Christian, You Live In Babylon, Not Jerusalem

The Apostle Peter, writing to the churches of Asia Minor (i.e., Western Turkey) in the AD mid-60s, writes in his closing salutation, “She, who is in Babylon, co-elect with you, greets you” (1 Pet 5:13). Most commentators understand Peter to be alluding to Rome.1 Since Peter calls Mark his “son” (figuratively), it does not seem like a great stretch to think that he was speaking figuratively when he referred to Rome as Babylon, but it would be a mistake to think that, for Peter, only Rome was Babylon. For Peter, as for the Apostle John (e.g., Rev 18), the fallen kosmos (κοσμος), the fallen world, is Babylon. At that time, Rome was the capital city of the world and the outstanding representative of the corrupt world system, much like Washington D.C. is today.

That is why the Apostle Peter says,

Beloved, do not think it unusual should a fiery trial come upon you, as though something strange is happening to you. But to the degree you share in Christ’s sufferings, rejoice in order that, at the revelation of his glory, exulting you may rejoice. If you are being mocked in the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Pet 4:12–14).

This is the nature of the Christian existence, in Babylon, between the ascension of our Lord and his return. This text makes complete sense to Christians in China, Iraq, and Nigeria, to name but three, but it is a hard and shocking reality for American Christians to accept and many simply refuse. They have made America their home. They do not see it as Babylon, but as Jerusalem. Their citizenship is on earth (cf. Phil 3:20). They are not looking for a city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God (cf. Heb 11:10). I am not saying that they do not believe in Christ or that they have no hope of heaven, but I am saying that they are so earthly-minded that they are no heavenly good.

They are fundamentally confused about where Christians live. They have, as my friend and pastor Chris Gordon recently said, “dislocated us.” Indeed, they think we live in Jerusalem, and like the Jewish revolutionaries of the first and early second centuries, they see Jerusalem sacked by the infidels and they want a Messiah to drive out the infidels. This is the program of the Christian Nationalists. My review of the Statement published by the Christian Nationalists (most recently in May 2023) suggests to me that they do not see this world, wherever we may live, as Babylon nor us as exiles.

Peter, however, did see the Christians in Asia Minor as exiles. He called them just that: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect sojourners in the diaspora of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet 1:1). When he called them “exiles” and spoke of them as “the diaspora,” he was speaking figuratively.

As Christians in a predominantly pagan culture, which was by turns either ignorant of Christianity or hostile to it, they were “grieved by various trials” (1 Pet 1:6), which served to test the authenticity of their faith (v. 7). The testing was sometimes so severe that Peter says it might even be “by fire” (v. 7). When he exhorted them not to “repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (1 Pet 3:9), he was not speaking theoretically.

Twice Peter appealed to the example of Noah (1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 3:5) to help the Christians of Asia Minor understand where they were in the world: waiting for the Savior. As our Lord himself said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be when the Son of man comes” (Luke 17:26). People were conducting their life as if there were no judgment, as if this world is all there is. And then the flood came and took them all away.

As it was according to Peter (and in the days of Noah), so today we are preaching by the Holy Spirit to the spirits who are in prison—trying to set them free, as it were. In Noah’s day, the church was very small indeed. In light of the ascension of our Lord, the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and his promises that he will gather all his elect, we hope for and have seen better things than in Noah’s time, but the parallel haunts.

The Christian Nationalists, the theonomists, the theocrats, and the Reconstructionists (i.e., the TheoRecons) do not see us living in a world parallel to Noah’s. They do not see us living in Babylon. To them, we are just a social collapse away from a great and lengthy golden age before Christ returns. What do they do with Christ’s parallel with Noah? Sometimes they exhaust it at the destruction of Jerusalem—as some of them do with the Revelation itself—thus negating the very purpose of the Olivet Discourse and the Revelation. These were intended as guides for inter-adventual life, but are an obstacle to visions of earthly glory, and thus must be got rid of somehow.

It is a seduction, a “mislocation,” and a mistake. Peter locates us in Babylon. Daniel is our pattern, not David or Solomon. The greater than David has come, and he is coming again. Til then, we fulfill our vocations in this life, love our neighbors, and give witness to anyone who asks:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet 3:14–17)

The TheoRecons are theologians of glory, selling conquest and dominion in this life, before Christ returns. But they cannot square that vision with the eschatology and ethos of the New Testament, and it is to the New Testament, not their vision of glory, that Christians are bound.

NOTES

1. Calvin rejected the traditional view. “Many of the ancients thought that Rome is here enigmatically denoted. This comment the Papists gladly lay hold on, that Peter may appear to have presided over the Church of Rome: nor does the infamy of the name deter them, provided they can pretend to the title of an apostolic seat; nor do they care for Christ, provided Peter be left to them. Moreover, let them only retain the name of Peter’s chair, and they will not refuse to set Rome in the infernal regions. But this old comment has no color of truth in its favor; nor do I see why it was approved by Eusebius and others, except that they were already led astray by that error, that Peter had been at Rome. Besides, they are inconsistent with themselves. They say that Mark died at Alexandria, in the eighth year of Nero; but they imagine that Peter, six years after this, was put to death at Rome by Nero. If Mark formed, as they say, the Alexandrian Church, and had been long a bishop there, he could never have been at Rome with Peter. For Eusebius and Jerome extend the time of Peter’s presidency at Rome to twenty-five years; but this may be easily disproved by what is said in the first and the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians.

