This post is written by Andrew Hall and is published as a companion to Unit 17, Session 3 of The Gospel Project for Adults Vol. 6 (Winter 2022-23): From Captivity to Restoration.
There’s no place like home. When you aren’t in your own bed, most people find they don’t sleep as well. The pillow isn’t the same. The bed feels softer or harder. The smell of the room is different. But home—it feels like a place of security, familiarity, and comfort. We love to feel at home. For the Jewish exiles, home brought feelings of longing and regret. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion,” they sang (Ps. 137:1).
God had told Israel she would not stay in the security and comfort of the land if they broke His covenant (see Deut. 28:64). They would be sent into exile. This had been Adam and Eve’s experience after breaking faith with God, being driven from their home and land and barred by an angel who guarded the entrance back into the sacred place with a flaming sword (see Gen. 3:24). And ever since Adam and Eve, humanity has had the same experience—living our lives cut off from God. We want to go home.
Coming Home Paled in Comparison
For the Jewish exiles in Babylon, it looked as if Cyrus’s decree might be the beginning of them coming back home. With Babylon now defeated, the Persians gave the Jews an opportunity to return to their land. But home wasn’t so comforting. Their temple was in ruins. The city’s walls had been torn down.
Even when the temple was rebuilt, things still weren’t completely right. They were living in their land but they didn’t rule it. Progress had been slow on the temple, and the people had needed divine encouragement from the Lord to persevere and complete it. The people had rejoiced when the foundation of the temple had been laid (Ezra 3:10-11), but it paled in comparison to Solomon’s temple (see Haggai 2:3). When Solomon had dedicated the temple, the sacrifices were beyond number (see 2 Chron. 5:6). But now the sacrifices were far less than that (see Ezra 6:16-18). In Solomon’s day, the fire of the Lord had descended and consumed the offerings on the altar and the glory of the Lord filled the temple (2 Chron. 7:1). But when the people completed this new house for God, the glory that Ezekiel had prophesied about did not return (see Ezra 6:16-22; Ezek. 43:5). The people would rejoice that the temple had been rebuilt, but it wasn’t the same.
The End of the Exile
For centuries, the Jewish people lived under oppression and foreign domination. Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Romans kept Israel from experiencing the rest and joy they had been anticipating. Yet the promise of God still stood: Israel’s exile would come to an end, and God would bring about peace and security. But when would that be? Suddenly, almost five centuries after their return to the land, the exile came to an end. But it was not the ending that anyone anticipated. What most expected was the defeat of the Romans, the establishment of David’s throne, and a return to the golden days of the kingdom.
But when David’s descendant arrived to take His throne, He doesn’t do things the way most people expected. Instead of dealing with the feeling of not being at home in the land, King Jesus comes to deal with the heart that isn’t at home. It isn’t foreign oppressors who keep God’s people from enjoying rest, but sin and death. And King Jesus is going to lead His people home, out of exile, and into the restored Eden.
Jesus Leads Us Home
The only way that God could bring His people home is if His Son would go and rescue His people. At the cross, Jesus experienced exile. He died in darkness, under the cloud of judgment, feeling abandoned by His Father. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34). In experiencing exile for us, King Jesus would bring us back home to the place He has prepared for us (Jn. 14:1-4).
Coming back home is what the Bible is all about. Christ left His home in order to bring you back. He brings us out of exile, out of darkness, out of bondage, into freedom, light, and the place we’ve always longed to be—home, into the presence of God forever. He calls us His temple (1 Cor. 6:19), and together with other Christians, He builds us together into His dwelling place, His holy temple (Eph. 2:20-21).
We were made to find that God is our dwelling place, our refuge and strength (Ps. 90:1), our shelter in times of difficulty (Ps. 91:1), our hope now and forever. Our souls find rest when they find their rest in God alone (Ps. 62:1-2). For when we know the saving power of God in Christ, then we can truly say that we are home.
Andrew Hall is the lead pastor of Community Bible Church, located in Ilderton, Ontario, Canada. He is a graduate from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Melanie, have four children.