations. Peter is using some old phrases that should remind us of the nation of Israel and the people of God as being “exiles” and “sojourners” and having an identity as temporary residents in a foreign place.
But he is writing to Jewish and gentile Christians. The gentile Christians he was writing to weren’t part of the the Jewish dispersion. So the terms “exiles” and “exiles of the dispersion” are not just referring to the Jews that are scattered. He is also helping both Jews and Gentiles realize that, as Christians, they are also dispersed and scattered throughout the world. They are (and we are) living away from our true home in heaven.
Philippians 3:20 (ESV)
As followers of Christ we are exiles in this world, we are sojourners, we are aliens, we are refugees, we don’t conform and fit the values and worldview of the culture we live in. And it’s always been like that for the people of God.
Remember that you are temporary residents in a foreign place. That doesn’t mean we shouldn't be good citizens here. We are residents here. We should contribute to society, vote, volunteer and bless our city and community. But we ultimately know that our primary citizenship is in heaven and we are part of a kingdom that is not of this world.
Don’t behave like this is your home and this is your kingdom. The decisions you make, the job you pursue, the house you buy, the things you collect, the activities you give your time to should reflect the understanding that your citizenship is in heaven and you are an exile, or a sojourner, here. Remember that you are a temporary resident in a foreign place and you will likely be despised, looked down upon, and mistreated for not conforming to the values and world view of our culture.
We need to understand that our citizenship is in heaven. And we shouldn’t be surprised when we are mistreated or looked down upon. But Peter doesn't just address this to the Exiles. He addresses it to the elect exiles.
This word “elect” is used 22 times in the New Testament and it refers to people that are chosen by God. It is also a cool word because, in the same way the word “exiles” conjured up memories of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, so too this word “elect” or “chosen” should remind us of the people of God in the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy 7:6 (ESV)
In Christ, all of us are now part of the people of God. And just like we are exiles and sojourners as they were, we are also elect and chosen.
Ephesians 1:4 (ESV)
This phrase elect exiles is so crazy, right? We are temporary residents, despised, made fun of, persecuted, and looked down upon by the rest of the world. Yet we are also chosen, elect, royal, and, in Christ, we are the most blessed and richest people in the world.
We are like refugee royalty. This is not our home. We are foreigners here. We often feel like, and are treated like, we don’t belong. But, in Christ, we do belong somewhere. We have been adopted into a royal family, whose kingdom will not end.
So take heart when you are treated or feel like exiles or refugees. Cling to the hope that, in Christ, you are chosen, elect, and royal. And you have an inheritance awaiting you in Jesus’ kingdom.
We are refugee royalty.