Are Christians Today “Strangers and Pilgrims?”
By Charles Geiser
In I Peter 2:11,12 we read; “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
The two verses have an eschatological context as Peter’s exhortation to these Jewish saints, as their conduct is antecedent to the consequent heemera episkopees or “day of visitation” (verse 12). We see the commands to abstain from fleshly lusts and having honest conduct and good works that bring glory to God as being always a part of the Christian life. However, the words to Peter when they were penned in that particular first-century genea or generation should be understood as those “strangers and pilgrims” were to understand these words so we may more accurately comprehend the scriptures first of all. These that Peter wrote to then were living in the “last days” of the age that had “fleshly lusts” which warred against their souls (see Heb.1:1,2; Acts 2:17ff; I Pet.1:20; et al.). We need to read the New Testament keeping in mind that when it was written, e.g., I Peter, their inheritance was still reserved in heaven for them (1:4), that they were being kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation which was ready to be revealed en kairoo eschatoo or “the last time” (1:5). They in Peter’s readership were to be strong and “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation (apokalupsei) of Jesus Christ” (1:13). With apology for not noting so many other references in I Peter along this theme, let us just see briefly (for lack of space) toward the end of the epistle, 4:5-7. The continuing referrals in this epistle to the “time of the end” go on; the judging of the quick and the dead had not taken place (verse 5), but just a few years prior to I Peter, Paul had said the judgment was about to be (Acts 24:14,15). Peter then says the judgment was “ready” (hetoimoos) in that “last time” (1:20). Further, in 4:7, Peter goes on, that “the end has drawn near” (telos hengiken) and again encourages those Jewish saints to be “sober unto prayers.” So we have a context in I Peter that we suggest is unlike the context of an established kingdom today.
We believe the first error in interpreting our study verses for this time is the concept that the “day of visitation” has not occurred yet, that it is to coincide with some future “second coming of Christ” and “judgment day,” etc. It is possible to rightly understand “day” (hemera) in Bible prophecy as referring to a period of time when those things mentioned in a specific prophecy would take place. We have reason to believe also that as far as end-time references are concerned in the Bible, there was to be one and only one “day of visitation” ever to happen. If more than one “day of visitation” is interpreted in various scriptures unto end-time fulfillment, we surmise that this will be an insurmountable task as to doing it “correctly,” plus having the negative pleasure of having no one agreeing with whatever “series” of “days of visitation” were personally arrived at by any particular Bible student.
For example, playing the “devil’s advocate,” let us suggest that Peter’s “day of visitation” was/is (?) to “match” Jesus’ words “the last day” in John 6:40. We probably would have no difficulty with this connection. Let us add further that the “day of visitation” of I Peter 2:12 identifies in complete harmony with Paul’s hemeran apolutrooseoos or “day of redemption” in Ephesians 4:30. This again would not be a problem in interpretation as to this “day.” But let us continue one more step and bring into this study a time factor in collation with this “day” of redemption or visitation. This same Paul wrote in Romans 13:12, “the night is advanced, and the day has drawn near” (Greek translation CG). Paul wrote Romans about A.D.57-58 saying that the “day” had drawn near. Logically, then, from the scriptures, understanding time terms as we should without “stretching” them to satisfy a predetermined view, and also reiterating that in Bible prophecy as to end time there was only one “day” of judgment or redemption ever prophesied, we submit that the “day” that had “drawn near” in Romans 13:12a was the SAME time period or “day” that Peter spoke of as the “day of visitation” in I Peter 2:12b and the SAME “day” as Paul’s “day of redemption” in Ephesians 4:30. If not, interpretation in holding to AT LEAST two “days of visitation” (or more for some) for the Lord will at best become exasperating! Maybe we should mention that in many passages referring to “day,” it is “the day” with the article used, not a vague “a day” here and another “a day” somewhere else. “THE day” is a specific day, not “SOME day.”
With all this said for preface, let us return in closing to our title. 1. Peter’s “strangers and pilgrims” are literally “travelers and aliens” (paroikous and parepideemous). They are thusly because they were living in that “fleshly” age that was to come to an end or be fulfilled at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70 (Matthew 24:1-3,14,29-34; 5:17,18; Gal.1:4; et al.). Compare Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:31,32; John 5:25-29. This being true, we believe, and that age having come to a close at the same time as the establishment of the kingdom of Christ (Isaiah 2:2-4; Hebrews 12:28; Luke 12:31,32; Revelation 11:15; 21:1ff.) at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70, those in the new heaven and new earth for the last 1900+ years have not been “strangers” or “pilgrims”! There is a hymn in our song books entitled, “Here We Are But Straying Pilgrims,” but we believe the song to be Biblically incorrect. What kind of exhortation and encouragement for a New Testament Christian is it to sing about STILL being strangers and pilgrims? Christ came to fulfill the law and the prophets, to bring the abundant life, eternal life, and yet we are to sing about being “straying pilgrims” spiritually yet? Very disheartening to say the least.
2. Evidently these “sojourners and aliens” from the Israel that was about to end in their day were Jewish because Peter’s exhortation in I Peter 2:12 is for them to have honest conduct en tois ethnesin or “among the Gentiles.” However, it is possible that Peter was referring to “nations” as those of the Jewish “nations” (compare the synonym laos, “people”) or “tribes” (compare the “tribes of the land” in the second revelation of Christ context in Matthew 24:30). Thus, it could be that “gentiles” is not a good translation in I Peter 2:12, that “nations” is correct, and that “Jewish nations,” referring to Jews who were not firstfruits or “strangers and pilgrims” is meant.
3. Lastly, after the “day of visitation” passed, those Jewish “pilgrims” no longer would be such. They would be immortal, incorruptible, walking with God and He with them as glorified saints of the Father in heaven (I Corinthians 15:54ff; Revelation 21:1ff; II Corinthians 6:14ff). They were sojourners of the dispersion (I Peter 1:1) because they lived in the “last time” or “last days” of the Jewish world (I Peter 1:5,20; 2:6; 3:7; 4:2, 5-7, 12:19; 5:1,4,10). Question: If you are a New Testament child of God, how would you feel best spiritually–as some kind of “pilgrim” or as a faithful son of God, a glorified saint who has inherited all the blessings God ever promised to those who would be His in the everlasting kingdom of God and Christ? It is no wonder that the Lord’s assembly or church has so much pessimism as it continues to be taught that we all are just “waiting” for the second coming or waiting for death. If it is physical death, what would Hades have to offer? What kind of “hope” is that? And imagine a child of God living the Christian life for 70 or 80 years, waiting and watching for the second appearance of Christ, and He never comes! Brother, would you rather “hope” (as a pilgrim) or “have” as a Christian enjoying and realizing eternal life and the forgiveness of sins? Maybe we could close better with Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” Has your “desire” for realized salvation come yet, or is your heart “sick”?
What do YOU think ?
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