The last two verses of 1 Peter communicate volumes about our identity as believers. We are “in Babylon” and we are “in Christ.” Babylon is the archetypal city that stands against God in its hubris. Its story begins with “Babel” – a moment of defiance that echoes the devil’s own rebellion. Babylon becomes the name for the place out of which Abraham came, a place of idolatry. Babylon is the empire that destroys God’s people and deports them to its pagan centers as exiles. God humbles successive Babylonian kings for their arrogance. Their kings try to force their subjects to acknowledge them as the king of kings and lord of lords. Daniel and his three friends know Who that title belongs to. And God humbles Nebuchadnezzar to confess it. It is no wonder that Babylon is the ultimate evil empire in Revelation. Rome has taken its place on earth but Babylon is a spirit, a system, a comprehensive way of life that defies the one true God and leads to death. And the devil is the one who controls that system, the roaring lion who “seeks whom he might devour.”
Who are Christians in this world ruled by the devil and his Babylon? We are those who are “in Christ.” We are not taken out of this world. 1 Peter assures us that living in this world will lead to suffering and persecution. Being “in Christ” means suffering like him, suffering with him, in righteousness. Peter reminds us that we are resident aliens and sojourners in this world. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom who live here with our “green card.” In Revelation, all of God’s sojourners will finally come home. Like Abraham, we will arrive in the city whose architect is God himself.
There are so many ways that we might relate to Babylon (the “world”) – and we are likely to disagree on what that looks like. What I am sure of is that when adults and children in the modern countries of the Babylonian empire are asked to deny Christ or face the sword, they are showing which identity is stronger. They die – and live – “in Christ.”