Alien Immigrants

Studies in First Peter

To those who are elect exiles (immigrants) of the Dispersion (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

Our true home is not in this world but in eternity with God. Those who are citizens of His kingdom think differently about God, about themselves and about the world in which they live, than those who are citizens of the world. Peter uses the word exiles, people who are foreigners or aliens (parepidemos), to show the focus of the Christian remaining on God the Father.

In the first section of his letter, 1:1-12, Peter affirms it is God the Father who determines to provide and assure salvation for each citizen of His kingdom. He guarantees their place with Him in eternity and gives protection while they His live in a corrupt world.

When most people think of the word exilesthey imagine persons displaced by war or natural disaster, whose home or country is so violently attacked or destroyed they can no longer safely live there. Or, they think of someone who, for political or criminal reasons, has been forcibly removed from their home country as a punishment. For those displaced by war the exile flees for their own safety. Those punished are forcibly removed from their country. But this is not what the Greek word (parepidemos) means. A better translation is either alien or immigrantor both. An immigrant may have had to flee their country because of persecution or war. But immigrants usually want to come to a new country to live and to become a citizen of that country. They purposefully move from one country and culture, which was theirs, to another country and culture they make theirs.

According to Thayer’s exile (immigrant) (parapedimos) means one who comes from a foreign country to live side by side with those who are natives of the host country. They are foreigners who live in a strange place. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles(read immigrants) of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1Peter 1:1 ESV). In the context of 1 Peter 1:1, Christians are those who hold citizenship in heaven while living their lives on earth. Peter is writing to all Christians, but especially the Jews, who are part of the dispersion, the Diaspora. They are Jews scattered throughout the nations of the known world. Currently, the term Disapoa may also refer to Christians scattered throughout the world. Christians have dual citizenship. While living on earth the Christian lives according to the customs and culture of the nation in which they reside while remaining constantly aware of their citizenship in heaven.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews couples the word alien immigrant with the word xenos. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers (xenos) and exiles (parapidemos) on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Xenosmeans foreigner or stranger, or someone who is not familiar with the country in which they find themselves. They are not immigrants, though they are alien. Thus, the writer of Hebrews describes those who wait patiently and faithfully for God to act and consider themselves strangers even while they are living in the culture of a host country.

Jesus describes the citizen of the kingdom of heaven as both salt and light.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)

God does not physically separate out those who are His from the world though He does separate them out as His. He disperses them throughout the world as witnesses of the Gospel. Christians live in the world as full citizens of the kingdom of God, temporarily removed from their true home, which is in eternity with God.

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