Christians are obsessed with the idea of salvation. Fair enough, salvation is essential. However, the problem is that everyone has different opinions on what salvation is. Different traditions tend to emphasise and even make exclusive claims to their own definition of salvation at the expense of others. So in this series, I aim to explore the different facets of salvation so that we may better understand what it really is. Here are the salvific themes we’re going to explore:
- Liberation and Exile
- Judgement and Sin
- Substitution and Sacrifice
- New Creation
Each motif plays a pivotal role in demonstrating what salvation is, how it is achieved and received, and how it is lived out by the believer. In this post, we will be exploring liberation and exile.
In Australia, refugees, asylum seekers and displacement are huge issues. People are fleeing their homes in search of a safer place to live and to flourish because of war, famine and hunger. A recent study suggests that as many as 70.8 million people worldwide have been displaced as they desperately seek to find greener pastures. However, this isn’t anything new. Being forcibly removed from one’s country by foreign powers has been a recurring theme throughout the history of the people of Israel, starting on just the first few pages of the Bible.
Exile begins with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). Humanity sins by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and bad; they’re expelled from the presence of God as a consequence. They’re driven eastward, and as the archetypal figures of Israel and indeed of all humanity, they represent the state of us all, separated and exiled from our true home with God. Throughout the rest of the Bible, we see this theme recurring to highlight the consequence of sin, rebellion, and even God using exile for restoration.
- God calls Abraham out from his own land into another (Genesis 12).
- Abraham and his descendants are in the promised land, yet they trust in Egypt and are enslaved (Exodus 1).
- Moses is driven from Egypt into the wilderness only to come back and set free God’s people (Exodus 2:11-22).
- Israel is liberated from Egypt (Exodus 12-15) only to wander the wilderness before finally settling in the promised land, but not before they have to take it by force (Joshua).
- The nation of Israel is formed, but because of their sin and idolatry, they are retaken into exile under the oppression of foreign countries (2 Kings 17:6; Jeremiah 52:28-30).
- Eventually, Israel was allowed to return to their homeland, but it never was the same (Ezra and Nehemiah).
- Israel was later taken over by Alexander the Great and became a part of the Greco-Roman empire (332 B.C.). Israel still dwells in the land, yet they feel like exiles in their own homes. This is not the perfect life the Old Testament Scripture seemed to promise.
As N. T. Wright says
Most Jews of this period, it seems, would have answered the question of ‘where are we?’ in language which, reduced to its simplest form, meant: we are still in exile. They believed that, in all the senses which mattered, Israel’s exile was still in progress. Although she had come back from Babylon, the glorious message of the prophets remained unfulfilled. Israel still remained in thrall to foreigners; worse, Israel’s god had not returned to Zion.
- However, Jesus, God incarnate, arrives and preaches the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15). He fulfils (Matthew 5:17) and rightly interprets (Luke 24:27; John 5:39) the Old Testament, claiming that, in a sense, everyone is separated from the Kingdom because of their sin and is exiled regardless of where they live.
- Jesus lives, dies and rises again to set us free from the greatest powers that truly keep us enslaved in exile from God’s Kingdom, sin (Romans 6:22), satan (1 John 3:8) and death (Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:1-15).
- The Kingdom has come, the Spirit has been poured out onto God’s people (Acts2), and we’ve been brought out of the Kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13). Yet a strange tension remains. We await our King to return to bring history to completion (1 Corinthians 15). The Church wanders as exiles in the now and not yet (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11) in hopeful anticipation of a new creation where not only the penalty and power of darkness have been removed but its presence as well (2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21-22).
We desperately yearn for our real home, that Garden that tugs at our heartstrings. Christian or not, every one of us has this deep sense of displacement. We know things aren’t what they’re supposed to be; we’re never truly settled. There is a constant lack of contentment, and the road beckons us, calls to us with glints of answers for our restless hearts. There’s a reason why the open road seems so compelling. Travelling and experiencing what the world offers are more popular today than ever. However, more often than not, we end up back where we started, perhaps with more questions and more discontentment than ever before. As the preacher in Ecclesiastes says, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). Behold salvation. Salvation is liberation. It is liberation from our exile, from that which enslaves us (the powers of this world – satan, sin, and death), from that which unsettles us. It brings us into the light and gives us a grand hope for a settled and whole world with God dwelling in our midst.
Sins… were the chains by which the dark powers had enslaved the humans who had worshipped them. Once sins were forgiven on the cross, the chains were snapped; victory was won. – N. T. Wright