The first article in this series demonstrated that the great dilemma of Israel (and all humanity) can be summed up in the word exile, which stands for our alienation from God and the death that results. As of the end of the Old Testament, Israel was still in exile. But in the second article, we showed how Jesus brought exile to an end for Israel and all nations through His death on the cross. Jesus’ climactic experience of judgment means that no more wrath or curse is due to God’s people for their sin. Since Jesus addressed the reason for exile—sin—the kingdom of God commenced in His resurrection. The astonishing claim of the New Testament is that the long-awaited kingdom has already been inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Now, in this final article, we ask: Since Jesus has accomplished the end of exile, how should we understand the church’s status in this present time? We will argue the following:
- The church, in union with Christ, is already enjoying the end-times restoration blessings Jesus has bought us.
- Yet our experience of restoration is not complete. There is a “not yet” element, a sense in which we can still be said to be in exile. However, our exile is fundamentally different from the situation of Israel before Jesus’ coming.
- By our repentance, the church enters more and more into the blessings of restoration.
Restoration Glory for the Church
Jesus, as the true Israel, has passed from exile to restoration because of His resurrection from the dead. He thus is the first recipient of all that God promised to Israel. Jesus has received the Spirit (Acts 2:33), the throne of David and of God (vv. 30–31), and everything else that the prophets promised for the kingdom of God.
The essence of our salvation is becoming a partaker of this kingdom, just as Jesus promised: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). We receive the kingdom by our union with Jesus the King, a union that happens because the Spirit indwells us and gives us the gift of faith (Eph. 1:13; 2:8; 3:17). This union with Jesus the true Israel means that we, the church, are the true Israel as well (Gal. 6:16; Rev. 3:9). No longer must we keep the old covenant to be “Israel.” Now, all that matters is becoming united to the Jesus through our faith in Him alone (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Phil. 3:9).
By this union, everything that Jesus has through His resurrection becomes ours too (John 15:9; 17:22). He transfers us out of exile, out of the kingdom of darkness (Rom. 5:1–2; Col. 1:13), and into the restoration that has dawned in His resurrection. Building on the previous article’s list of restoration realities that dawned in Jesus’ resurrection, we now show how the NT assigns these blessings to the church as well.
What Christ Achieved
Who We Are Now in Union with Him
Christ decisively defeated our enemies—Satan, sin, and death.
We are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37).
Christ atoned for our sin on the cross and was declared righteous in His resurrection.
Our sins are forgiven and we are righteous (Jer. 31:33; Col. 2:13–14). We are reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10).
Christ broke our bondage and led us out in a new exodus.
We are no longer slaves of sin, but now have the freedom of being able to obey God (John 8:36; Rom. 6:18; Gal. 5:1).
Christ was circumcised (“cut off”) on the cross.
We now are circumcised in our hearts (Rom. 2:29; Col. 2:11).
Christ absorbed the curse of exile in Himself and entered end-times heavenly blessing.
We are now under God’s covenant blessings, not under His covenant curses (Gal. 3:10, 13).
Christ ascended to God’s throne, ruling as David’s son.
We now reign together with Him as sons and heirs (Gal. 4:7; Eph. 2:6; Rev. 20:4).
Christ entered the end-times “land” of the new creation.
We are there with Him by faith (Eph. 2:6; Heb. 12:22).
Christ founded the end-times temple.
As living stones, we are joined to Jesus the cornerstone in a living temple (Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:5).
Christ was ordained as High Priest and inaugurated end-times worship.
We are ordained as priests through the Spirit and through baptism, and we participate in this perfect worship, offering ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1; 1 Peter 2:5).
Christ, as the light to the nations, commissioned the Great Commission. (In addition to Isaiah 2:1–4, see the use of “preach the good news [gospel]” in 40:9; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1.)
We are now spreading the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 8:4; Phil. 2:15) as the light to the nations (Acts 13:47; cf. Isa. 49:6).
Christ reunited Jew and gentile in Himself.
We are now one with God’s people, having been reconciled to one another (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14–15; Col. 3:11).
Christ received the Spirit to the uttermost.
We have had the Spirit poured out on us, sealing to us our inheritance (Acts 2; Rom. 5:5; 8:9, 15; Eph. 1:13–14).
In sum, Jesus the true Israel received the restoration kingdom when He rose from the dead. When we believe in Him, we become part of the true Israel and begin enjoying the restoration blessings that Jesus Himself enjoys. First Peter 2:9–10 is a great example of how all these end-of-exile blessings belong together as one redemptive package: “But you are [now, because of Christ] a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light [darkness is a metaphor for exile and light is a metaphor for restoration; see Isa. 9:2]. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
But Exile Continues
As glorious as these blessings are, we enjoy them only in a partial manner in this present time. We are truly united to Christ, but we still live in the old creation, with old creation bodies and with hearts that have not yet been perfected in holiness. Therefore, as decisive as Jesus’ death and resurrection were, exile still continues for us in some sense. The restoration kingdom is here, but it has not yet been consummated. The NT teaches us how to hold both of these truths together as we strive to balance the “already” and the “not yet” of God’s redemptive work in this present age.
First, the NT teaches us to use the term exile for ourselves. For example, 1 Peter 2:11 (which comes just after the glorious passage just cited above) says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (emphasis added). Other NT passages use similar language for the church: we are called “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1; cf. 1:17; Heb. 11:13) and the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (James 1:1). To be at home in our bodies means we are away from the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6, 8). We long to see Jesus, but do not see Him now (1 Peter 1:8). We are pilgrims on our way to Zion (Heb. 4:11), and our present location is “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13).