CITIZENS and EXILES
The Gospel of the Kingdom is what JESUS talked about more than anything in the Gospels.
What is the Gospel of the Kingdom?
To some extent, we are familiar with this concept. We know of famous stories that have this main plot of the story of when the villain or false wicked ruler took over the land, everything was hopeless and death and evil reigned there. But there will come a time when the rightful and true King returns, he will vanquish evil and overthrow the wicked reign of the enemy.
(e.g. The Lion King, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, etc.)
The mother thought of all these stories is the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is the grand stroy of the Bible. This plot is also very prominent in the story of Daniel and his three friends. They were exiles and under the rule of a different king, not their own. The Concept of being in Exile in the Bible is an illustration of belonging to a home Kingdom but finding yourself residing in another foreign kingdom. The story of Daniel underlines the hope that one day they will return to their true citizenship and their true king will defeat the kingdom where they have been held captive.
Daniel and his friends are famous for the rescue stories from the blazing furnace and the lion's den. But today, let’s look at Daniel 1 and learn from this men of God on how to live in exile while still being faithful to God.
The Book of Daniel clearly shows us at least these three themes;
1. Faithfulness and loyalty to God, and a life without compromise in the midst of exile, surrounded by pagan culture, influences and pressures
2. God’s plan and sovereignty over history and empires, setting up and removing kings as He pleases.
3. God’s vindication, rescue and empowerment to the faithful, to influence and be make a difference in their world.
Now before we read on Daniel 1, a bit of context may be required for us to remember why the nation of Israel is found in exile.
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
In exile, there are four possibilities that the people of Israel will tend to respond: 1. Despair, Hopelessness
2. Bitterness and Anger
3. Give in and Forget Who they are
4. Remain faithful to God
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.[b] 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
Change the Name, Change the Identity
Daniel (God is my judge) to Belteshazzar (May 'Bel' protect his life)
Hannaniah (God is gracious) to Shadrach (command of Aku - the moon god)
Mishael (who is what God is?) became Meshach (Who is like Aku?)
Azariah (Yahweh has helped) became Abednego (Servant of the shining one Nebo)
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your[c] food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”
11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Daniel served 5 kings in total in the span of 70 years. And He remained faithful to His God all those years.
The Book of Daniel or the story of the exile is a perfect demonstration of the Message of God to His people in all generations. We might say that we are not in literal exile as they were before, but the Bible actually tells us that we are exiles, aliens, sojourners, pilgrims of this world.. we are in the world but we are called not to be of the world. We belong to a different kingdom. In short, we are exiles here.. much like Daniel and his 3 friends.
SEPARATISTS, CONFORMISTS and CATALYSTS
Now in the time of Daniel, some Israelites chose to resist Babylon by revolting or withdrawing completely from them. We can call them Separatists.
Others gave in, adopting the Babylonian way of life and accepting these new gods as their own. We can call them Conformists.
And you would think those are the only two options… but the prophet Jeremiah told them to do, something totally different and surprising:
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
to settle in, build houses, plant gardens, grow families, and most surprisingly, to “seek the well-being of Babylon... and pray to the Lord on its behalf.”
The way of the exile is a combination of loyalty and subversion. This is precisely what Daniel and his 3 friends did while they were in Babylon. Notice the balance they strike between resistance and cooperation, demonstrated by their adherence to the Israelite food laws. Daniel and his 3 friends are willing to serve Babylon, but not when it requires compromise in serving their God. We will find the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as well in chapter 3. And the most famous story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den in Daniel 6.
WE FIND AGAIN THESE PATTERNS AND PRACTICE AT THE TIME OF JESUS. And we also see the same set of people: the SEPARATISTS, CONFORMISTS and CATALYSTS. It’s interesting to me that JESUS called as part of his twelve disciples: SIMON the Zealot - a former SEPARATIST, INSURGENT, REVOLUTIONARY, rebelling against the Roman Government. And MATTHEW - a former CONFORMIST, Tax Collector, traitor to the Jews, servant of the Roman Empire. Can you imagine how both groups may have reacted when he said these words: Matthew 22
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
They were trying to trap him to see - is He a SEPARATIST or a CONFORMIST; but he was neither. He was not of this world and He belongs to a different kingdom. Watch Jesus carry on the subversive loyalty of Daniel here. When asked by Pilate during the trial, this is what JESUS said: John 18
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
The kingdom message is counterintuitive and surprising, different from what the Jews expected and yet more glorious than they could’ve imagined; going against the grain of worldly wisdom, because, unlike any other kingdom this world has ever seen, Christ’s kingdom is built on grace and advances with compassion. In this kingdom, the throne is a cross and the King reigns with self-giving sacrificial love.
LIVING AS EXILES IN THIS PRESENT WORLD WHILE WE WAIT for OUR COMING KING: Matthew 24
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. I really pray for us a DANIEL-like resilience and conviction in these last days... that we will not be easily swayed or conformed by the patterns of this world: Romans 12:1-2 NIV
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12 MSG
1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
We are not to be CONFORMISTS to the patterns of this world.
You will conform if you do not know your IDENTITY.
On the flip side, we are not also to become separatists. Romans 13 talks about submission to governing authorities. Paul wrote this to instruct the Church to submit to the Roman Empire - the very empire that imprisoned and persecuted him multiple times. The only times that the apostles or the Church did not submit to the authority was when the Gospel is silenced and when people are hindered to come to the saving knowledge of the Gospel.
And finally we end in this verse:
1 Peter 1:1-2
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.
1 Peter 2:9-17 MSG