Since, then, Peter had Mark as his companion when he wrote this Epistle, it is very probable that he was at Babylon: and this was in accordance with his calling; for we know that he was appointed an apostle especially to the Jews. He therefore visited chiefly those parts where there was the greatest number of that nation.”

John Calvin Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, trans. John Owen (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 154–55.


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18 comments

  1. Thank you for this–absolutely true.

    Incidentally, 1 Peter seems to be sprinkled through with references and allusions to Isaiah 40–55, which speaks hope into the period of Babylonian exile. This should give us a sense of how Peter was thinking about the church’s exilic situation. Paul, James and the author of Hebrews also speak in this way.

    I’m just not sure what Bible these Christian Nationalists are reading. And anyway, look around: even if their program were biblical in some sense, it is just not viable in the West right now. That ship has sailed…

  2. Thank you! This post should be shared with our C N and T Recon neighbors!–with the hope that they return home; yet we should not “be surprised” if some do not realize their fundamental disconnect.

  3. I once met Gary North, and had dinner with him. He was a brilliant and interesting fellow, with a PhD in economics from Berkeley. He was very clear on the trajectory of Christian Reconstructionism.

    North said: “We must use the doctrine of [religious liberty] to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

  4. Seems fair to say that these TheoRecons and Nationalists err to the far right when it comes to interpreting scripture just as badly as those in the liberal camp err to the far left. Therefore, it also seems viable to say, per Machen’s landmark book, that they are hawking a “different religion,” not true Chrisitanity.

  5. I started reading Augustine’s, The Holy City, but went past the Introduction to chapter 1. Feeling a bit guilty from not doing something properly, I decided to read the introduction written by Ernest Barker. I’m glad I did. It is good practice not to use the intro as the monopoly “get-out-of-jail-free-card. Here is what he says:

    “…St Paul spoke of a commonwealth (a πολίτευμα, or organised civic body) as ‘existing in the heavens’ (Phil iii.20), and yet as including Christian believers here on earth who had attained (or, more exactly, had been given by the grace of God) the gift of ‘righteousness’. It is to that divine commonwealth, or city of God, that all Christians really belong; and St. Paul thus speaks of them as fellow-citizens (συμπολιται,) of the Saints (Eph ii. 19). But meanwhile Christians are sojourning on earth in another polity; and in that other, or earthly, polity they may be called ‘strangers and pilgrims’ (1 Peter ii. 11) – or, as a Greek would have said, ‘resident aliens’ (ζένοι μέτοικοι), who, belonging to citizens to another city, are temporarily resident as strangers in a foreign body of citizens…”

    I see more and more everyday the example of Hebrews 12:1a “…we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”
    Not just the righteous saints of earth, but the saints in heaven, and the angelic host. Wonder what they are thinking of us today? I guess if Bunyan had been a Christian Nationalist, the Pilgrim’s Progress would have been given a different name. I guess he would never have left the City of Destruction, but would have called it the City of Reconstruction, and the journey to the celestial city would have been the celestial city coming to him. Ha ha.

    • Good point Felicity! As the spiritual descendants of Abraham, Christians are also sojourners and aliens, travelling to the city made by God. Hebrews 11:10. I think that is exactly Bunyan’s purpose, to show the difficulties, temptations and trials Christians face in this journey in a Babylonian world, that is always trying to distract them to look to the deceptions of earthly things, as they cling to their roll that certifies their title to celestial city, which are the promises of God, the gospel.

  6. Yes! So encouraging and refreshing to have the inspired Apostle point our way forward . Sadly, I suspect if he were here in the flesh and preached from his own Epistle, he would be dismissed as a “pietist” by some.

  7. A certain reconstructionist I know, in response to the 1 Peter 3 passage simply dismissed it as having been for that church at that time; he insisted suffering was not for today’s church.

    As a recovered TheoRecon I’ve noticed the followers of these teachings (whom I’ve personally known) seem to accept them uncritically because they agree with their political philosophy. They tend to tenaciously hold on to these beliefs despite the teaching of Scripture.

  8. I have seen John Owen’s interpretation of the passage as justification. Supposedly he interpreted the * burning up of the elements” as referring to the doing away of the Old Covenant. Seems like a tortured interpretation to me. But I’m no theologian nor student of original languages .

    • Hebrews 8:13. The old covenant gives way to a better covenant revealed in the coming of Christ who fulfills all the requirements of the Law. I think that is what Owen means.

      • The key passage, for this question, is this:

        On this foundation I affirm, that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state…

        “Judaical church and state” seems to refer to the Mosaic epoch.

        In Owen’s view, the Mosaic epoch was temporary and is done away with. I doubt that is what Peter intended there but the view that the Mosaic epoch was temporary and is abrogated isn’t controversial.

        Does that help?

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