The church is not in exile!: "You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means" (Pt. 1)


My denomination loves the idea that “the church is in exile”. The thing is, as far as I can make sense of this assertion, I continually conclude that I just don’t see how.
Exile was the experience of the Jewish people, at two principle moments; first, the loss of the northern kingdom, Israel, in 722 BCE, to the Assyrians and principally, second, Judah in 586 BCE to the Babylonians. This continued under the Persians and arguably through the intervening centuries up to and including the Romans.
The experience was defined by an acute awareness of divine forsakenness and covenantal abandonment. This meant in real terms that the Jews felt their role as the people of God, serving as a beacon pointing to divine grace for the world, had been rescinded. This also meant that those things implicit to that identity, land and kingdom, were lost.
In exile Israel lost the basic aspects of its personhood, position, privilege and power (of a sort).
Into this setting walked Jesus – he spoke into a society still trying to come to terms with and find God in this experience; he spoke and said God’s kingdom had come near, it was arriving, moving through the towns he himself walked in.
To Jews in the 1st century this was the reversal of exile – God’s kingdom being sown in the world again (Mark 4) meant the reestablishment of God and Israel’s kingdom; it meant the re-bestowal of personhood, position, privilege and power.
Yet the kingdom Jesus was initiating didn’t seem to be interested in the concrete re-establishment of what had gone before (Luke 13:31-35; John 18:36). For Jesus this was untenable. What had gone before could not be undone. The situation Israel now found itself in was not one Jesus was interested in reversing by the standard means of messianic warring, victory and coronation (Luke 22:52). In fact, Jesus was convinced a judgment was coming upon Jerusalem and Israel for their continued unfaithfulness (Luke 21:20-22) – this judgment Jesus was sure would raze the hopes, for what had long since been removed by exile, to the ground.
Jesus, with this apocalyptic vision in mind, centred a new people around himself (Mark 3:13-15; Matt. 5:1-2) – a remnant was called out from among the people of God to be the surviving community that would persist and struggle through the trials ahead. This community came to be known as the church.
The church was an alternative society.
The church had a different politic.
The church worked in the existing order.
The church would suffer, experience persecution and even death as it worked for the good of wherever it was found.
The church anticipated a coming kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of the world.
What is clear from the New Testament is that there is no precedent for a church in exile (in the OT sense). The church, as we see it on the pages of the NT, is a new thing. It’s conceptualization and cognisance of it’s own privilege, personhood, position, and power represent something of a paradigm shift from that of ancient Israel’s and the prevailing views in Second Temple Judaism.

Church 
“you keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means”
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