Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles (aliens) of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.[1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV]
We must change the way we think if we are to know, both intellectually and intimately, God and His peace. We long for peace for it is integral to our eternal image. In this world we have peace, but we do not have peace. We are in a position of peace with God residing in a place at war with Him and consequently with us.
First Peter uses two words to describe the Christian. He calls us “aliens and strangers.” “Beloved, I urge you as strangers and aliens to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” [1 Peter 2:11 ESV]. These words are often translated as “exiles,” “sojourners,” “pilgrims.” We are confused by these English words because they are used interchangeably. They are not interchangeable.
First, read the word used in 1 Peter 1:1 as aliens. An alien is a resident foreigner, someone who has moved to a place from another nation for whatever reason, making the host country their temporary home. They are not going back home any time soon, if ever. They could be political exiles or refugees, fleeing persecution in one place to live in what they think a safer place. They are not citizens of the host country but still abide by its laws, adopt its customs and traditions, language and lifestyle. They may adopt its religion as their own. But, they are citizens of a different place and long to return to their true home.
Peter uses a second word with a completely different meaning.
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile (being as a stranger), knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.[1 Peter 1:17-19 ESV]
Read the word “as strangers” not “exiles.” A “stranger” is a person simply travelling through a place for a specific purpose. They are free to come and go and are in the country to get something and then leave, going home with that which they have gotten. They may be in country on business, looking for merchandise or something of value. They may be tourists gathering memories. They could be exiles but will not remain so for long. The host country is not their home and they refuse to adopt its culture and traditions, its language or religion. It is not their home because they are going home soon, once they have acquired that which they sought.
Peter describes the Christian as an alien and a stranger. We are not citizens of this world but citizens of the kingdom of God, of Heaven. We are here for a time, making a home here, a tent, something easily left, with our eyes fixed upon home, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. We are here as witnesses to the world, a testimony of God and His grace through the work of Christ. We are here being prepared for eternity. We are not here to claim anything this world has as our own. Why do we cling to that which we cannot take with us?
God differentiates between the alien and the stranger in Exodus. The alien in Israel my eat the Passover with those who are God’s chosen. Those gentiles who have adopted Israel as their home are covered by the blood of the paschal lamb. However, those gentiles who are strangers may not eat the Passover with Israel. See Exodus 12:43-49.
Christians must think differently, not like the world but like a citizen of the kingdom of God. Aliens and strangers are never at complete peace in the temporary place in which they live. They may experience relative peace, but they view the host country as a place they will stay for a limited time. Then they will return to their true home. We live here as witnesses of God, as aliens. We live here getting that which we can only get here, as strangers being prepared for eternity.
One of the reasons God left us in this world is as a witness to His grace through jesus Christ. Aliens and strangers are peacemakers, seeking to move those called by God from citizenship in the world to an eternal, peaceful kingdom.